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.

Grief Day 1: Phoenix.

I had to have my pal Phoenix put down. I’m still in shock. The house feels empty. I’m the only one here. It’s been Phoenix and me for so long.

Anyone can own a dog, but sometimes a bond beyond explanation is born between person and dog. It’s obvious good fortune, a gift, a blessing. God’s knowing.

Of all the impossible and unforeseeable twists and turns that had to occur—me coming upon a desire for a puppy at the time Phoenix arrived in the world, locating her through my neighbor whose cousin bred Labs, and having her brought home when I told my then-husband to get the other pup—sings of synchronicity.

Destiny delivered a special soul in a Black Lab body to partner with me on my journey.

Love was Phoenix’s mission; I was her assignment.

She loved life, chasing balls, hanging out on the deck, walking in the woods, greeting neighbors, and spreading joy.

One neighbor often hollered, “Here comes Phoenix, happiest dog in the world!”

Phoenix was partial to her own kind when it came to dogs. Labs had an automatic in.

She loved most people but picked her favorites: like Carol, who connected with Phoenix on a trip to the beach in NC and her husband Pete, who Phoenix took to like a long-lost father, and Wayne, who Phoenix walked beside—no leash required.

Phoenix chose me as her favorite person. If dogs got tattoos, Phoenix’s would’ve said, “I’m with her.” Her gentle, undivided loyalty poured forth pure and untainted by the world for 11 beautiful years.

I never celebrated her birthday before, but this year felt like a major milestone.

She seemed to know. She made it a good one, with a long walk three doors down to the neighbor’s coveted healthy, lush, green grass. She made herself at home as if the world belonged to her. I sat down and pretended too, practicing Reiki, prayers, and presence on someone else’s lawn.

It didn’t matter. We were grabbing the good, our final togetherness.

Before we had to let go.

Somehow, Phoenix’s body broke down. Maybe for the simple reason life doesn’t last forever and there are many paths to getting out. We all go out. Ugh! The fact I don’t like.

I don’t like saying goodbye; I’ll never see you again. The worst!

However, if I’m going to keep living, I ought to find a better way to go through grief. These are the things we think of on Grief, Day 1… Maybe we can logic our way around. HAHAHA!

My heart hurts. My baby’s gone. I miss her presence, energy, persistence, her black shadow everywhere. I miss her marble-brown eyes looking into my soul. I miss laughing when she ignores me and walks away to sh*t in the neighbor’s yard at 3 am.

Missing my companion makes me miss my dead boyfriend even more. Isn’t that crazy?

Maybe it’s because Phoenix was “just a dog” in the way that Kevin was “just a boyfriend.”

Selected by God—specifically for me—to know, experience, give, receive, sit in, and cherish divine love. Divine. Sacred. Special. Undeniable. Unforgettable. Irreplaceable.

Soul connection.

Now, Grief walks in. No handcuffs. No threats. No tricks.

She reaches out her hand in invitation: “Come, walk with me a while again. We’ll journey deep but rise like dolphins out of water. We’ll return with radiance polished like diamonds.”

Grief looks different.

“Yep,” she says. “That happens when you’ve been looking at me for a while.” Then, she asks, “Are you ready?”

It feels like I imagine when I was a soul and I said yes, I’m ready for a body, and when I was I was a baby, but before I’d been birthed or touched the earth, I said, yes, I’m ready to join the world.

We don’t know what we’re ready for! Can we prepare for Grief? No, preparation isn’t necessary, but it helps.

It helps to be grounded.

If you’re not grounded, Grief can f*ck you up as bad as your worst bad, bad girlfriend.

Grief can make you love her and let her move in, not just to your home, but your heart.

Grief can take over your emotions the way a spoiled girl takes over closets.

Ah, but Grief carries crazy-cool wisdom woven in her womb. She’ll crack you into something new. She’ll sprinkle enlightenment around you and teach you how to feel the music in your blood. Grief will caress you and honor your secrets. She’ll comfort you in memory and heighten your senses.

She’ll make you think you’re high or crazy, but you won’t care. Once you have the courage to climb in bed with Grief, you may resist the world the way a teenage girl falling for her first boyfriend resists her parents.

Because that’s where the juice of life lives—where the heart and soul dance with unbridled emotions and the mind is merely a witness, all previous lessons dismissed.

