Flailing Like a Woman

For four years

I flailed in the winds of life

Like a kite

I let grief take me

Twist me

Rip me

While I practiced

Yoga and gratitude

To remain grounded

Held by a string

I prayed to fly higher

Or stand still

To be as beautiful

As a butterfly,

As solid as a dog

But I’m none of these

I am a woman

With feelings and dreams

Living, leaning, loving

Organically

As authentic me

Flawed, but finding my way.

Today, I dance with wonder

Realizing, acknowledging,

Accepting just how much

It takes to recover when

The man you’ve been

Searching for

Your whole life

Dies.

How to Show up During the Coronavirus.

“The ability to recognize these times of pressurized pain as opportunities to love and heal—along with an openness to accepting what is and facing it unflinchingly—become the wings of freedom.” ~ Jennifer Salima Holt, PhD, Sacred Gateway of Loss and Grief

It’s Sunday morning, the first in the Coronavirus shutdown. It’s surreal. It’s out there.

My friend’s 24-year-old son died Friday night. That’s close.

I can feel his pain, although he’s several states away. I ache for him.

I remember my mother, a warrior among women, weakening when she lost her only son, my brother, at age 27.

I held her hand as we drove from Oklahoma to Arizona to see his body for the last time.

I stayed with my mom when my then-husband told me to come home. I was 25. I didn’t know anything about grief, except my mom needed me.

Now, I’ve endured several seasons of grief, losing my mother and others.

I’d like to think I know something, like when my friend’s mom died recently. I wanted to have the right words.

There are no right words, except maybe what my friend Lisa said when my beloved died: “I’m so f*cking sorry this happened.”

I’m 55. More deaths will come.

My friend who lost his son has a pain as deep as the core of the earth.

I won’t pretend I have any power to take it away or that words mean anything when grief hits like Ali.

I stand in my friend’s corner. I stand witness to the blows. No matter how hard it gets, I’m here.

I cheer him on, even as he bleeds tears. His pain is as strong as his love. He’s a fighter, but he never wanted to be in this ring.

May he feel the crowd chanting on his behalf. May his children who still live be his Adrian, his reason. May he endure the pain like Rocky.

This is the hardest fight of my friend’s life. In the face of this, Coronavirus is tiddlywinks.

Just getting up from the bed, holding morning coffee while grief grabs everything, is round one.

From the sidelines of those we love who’ve lost their mother, sister, brother, lover, spouse or child, presence is our only power.

Let us step into their corner, wipe their wounds, offer them water, witness their pain, knowing it’s their fight, but we sit in the ring of grief with them.

We stay present while they fight. We love them as their bones of reality crack and break with every blow. We wince while they take the hits.

We are here because worse than grief is having no one in your corner while you face it.

Even though we’re all practicing the new normal of Coronavirus, let’s still be there for one another, even from afar.

Be in someone’s corner today.

How I Came to Meet the Devil in my Bed.

“I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, “aw shit, he’s up!” ~ Steve Maraboli Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

I’ve long denied a devil exists. But, can I just call it dark forces, ego, or the lowest part of humanity which lives, even in me?

She woke me up at 3 am to tell me how stupid I am—a useless failure who should just commit suicide—because of all the time I’ve wasted, which, according to the she-devil dancing in my head, is proof I’ll never make it as a writer.

Therefore, I’ll have to go back to retail hell, or at least the sales game. She reminds me I can’t make a living doing what I love: writing, teaching, and yoga.

What about the gals I know succeeding as writers, like Louisa Deasey and Christy Williams? What about the yoga goddesses, Annie and Addie traversing the world and awakening women?

At 3:15 am, she-devil helps me compare myself to women I love in a way that makes me feel smaller.

I’m staying in a friend’s home, crying and ashamed of crying, hiding, trying not to make noise and wishing to shrink under the sheets of shame.

The she-devil is my own self-hatred. Hatred for my own humanity fueled by fear of too much reality outside myself which I can’t stop reading, thinking, and wanting to scream about. I can’t let the devil drag me into fear about our country and society, which seems so obvious to me. (The ship called America isn’t just sinking; She’s on fire!)

That’s too dire to think about at his hour. I want to sleep so I can be a better version of me tomorrow.

