I’m Sick of People Telling me What I’m Ready for or not Ready for.

“And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

When my sister Jayne started dating after her husband of 33 years died, a friend told her, “You’re not ready.”

She said, “I’m sick of people telling me what I’m ready for or not ready for.”

As if anyone else knows, right? After a break-up, divorce or death, deciding to move forward is an individual decision.

Or sometimes, it just happens. I went out with my sister and a friend one night and suddenly months later, I’m trying to decide if this guy is right (for me).

I never made a conscious decision to start dating after my beloved’s death.

I did determine to stop saying, “Every other man is going to be such a f*cking disappointment!” I wish I could stop feeling that way.

I wish I could be ready to allow a man to replace the irreplaceable. Of course, that will never happen. How nice it would be to invite a man into the space that once held me like a hammock swinging at the beach.

It’s still a stretch I’m not sure I’m ready for. It’s been a year and a half since my Fire (as I called him) went out of this world.

He called me Ice for 25 years before he melted me with intimacy and we became us. After his departure from earth, part of me froze again. Then, shattered. You know what it’s like when you drop a bag of ice on the cement? In grief, I’m that ice, and forever his.

He (still) wants for my happiness in the way that I ache for his presence.

Maybe I’m not ready for another man. However, if I wait until I’m totally solid again, I could turn into one of those women who swear off love. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

My sister Jayne has taught me that once you’ve had a happy, successful relationship, it means you know how, you’re capable, and when you’re ready and open, you can create it again.

From where she stands now, it may appear easy to the outside world. Nope.

I remember her first date with another man and how she crumbled the second she got away from him, like I did after my first date with someone other than my beloved.

Those dates weren’t with less-than-fine men. They just weren’t ours.

Jayne had great love with her husband, Tom Gerlach for triple decades. They never stopped holding hands, laughing, and navigating life in unison—until his life was over.

She went on, the way one braves Mt. Everest. Moving forward tested her.

Now, five years later, my sister’s in love with a man who fulfills and ignites her in fresh ways. She’s different now.

Not just different from the 18-year-old who pledged her love to a man a lifetime ago, but transformed through the experience of grief.

Grief drops us. The pieces that once fit easily are lost and new parts form.

We determine to be ready for life without the one thing that matters more than anything. Then, we say, F*ck it! I’d rather die.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as it feels at the time, we know better. We could never willingly inflict the pain of loss onto our loved ones.

So, we determine to be ready, to turn the page to our next stage of life. We do this over and over again.

We take baby steps when we long for gargantuan leaps. We smile and laugh and find ourselves caught off guard when the tears engulf us again.

Grief is kind of like being a teenager; emotions are raw and we’re growing, but we can’t see it. Like a teenager wants to be grown, we want to be woke.

Who’s to say when we’re ready? Just the quiet voice that whispers, Yes!

(#2) Dear New Man.

“Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.” ~ Leo Tolstoy 

(#2) Dear New Man,   

I’m sorry to tell you, but whatever you do, you’ll fall short. Not because there’s anything less about you, but because my broken heart insists on comparing you to my deceased beloved.

With him, sacred love sweetened my everyday into ecstasy and then, in a blink, I was brought back to normalcy.

To you, Kevin is a name, a man who loved me, someone who died and left his mark on my life.

To me, he’s everything. Still. It’s unfair. It’s wrong.

He was the most right thing in my entire life—not just in hindsight, but while we lived our love and relished each other.

He proved the reward for my fortitude. He ignited my authenticity, welcomed my weirdness, and still encourages my joy, happiness and success, wherever I may find it.

I can’t stop looking in the rearview mirror. I ache for yesterday.

I strive to move forward with you, New Man. I see your character and kindness. I’m awed by your congruency.

I yearn to feel with you the way I felt with him. I only know I can’t force it.

Damn, if it doesn’t hurt that you’re like a dessert after a delightful meal, but I can’t taste a thing.

I have a friend whose taste buds have gone awry after her sister’s death. Maybe my feel buds have gone numb.

I try to put myself in your position and imagine how you feel. I think I’d be gone. Part of me wants to say it’s your own damn fault if you stay, but please don’t go.

It’s not fair, it’s not right, what I offer you. Only truth. It’s all I have.

The truth is I don’t trust my feelings and sometimes what I feel is nothing.

I see you. You’re here. I’d like to celebrate. Lucky me.

Instead, I contemplate. I try to remember my resistance to Kevin in the early days, but our early days came decades into our friendship after dozens of phone calls and a history of conversations.

