It’s been six months.

In the love letter I read to Yoda minutes before he transitioned to formlessness, I promised him I would find shama amidst the grief of losing him. A promise made on a deathbed is a promise one must keep. Yet I had absolutely no idea how to find inner peace while my heart was hurting more than I ever knew possible. But Yoda, my greatest teacher, left me with this final lesson when he died. So I dove deep into grief to see what I could learn.

I traveled with Eric and his band for the first six weeks after we lost Yoda not only because I couldn’t bear to be in the house alone, but also, to be honest, as an attempt to outrun my sadness. It didn’t work, and instead forced me to face my pain head on. I carried my grief with me to the Caribbean Sea where I drowned in my tears as I stared into the turquoise waters, crying so much that there were light scabs on the tender skin under my eyes. I choked back sobs while wandering around Disneyworld, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth (it wasn’t), where the band performed four nights of concerts at Epcot. I went to the Holy City in Israel, where I prayed for Yoda’s transition in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I wrote a prayer note for his soul’s sweet flight and tucked it into a crack in the Western Wall. It really was like Yoda, my furry shama warrior, to time his passing so I would go with the band to Israel, a country where people literally greet each other with “shalom,” a word that means peace/shama.

After traveling with the band, I visited the Mexican Pueblo Magico, Mineral de Pozos, where my friend Angela and I participated in a private temazcal (a type of sweat lodge) with the local shaman, giving me a potent shift of emotional energy. And then I began the process of scattering Yoda’s ashes in all the special places we lived together: in our New Jersey yard in the roots of a Rising Sun Red Bud tree; in Austin in the backyard of the little blue house we shared; in Wisconsin, off the bow of my parents’ pontoon boat (his favorite place in the world); and in a week I’ll be scattering the remainder of his ashes in Santa Monica, where our life together began.

The past six months have been the absolute most heart crushing of my life. But they have simultaneously also been some of the most important. That’s because I didn’t deny myself a time of mourning and instead surrendered to the pain. Two constants in life are love and loss, and experiencing heartache from the loss of love is part of the very nature of the human experience. By submitting to the grief process, I hoped to discover why the Universe gives us loss.

Here’s what I have learned:

In our culture we are not encouraged to honor grief, especially mourning the loss of pets. We shove the sadness down, hidden away inside, and as a result we become numb. But by surrendering to grief, something beautiful happens: the veil separating us from the invisible partially lifts. Colors are brighter and textures of the world are more vivid. At times I’ve been able to feel nature and its healing energy. During this period of bottomless sorrow, I experienced a different, yet still mighty connection with Yoda. My time of bereavement left me feeling not only more connected to Source/the Universe/God/whatever it’s called, but also gave me the most mystical experiences of my life.

I’ve found that grief brings about a stillness in the moment and, if you let it, a profound connection with nature, such as the bond I’ve formed with a family of six deer. I’m not sure how that happened because those initial post-Yoda weeks were a blur. I feel a spirit connection with one in particular, a yearling buck with one antler that I named Magic after I saw him being born in the spring of 2016. Magic’s coloring and spunky personality remind me so much of Yoda, and in many ways he (along with the love of Eric) has held together my foundation while I’ve been learning to live life without Yoda. Grief surges tend to happen when Eric is on the road and I am home alone. During many of those times I went to the front yard and called for Magic. Minutes later he trotted out of the woods to eat corn at my feet while I sobbed and told him how much I miss my dog (he’s a very good listener!).

Now that I’m coming out of mourning and life is returning back to normal (although normal has changed because my identity is no longer “Kee Kee and Yoda”), the veil is lowering and with it some of that brilliant, rich, ethereal sparkle of the world is lessening. I feel my intense connect with Yoda slipping away. In a strange way, at times I’ve been kinda sad that I’m no longer intensely grieving.

Loss is an inescapable part of life, and as we get older we have to deal with more and more of it. Perhaps through the cavernous sorrow of losing loved ones, both human and animal, the Universe is preparing us for our own inevitable death. Loss is also a reminder that we must always be grateful for the small miracles of each day until we have them no more: the sweet burst of a tomato eaten right off the vine, a rainbow after a storm, the gentle touch of your lover’s hand as he walks past, and of course the wag of a tail and a nuzzle from a cold, wet snout.

Someday we will get another dog. Eventually, I’m not sure when, the quiet of the house will win out and we will open our hearts to welcome in another furkid. Yoda would want that. As Terry Tempest Williams said, “Grief dares us to love once more.”

 

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Yoda Pies: Mourning and Celebration

by Kee Kee on March 20, 2017

in Change,Memories,Yoda

Three weeks ago my precious Yoda left this world. Eric and I decided we wanted to set him free with a celebration of his large life. The last day of his life began with baking a “Yoda Pie” in his honor. The three of us ate the pie for lunch, and Yoda devoured his piece (an impressive feat, given we had spent the last month begging him to eat). With our first bite, we said “Thank you Yoda!” to express our gratitude for enriching our lives. Later that night, after Yoda was sedated by the vet, my friend Dorry Bless, a Life-Cycle Celebrant, conducted a beautiful ceremony to celebrate Yoda’s life. It involved sage, poetry, Tibetan bells, celebratory words about his magnificent and adventurous life, my thank you letter to Yoda, prayer and an original song of Eric’s that he sang through tears as he played it on the grand piano. Yoda had been near deaf for the past couple of years, only hearing our whistles. But his favorite spot in the house was in the studio next to the grand piano when Eric was playing. We think he could hear the piano, and possibly feel the vibrations. I’m convinced that Yoda, in his sedated state, felt love, comfort and safety as Eric sang him his beautiful song. Soon thereafter, the vet set him free as he lay in our arms.

