Why I’m Calling This Child Hope.

My dog’s a kid magnet. So, one neighbor girl has been hanging around uninvited since the day I moved into my sister’s place four years ago.

This three-year-old little girl and her ten-year-old brother came over to pet my Black Lab Phoenix, who was six, and almost as rambunctious as the kids.

They threw tennis balls for her with the Chuck-it while I fantasized about their parents coming to find them. (They never did. Like never.)

Long after the boy grew too cool for anything but basketball, his little sister still came around, mostly during the day when my sister was at work and I was busy writing the next Eat, Pray, Love.

Now, I’m going to call this child Hope. Her real name, sadly, sounds like another word for rejection. Like she got labelled even before she was able to knock on neighbors’ doors looking for friends. She had to work harder at that than the other girls.

Hope carried the look of different. She certainly hadn’t become accustomed to positive attention. She could only receive it in small bits, although she could hang in my home for over an hour on any given afternoon.

It’s funny how a kid can seduce you with, “Can I play with your dog?” if you did the same thing when you were a girl.

Like little Hope, I had to be taught some basic manners.

“You don’t just walk into people’s homes, honey,” I said, “You have to knock.”

I doubt anyone had to tell me this, as I did her: “Okay, so when you knock or ring the bell, if I don’t answer, you stop knocking and go away.”

“But,” Hope said, “I knew you were in there because I saw your car.”

“Yes, Hope, but sometimes people are home and they don’t answer the door because they’re busy doing something else, like taking a shower.”

“I know. That’s why I kept knocking—so you’d hear me.”

One neighbor said, “You just have to be stern and send her away. She knocks on everybody’s door trying to get someone to play with her.” As if it was a crime.

All the gossip couldn’t come up with a good reason why her parents’ parental practices didn’t line up with the norms of my cul-de-sac neighborhood.

The thing is, I was once that girl and nobody called me Hope.

So, in the early visits I gritted my teeth and tolerated the kid so many resisted.

As the weeks, months, and years passed, I couldn’t reason why no one had embraced her before.

Hope grew more confident and less irritating. She stopped following me when I took Phoenix for walks, insisting she was joining us.

The day she was locked out of her house because her brother was at basketball, her dad was at work, and she couldn’t find her mom, this frightened five-year-old found her way to my door. Her vulnerable voice shook as tears ran down her face.

I was as relieved to be home as she was to see me. She wrapped herself around me in a helpless child hug. In that moment, I was her adult.

Later that evening, she came back and apologized for bothering me. “You’re not a bother, Hope. You can come to me any time you need.”

I saw the shame release from her face.

Hope’s presence became a norm in my life—without any formal introduction to her parents (I tried) or real relationship other than designated neighbor.

After a while, Hope was assigned a sister from Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She eagerly awaited those visits.

One afternoon, Hope told me she met a “real author” at school and how cool she thought that was. I did, too. Then, she said his name: Jack Hanna.

She also told me about her friends at school and the kids she tended to get into arguments with.

She mentioned how on special mother-daughter days she got to go to the movies with her mom while her brother and dad did father-son activities.

Sometimes, Hope and I colored together. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her my dragonfly coloring book after I’d said yes to so many other things.

Hey, the girl needed some boundaries, and these were my dragonflies.

So, I made copies of some pages for her. She said, “That’s okay” and left them.

She spent countless afternoons at our kitchen table and on our deck chairs doing homework like the good, smart kid she is.

One day, Hope said, “Can I come in and talk to you?” She was seven, so grown-up compared to the tag-along three-year-old sister I met on day one.

“My mom and my brother and I are moving to an apartment and my dad, he’s moving to New Jersey. That’s where he spends a lot of time because that’s where he’s from, and also, it’s where his girlfriend lives. So, that’s it. My parents are getting divorced. There’s a lot of stuff to pack.”

“Okay,” I said. “How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s sad, but I think she’s kind of relieved. They’ve been fighting a lot.”

Years before, this bright young girl who no one wanted to listen to said, regarding my sister whose husband had recently passed, “She just seems so sad.”

Hope knew what sadness looked like in another’s eyes. I winced seeing it in hers, especially after I’d gotten so used to the light.

I asked Hope how she was feeling about her parents getting a divorce and about moving. She said, “I guess I’m both sad and happy. I’m going to have my own room.”

I flashed back to the awkward, lonely girl I once was, my neighbor Mary Ashby who let me knock on her door and “play with her dog,” which led to playing cards and drinking sweet tea, and how my parents divorce hit me when I was just 10.

Sometimes we do kind acts by overriding our resistant egos and our constant need for comfort and convenience.

Hope was inconvenient. At first, I found her hard to take.

However, by the time she came to say a brave-faced goodbye and it was likely I’d never see her again, she’d tattooed herself on my heart and left me hopeful.