When he called to tell me his mother died, he cried his vulnerability into me and I drank it full.

I called him on road trips. There were many between the time I left my ex-husband and after I landed in Ohio to live with my sister. Kevin and I talked about divorce and death, his ex-wife and current girlfriend, the guy I was seeing at that time, and how our lives had changed since the early days back in Champaign, IL when our friendship formed, in spite of me.

I took Kevin for granted for 20 years. I don’t want to do that again—to anyone.

However, as I did then, I must trust my gut. I only know that I’ll know when I know. Right now, I don’t know much.

Maybe the resistance isn’t about my deceased boyfriend, any more than it was about my sister or the distance with Kevin.

Maybe it’s just my nature. Maybe you and I don’t have a future. Maybe we do.

Right now, all I know is you’re the new man and I’m still undeniably in love with the old one.

He may have died, but my love for him didn’t. People tell me to stop looking back, but that’s like telling a girl at the beach to stop watching the waves.

Yesterday blocks my view. Yesterday also taught me we can’t imagine the packages love will arrive in.

So, I remain open to surprise. I’ve always found it by feeling my way.

If you choose to go on yours, I get it. This is new to you, too—building a relationship with a woman who’s in love with another man, a dead one.

Oh, New Man, I feel for you. That’s compassion. I care for you. That’s appreciation and gratitude.

Still, every time I go to unfold the map to my heart, it points to yesterday. Where there lies a sacred love that was blown out like a candle in the dark.

The only thing I can swear is I’m looking for light.

 

 

My Heart Broke in the Midst of a Party.

Grief is bittersweet. I have the most beautiful vision of a place I can never go again.

People say, “Don’t look back.” “Don’t live in yesterday.”

I miss my young spunk and the belief that all great things were coming to me. They have. They did. However, when we’re young, we don’t acknowledge all that can fall away or the price we may be asked to pay.

I thought I’d paid upfront for legendary love. I thought my lessons before Kevin and I became a couple were my ticket to fly with him. And, oh how we did!

For a brief time. We were so in when he was taken out of this world. I wasn’t young or full of naïve hope. For two decades, Kevin bitched about women and I bragged about men.

Shortly before we got together, Kevin said, “Hey Icey,” (his nickname for me), “Am I your only guy friend you haven’t slept with?”

I laughed and said, “No, there are a couple others.”

In all those years, I never imagined I’d be Kevin Lentz’s girlfriend. In fact, I thought he was an ass.

Don’t get me wrong, I was quite the brat when we met back in our Britannica selling days. Somehow, I overlooked his bullish, but Southern behavior and we became friends.

Still, I didn’t envision or desire anything more until after our time together in May of 2014. I was staying in Kevin’s home for Mother’s Day. We talked until late in the night, huddled on his living room floor.

We told stories about our moms, their health and deaths, our connections with them and the challenges these strong women delivered us as kids. Kevin and I shared the good and bad about our moms and ourselves.

It’s like I’d always been standing outside the house of Kevin. We’d been close, but on that visit he threw open the door of his true self and said, “Come on in!”

How many people stand outside the house of others believing they know the interior? How rarely we really reveal the depths of ourselves.

Kevin did. He invited me to do the same. As much talk as there is about authenticity, there’s a level so much deeper than most of us ordinarily go.

Kevin invited me in—not just to the living room, but to the bedroom and basement of his soul. I walked timidly at first, trying to express my fears and explain how I’d been hurt in the past.

The way he said, “I’m not those other guys” was like walking into a friend’s basement when you fear it could be a dark scene from Law & Order, but he says, “Don’t be scared.”

So, I stopped being scared. When we got into the basement, I had as much fun as those kids on That 70s Show had in their basement.

And riding in the car with Kevin was like that, too. If you’ve watched the show, you know the feeling of singing and laughing, the feeling I had with Kevin. Then, our show was cancelled.

I know I’ll fall in love again. I’m lucky like that.

But, I’m not new at this game called life. I’d been on earth for 49 years—some 17,885+ days—before Kevin and I became Fire & Ice. He held my heart for 660 days and those were my favorite of them all.

I thought all beginnings were good, but Kevin said, “No, they’re not. This is different.” He was right.

Kevin was convinced his mom, from the other side, brought me back into his life because this was the kind of relationship she always desired for him. He made me believe and even assured me we’d “just keep getting better and better.” We did. Until he died.

Now, I’m trying to adjust to the idea that my life will just keep getting better and better, even with my Fire burning on the other side. That’s a big idea when my heart broke in the midst of a party in the basement of our souls. I was crushed, buried in my grief.