I pray to God to help me, angels to surround me, and guides to direct me.

I forgive myself.

I remember what Sarah Entrup said in her Oracle Council. Sarah runs Free the She (not Unleash the She-Devil).

Sarah says uncomfortability is part of being a woman. We keep looking for the one thing to take the longing of our hearts away. No man, no child, job, house, or thing outside of ourselves can do that for us.

Ahh yes, it’s true. We have our moments, even seasons of contentedness, but they tend to be fleeting.

So, what if I made space for the distress? What if I acknowledged the she-devil trying to distract me and bring me down?

I see you, B! You’re the part of me called insecurity, the one who lurks in the background with certainty. The same certainty I held as a toddler and a kindergartener when my mother stared down at me screaming, “Alice Ann, you’re not stupid!” over something I’d done, proving I was the thing she wanted me not to be.

I’m an adult now. I’ve done my work. And still, the she-devil lurks. It’s okay.

It’s part of being human and especially a woman. I’m a woman of faith—the kind that doesn’t fit in a box, the kind who believes in a God bigger than a book written by men.

I believe in LOVE. I love myself. I forgive myself. I bless myself. And I rise.

Well, in this case, I fall asleep, surrendering to dreams and the belief I’m okay, even in the uneasiness.

I no longer deny the devil exists—both as the she-devil who’d derail my divine desires and the he-devil who’d drive our country off a cliff with glee.

I also believe in something bigger: the best of me, my divine internal fire, my sweet soul who loves, even when it’s challenging.

I believe in the light arriving like morning within my heart, mind, society, and the world.

I turn to the light, to the love, in the dark night. I pray to be used for good.

Angels kiss my cheek and I go back to sleep, knowing I’m awakening through the agony and with humanity.

How to Be Brave Again.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank

I used to be brave. I climbed in canyons alone and hitchhiked when I was a kid. I rode a bus across the country at 14 to go to Outward Bound. I rock climbed blindfolded.

I knocked on doors and did in-home sales for decades, going into strangers’ homes unafraid of anything but flubbing my closing lines.

I drove across the country numerous times and moved to Mexico once. 

Even after being raped by a boss at age 24, I held an invincibility at my core.

Things are different now. I’m different, but so is my country.

Years ago, my sister and I went to the Bahamas. On a walk along the beach, local men laid like lizards on cement walls and leered at us like we were meat. Their eyes on us felt animalistic.

I’ve seen that look in the eyes of some American men more often in the past few years.

There was the guy in the parking lot at the Mexican restaurant when I walked to get my jacket from my car parked next to him. I said hi and his eyes met me with hatred, enough to make me sprint back to the restaurant. I’d like to say he was the only one, a rarity.

But, in today’s society, being female is a vulnerability. Yes, it always has been, but not to this extent, not for a long time.

You can tell me I’m paranoid, or just devoid of logic. Logic isn’t what’s guiding our society. Even when it was, that left out female knowing.

I know too much, see too much, and feel too much fear.

It’s not just about the men who leer. It’s about knowing, due to our hyper-vigilant gun ownership, any altercation could turn dangerous. And it’s not just altercations. It’s concerts, movies, and children going to school gunned down in innocence.

This isn’t to point blame or suggest maybe we have a problem with violence. It’s acknowledging that the overwhelming presence of guns most places I go can make me want to stay home, to hide in safety.

My mom owned a gun and believed in gun rights and the NRA. Oh, what I’d give to have a conversation with her today.

Just like with pizza or beer, a little isn’t bad, but as a lifestyle too much can be devastating.

I’ve altered my lifestyle for safety and security. Certainly, this is in part due to growing out of youth’s invincibility.

However, even as an adult, I used to feel freer, just a few years back.

Isn’t America about freedom? I don’t feel as free and fear it will get worse.

Too many of our heroes have been revealed as dangerous predators. Too many more roam free, eager, and now, emboldened.

What’s a woman to do, but be afraid? Be brave! You say?

Yes, but not in the way of denial of danger. Not, for me, in grabbing a gun to be part of the society hell bent on rights beyond legitimate concerns.

We all agree mass shootings are bad, as well as individual ones. Cop killings are bad. Cops killing? Really bad.

