Originally posted in appeared in February 2020.
Updated December 2022
I’ve recently discovered Stoicism (and I’m very excited about it). I spent the last year consistently feeling blindsided. (See this last post.) Less than two months into this year, I have felt “front sided?”
Is that a thing? If not I’m making it one – because I can’t find another way to describe it.
The fundamental principle in Stoicism is “amor fati” meaning to love fate. I’ll explain more later in terms of what that means, but the bottom line is that the obstacles that are in front of you aren’t in the way, they ARE the way. It says, that you can’t grow in a place of comfort (which I fully agree with).
This year, I lost my best friend/ soulmate Buster Brown on my other best friend’s birthday. Then, my other best friend lost his best friend/ soulmate three weeks to the day after. We were there when it happened (which is what she would have wanted), as we went in for a routine visit and didn’t realize that they were in the process of pulling the plug. Less than 15 hours after her celebration of life, my friend and neighbor was brutally murdered in his sleep (in our mutual home).
It’s easy for me to be angry at everything right now. It’s easy for me to withdraw. It’s easy for me to cry myself to sleep. What wasn’t easy was PUBLICLY crying (particularly in front of someone I consider adjacent to “idol” territory).
This picture was taken about 15 minutes before I turned into a crying baby sea lion in front of not only the entire theater but in front of Katie Couric and Will.I.Am.
It’s what happened, and I love my fate for it. I’m not someone who backs down from challenges or places of uncomfort. I do the opposite, I let it motivate me …
I can’t think of a more appropriate song to write to.
On January 2, 2020 I lost my best friend and furrever soul mate Buster Brown Friel. On the last day of his life, he was visited and FaceTimed with those he loved. He ate chocolate for the first and last time (because what was it going to do … kill him?).
He went to the dog park for a final stretch and a solid pee session on a tree, and he rode in the car (one of his favorite things to do) all while being sung WE ARE FAMILY in an off-key as he was carried into the vet’s office.
I’ve never had to put down an animal before, but I KNEW when I got Buster that our love was different. There was NO WAY he was ever going to go without me being there.
Buster and I were peas and carrots …
This is the cover art for our 90s acoustic alternative album.
He was peanut butter (which he also loved) and I was his jelly …
We had adventure after adventure … and dance party after dance party.
It was like Buster’s life burned at both ends of the candle. He loved SO unconditionally and SO hard that his body eventually gave out on him. You can read his obituary here(which I’ve never written an obituary for a dog but if you met and knew Buster, you would understand).
Once I started to tell people the unfortunate news, everyone said the same thing “when is the memorial?” I’ve also never thrown a memorial for a dog but after a stream of flowers, and even groceries I recognized the impact he had on people’s lives and it would be cruel to not let them say a final good bye.
THERE IS EVEN A STAR NAMED AFTER HIM (courtesy of his auntie Lindsay) – A STAR HAS BEEN NAMED AFTER THIS DOG.
The memorial was held a week later (on a Sunday) and six and a half hours later, I found myself STILL with a crowd STILL wanting to celebrate Buster.
I have never experienced a loss of love like I did with Buster. I texted my neighbors the day after I had to physically be picked up off the floor shouting “I NEED YOU!!! COME BACK!! I NEED YOU!!!!!!!”
Wow that made me tear up even thinking of that …
I didn’t want them thinking that I was in danger (in a physical sense), in the emotional sense? That was to TBD.
Fortunately, they’re all really cool and one of them even sent this text …
… followed by more flowers and groceries.
Buster was my protector, therapist, best friend, furrever soulmate, and while I know we are supposed to “smile because it happened” and not “cry because it’s over” – I wasn’t capable of doing that.
Getting out of bed some days was really hard and instead of punishing myself for that, I did the reverse – I congratulated myself. Congratulated myself on getting the sleep I needed. Congratulated myself for putting pants on. Congratulated myself for going outside. Congratulated myself for working out. Congratulated myself for feeling my feelings with whatever that meant and congratulated myself for respecting myself in the process.
In the past, I compartmentalized things only to “get through them” and then three to six months later (or even years later when I was younger), I would have a breakdown. I mentally put my pain inside boxes and allowed them to stack up and stack up until one day they would fall over.