The next week was without question the saddest week of my life. I had been preparing myself for a couple years as I watched Yoda slow down and become more fragile with age. I thought I had finally arrived at a place where I would celebrate his life more than I would mourn. Well I can now say with absolute certainty that there is no way one can prepare oneself for the loss of a beloved pet. But I was (and still am) determined to celebrate his life and find shama amidst the grief, and thus began my zealous baking of Yoda Pies. Each time the tears overwhelmed me, I would walk into the kitchen and make a Yoda Pie. While kneading the dough, rolling it out, preparing the filling, and while it was baking, I would think about the amazing adventures Yoda had during his long life and how this dog, my greatest teacher, helped me find shama by giving me the courage to live an authentic life. With my first bite of each pie I always say “Thank you Yoda,” as a way to express my gratitude for the many gifts he bestowed upon me.

I clearly have had a lot of tears to work through because I made SIXTEEN Yoda Pies during that first week alone. Apple; cherry-apple; cherry; mango-apple; sweet potato; raspberry; mixed berry; tofu-vegetable; millet oat vegetable; and many others. We can’t possibly eat them all, so we gave some away and froze others.

Now keep in mind, up until now, I think I’ve made only five pies in my entire life. Making pie was always something I found intimidating. My friend Beth Howard, author of Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House, has long believed in the healing power of pie. Her first book, Making Piece, is a memoir about how she used pie as a way to work through her grief after the death of her husband. But pie was always Beth’s thing, not mine. Yet now, I finally get it. Pie is indeed healing, and it is a perfect way to celebrate Yoda’s life now that he’s gone.

Making Yoda Pies turned out to be the only thing that comforted me during that first painful week. I’ve slowed down the pace of baking Yoda Pies, mainly because of travel last week and travel this week.

I know this intense mourning is the price we pay for having been lucky enough to experience the unconditional love of a dog. I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last, to grieve the loss of a furry soul mate. My heart hurts, and it quite likely will for some time. But my broken heart is a small price to pay for having been blessed with 12 ½ years with my little shama warrior. There is so much to celebrate about the life we shared. So I will continue to bake Yoda Pies, even when memories trigger smiles instead of tears.

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Yoda, Thank You

March 2, 2017

I said goodbye to my furry shama warrior on Tuesday night. My friend Dorry Bless, a Life-Cycle Celebrant, conducted a beautiful ceremony celebrating his life, and then he was set free in Eric’s and my arms in the studio next to the grand piano, his favorite place in the house. I read him this thank […]

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Breaking Bread with the Enemy

February 10, 2017

Take a look at the guy in the photo with me. I don’t know his name, and I don’t know much about him, but I’ll likely never forget him. Last week I attended a rally in Flemington, NJ to protest the president’s un-American and un-Constitutional Muslim ban. The county I live in largely voted for […]

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Activism is the New Normal

January 31, 2017

A friend posted on Facebook that she wants to see puppy, kitten and baby photos and that she is going to unfriend anyone who posts anything political. She continued by saying “It’s gotten out of hand. We’re not going to save our country on Facebook.” Her post is a perfect example of how we have […]

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An Open Letter to the New Year

January 18, 2017

Dear 2017, This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve written an open letter to the new year. It seems especially important this year to start off on the right foot with you, given the state of American politics and the deep divide between the people of our country. In the wake of […]

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I Stole My Dog’s Xanax (aka Finding Inner Peace in Donald Trump’s World)

December 20, 2016

I hit rock bottom the day I took my dog’s Xanax. Let’s be absolutely clear: I STOLE DRUGS FROM MY DOG. What kind of crappy human does that? Or perhaps my big low was the day I made myself a cake with cream cheese frosting. I ATE IT ALL. It’s pretty clear that my regular […]

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The Cranky Farmer Who Never Was

August 19, 2016

Two days ago I was walking Yoda early one morning around my parents’ rural Wisconsin neighborhood. Because I work from home, I’ve been fortunate that Yoda and I have been able to spend every August for the past six years here. It’s quiet, the people are friendly, and Mom and Dad live on a lake, so […]

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A Cowboy Poet Gets Real at Sideman Jamboree

May 24, 2016

His name was Lon and his hands were trembling as he looked down at the words written on the crinkled piece of faded yellow college ruled notebook paper that he was tightly gripping. “I’ve never read this poem in public,” he quietly said, his voice shaking. Lon Hall is a cowboy poet from Montana. He’s […]

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The Huffington Post – Art, Diversity and the Human Race

April 7, 2016

I just wrote a post on The Huffington Post. You may think at first glance that it is about politics. It’s not. It’s actually about so much more than that. It is about art, diversity, and the psychology of a person’s sense of self. Read it here: Art, Diversity and the Human Race Did you […]

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