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.

How to Welcome Change.

“There’s little more satisfying than the feeling that at last you’ve taken ownership of yourself.” ~ Marianne Williamson

There comes a time.

You set yesterday aside,
Softly.

The thing you held;
Coveted.

Soft addictions cling like
Teddy Bears carried
Into adulthood.

Until you leave them.
Without tears.
Or fanfare.

There comes a time.

You pick up new habits
The way you used to
Lovers in bars.

It’s a new day.
You delight in what’s
Sweet, soulful, and true.

Your radiance.
In the mirror.

How I Took on the Bully Grief.

Grief used to grab me like a predator in the night.

I never saw her coming–trapped at her mercy.

She’d punch me in the stomach, hang on my shoulders,

and stir my thoughts like cocoa into milk.

My heart jiggled like Jello-O.

I felt weak and I didn’t care,

like a heavy person ordering a pizza.

I accepted Grief’s pressure.

Better than the strain on the faces of people

who fake fine, but everyone else sees

their emotional limp.

I didn’t want that limp, so I gave in:

Go ahead, pummel me, Grief.

She beat me severely.

Over time, her fists tired.

I passed through the pain,

like holding pigeon pose in yoga.

First, the scream. Then, the release.

Today, Grief swaggered in my direction.

She set herself upon inhabiting my space.

But, in this moment, she didn’t intimidate me.

I didn’t resist.

I breathed into my grief.

She passed me by like the wind.

 

 

 

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?

 

So, I drank too much wine and slept with a stranger last night.

So, I drank too much wine and slept with a stranger last night.

“The journey back to ourselves begins with wanting something to change.” ~ Jennifer McLean, Spontaneous Transformation

Sometimes joy rushes in like a child, “Mommy, there’s a pony!” Other times, she rises like steam from a hot cup of coffee.

Joy crashed my party last night, the welcome addition to friends swapping so many stories a line formed behind the laughter.

How did these friends weave their way into my world?

We met in a writers’ group and respected each other’s critiques for years before we started sneaking away for beers as a threesome after group. That’s when the conversations started to get good.

Then, like children lined up for spankings, we each got ours.

Death crashed like waves washing away all that didn’t matter and taking those who did: my beloved, Jeff’s brother, Sharon’s sister. Just. Like. That.

We formed a bond. We talked. We cried. We wrote. We listened. We laid off.

We struggled with our individual losses branding our hearts with sorrow. We admitted we weren’t good company and flipped off the angel of death collectively.

Now, over 12 months have passed since our latest loss. Our gaping wounds are healing scars. Our every conversation isn’t laced with tears and wretched sadness.

So, I invited them over to my place last night. Sharon brought her husband. I fell for him as easily as my Black Lab leaned into his long legs. The combination of Clint Eastwood looks blessed by a liberal bias, and one-liners that had me forgetting life isn’t the funniest joke I’ve ever heard.

Last night, it was. Roy was a hunk of authenticity and as comfortable as sweats on Sunday morning. However, when I say I fell for him, I don’t mean romantically or that I’m attracted to him.

It’s just that I don’t always dig my friends’ mates as much as they do. Of course, that’s ok. But Roy? He’s in the club. No application required.

In fact, I think I spotted a bit of a bromance between he and Jeff, as they talked about sneaking off together alone to share their well-developed music tastes.

But, hey, Jeff left me the Eliane Elias CD. Probably trying to expand my musical palette, which I appreciate.

It seems where the three of us had been holding the umbrella for each other, Roy showed up with the sunshine.

Suddenly, as if we hadn’t been saddled under grief, we swung on the laughter of life.

We’d planned a casual get together. It turned into a real party where I drank too much wine and slept with a stranger.

Her name is Joy. She spent the night, stayed for coffee, is still hanging around, and even planning our life together. You should see the smirk on my face.

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 Big Alice Helped Little Alice.

We are two Alices.

She arrived on earth before my time.
Not a lifetime ahead of me,
Just a generous stride.
I’m not her namesake, although we hold
The same first and middles: Alice Ann.
Our parents married, but we’re not sisters. Besides,
My mother and her father have passed now.
We’re just two Alices.
I barely knew her as a child, but
I always knew of her: Big Alice.
(Which made me Little Alice.)
She had a job before I had a boyfriend.
So, I brought my friends to Pizza Hut
Where she made me feel special,
Not small like I did in the world.
I heard about the harshness in hers,
The wrong turns and sharp curves.
In college, I partied in her home once
And saw something I wanted to be,
But couldn’t articulate.
Grown up? Married? Maybe.
Years later, escaping my first marriage,
I met Alice for lunch in Las Cruces.
She glowed in love with a man named Jonathan—the one
Destined to teach her the third time is a redeemed heart.
I held to that ideal after leaving my second husband,
Landing smoothly into sacred love with a man I call Fire.
Yes, I thought, we’re two Alices.
We get it right on the third round.
Then, Jonathan died. (Cancer)
I cried for Alice’s loss, imagining all she endured
To arrive not just on solid ground, but home,
With him. Theirs was gift before the grief.
Then, reality demanded I follow in her footsteps and
Face the death of my favorite person, the one
I journeyed to find. My Fire
Went out in a night
Without warning. (Heart attack)
Now, I know what Alice knows.
I know why she writes poetry
That nestles into my heart like the smells
Of the New Mexico desert after a rainstorm
Or the sourdough pancakes my mom used to make.
Alice opens for the light. She takes on solo road trips
And hikes with friends in The Land of Enchantment,
Where she lives. She lets the stars on black nights
Remind her of the luminous mystery beyond.
Alice blasts beauty into this world through her eyes,
While belting a laugh that can only be called big.
I smile more than a little at the thought of her,
And me, and the mirrors life offers.