How to Know When You’re Getting to the Better Side of Grief.

How to Know When You’re Getting to the Better Side of Grief.

When drinking out of that one striped coffee cup (his)—which you relegate to a special place and celebrate sipping from, holding the connection to him the way a child holds her Teddy Bear—no longer feeds you an emotional feast.

Of course, you still choose it the way you’d still choose your beloved were he alive, but its existence, meaning, and memories don’t grip as tight as they once did.

When you flirt with other men because you want to, not just to prove to yourself you still can.

When meeting potential suitors, you no longer seethe from your soul the words that rolled off your tongue fresh after his death: Every other man is going to be such a f*cking disappointment!

Although each one will say or do the wrong thing by virtue of not being the man you called Fire!.

He lit you, warmed you, melted you, and went out in the night while you each slept snuggled in the peace you’d longed for your whole life.

Yet, you remember you once gave him a hard time, too–even considered him unqualified.

Until he shattered your walls with his Southern, all-in, “I’m not those other guys” determination and dedication without expectation.

Damn. He showed you how a real man steps in.

So, you might be getting to the better side of grief when you believe maybe there’s more than one emotionally courageous man on this earth, even another for you.

You stop banking on your beloved coming back, although you still secretly believe.

Your fascination with the other side, psychics, and signs subsides.

Sure, the songs still come, like Summer Nights for your sister, the flash from her first date with her husband some 35+ years ago, before he died after decades of love and a devoted family foursome.

That same night in the Bahamas, gals sing and slaughter Ice, Ice Baby, the song that originated Fire’s nickname for you in 1988 when your friendship began, as playful as a paintball tournament.

You’re getting to the other side of grief when these songs, reminders, and hellos from heaven break a smile instead of your heart.

You find yourself fully present vacationing with your sister, letting the alligators in the Everglades and lobster on the beach in the Bahamas own your attention.

Easy, one might say, but to grieve is to always wish you were elsewhere: with him.

When every breath isn’t I wish you were here; I miss you so much! Although the thought still indulges your days, it’s not every. single. moment. Progress!

Now, you’ve done 30 Days of Meditation, cleared everything from your chakras to your lineage, and found your heart bursting with love.

Determination isn’t only in your head; you embody it.

Goals and dreams matter, rather than just trying to convince yourself they should.

You might be getting to the to the better side of grief when birds singing and feeding at the feeder that belonged to your beloved goes from bittersweet to simply sweet.

Morning air and the wearing of his KISS robe isn’t ripe with flashbacks of early country mornings, arising from his bed and arms to let your dog out, hearing your favorite holler, “Come back, Icey! Come back!”

When you stop betting 100% he will.

Once again, you start finding two pennies repeatedly. Then a nickel and a penny, hearing him say, “For your sixth cents,” laughing, and you laugh, too.

Your own laughter rings as real and unrestrained as it flowed back in 1989, before your brother died, when you called The Fire! only Kevin, and he helped you pack your Honda CRX hitched with a U-Haul, so you could haul your ass out west and run away from husband number one.

You no longer want to run away from your own life.

Instead, you lean into the laughter and how it feels in your belly and looks on your face reflected in the eyes of your sister, friends, and strange folks you’ve yet to know.

You could be getting to the better side of grief when gratitude doesn’t feel like false affirmation, when you look forward to time with friends, and frankly, you stop wishing you were dead.

When you don’t keep your eyes on the clouds, begging for the heart shapes so prominent and clear in the first year after he died.

You begin looking at all that is before you.

You stop carrying conversations on autopilot like your decades spent in sales. You listen to others’ pain as more than pacifier for why yours isn’t so bad.

You still yourself and speak from your soul without the deafening echo of his goneness.

You hear joy—theirs and yours—and let it rise like a favorite song you sang in your 20s. Passion!

I find I’m getting to the better side of grief when I want to grab every morsel of life.

I don’t want to miss out on one grand, or even mundane experience, like savoring coffee, because I’m so damn busy missing my beloved, my Fire!, although I always will.