December 10th

Oh, December 10th,
Why must you stalk me like a bitter ex-lover?
I don’t want to remember you, to think of you,
To imagine how things could have been different
To reminisce and fantasize hurts too much
But here you are again,
Ringing the doorbell of my heart
Don’t you understand?
I have a new life now; I am happy.
We had our time. Let go.
But, still you cling and make me
Go back to when we were together,
Our phone calls, when
My brother’s car crash was fatal
And my mother’s diagnosis was cancer
Oh, December 10,
Why must you stalk me
Year after year?

How to Deal With Our Loved One’s Not Here-ness #bloglikecrazy

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” ~ Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

I recently read of a widow writing about her husband’s “not here-ness.” Yes, that’s it. When you lose your person, their not here-ness is everywhere.

My stepmom said she’ll get a backhoe to clean out my dad’s stuff if he dies first.

My sister and I, who’ve both lost our favorite person, agreed with my stepmom the way a parent agrees with a child when they tell you what they’re going to do when they grow up. “Maybe,” we both said.

My sister spent years voicing her lack of enthusiasm for her husband’s accumulation of things—stuffed animals, cars, model cars. I always thought she was the backhoe bulldoze type gal. I think she did, too. Until he died.

There’s no way of knowing how you’ll feel when your favorite person dies. Even if you’ve lost loved ones before. Each loss is as different as each relationship.

We think we know because we’ve played grief’s game before or because we’ve stood witness to other widows.

Just as a person who hasn’t owned a dog, been pregnant, raised kids, been married, or attended college cannot fully know until they go through the metamorphosis life invites and throws us into, one cannot know if she’ll find herself territorial over one striped chipped coffee cup that used to belong to her beloved.

You learn love by loving. You learn loss by losing. Over and over.

In Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Anna’s husband Alexey Alexandrovitch “experienced a feeling akin to a man on a bridge who should suddenly discover that bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm below.”

Yes, that’s endings: divorce, break-ups, death. With death, especially sudden death, the bridge is on fire, burned irrevocably.

Yet, our desire to cross isn’t extinguished. In fact, our ache to walk with our special person intensifies, with them on the other side of the chasm.

My beloved tells me he’s just in another room. I feel like it’s true, as true as my wanting him to get out of that room and come into mine, or to join him.

I’m fortunate to have continued communication with my beloved in the beyond. I’m grateful. And yet, I don’t have his arms.

It’s not a matter of believing. It’s too real—and specifically Kevin, a one of a kind character, with an unmatched vocabulary and way of speaking—to not believe.

It’s just that I was in the middle of life’s summer. A confidence had settled in my soul, the kind born of sacred love, from being the match for his Fire.

It was easy to let go and love him and welcome him to love me.

But, to release my beloved into the hands of death? I’m not thrilled about it—still.

He’s gone. And he’s here.

The question is will I keep knocking on the door to the other room, the one I’m not yet invited to enter, or will I accept he’s gone and relish his new presence?

Can I welcome a transition of our relationship—again?

Accepting physical death (regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs and the sacred occurrences) is much like forgiving betrayal.

It takes a while.

How Morgan Corinthos’ Death on General Hospital Helped Heal my Grief. #bloglikecrazy

Morgan Corinthos—a 20-something, vibrant, got life by the hands, and finally getting his sh*t together, young man—died on my soap opera a year ago.

Before my real-life beloved died over a year and a half ago, I used to sit on his bed, in his bedroom (which felt like our clubhouse for two), and watch General Hospital (GH).

Often, Kevin would be showering or doing paperwork before he headed out on sales calls.

I found comfort in his bed, making a picnic of some random treasure I found in his refrigerator or leftovers from our prior night out.

I felt at home in Kevin’s house, bedroom, bed and space, enjoying one of my favorite guilty pleasures: my GH hour.

Kevin never made me feel guilty or chided me for watching my soap. In fact, he watched a couple of his own. Sometimes, we watched them together.

We even spent a few Saturday mornings in bed with Lifetime TV movies.

Kevin was all man and a sports guy, but he grew up on the soaps his mom watched. He knew the characters’ names and no matter how many years one stops watching, in a couple of shows, you’re caught up like a family reunion.

Now, Kevin’s dead. I’m not in his bedroom. I’m in my home. At 2:00 most weekdays, I turn on GH for a moment and get a rush—of being in his home, in his presence, like he’s still indulging with me.

It was like Kevin cried with me when Morgan Corinthos died on my show.

If he’d died sooner, I couldn’t have taken it, but Morgan’s girlfriend, mom, dad, brothers and sisters are six months behind me on the grief journey.

Morgan’s death on GH reflected my feelings and kept me in tune with how many people around Kevin were shaken by his death.