I’m crawling out. I see the light. I feel his love. I’m finding my divine direction again, but this grief still tastes bittersweet.

Grief is my Advantage.

Dear New Man,

If you want to be with me in this chapter of my life, it’s a package deal. Some women have children. A man needs to know that going in.

Well, know this about me. I have a boyfriend; he just happens to be dead.

If you tell me to put the past in the past, you communicate a lack understanding and compassion for the depth of my love, the richness of my relationship that was ripped away from me, or the ongoing agony of grief.

Maybe you’ve been dealt the death of loved ones, too. So had I before I lost my beloved. I’d experienced the deaths of my brother, mother, and brother-in-law. This is different.

Maybe you’ve been in love before. I, too have been blessed with that heart-expanding experience a handful of times, including two marriages.

However, the kind of relationship I craved to create out of each of those previous relationships never came to pass.

Until Kevin. As I neared 50, I found everything I’d been looking for.

Not that he was perfect. And I was the other part of the equation. So, you know, not perfect.

Yet, somehow we shaped a world in which the two of us danced free, passionate, happy, open and engaged.

That relationship continues. He’s the Fire inside me that never goes out.

Some people think it rude to talk about previous partners once you’re with a new one. I say, until someone can convince me of the benefit of holding back, I’ll continue speaking Kevin’s name.

If you listen, you’ll hear my soul speak, loud and proud and feminine.

If you want to fall for me, take all of me.

Grief isn’t my baggage; it’s my advantage.

See, I’ve inhabited that space where wondrous, life-enhancing love exists. So, I know I can go there again. I just can’t tell you when, how, or if it will be with you. There’s much I don’t know.

I see you standing before me, saying you want to walk with me. It may be a hard road for you, as it may never be just us two.

Kevin is my constant, still. He’s the music in songs, the flavor in foods, and my mind reels with memory like the ticker tape running across the bottom of the TV screen.

Here’s the breaking news: I have no desire to dismiss my past.

The reality that I’m with another man—any other man—feels foreign to me.

It’s not that I feel I’m cheating on my beloved. It’s that a part of my heart lives outside this world and a part of Kevin’s remains in me.

It’s—to quote Glennon Doyle Melton—a brutiful thing. You can wish the brutal away or deny its existence. You can even disappear for fear you can’t compete with a dead man.

Trust me, there’s no competition. And no, I didn’t put him on a pedestal in the aftermath. I rose into love like a bird swoops on the wind.

Better than fantasy. it was my reality.

Good. Pure. Right. Until his lights went out. Out of this world.

You tell me not to dim the lights on us because of my past. I refuse to pretend to feel any more or less than I do.

How dare you accuse me of wallowing? Oh, not that you did, but that’s how it feels when you seem to insist I’m letting my past get in your way.

I honor my grief and if you respect me and want to get me, you will too.

You’ll understand Kevin’s love for me is an essential ingredient that goes into making me the woman you want to make yours.

Here’s the cool thing about my boyfriend being dead: I can take on another man if I choose. I can take on you.

I can take your hand and your kiss. We can date and I can appreciate your presence, even while missing him every single day.

A while ago, I would’ve told you I miss him every moment. So, progress!

It’s like this. When I was in junior high, my friend’s dog bit me on my face. I was rushed to the hospital for stitches. It left a scar on my lip, one which people felt compelled to comment on for years.

A boss once assured me I could get my scar fixed by a superb surgeon. When he saw me wince, he tried to convince me it was hardly noticeable.

As if I didn’t see my scar every time I looked in the mirror. As if I couldn’t see people staring and suppressing the question: What happened?

Now, it’s been decades and people rarely ask this adult woman, What happened to your face?

This happened: I got hurt. It left a scar on my lip, just as Kevin’s death left a scar on my heart.

Do you know scar tissue is stronger than the original skin?

I think Kevin knew. Only one scar shows on my body, but Kevin loved them all. By doing this, he made way for me to love what I once considered my inadequacies. He insisted they were all a part of the ICE (his nickname for me) package—unique and beautiful.

His love opened the door for me to be more of who I am.

I’m the woman who you, new man, now claim to want. And yet, you want me to close that door?

Not happening. I’m still healing. The scar forming on my heart doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be seen.

If you really believe I’m the one for you, see my scars. See the pain, but look for the beauty.

This scar sews together the seam between where I got hurt and where I need to be loved.
My dead boyfriend isn’t an obstacle or a hurdle to leap. He’s not your competition. He doesn’t stand in the way of anything you and I might create.