I crawled through the dark tunnel of grief after experiencing the ecstasy of sacred love.

It hasn’t died. His love lives in me. I’m forever his Ice Baby.

I’m all that he fell for—broken, vulnerable, smart, strong, feisty, funny, and beautiful.

We were crazy, sexy, cool. He still is; I still am.

I’m alive, eager for the moments before me, and excited for the chapters unfolding.

I feel like me again. I’m a woman who loved unbounded and grieved with every fiber of my being.

I’m not a fool. Grief will grab me again. She can knock me down with the power of a colossal ocean wave. I accept her power, her nature.

But, we may be getting to the better side of grief when we once again feel our own power and God’s grace within this brutiful life.

And giddiness! There’s no such thing as giddiness in the grip of grief.

So, if you’re in it, I extend my hand in hope to hold with your honorable despair.

There’s another side to grief. May I see you there.

How Grief Lives in our Cells.

“To be broken is no reason to see all things as broken.” ~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I live with my sister. We’re both in our 50s, which means we’re perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves and we value communicating and checking in with each other.

We’ve learned accidents do happen and people we love sometimes die.

We balance these not-fun facts with our inclination toward optimism.

Last night, Jayne went out with a friend, which is also a treat for me, as I relish my time alone. I used it well last night.

I skyped with an advanced editing class from my old alma mater (Metropolitan State University, Saint Paul, MN). The students asked me thought-provoking questions about my blogging process and purpose.

After the meeting, I took notes about what I learned from them and how I’ll implement some of their ideas.

Inspired by virtually being in the classroom, I dove back into a book assigned in my first politics class: American Democracy in Peril: Seven Challenges to America’s Future. How far-fetched that felt in 2002!

After reading, hunger overtook me. I noted the time: 10 pm. My sister would be walking in the door soon.

I made cauliflower rice with sautéed kale and cabbage and plopped in front of the TV.

Around 10:30, I texted my sis just to make sure she was ok. It’s not typical of her to stay out late on a “school night.”

On Scandal, the old Olivia Pope had returned—or had she? The President was going down—or was she?

My sister still hadn’t texted back. Again, not like her. She’s an IT manager and the constant bing of work messages is her norm. She’s the prompt texter backer.

I told myself she was fine, as fear felt its way into my body, the kind that says saying things are ok doesn’t make them so if they’re not.

After all, the day my boyfriend Kevin was due to arrive but didn’t, when worry hung in the air, my sister’s boyfriend said, “It’ll be ok.”

I even tried to convince myself Kevin would burst through the door, larger than life, wrap his big arms that felt like home around me, and spin some crazy story the way only he could do.

But, we were wrong. He would not be walking through my door or anyone else’s ever again. He would never tell another story with his Lentz-man vocabulary.

Everything was not alright.

My beloved died in his sleep of a heart attack. That cruel fact cannot be overridden by my mind.

The news, the truth, the day my life transformed lives in my cells. My body knows.

So, until I heard back from my sister, I suppressed the possibility of a reality I’ll never be ready for.

I didn’t even know where she went to dinner, some Mexican restaurant. She could be anywhere in the city.

God, please let her be safe.

How would I find her if she didn’t respond? I could find her friend on Facebook.

Would I call her son, the cop in Michigan to ask him what to do? Or the one here, who called the police for me and got them to search the freeways Kevin intended to drive on, and then his home where they found him in his bed?

I wouldn’t want to worry my nephews without reason, but what if my sister was in a situation where time was of the essence and could possibly save her life?

Silly, these thoughts, I tried to tell myself. I’m not a worry wart, but my mind played the sport while I simultaneously resisted the churning in my stomach.

Until Jayne’s text: “I’m sorry. I’m good. Coming home soon.”

Ah, the message of peace. I crawled into bed unscathed, tired and happy.

This morning, on her way to work, Jayne apologized again. I’ve done it to her, too. It’s no big deal.

But, then I cried because I can’t bear the thought of going through that again. And because I don’t have to.

Not now. All is well.

My sister admitted she’s been pierced by grief’s arrow threatening the worst repeating.
After all, her husband determined to beat cancer, but that day never arrived.