I couldn’t change how I was going to grieve. All I could do was love the love that I had and experienced and use that as yet another opportunity to see how far I have come away from my emotional unavailability.
My best friend had not only never had a dog before, but also had never (like myself) put one to sleep. I wouldn’t have gotten through this without him, and while I was upset it happened on his birthday, I also like to think Buster had a hand in that. The three of us were the “Three Amigos” and now furrever we can honor both of them on the same day.
“I can see now why people are so upset when an animal passes,” he said deep in his own mourning. Buster was such a loud person in a fur coat, that with his larger than life presence being gone was not only emotional but also physical.
Part of the ways I dealt with the grief was to update anything “routine” in my apartment. You eat on plates every day (or at least I do) so if I get new plates (which I did) it will feel different.
Buster liked to sit outside on his favorite bench …
This was taken the day before he passed. You can see how thin he is but we were able to watch the sunset together one final time.
That is now gone, and replaced with cushions and new lights.
I can’t control that he is gone, but I can change things in my environment to make his absence less noticeable.
Less than three weeks after Buster had passed, my best friend got a call from the family of his best friend saying that his best friend was in ICU.
<tangent> The three of us were supposed to all go to Burning Man together last year. Right before we were set to leave she sent this text …
Much like with what happened to Buster her body was suddenly and aggressively decaying. We had seen her just a few weeks prior and personality wise she was 100% there, but her body had gotten so thin as she was fighting this terrible, terrible disease.
“We need to go see her,” I said. “We don’t have to go together but we both need to see her.”
Our schedules happened to sync up that week and on Thursday we drove over for a visit.
We had just disinfected ourselves as we reached over for the mask to place on our mouth before walking in.
“Don’t bother,” said her son.
My eyes darted knowing what that meant …
… as the rest of my body walked in with a smile on my face.
“SO GOOD TO SEE YOU!” we said approaching her.
With a breath barely above a whisper she said “everyone out. These are my two best friends and I need to talk to them.”
In 35 years on this planet, I have never actually seen anyone kick their own family out of a “death bed” situation, but knowing her, it was fitting.
<tangent> My best friend’s best friend called me her best friend because of the mutual respect and adoration we have/ had for each other. I take labels seriously, and while those were her words the reality is that I was grandfathered in the last 18 months of her life. </tangent>
She then offered us $10,000 as a finders fee to buy her a house in Malibu. “Something on the beach you know what I like,” she declared still in a breath barely above a whisper.
<tangent> I’m going to be respectful of what happened that day, but let me just tell you how cool this woman was for a minute … she was homies with seated Presidents, multiple billionares (and I don’t know if a trillionaire is a thing for a person yet but if it was I’m sure they also wanted to date her/ be a part of her gravitational pull). She had members of royalty at her beckon call (and garnered persistent proposals from them) and considered indigenous elders in the jungle among her best friends. You couldn’t write her life and if you tried it was unlike anything or anyone you have ever seen. She was magical, possessed her own gravity, and was a beautiful, beautiful beacon of light and majesty. Respect with her was earned and once you were in you were “in” and that was some VERY interesting company to be “in.” </tangent>
Once we stepped back out in the hall, the family told us that she couldn’t survive without the machine she was on and that they were going to make her as comfortable as possible.
The words barely escaped the family member’s mouth before I involuntarily broke down in tears. It wasn’t JUST that this was happening, it was that WE WERE HERE WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING.
Again, she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, but it didn’t make the process of going through it any easier.
Respectfully, I’ll keep the rest of the details of the evening to myself.
The drive back home was brutally silent. There were no words. There was nothing to say. Within three weeks to the day of each other we were two best friends who also lost their best friends.
Opening the door to my apartment, I got down on my knees and began sobbing yet again.
Why did it have to happen this way? I shouted. It would have been easier if the roles were reversed because I would have gotten through this with Buster. I don’t know what to do!!! I shouted out of anger, frustration, and the pain of the loss of not one but two great loves.
The next day, the family got together to go to the Self Realization Fellowship lake shrine in Malibu. It was one of her favorite spots, and the idea was to give our respects to her on the property.