My grief is a gate.

It opens to all of me—my wisdom, resilience and feminine essence. It lives in my heart. Do you have the courage to go there?

I promise only this. I offer you no less than my real self, the scar upon my broken heart and the sagacity born from my soul’s searching.

So new man, don’t be afraid of what happened to me yesterday. Lean in. Love my scars.

 

How to Open After Breaking.

I want to know: who flung those arrows into your heart, how did you escape the pain, and what have you learned about walking in this world?

I wish to rip off your mask and talk deep with ease.

If you wish to know me, see me. If you wish to see me, look beyond the maintained by the manmade.

If you wish to make your way into my heart, open yours. I’ll look past your label, your name, and my subconscious assumptions I’d rather deny.

Please don’t put me on a pedestal unless your destination is disappointment.

I won’t dismiss you—today, but don’t book your expectations on me. I offer you no promises and tell you I’ve broken plenty in the past.

I promised forever and failed—twice.

I’ve also lived in the moment and given full-on, exercised-in-delight love.

I’ve changed men. Some woke up and others shattered.

With men, I’ve both expanded and become completely undone.

I’m the phoenix. I fly into the fire and come out transformed.

That’s why I leaped off a 50-foot telephone pole and walked across 40-feet of hot burning coals. Metamorphosis is what I do.

It’s my chosen path even when I attempt to avoid it, which I do less and less as I age. I welcome change because it’s coming.

I’d like to invite you with me, but I don’t know how long your destiny is meant to intertwine with mine.

Some main characters of yesterday are no longer on the page.

This isn’t a novel. I’m the author of this true story.

I have a say, but how many actors and factors come into play in a life? Prediction seems preposterous.

I’m a risk taker, but today I cling to certainties.

You’re on my path. That’s all I know.

I want to know more. I want to know: who flung those arrows into your heart, how did you escape the pain, and what have you learned about walking in this world? How did you learn to sing and what drives you to get up in the morning?

I want to know the answers below the answers. I yearn for soul connection.

It starts with the eyes. Yet, sometimes I turn away from yours. It’s the intimacy I crave colliding with my protection mechanisms.

I want to ask, why are you still here? And, thank God you’re still here.

Yet, I look away. I look away? Forgive me.

I’m afraid of the unknown, disappointing one more man, and death—yours—even though I don’t know you that well yet.

Only beyond words. From that other lifetime where we meant something to each other that’s been carried over here—in coincidences, synchronicities, habits, and conversational patterns.

So, lean in and tell me what you see in my eyes.

Maybe I need to go to the mirror before I can meet you where you are.

I wish to know you, to see you. I wish to rip off your mask, talk deep with ease, and listen like life is speaking.

Drinking Memory

“Your memory has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” ~ W.S. Merwin

I’m drinking Tim Horton’s coffee like taking a hit of memory.

Once, the man I love was alive, here, with me. We went to Tim Horton’s.

Now, the coffee tastes like that particular day and all of his kisses. Ordinary memories I could’ve forgotten find me falling into them since his arms are no longer available.

In less than two years, I became as addicted to Kevin as I am to the coffee I’ve been drinking for 40 years. Kevin became a part of my normal, my ritual, a thing that kick started, comforted and warmed me.

Any addiction is beatable, but one must have the craving for sobriety as strong as the call for one more hit. What if I don’t want to quit?

What if I want to drive through Tim Horton’s on random Thursdays, play Etta James and absorb memories like vitamins? What if I don’t want to move on?

I suppose that makes me like my friend’s son after she cut his hair. He screamed, “I want my yesterday hair!”

I want my yesterday man!

Don’t tell me there will be others; there are others. It’s like telling a boy his new short hair looks fine. Maybe it does, but he’s not yet identified with the new look. The change shocks.

The change. The loss. The shortness of our time together. Shocks. Me.

In my days, I move forward, take action and set my vision. With my head, I lean into tomorrow’s tape. In my heart, I still wait for yesterday to pass me the baton.

I wait. I look. I see the crowd. I feel the excitement of other runners. I’m ready. I look back and wait.

My hand stretches open as if Kevin could reach for me once again.

While I wait, I drink coffee. I summon my soul to save me from the place I really want to go—where my beloved lives. The place from where he cheers me on and on through the memories which hold the magic we once danced with and the passion that never dies.

Yes, the passion of my soul lives on like a fire that never goes out.

How Discomfort can be our Launchpad

The mistake we make is thinking our lives should always be comfortable.