Like our brother who didn’t make his destination from California to Tucson and died on the side of a desert highway (car accident).

Still, I believe in the power of prayer and positive possibility.

Beautiful memories like falling in love, dancing under the stars, and splashing down water slides also dot the map of my life.

I refuse to live in the worry zone, but sometimes I take a trip there, making me grateful to return home to my current safe and sweet realty.

 

How to Bring Crazy, Sexy, Cool Back.

“Your heart is the conduit and radiator of your multidimensional self.” ~ Sarah Entrup

One moment I knew joy, light, laughter, and the peace of a clean house and freshly rearranged bedroom.

On Friday March 4, 2016, my sister and her boyfriend, my nephew and his wife, and I awaited my boyfriend’s arrival and anticipated a night out at The Melting Pot.

After his non-arrival and numerous calls completed with the final words of the officer explaining unresponsive meant dead, I shifted into a sh*t storm of sadness so deep it felt like living below the earth.

I twirled, swirled, fought, and finally gave into the mourning. The tears shocked me with shrieks and howls fit for an animal.

I was an animal in pain.

I lost my will to live as quickly as I learned of my beloved’s death.

I had to live for my sister, who’d experienced the death of her husband just four years prior. I couldn’t intentionally inflict this pain on anyone, but my choice would’ve been to go to sleep and never wake up, like my boyfriend Kevin did (heart attack in his sleep).

Often, people who’ve lost loved ones worry about them in the afterlife. That’s never been my concern. Not with my brother, mother, brother-in-law, or beloved.

I know they’re in a better place. Not la-la-la harps and angels, but beautiful beyond our imagination. I believe the afterlife multiplies everything a person loves.

Like my brother Bill can ski soft, deep powder, fly off jumps, and never break skis or bones the way he did on earth. I envision my mom sewing costumes for better-than-Broadway plays. Tom Gerlach, my brother-in-law owns all the cars he wants, and the 50s car shows he felt so fond of here are bland compared to the ones on the other side. As for Kevin Lentz? Rock-n-roll means musical ecstasy and star showers are light shows.

I also believe our loved ones go on with other purposes in the afterlife.

However, these beliefs only make me jealous and crave to be with them even more.

I gave way to the whirlwind of grief. I let it spin me, slap me, pound me. Over time, my grief transformed from a tornado I was caught in to an ocean in which I tried to swim.

I may have looked cute in my suit, but I always wore the grief. It engulfed me.

Until it didn’t. I’m not saying I’m over it, but maybe I’ve moved my blanket to the sand beside the ocean. I see both the power and beauty.

I respect grief’s strength and don’t delude myself that I can control it any more than I could fend off my loved ones’ deaths.

There will still be days when grief arises and surprises me like high tide takes down morning sand castles.

I’m on the beach of life, the land of the living. Storms exists. Affirmations don’t dismiss.

Yet, we each decide how we’ll engage our days on earth.

Looking down the beach at the crowds, I’m far from alone in what it’s taken to get here, back to appreciation and celebration of my own heartbeat.

I’m not referring to the positive platitudes we say to make ourselves feel better.

No, it’s magical metamorphosis, the beautiful beyond that calls us to crack out.

Before Kevin’s death, I studied self-development, personal growth, positive thinking, and pop psychology religiously. I was a believer.

After, it all felt fruitless.

The whole you can get anything you want if you just affirm, believe and work at it doesn’t apply to bringing back the dead (although I still try).

Life felt like a rigged game, as random as roulette.

I felt ripped off—after numerous relationships didn’t fit and then finding ourselves blessed with the deepest fulfillment either of us had known—our crazy, sexy, cool was cruelly snatched by sudden, unexpected death. WTF?!

Now, two years later, I’m reminded of a trip years ago, (before the time I went with Kevin). When visiting Wrightsville Beach, I was told the waves were strong: Watch out!

Nevertheless, my sister and I stood in waist high water chatting—safe with our feet solid on the sand.