Morgan’s parents wanted answers. Why did he die? His girlfriend felt guilty for trying to move on. His siblings wanted to assign blame.

Some characters on the show acted unexpected kindness and sincerity. Others fumbled with words.

I related to GH in ways I felt disconnected to my new reality minus my man.
So, I watched more religiously than ever. It was my crying hour.

The show mirrored my emotions, but it couldn’t hurt me the way I was cut when my favorite character was written out of my own life.

Recently, it was the one-year anniversary of Morgan’s death. People of Port Charles (where the show takes place) came together to commemorate.

It matched my recent experience of seeing Kevin’s best friend Garry, with whom I’m forever bonded. He talked about how he was ready to start traveling and imagined he and his wife would take cruises with Kevin and me. But, now we can’t.

I vicariously celebrated Morgan Corinthos—a character on a soap opera, a man in his prime, embracing life and balancing intensity, passion and intimacy, like my Kevin.

I cried for Morgan, his mom, girlfriend, brothers, sisters, and their pain.I shed tears for Kevin, his dad, brothers, and wide array of friends.

I cried when Kevin’s best friend told me he had other friends—good ones—but no one he connected with or could expose himself to the way we did with Kevin. He was a safe place and a grand party for each of us.

Garry said he hadn’t been able to cry. He cried—but hadn’t cried.

I’ve bawled at least a hundred times. I need the cleansing.

I let the triggers hit and the tears flow, even the ones ignited from a story line that wasn’t actually mine. It was close enough. Close to my heart.

Thank you, Morgan Corinthos for playing a part in my healing. His friends and family toasted him on the show: Here’s to Morgan!

Yes, here’s to Morgan Corinthos, and General Hospital, and wherever we find a path to process our pain.

How I Negotiate with Grief. #bloglikecrazy

“A thousand times she has let go of grief, and it has returned to her a thousand more.” ~ Amy Weiss, Crescendo

I negotiate with grief. In the beginning, it was a heavy weight I committed to carry.

At six months, I thought she’d be lighter, or I’d be stronger. I vowed to keep walking.

First came the end of the calendar year in which my beloved died in March. Grief grounded me.

Surely, at the one year anniversary of his passing, I’d turn the page to something blank and hopeful.

But, grief had already written a pink slip on every day.

Now, it’s two years since the month I spent at his place when we delighted in magic moments and spinning memories I didn’t know I’d rely on to comfort me.

Presently, grief is lighter, like the sunlight on the fall leaves in his front yard, like the crisp morning air when I left his bed and pulled on his KISS robe as I let my dog out.

Grief is bright, like the moon the night we made love on his deck overlooking the river in the country, where I never wanted to live but now miss.

Grief is musical, like the blues he introduced me to and his deep, manly voice.

With time, grief’s become sweet, like the laughter we wrapped in intimacy and his chest holding my head as he stroked my hair.

Grief lingers. She doesn’t leave, although she’s done a little shape-shifting.

I know there will still be heavy days I can hardly stand under her weight.

But, today, I’m strong. I’ve negotiated well.

And grief, she’s beautiful, like his smile when he looked at me.

 

How I Broke up with the Self-help Empire and Became my Own Guru. #bloglikecrazy

“Fall madly in love with your humanity.” ~ Danielle LaPorte

Even in bad experiences, like the final years of my second marriage, there’s some beauty—my freedom, for one, not just breaking away, but breaking through to a better me, my more authentic self.

Out of that tough transition, I gave birth to a book, and began a new chapter in life.

There’s no way I could’ve seen that words I wrote—concerning what I could no longer tolerate and would so appreciate in a man—would manifest a crazy, sexy, cool relationship with a man I called Fire, who called me Ice and melted my edges, allowing me to flow like water.

While every day with him felt like a vacation and the ordinary became extraordinary, I couldn’t have known the curtain would fall on his life, leaving me in a dark theatre on an empty stage.

Of course, back in my 20s and 30s, I knew it all, right?

I knew how great my life would be; I’d read Life is Tremendous. The Greatest Salesman in the World was my bible. I learned How to Win Friends and Influence People. I thought I’d grow rich by awakening the giant within me. I even mastered The Magic of Thinking Big.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve attended the self-improvement camp.

Hey, the self-help industry undeniably assisted my younger, less secure self.

However, when I recently cleaned out my shelves, I held few of those books dear—because, as Danielle LaPorte says: I’m my own guru.

That doesn’t mean I’ll stop learning, dreaming, thinking optimistically, or even saying affirmations. I simply trust life and myself more than I used to.

Ideally, I’ll maintain the flow, like the river where I walk daily. Sometimes, it runs dry and I stand in the middle of what we New Mexicans call an arroyo. Other times, the water covers the rocks I occasionally use to cross.