While some people run from Grief, knowing she’s a too-large wrestling partner for their likes, the brave lean in. But, the wise don’t get lost or stuck.

I intend to be wise this time. Grief smiles as she takes me for a little spin.

Letter to a Dog Aunt.

Dear Aunt Jayne,

Thank you for letting me and my mom move in with you back in 2013. I was disappointed that little kitty departed before I got here. You were so sad when we arrived. (Not about the kitty, of course.)

I liked coming up and tucking you in at night. As the months went on, I enjoyed hearing the high pitch of happiness in your voice.

I never told you, but you when you called me Wiggle Butt, I loved it! You’re the only one I let call me that.

Please know how much I love you and appreciated sharing your home and part of my life with you. You made my life experience richer, fuller, more enjoyable, and safe.

You loved me without hesitation and respected my needs. You didn’t get mad at me. I know I was a good dog, so I didn’t give much reason, but I’m also very sensitive and you understood that.

Living with you and my mom, right here where we could walk to the woods and hang on the deck and chase squirrels and go on walkabout… what a life!

Aunt Jayne, remember when I first moved in (next door) and my mom used to throw the ball with that magic wand and I fetched it until I got distracted? Man, I could run fast when I was young!

Thank you for respecting my body as I grew sicker and weaker. Thank you for comforting my mom in all the ways only you can. That’s all I ever wanted to give her—more love. You help with that.

You made me feel safe and always welcome. Trust me, my mom notices if people don’t practically salute me. That’s how I feel about her, too. I love her sooo much!

That’s why it was hard to leave. I kept fighting, but I’m glad I got to walk out with dignity. You were there for that big awful hard thing. You were there when I ate my first and last hot dogs.

Why didn’t you introduce me to hot dogs earlier?!

I forgive you. I hope Tom’s there when I get wherever I’m going. I know it’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m sorry I had to leave, but thanks for making my journey easier.

Love and Black Velvet Hugs,

Your Wiggle Butt

The Spirit These Times Require.

So, my dear,
you’ve learned to cry.

Not just reactionary tears,
earnest ones born of
your brave heart.

You see the darkness and refuse
to disrespect yourself
into denial.
Bravo.

Welcome to the juxtaposition:
No one asked you
to lay down
your joy.

Claim it again.
Be a warrior, enlightened.

To fight for light,
enter the darkness
dancing.

Let them hear your laughter.

Flash your smile
like a peace sign
as you pledge to do your part.

In one bucket, carry the problems.
In the other, the spirit with
which to transform them.

 

How I Found my Forgotten Bank Account with a Million Bucks.

“And further, the thing put to rest–whether it be a loved one, a dream, or a false way of seeing–becomes the fertilizer for the life about to form.” ~ Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

There’s no man in my life right now, but I’m embracing love. I’m letting it rise in my body like the sun from behind the trees.

I was in love with life before I welcomed my friend Kevin to claim me, calm me, and call me into sacred love. We uncovered our deeper desires as I neared 50, after dancing in and out of a decades-long friendship.

Then, he died. March 4, 2016. Unexpectedly. In his sleep.

Losing him put me on my knees in prayer and sorrow.

A few people said things like “Kevin wouldn’t want you to be sad.” My response was a basic F*ck off!

Kevin wanted me to own all my emotions. We had a no bullsh*t zone. That’s why our relationship transformed into something each of us had only dreamed of before.

Sometimes I try to minimize the extraordinariness, as if that could dim the pain.

Then, some random 6:00 am morning, I open the drawer of my bedside stand to the letters he wrote, even as there’s a chant in my head: Don’t do it!

Handwritten letters starting in 2014, as rare and special in the age of text and email as our crazy, sexy, cool love was.

The one letter I allow myself this morning reminds me of the truth I know and try to let go as much as I cling to it: ours was no ordinary love.

It tasted as real as shared morning coffee, felt fun as the seven trips we took together in under two years, and opened as passionately as his smooth, swooping handwriting curving across lined yellow pages.

What follow are Kevin’s words from only one of the dozens of letters:

“Being with you, loving with you, and talking with you takes my emotions to places they’ve never been before.” With. He was so with me.