In a blink, a big wave knocked us both on our butts. When I came up, my Maui Jim sunglasses were gone.

Just gone. Like Kevin.

Now, I’ve come to respect nature’s power and know I’ll lose both sunglasses and people in my life. Doesn’t mean I like it!

Maybe I’m a little wiser now. For years, I resisted getting another pair of expensive sunglasses because I despised the disappointment of loss. I went for dozens of pairs of cheap sunglasses.

Recently, a friend gave me some high-end super spectacles. Just putting them on gave me a case of coolitis. My vision is sharper. They fit like a favorite pair of jeans. Wearing them makes everything brighter.

Of course, I’m careful not to lose them.

Maybe I’ve done the same thing with love—been afraid to invest, or even believe in, having the high quality again.

That’s no way to live. Not for me.

When my road ends, I intend to be able to repeat my grandfather’s experience and words: “I’ve had a lot of loss, but I’ve had a lot of love.”

So, I’ve booked another trip to the beach. With or without Kevin, I’m bringing back my crazy, sexy, cool… self.

What “This Is Us” Teaches us about the Right Way to Handle Grief.

“Grief is as necessary as joy. It comes inconveniently, often catches us unprepared, but we understand that a full, rich life experiences both ends of the spectrum.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard, The Art of the Possible

Recently, a woman told me she’d also lost her boyfriend. He died.

So, yes, she knows grief. But, she had to put it out of her mind so she could get on with life.

Each person chooses her path and I can’t say she’s wrong.

However, in my life, grief grabbed me, shook me, shattered me, and dared me to look directly at it.

That’s where I found the gifts of grief, the metamorphosis of myself, and the place from which I’m rising as a woman transformed.

I get why people don’t want to get into the grief. They can see what a mess it causes.

Tears in public places? No, thanks. Being dragged down? No, stand tall!

Be strong. Don’t let it beat you.

Well, I believe what Arielle Ford said to the Book Mama, Linda Sivertsen: “Grief is your superpower.”

It’s a passage, like adolescence or menopause, or maybe a mid-life crisis.

We must go into the mess in order to get to the metamorphosis.

My friend’s daughter is 17, just on the verge of adulthood. Not many months ago, she claimed she was already an adult and couldn’t relate to kids her age.

Now, she’s decided she doesn’t want to be an adult. In fact, she wants to go back to being a baby.

Yes, I’d like to go back to being the happy woman I was in May of 2014, sunning on Big Daddy’s boat on Lake St. Louis, gushing with gratitude for how great my life felt.

Unfortunately, I can’t unknow falling in love with my man Fire and him being put out of this life.

Often, we want to be in a different stage from the one we’re in.

We’re single; we want to be married. When a teenager, we’d rather be an adult. As our kids ready to leave home; we wish them younger and still contained by our love.

When we’re in the thick of grief, we crave the hole in our heart be filled with yesterday’s joy.

Of course, there are extremes, like the widow who keeps her husband’s clothes hanging in their closet 20 years after his death, clinging to what can no longer be.

But, who’s to say? What’s the timeline? There isn’t one.

On a recent episode of my favorite show This Is Us,  it was the 20-year anniversary of Jack, the father’s death. Each of his children and his wife found a different way to deal with the memory. (Spoiler alert.)

Every year, his wife makes lasagna. She spends the day cooking and eating alone, even though she’s now married to another man.

One son does his best to ignore the day. Like him, I’ve tried that in the past (unsuccessfully).

If only December 10th, the day my brother died and the day my mom was diagnosed with cancer, could be removed from calendars!

On the show, the daughter beats herself up with guilt every year and chooses to be melancholy. While on the surface this may sound like a poor choice, she needs to indulge in her feelings.

Sometimes, it’s diving in that allows us to resurface stronger.

On the opposing mindset is the other son, who leaps into celebration mode, throwing a Super Bowl party and going overboard with determination to create big fun.

Trying to overpower grief can catch us off guard. When his daughter’s pet lizard dies, Randall ends up turning the party into a funeral too somber for children and a lizard.

When it comes to how to handle our grief, there’s no right way.

