How to Lean into Joy after Loss.

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

I’m leaning into joy the way
a cross-country runner
leans into the tape.
My chest hurts from
shining my heart forward
and flirting with men
who aren’t my beloved.
Because he’s dead.

I’m mad/sad/hurt/angry/lonely and exhausted from trying not to be.

Doing affirmations and
taking meditation courses,
along with walks in the woods.

I’m leaning into joy
the way my dog
wishes she could
lean into the wind.

But, she can’t
because I put her
in the way back,
behind the backseat
of my SUV.

She longs to be like
other dogs in other cars,
Golden Retrievers leaning out windows
with long hair blowing
in the wind and smiles
beaming from their faces.

Truth be told,
I’m still saddened
by men with fine physiques,
who wear ACDC t-shirts,
and smoke cigars.
The blues still strikes my heart like a fist.

I’m laughing loud and
leaning into the love
of being alive.
I’m grabbing gratitude
like it’s my last refuge.

I’m celebrating love, when it’s not mine.
I’m dancing to music that
didn’t exist when he was alive.

I’m leaning into joy
the way my Black Lab
asks for a third helping of food.

I’m devouring books and gathering friends and eating healthy and meeting new people and keeping up with world events and our crazy-ass country to the best of my ability and going on evening walks with my sister and

Missing him like a dripping faucet in the background of everything.

I’m learning social media
and getting published.
I’m planning and revising.

All the while,
I’m remembering you
cheering me on
with an awe
I felt I deserved

And miss like a best friend.

I miss you.
The world goes on.
I rise daily.
I miss you.

Every time the clock ticks.

 

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 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 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.

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.