What I fear is the structures we’ve come to count like the ground we stand on are crumbling. The rules have changed in every area. Truth is disputed.

Serious journalists, the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, once the bastions of our civil society, who took down Nixon, have been framed as enemies.

Roger Stone has a tattoo of Nixon on his chest and the guy in the White House defends him.

No, I’m not bashing. I’m looking clearly.

As a nation, can we see, or shall we continue to be as blind as Camille Cosby?

No matter the facts, she chose loyalty to what she perceived as truth, to the man she knew as good. Who can blame her?

We love who we love. We put our faith in them. We lower bars to make way for them.

When it’s personal, like a marriage and family, it takes time to see a reality so in conflict with what we’ve been told and shown and believe in our core.

As a county, do we have time?

I’m fearful. I’m told to think positive. I try not to be cynical.

Shall we wait until global warming becomes unbearable?

Geez, this gal’s negative! Turn away. Or don’t. I understand the impulse.

What are you grappling with? Where is the collective personal and the personal societal?

Apparently, we need to learn from personal experience and until it touches us, let’s turn off the TV, call the truth fake, and for God’s sake, take care of ourselves.

Yes, I’ll take care of myself to the best of my ability. I’ll also care for loved ones and strangers when and where I can. I’ll speak and write truth.

I’ll be brave again. Courage is revealed in the face of fear.

To call upon mine, I’ll reread Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Like Frank and Frankl, even if the worst is upon us, we can be diligent in our faith, seek purpose, and imagine ourselves being a part of a better world, or at least paving a path for future generations.

We can be brave again. We must be brave again.


 

Facing the Fact.

What’s lurks, as I lean into life?

I’ve cleared my vision,

Shifted into my old optimism,

Dove back in for another revision.

I went running—pain free—three times.

I went on a date—without talking about my deceased beloved.

I readied to claim my progress.

But, like a bully who knows me too well,

Grief casts her shadow.

Still.

I know what I don’t want to know.

Worse than the fact:

He’s never coming back

(which I still—three years, nine months in—don’t quite believe),

I never stop wishing

He was here

Making it easy

To lean into

My life

Without him.

How I Lean into the Goneness.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~ Roger Caras

I washed my yoga mat, which I rarely did while my 100-lb Black Lab Phoenix filled my life. Before she died months ago, she determined the rolling out of my mat was meant for her, even if I tried to coax her onto her own yoga mat, gifted due to her nail scratches. She had to be on whichever mat I wanted to use. So, I mostly did yoga around her.

My clean pink yoga mat free of black hair on the kitchen floor invited me into the emptiness, the sucker punch of her goneness.

 I sat with my sadness. I miss you so much, baby!

It used to be when I was sad Phoenix and I went for walks around the neighborhood and into the woods.

I still go sometimes—to get my body moving and commune with the trees.

The neighbors with dogs hardly recognize me without her black body by my side.

She served as my guide dog, guiding me to people. She could smell who needed love.

She traipsed across lawns like an eight-year-old girl, interrupted conversations, leaned in for love, and accepted certain treats from favored folks.

Kids asked to pet her. Does she bite? Will she lick me? She likes me!

She taught kids who feared dogs they didn’t need to be afraid. She helped teenage boys push past their cool and allow affection.

She let a neighbor grieving her own dog hug tight through sobs and suddenly dismiss.

The landlord, who doesn’t even melt for spotted baby deer, bragged to the window guy about Phoenix. “She wasn’t just a dog!” She was a presence.

When she stayed with my friends Carol and Pete and I was on my way to pick her up, they said, “We don’t know any Phoenix; Our dog’s name is Princess!”

That’s what one neighbor called her. She’d disappear behind, or maybe in, his house. Sometimes I feared he coveted her in a way that made me understand that commandment. I insisted he stop calling her Princess. “Her name is Phoenix!”

But yes, there was something regal about her. When neighbors engaged with her, as they often did, their invisible walls dropped. She made people feel safe.

When they exclaimed, “She’s so beautiful!” they meant her entire demeanor, as well as her black satin coat. Her soft caramel eyes whispered caresses. Her untainted, soulful authenticity invited comfort. She knew how to walk the path to love.