There is, however, a call for courage: to admit the mess, allow the loss to transform us, learn our individual lessons, and especially, the courage to love again—not just another person, but life itself.

When we see, feel, and honor our grief, we can grow into more awake and compassionate people.

We become intimately aware that some of the people we love will pass on, leaving a missing piece in the picture of our lives.

The death of a loved one can feel like none of the pieces fit and life is a puzzle that can’t be solved.

But, if we’re willing to let the pieces fall and scatter, when we go to pick them up, we may discover a new picture.

When that time comes, we’re not over the loss. We’re transformed and made new in the face of it.

We more clearly see others in the process and allow space for them to find their way.

This Is Us—all of us, dealing with grief the best way we know how. And that’s enough.

 

 

 

Why We’re All Seeking the Same Thing.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” ~ Hebrews 11:1

You might think it would be easier if your wife had died—
Rather than trying to kill something in you by sleeping
With other men, even those you thought friends.

I could be tempted to say, At least she’s alive.
I wish my man was, even if he betrayed me
And tried to break me. At least I could
Hear his voice and look in his eyes.

A teenage girl tells her father,
“This ear infection is so bad
I’d rather have the flu for a year!”

Yeah, right.

Some say divorce is as difficult
As losing a loved one to death.
Having experienced both, I beg to disagree.

But, then I remember that’s just me.
My divorces (yes, two!) weren’t brutal.
No one got betrayed or dragged through court.

But, hey—I bet both those men would say
It was the worst experience of their lives.

What else could it be when the woman you love,
The one you intend to invest all your years with
Chooses to walk away?

Maybe there’s no easy.
Not when it’s yours to bear.

It wasn’t easy for my sister to lose her husband
To cancer after 33 years in a marriage many envied.

I’m still reeling from the loss of my beloved
Who went to sleep and never woke up.

My sister and her husband had history
And prepared to sail into the sunset.

My beloved and I were blessed with sacred love
Finally, in our 50s! Hope coursed through us.

Whatever we must face, it’s ours. That’s what makes it hard.

Heartbreak is our puzzle of life,
The beautiful picture shaken
And scattered on the floor.

Pieces disappear. Emptiness arrives.
Previous pieces don’t fit. Everything is a jumble.
Where did these odd, misshaped ones arrive from?

Life. Life. Life.

It’s a series of pictures coming together and falling apart.

We make new pictures.

Mine is not harder. Yours is not easier.
Yours is not harder. Mine is not easier.

It all a puzzle. We’re all seeking the pieces.

 

 

How I Came Full Circle with my Grief—and my Coffee.

“Once our bodies die, we are–I am–never far from you. I’m always around everyone I ever loved.” ~ R.A. Diane, Coffee with my Brother

Grief is a spiral staircase.

I’ve climbed higher than I once was.

I look back to my beloved’s sudden unexpected death in his sleep two years ago and see the staircase corkscrewed below the ground into a darkness I wish on no one.

But, in the depths is where he spoke to me from the beyond.

Impossible? Crazy? Sure, maybe, but it’s completely Kevin. He and I converse.

Fresh into my grief one morning, I go to grab my coffee, to drink out of the one striped cup with a chip on it that I took from his home in the aftermath.

He says, “Come on, Icey,” (his nickname for me), “Drink it black. Taste it. I want you to know how it tastes to me.”

I’ve been drinking coffee since third grade. I’m in my 50s. I know I don’t like black coffee.

But, in this instant, I’m talking to my insistent (just like when he was alive) dead boyfriend.

“Fine,” I say to appease him.

The black coffee settles on my tongue like his kiss. It’s appealing. New and old familiar flavor swirls inside my mouth and mind. I’m tasting it the way he did.

It’s different than black coffee I’ve tried dozens of times in the past. This time it’s smooth and hot and manly. I know why he drank it black. It tastes good.

From that day on, I drink my coffee black. This one thing is better than it’s ever been and offers me one less thing to worry about—the recurring panic of running out of some sort of cream to feed my morning addiction. I like the flavor and the freedom.