When my grandfather came to New Mexico for my mother’s funeral, I asked if he’d be more comfortable staying at my father’s house or my stepfather’s. He said, “I’m not comfortable with any of this.”

His words were a declaration from a man who’d buried his wife of 56 years, and the lady friend who followed, after being an amazing caretaker to both.

My granddad had triple bypass surgery and came out of it to take up walking five miles a day. He’d spent his entire career working his way up in Mountain Bell Telephone Company—way before cell phones.

When this man said he wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t a complaint so much as a clarification that life is often uncomfortable.

Comfortableness is a luxury of our modern society. Yet, it’s been in my least comfortable situations—such as loved ones dying and me divorcing men I once vowed to stay with until death—I dedicated myself to higher values.

I don’t believe growth only comes from life bitch-slapping us. Those are just the occasions our character is clearly called into play.  

Although I used to live by the motto, “What doesn’t destroy me makes me strong,” I learned pain isn’t something to invite and it doesn’t always ignite the positive.

Some people succumb to living a life of agony because they become accustomed to it. Change, even for the better, can be uncomfortable.

When I was flat broke living in a motel that kept me on high alert and distressed all night, I proved thinking and acting clearly in a state of fear can be a challenge.

My friend Sam convinced me to get out of there, not because she worried for my safety, but because she heard me telling myself it was okay.

I was becoming comfortable living in a space where I didn’t belong, where drug dealers argued in the hallways.

I even tried to convince Sam the situation was fine.

She said, “No, this isn’t something to become comfortable with. Don’t start thinking you deserve this and allowing it to become your identity. You get out of there or I’ll get you out, but you’re not staying.” Now, that’s a friend.

Like my other friend who responded when I set aside my ego and asked for his help to get into a safer place.

In a way, I put myself in that disturbing situation because I became comfortable in a job (retail) where I wasn’t growing and a marriage that was dying.

The comfort kept me from planning for a better future. After all, I made good money and my husband loved me.

I loved him too, but I how can we love ourselves if we stifle our truth on a daily basis?

The truth was even though my life was secure in so many ways, I wanted more.

I wanted more out of a relationship and as much as my husband wanted to be my hero, he wasn’t able to engage in the depth, intimacy and passion I desired.

Sometimes our longing for more is our soul showing us the way.

At work, although I was a top producer, I found myself bored and unfulfilled.

While many of my coworkers loved what they were doing, I craved a career with more meaning, even when I didn’t know what that might look like.

While living a life that looks good from the outside, it can be challenging to admit we want more.

With courage, we can invite the comfort we have to be our launch pad into growth.

We must be willing to stretch for more, to dive into the discomfort.

It wasn’t easy to go back to school at age 37 when I’d never been a good student.

It was difficult to sign up for my Masters in Technical Communication when I believed myself to be the least technical person I knew.

Then, uneasiness riddled me as I feared the adult college students I taught were smarter and worldlier than I was.

By stepping into the discomfort, I found my way to a life doing what I love.

Now, here I am, years later—comfortable. Once again, I must recognize where I’m unsettled—in order to rise.

See, I wrote my first book and although it was work, I enjoyed the process.

Now, it’s time for the hard work—marketing myself and my writing and seeking an agent to represent the most important project of my life.

At this stage, I acknowledge why I held back. I resisted the discomfort of potential rejection or failure. Don’t we all resist at times?

No more. I’m stepping into it so I can grow into the professional published writer I’m on the path to becoming. It’s a winding path and not without its pitfalls.

The mistake we make is thinking our lives should always be comfortable.

When my boyfriend died in March of 2016, grief became the uncomfortable, foreign, painful world I existed in.

Until I started to make peace with my grief.

Now, I’ve lost enough loved ones to know grief isn’t something we can take off like a winter coat just because it’s heavy.

Sometimes grief is the only thing that keeps us warm when it feels like our hearts are freezing.

In another chapter that began with “not being comfortable with any of this,” I’ve become accustomed to my grief.

This is the stage from where I move on and stretch once again into the uncomfortable, where I walk in the world without him and date men who won’t compare to the one I lost.

This is where I lean into laughter and joy, in spite of them feeling uncomfortable.

Because if we refuse to reach for more and better, if we remain where all is comfortable, we live in stagnation.

What was once appropriate transforms into an opportunity to expand, to live more fully.

Growth isn’t always comfortable. In fact, it often hurts like hell.

Know this: it’s worth the discomfort, the challenge and the ache. If we’re willing to become uncomfortable, we can grow forward through the discomfort of life into our better selves.

As for me, I refuse to die a slow death in yesterday’s comfort.