Life flows—sometimes with fury. Other times, it appears to stop completely, but nature always reasserts herself. I am nature.

There’s a certain beauty, even in winter, and spring has followed as long as I’ve been paying attention. I trust I too will blossom again.

When I think of Kevin, aka The Fire!, I think of the striking lessons among the blessings—things I always wanted to learn, but needed to experience.

Since we met in our EB (Encyclopaedia Britannica) selling days, I held the memory of being a better salesperson than Kevin, after beating him at the first Illinois State Fair where we competed.

I’d earned the $500 prize and imprinted my winner status on my mind with all my affirmations.

However, when I stood in his office in 2014 and stared at his numerous salesman of the month plaques—the ones I lacked—I laughed.

Kevin wasn’t into positive thinking. He was into realistic—even though, yes, he’d attended Zig Ziglar’s seminar and knew the theory of stinkin’ thinkin’.

That didn’t stop Kevin from complaining about leads, how far he had to drive, or idiot sales managers—back in my selling days and up to the end of his sales career. He made a damn fine living and it only ended because dead men don’t go to work.

Up until then, Kevin worked and sold consistently. He got it done. He set goals and accomplished them—not idealistically, but realistically. He spent more time working than affirming.

Even with all that grumbling, he was one of the happiest guys I knew.

No pretending. No puffery. And, he didn’t allow it from me. He didn’t need me to tell him I was happy, happy, happy or sugar-coat anything.

Kevin embodied emotional courage by owning his feelings and welcoming those around him to be themselves. I found it refreshing.

I’ve loved plenty of positive thinkers over the years and I don’t dig drama queens.

However, some of the people I respect the most—Kevin, my sister, stepmom, and best friend—live more authentically.

They don’t dismiss their emotions, as I spent decades doing, especially encouraged by my second husband who wanted me to always be HAPPY.

Hey, nobody relishes feeling mad or sad, just like few people enjoy lifting weights, but emotional biceps form from facing the varying facets of life—not pretending flawlessness.

My stepmom used to say, “Alice, feelings aren’t right or wrong; they’re signposts.” I wanted all green lights. That’s ridiculous.

I don’t want to be the one broadcasting fake news, certainly not to myself.

No, I want the juice of life, to own my feelings, tell my truth and live it full, knowing even in bad experiences, there’s some beauty and exquisite experiences aren’t without their downsides.

 

How I Learned to Turn the Corner in Grief. #bloglikecrazy

“Often, that which is hardest to digest, to process, to integrate into our life experience is what ultimately transforms us in a positive way.” ~ Marianne Williamson

I’m turning a corner. I can feel it. I’m rising up again. I love the image of the phoenix flying through the fire.

However, this rising from grief is more like a toddler learning to walk.

I fall to my knees, repeatedly. I stand. I’m walking! I take three steps forward. I try running. I fall. It surprises me. I cry. I crawl.

Sometimes, I’m more comfortable on the floor. Until I’m not.

So, I push myself up. I stand again.

But, rising from grief—or learning to walk with it—isn’t like a little one learning to take steps with a cheering audience.

Although people don’t speak it aloud, something inside me feels the crowd cringing each time I fall again. Unlike a baby who cries for the pain of the moment, each time I trip, memories multiply like dominoes.

My resistance screams from the insane part of my brain where society lives and speaks pretty platitudes—like Time heals all wounds. Does it?

When I cried as a child, my mother often said, “Alice Ann, that’s enough!” If I couldn’t make myself stop crying, she’d send me to my room.

It’s not such a bad move. Alone, I can cry it out and let the sadness run through me.

These days, I’m maturing in my grief. You no longer catch me wailing in public restrooms. Well, at least not as a habit.

I’m turning a corner. Unlike a child who has seemingly only minutes behind her and a whole world to look forward to, my yesterday held me in my beloved’s arms like bookends of a lifetime, making today’s future feel like drudgery.

Still, I remind myself to stand. It’s not my nature to stay down.

Hope whispers as my grief quiets. Remember.

Years ago, I couldn’t fathom I’d turn the corner from divorce and fall into sacred love with my friend Kevin. But, I did.

As we giddily rode the curves of love, we couldn’t imagine he’d die unexpectedly in the dark of one night. But, he did.

So, here I am riding grief’s groove. I’m being graced with an expanded heart and maybe even a sprinkling of wisdom.

She’s telling me a groove can lead to a rut. (Get up!) With grief as my constant companion, it’s seems impossible to set my sights on tomorrow.

Actually, I don’t believe I have to, not any more than I had to seek for love.

See, I lived my moments full, letting my losses of long ago create a wake that propelled me into my destiny.

Sometimes we can’t see that beautiful gift coming at us.

So, I simply choose to embrace this moment. I allow myself to feel what I do in the present and know, by that mysterious force, I’m turning a corner.