I know what black coffee tasted like in my boyfriend Kevin’s mouth, the way it now rolls into mine, the way we spooned in bed.

Over the following weeks and months, Kevin has me experiencing how things felt for him—in his body.

One Friday afternoon, I feel a physical quiver in my heart. It’s unnerving, attention getting, but not painful.

He tells me that’s what it felt like for him; it didn’t hurt; it was just a quiver; he didn’t know.

Cause of death: heart attack.

That Friday evening, I attempt to explain my strange beautiful experience to my sister.

After asking, “What time was that?” she proceeds to tell me at that same time, about 3:30, she felt a sharp pain in her heart and was short of breath to the point of fearing she was having a heart attack and considered calling 911.

My sister is the furthest one could be from a hypochondriac. She’s never called an ambulance for herself or even gone to the ER. I bet she can count on one hand the number of times she’s called in sick in four decades of employment.

Yet, on this day, shortly after Kevin’s death, she seriously thought she might be having a heart attack. Just when she decided yes, she should call an ambulance, the pain subsided.

Somehow, she knew the incident connected to Kevin, although neither of us know what it means. We just chalk it up to weird.

When someone you love is alive and healthy one day and gone the next, everything becomes surreal.

A few days later, I’m struck by intense pain in my heart, like being squeezed by someone’s fist. I fall to my knees on the floor in my kitchen.

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I say through tears, “Jesus f*cking Christ!”

I feel Kevin’s presence, to which I say, “I thought you said it didn’t hurt!”

“It didn’t,” he says. “That’s what it felt like every time I hurt you. I’m sorry. I was trying to save you from the pain. But, I was saving me. It hurt me so much to hurt you. That’s why I didn’t tell you. I’m so sorry, Icey.”

I’d just found out he’d maintained a relationship with his ex-girlfriend after vowing to never speak to her again.

She and I connected after his death. Then, she revealed they’d stayed in contact. She said, “We were just friends. I promise you. He loved you so much, Alice.”

I knew it was true. I understood how their relationship had evolved into friendship. Now, I even get why he didn’t tell me.

I might have a small jealous streak that revealed itself as a walkaway woman before this woman understood the new boundaries.

After Kevin fell in love with me, it was only me.

Still. I’m furious that he lied—again! The one thing I hate the most. The reason for a few of our arguments. I despise being lied to!

Getting the truth from her is a gut punch. Mostly, I’m mad that my man is dead and I can’t even have an all-out argument with him!

So, Kevin lets me feel how much it hurt him when he hurt me. I physically experience what he says he experienced.

I believe him. It’s his truth.

Another day, I’m just walking down my street when I feel a pop and excruciating pain on my Achilles tendon, like a rubber band stretched too far, and snap! I sit down on the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house, grit my teeth and try not to cry. WTF?!

Again, Kevin is present. He says, “That’s how it felt. Remember I told you about that?”

It’s the agony he felt when, as a college basketball star (long before I knew him), he tore his Achilles tendon.

He says he wants me to know how it felt to be him.

I don’t need to feel everything he felt, but he needs me to know.

Sure, I want him to know how much I hurt in the wake of his death, but not to actually feel the soul-gripping intensity of my grief. Not that he feels pain where he is.

Besides, Kevin knows how wretched grief can be; we grew closer while he made his way through his after his mother passed in 2012.

In too quick a time, he’s with her and I’m drinking my coffee black out of one chipped cup, the kind we drank from side by side every morning I stayed with him in his home.

Why didn’t I take two cups?

Now, it’s going on two years since he’s been gone (“just in another room,” he says).

Full circle somehow, I no longer enjoy drinking my coffee black. It began to turn my teeth brown and I returned to my own taste buds.

So, was I fooling myself? No, I was gifted with knowing, feeling and experiencing what Kevin wanted me to.

I tasted black coffee the way my boyfriend did, just as delicious as my grief was wicked.

I’m reminded of a time I texted Kevin a sexy picture of me and he said, “Don’t do that, Icey. You’re wicked!” with a smile in his voice.