“Let’s bring flowers” my best friend said on the ride over. “There’s a lake there, and we can all throw the flowers into the lake.”
We then purchased two dozen white lotus-esque flowers as we hiked the very basic but pretty trail.
It’s a beautiful property, but definitely has a creepy “cultie” vibe.
I didn’t expect to see Xenu, but I wasn’t sure if I’d find Joseph’s golden plates either. Clearly nothing in life makes sense right now, so as per usual, I might as well go along with it.
We all individually paid our respects in the chapel, and then gathered on the dock by the lake. Workers came out and then handed the kids little baggies to feed the massive koi fish and ducks.
This made me really happy because I used to feed ducks as a kid, and in this moment, I got to relive a really happy moment in life and escape whatever new fucked up reality I was currently experiencing.
Once everyone gathered, we took the tops of the lotus flowers off and placed them one by one in the water. There was enough for everyone to go around and it left quite the beautiful display when completed.
Once done, I walked off the dock choosing to sit down on the benches by the car to catch my breath (which had felt constricted after all the grieving).
“Alright Friel,” I said to myself. “You have two choices in this scenario. You can allow yourself to collapse with grief (which you have every right to do), or you can say WOW! that felt great getting to hang out with ducks again.”
It doesn’t change the grief, it won’t take away the pain, but during this painful time it was something I could focus my attention on.
“Focus on the ducks, Friel. Focus on the ducks.” I said to myself over and over and over almost in a trans.
Some ducking time later, a man approached the group, shouting “WHERE IS YOUR LEADER?!”
HOLY SHIT, MAYBE WE DID FIND JOSEPH’S GOLDEN PLATES – I thought laughing to myself amused that anyone would even ask that.
I leaned in closer so I could hear better.
“Who told you you could put flowers in the lake?” he asked with fierce demand and command.
My friend (who apparently was the most “leader-looking” person) said, “are you telling us we can’t put flowers in a lake?”
“YES! NO ONE CAN TOUCH THE LAKE,” he shouted.
My brain immediately defaulted to logistics and thought, these are real flowers and those are real trees around this lake. What happens should a leaf just HAPPEN to fall in the lake? Would they yell at the tree for its natural shed and throw a shit fit like the one I’m seeing right now?
“Listen,” my friend said. “We didn’t know.” He may or may not have said sorry, and since we were leaving any way – we didn’t really care.
The personal assistant of our friend then approached wondering what was going on.
“We can’t put flowers in the lake,” the friend said.
“How did we get to this conclusion,” he said with a side of sass?
“This guy came over and yelled at us.”
“SOMEONE YELLED AT YOU” he shouted now just as loudly as the “take me to your leader” man.
“OH HELL NOOOOOOOO,” he said with the extra OOOOOOOOOOOOs. “I’m going to find him. I’m immediately in my anger stage of grief and have NO problem being the “angry black person” in this scenario.
(He literally is a black man and in this moment he also happened to be really really angry.)
Wanting a front row seat to whatever was happening next … I followed closely enough to read the body language but far enough away to avoid striking distance.
I then watched the assistant take an aggressive stance in front of Mr. “Take me to your leader.”
I saw a hand raise, not in a fist, but in a “talk to the hand” style fashion.
Mr. “Take me to your leader” immediately about faced as I stepped closer asking what happened.
The assistant turned around and smiled going, “oh nothing honey. I’m an angry black man – you white people want nothing to do with me.”
I then burst into well needed laughter thinking “WHO ALMOST GETS INTO A FIGHT AT A SELF REALIZATION CENTER?!” This group, that’s who!
I smiled knowing how proud our friend would be – we aren’t the types to back down from any kind of bullshit bullying.
We then all went for dinner and in the days after began grieving in our own ways. My best friend took action by being there as much as he could for the family (considering he is considered family), and I helped the best I could by designing her memorial program and explaining any web related needs.
The best friend of my best friend lived on the opposite end of town that I do. Instead of wanting to sit in hellish traffic, I would often stay at a place I consider home on that side of town to get done whatever needed to get done more efficiently. After all, the silence in my own apartment was brutal enough. At least being there I could be around people more which helped keep me out of my head.