Now, I walk alone. I feel invisible and vulnerable without my identity born from “This is Phoenix’s mom!” The easy connections and conversations sever without her.

Then, there’s the lovely older couple… The lady flat out told me early on when I invited her to a gathering, “The only people I like in this neighborhood is Phoenix.”

For years, both husband and wife, asked repeatedly, “Has she gained weight? She looks heavy.” I stifled my instinctive, “Have you?”

Now that she’s gone, I’m privy to a new conversation. Recently, they pulled their van close to me, against the nonexistent weekday suburbia traffic.

“Gosh, we hardly recognized you without Phoenix! We don’t see you walking much. How old was she?”

“Eleven.”

They didn’t seem to have a reference point. They shrugged and looked at each other. “What did she die from?”

“I don’t know. She’d been sick for a while.”

“Was it cancer?”

“Probably.”

This conversation served up the opposite of “two heads are better than one,” as I’ve had the exact conversation with each of them individually.

“Well, we don’t see you walking as much without her.” Do you wonder why?

I can’t be too irritated with this couple, though. When Phoenix and I moved into the neighborhood, they told me where to catch the trail into the woods, like slipping me a secret ticket to childlike freedom found in the forest, our playground where Phoenix could go off leash while I walked, ran, skipped, sung, or wrote.

The trees swaying in spring, autumn colors splashing against the river mirror, the fluffy, winter carpet encouraging us to forge a fresh path, and the swept-clean dirt floor dancing with roots repeatedly returned us to our better natures.

I go alone now, seeking my spirit, missing my Lab partner, and feeling vulnerable without her bark, bold body, and announcement to anyone we might meet among the trees: I’m with her.

She’s not with me now. As a woman, I’m suddenly a little less free. I must stay more aware, the way a wise woman walks in the world today.

I’m acutely aware of my 11-year-old loyalist’s absence, along with her lingering love.

My yoga mat is clean. I practice into this new space where I don’t have to navigate a dog for whom I’d gladly lay out a mat, a bed, or a bowl every day of my life.

She was my pleasure, my treasure, and my protector. A gift of the highest order.

How Memory Soothes.

“The most evident token and an apparent sign of wisdom is a constant and unrestrained rejoicing.” ~ Michel de Monatigne

The Cardinals’ chirps announce their return

to feeders outside sliding glass doors.

Fresh October air kisses my face

with memories I want to

dive into and dismiss:

The October my Labrador Phoenix and

I stayed with my boyfriend Kevin

at his house in the country

with a view of the river and

trees thick like an autumn rainbow.

Mornings sat us at his new, suited-for-two round table

With coffee made for and served to each other.

Kevin crossed his long basketball-star legs and

Pointed out birds I never noticed.

He knew their names and identifying characteristics.

In those moments, we were an old couple together.

I could grow old with this man, my mate.

We were Fire & Ice; Crazy, Sexy, Cool.

We added a thousand memories

After our colorful fall that felt like

I’d finally found a home for my soul.

March of 2016 took my beloved

like a kidnapper in the night,

by complete surprise.

His heart stopped

in the center of our love story,

that began with

two decades

invested in telling tales

About men and women we dated, married and divorced.

About jobs we worked since the one where we met,

Stories told over miles he and I drove separately.

So often we spoke for hours with one of us on the road.

He ran sales appointments and I drove between MN and OH

To see my sister, whose husband was dying of cancer.

How did I forget that Kevin carried me through those conversations

where my heart was breaking for my sister and brother-in-law and nephews?

Kevin encouraged me to stay with my sister after her husband—and then the cat—died.

And besides, the guy I lived with strutted the pilot stereotype he denied.

Kevin said, “Icey, you’ve got to get out of there.”

Always direct with each other: the kind of friendship I value.

Direct and the freedom to disagree. Respect and acceptance

Built a foundation for our deeper-than-either-of-us-had-ever-been intimacy.

We’d each tried to create a sacred, harmonious relationship with others,

But never got it right. Until we did.

Kevin and I knew what we had the way children know to play in water.

The same way Cardinals know when the feeder is full

And my heart knows it’s fall, when crisp air,

Color, fog, birds and memories collide.  

And I smile.