Higher on grief’s spiral staircase, more memories like that make me smile and I have fewer conversations with my deceased beloved.

Although I no longer drink my coffee black, I’ll never forget how good it tasted.

How History Helps Us Endure Grief.

“Acknowledging and letting go of these feelings brings us up to courage and, with that, finally acceptance and an inner peacefulness, at least as it regards the area which has been surmounted.” ~ David R. Hawkins, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender

I’ve fallen into grief’s pit again. I know; I’ll crawl out faster this time.

It’s temporary, but this is the place I miss him the most. Grief is a gross comfort.

In grief’s grip, no matter how magnificent my daily life, it pales in comparison to any moment, memory, or experience shared with my now-deceased beloved.

Before Kevin stepped up into the role of boyfriend, he hung around the sidelines of my life ever since my first career opportunity, where we met, and my first marriage, which I left.

Yep, Kevin was there decades ago as I burned rubber out of both.

He seemed to pop up in every chapter of my life, while I gave him little thought, took our friendship for granted, and tried to set him up with my girlfriends.

Actually, I thought him a bit of an ass. I had no desire to impress him, which allowed me to feel free in his presence.

He wasn’t trying to win me over, either. So, I benefitted from the safety of a man by my side, like a brother.

Back in 1989, Kevin took me to his friend Ed’s party out in the country, close to St. Louis. Although I didn’t see Kevin much throughout the weekend, I felt his presence as we each mingled with other people. I knew he had my back.

The physical safety a man can offer came automatically with Kevin’s 6’3 stature. But, there’s another kind of safety.

Like when I said something I feared I had to wrap in an apology or explanation, his reaction proved the wrapping unnecessary.

I once said, “I’m not trying to judge you, but…”

Kevin said, “If you want to judge me, that’s ok. It’s on you.”

He showed me what it meant to be non-defensive, which I wasn’t used to, and non-judgmental, which I, like many people, longed for my whole life.

Best of all, Kevin embraced the gifts of my words, opinions, feelings, ideas, stories, and even my anger and fears.

It’s a whole new level of safety when a man loves a woman the way her dog does—not trying to change, impress, prove wrong, scold, compete with, or rescue.

I’d had enough of all that.

Finally, I didn’t have to or want to feel or say anything but my soul truth.

I didn’t have to work so hard at being happy or understood.

Amazingly, I saw Kevin the way I wished I’d see all the men who I’d shared chapters of my life with, but never quite managed.

He knew my sh*t. I knew his—and loved him even more for it, the way I wanted to love the other men, but didn’t.

With Kevin, I saw the quirks and flaws I’d normally judge—his loud mouth and undeniable ability to be politically incorrect, but I felt within me a new level of understanding and compassion, which felt oddly natural.

Here was a man full-on present in a way I’d never known a man to be.

Our experience flowed, rather needing to be reasoned around.

Sure, we had our moments. When I exploded with anger or jealousy (because he showed me it was safe to feel and deal with both), we got through it together.

Early on, I told Kevin I wanted nothing less than authenticity—because I couldn’t handle any more lies or disappointment—after my last three strikes with men, which he knew all about.

Like an old-fashioned gentleman, Kevin put his promise in a hand-written letter and mailed to my home: “As we go down our path, I pledge to give you the authenticity you crave and deserve. I want to have it all with you, Ice. Will you let me?”

Ice. He called me Ice. I let him melt me. Thank God I did, but damn, who could say no to that?!

Well, me—the gal who said no to or walked out on plenty of men who offered their hearts. It was just never enough for me.

Until Kevin. He was far from perfect, but he was real.

I’d have paid any price to take the ride we took together.

I relaxed and became my full self in his arms. He grew and awakened in my presence.

Our deal was divine.

Now, he’d dead—physically. (Heart attack in his sleep.)

This fact challenges me more than anything ever has.

My losses and lessons before couldn’t prepare me for this one.

This grief is like a gal with math anxiety learning calculus.

I face confusion, vulnerability, and some days, despair.

However, history says I’ve worked my way through before.

History says: love comes around again.