“Listening to you read last night touched me in a place I didn’t know I had.”

“You and I are unique in this love affair.”

“My devotion to you will not waver. I love you deeply more each day.”

He never wavered. Our relationship didn’t falter. We had no warning. He was gone.

I’m left with a drawer of letters mirroring the magnificent gift we somehow manifested.

We embodied Kevin’s last unfulfilled mission on earth: to love and be loved without walls.

How blessed I was to be his last love. Being involved and intimate with Kevin Lentz welcomed a pivotal shift in my life.

It’s one thing to believe that kind of love exists, but experiencing it was like the quench of water when I hadn’t realized my thirst.

Losing him was like the sun going behind the clouds and refusing to come out.

However, Kevin didn’t define me. He refined me.

I know and accept myself more completely since being loved by this man who knew, accepted, respected, and appreciated me.

His death made me starved for his affections. And yet, he never really left, as he reminds me: “I’m here, Icey! I’m here!”

Icey. I miss getting drunk on sound of his deep, masculine voice calling me Ice Baby and revealing to me the secrets of his soul.

I don’t doubt his words in my head, but it’s not the same as physical presence. In that, I’ve been ghosted.

On the other hand, imagine you’re struggling to pay your bills and you find a forgotten bank account with a million bucks and your name on it.

Yeah, Kevin left me a full account of love. Not only that, I’m the woman he fell for.

On the weekend that transformed our friendship into my favorite love affair, I was engaged with life.

I was in love with my writing dream and pursuing the publishing of my book. I was drenched in gratitude for my dog and sister and sitting in Kevin’s friend Big Daddy’s boat, soaking in the sun while we floated on Lake St. Louis.

I leaned back, looked up at the sky, and shouted, “I’m so happy!”

Kevin said, “With what, Icey?”

“With this moment. With my life.”

Yes, I was rich in love before Kevin and I became Fire and Ice. Fire filled my bank account to overflowing and never drained it.

I’m rich! All the love I had and all the love he gave lives inside me. I’ve been left full.

In fact, sometimes I think I could burst with the love I feel for my beautiful 10-year-old Black Lab companion. She’s a special creature, as anyone who meets her can attest. We share a beyond-reason bond, even getting sick simultaneously.

Once, when I went with Kevin to Florida, the kid who was watching Phoenix called with some bad news. There was something wrong with her. I asked him what he thought it might be. He nailed it: “Master Separation Anxiety.”

Every morning I give Phoenix a dog massage and tell her she’s the best dog in the world. We go for walks in the woods daily and I take as many pictures of her as new parents do of their baby. She’s got me captivated. Still.

And my sister? Don’t even get me started! When I moved in with her “for the summer” five years ago, I thought I knew everything about her.

We were close, even more so due to holding each other up through the losses of our only sibling, our mother, and Jayne’s husband.

Now, I think what I knew of Jayne just a handful of years back was like what you read on the spine of a book compared to what’s inside. We’ve learned so much more about one another, not just the stories we hadn’t had time or felt ready to tell, but the day-to-day way we walk in the world.

Jayne has taught me how to share a home with someone in a healthy, committed, communicative relationship. You’d think I would’ve learned that after two marriages and five decades on this earth, but what I’d learned was how to manage parallel lives. It’s as similar and different as water and ice.

My sister lost her husband of 33 years. She modelled how to rise after your favorite person dies, although neither of us imagined I’d need the lesson so soon.

My sister consistently speaks her mind and feelings and encourages me to do the same, as if she and Kevin were given the same lesson plans.

She puts present time experiences front and center and makes plans for us to spend time together, the way Kevin did.

Whether it’s grabbing a beer at Pies & Pints, riding camels in Australia, going down water slides in Orlando, taking road trips to Michigan to visit her son and daughter-in-law or home to Ohio from our childhood state of New Mexico, Jayne isn’t just riding along; she’s with me.

The way some people sleep on road trips, too many people sleep through their relationships. They’re missing out because there’s always more to learn about a person.

Jayne Gerlach is my sister and she’s one of my best friends. I’d say I couldn’t love her more, but I’ve learned love keeps growing.

And life, just like Kevin said, “It just keeps getting better.”

Even through the pain, I’m falling in love again—with life. Mine.

What do you love most about your life?

 

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.