Her memorial happened about two weeks after her death. It was attended by celebrities, billionaires, rockstars, spiritual gurus, and many people I’m lucky enough to now call friends. The event was documented by a photographer who shoots for Vogue, because obvi you hire a photographer from Vogue for an event like this.
The reception began shortly after the ceremony was over. I wore wings to her memorial because she called me her “angel” (although again technically her best friend was her angel, but again, being grandfathered in at the last minute meant I wore that label out of pride and respect for both mine and their love). At the reception people kept commenting how beautiful I looked and how interesting the wings were.
“Only for her!” I would say with a laugh and an attempt to keep it together as best as I could.
Which I wasn’t very good at doing …
This is me crying hysterically not being able to process what is happening while falling into the arms of a literal rockstar who is now holding me and the program I designed for our friend in his hands.
I then waited in an ungodly line for the restroom, and en route back, I offered to get myself and my best friend a drink. Our lost love was the consummate host so she would want us to celebrate her.
En route, I then stood in yet another ungodly line for a drink and quickly discovered there was only one bartender. I took a handful of steps back to figure out exactly what needed to happen.
“I’m literally going to have to do this myself,” I said out loud and loudly enough that my girlfriend Anneka also heard.
“Are we about to take this line down?” she asked.
… I said while getting behind the bar.
I’ve never bartended before, but considering it was just beer and wine, I knew I could handle it. I politely asked the actual bartender if he could help with glasses so we can help him expedite.
THANK YOU! he said not at all offended, just appreciative that people help had arrived.
Everyone at the event had suddenly lost a friend. The last thing our friend would want to see is a series of empty glasses.
Within moments, the line was completely cleared, as person after person commented on how badass it was to not only take action but organize an assembly line (which was what was required to get the job done).
“Acts of service is my love language” I admitted to my friend. “It’s selfish actually, but I’m technically doing this for myself.”
She smiled as she went over to get me some food. “You also need to eat, and you also lost your friend.” Compartmentalizing my feelings only for this moment, I thanked her as I quickly ate and got back to work.
Hours later, the official ceremony ended, and the after party began.
We all piled into an SUV to head back to the host’s house.
As we were pulling away, the passenger in the front seat got a text saying we had to come back. We did and as we pulled in, the funeral director passed a document through the front window. I looked down and it read “DEATH CERTIFICATE.”
I’ve never actually seen one in person before, and as she signed and folded it up, my best friend broke down. “It’s all so real now,” he said coming out of the coma of shock.
I had no idea what to say, but much like the angel persona I had adopted that day, I just placed my arms around him like wings and let him cry.
We arrived back at the house sometime later. One by one, the children of my friend came up to thank me for getting everyone properly smashed at the reception.
“That was really cool what you did,” said her son. “I hope you know that you’re family now and you’re stuck with us.”
I smiled and thanked him, but I was lucky enough to have already felt that way.
I kept an eye on my best friend but also took a moment for myself. I literally just bartended a celebration of life; I was not only emotionally exhausted but also physically exhausted.
Sometime past a point of polite partying, I asked my best friend if he was ready to go. Considering he was already passed out in the downstairs meditation room – I took that as a sign of yes.
I then called us an uber, and headed back to the place I call home.
Before the memorial, I had sent my good friend and neighbor of said home a text telling him how funny it was that as a group “we almost got into a fight at a self realization/ actualization center.”
WHO DOES THAT HAPPEN TO!!!?! It’s still so so good …
I then sent him a picture of us all. Hey, for a bunch of grieving people we still manage to look pretty effing sexy…
This was one of the last text messages I have from my neighbor and good friend. 15 hours after the memorial, he himself was dead. He was murdered execution style in his bed inside the apartment building of the place I call home. (I didn’t know “murder could have a style” but that’s the best way I can explain it.) I was there when it happened, and 36 hours after he was shot, I shot out of bed from a knock on the door from some people who wanted to talk to me.
Shit. I thought, I definitely didn’t see this one coming.
Frontsided. I’ve been frontsided again!!!