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.

Be Like Kevin

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Call. And call again. Take the calls—even when you’re driving to dinner with your girlfriend and looking for a parking space. Take the call, especially if it’s your dad. Not because he’s 85, because he’s your dad.

Connect with people. Laugh. Let your funny be infectious. Don’t be a hater. Speak your mind. Apologize when you screw up. And mean it. Move on.

OWN your anger. Be forthright, but be gracious. Love women. Really love them. And music. Listen to music-LOUD! Especially the 80s. Hard rock. KISS.

But take Etta James and the candles. Yeah, bring that old boom box to the beach. Play the game Washers.

Read. The Bible when you feel nudged. Take pleasure in reading. Find your guy. Kevin’s was Lee Child, but he also read Mark Twain, JR Moehringer and Alice Lundy.

Give people nicknames. ICE! ICE! ICE! Let it be your way of honoring them.

Pray. Out loud. In the morning. While drinking coffee and watching birds with your girlfriend.

Say, “I LOVE THAT!” often. Say, “I love you.” Write it. Write letters. Send Valentine’s Day cards with love to everyone.

Enjoy good food. Make memories, like taking your gal to Tony’s, where you used to go with your mom. But, also go to dive bars. Bring home Taco Bell sauce packets that say “Marry Me” and present them like a bouquet of flowers.

Seek love. Be romantic. Be real.

Follow your passions and applaud others. Take care of your business, but don’t be so serious. Make work fun. When it’s not, refocus. Readjust. Decide what you want and go for it.

Change. If you want to. Become better.

Be at peace with yourself. Take care of yourself. LOVE YOURSELF. And especially, BE YOURSELF. Kevin was totally himself, not imitating a soul.

Be emotionally courageous. Say: This is how I am. I have a temper and I can be selfish, but I’m the man for you. Yeah, be a man—in the best sense of the word.

Support your team and Diva’s team and your people. Show up. Be on time. And have some style!

LIVE your life. If it ever comes to your door, kick cancer’s ass!

Speak a different language with your brothers—one your girlfriend couldn’t understand if she wanted to. Make your cousin a brother and make the word BROTHER mean something. Make friendship and family mean something.

GO ALL IN. Whatever you’re doing: sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, sales, wooing a woman, loving your mom, hanging with friends, frying fish, developing relationships, telling a truth, listening,… damn, Kevin could listen.

I know he could talk, but he could really listen.

Open doors. Pull out chairs. Hug. Hold your partner tight through the entire night. Kiss too hard and love like this is your last chance and you want to get it right.

Buy little gifts. Don’t expect so much from others. Give because it makes you feel good.

Tell stories. And make them good!

Hang with your boys. Be wild when you’re young, but never grow old. Get out of the house, but spend time hanging at home, just chillin’.

Be like a kid. But be a man. Face life head on.

Be like Kevin, but you can’t. There was only one. So, be like you—the one Kevin loves. Still.

 

 

How to Bring Crazy, Sexy, Cool Back.

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

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

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

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

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

I was an animal in pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After, it all felt fruitless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just gone. Like Kevin.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s no way to live. Not for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be strong. Don’t let it beat you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Grief is a spiral staircase.

I’ve climbed higher than I once was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine,” I say to appease him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cause of death: heart attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe him. It’s his truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why didn’t I take two cups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Say Goodbye to Grief.

“All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Hello, my old friend, Grief. It’s like you to visit in honor of my deceased beloved’s birthday.

I tell myself it should be a day like any other. It’s the day my friend Sharon will visit, randomly scheduled and now seemingly divine.

It’s also my stepbrother’s birthday. I never remembered it before my man Kevin died. Now, it’s a forever-linked coincidence.

Kevin Lentz was born, along with his twin brother Keith, on their father’s birthday, January 17, 1958. This year, his twin will turn 60 years old.

Hello, my old friend, Grief. Of course you visit today.

I felt my productivity wane and my emotional brakes firing before I even realized why.

The calendar turns and suddenly just another day feels like a shadow of all my yesterdays.

No matter how I try to minimize, January 17th haunts me without my beloved here to celebrate his birthday.

But, I’ll smile, toast him, and try to be true to him by being true to myself.

That’s how I say good bye to Grief—a little bit at a time, as the occasions arise.

I celebrate in Grief’s face.

I see her in the corner, a little taken aback not to be the center of attention.

See, I decided to invite Love to this birthday party for my beloved.

Love shows up. She shines. She showers me with memory and the sound of his laughter.

Love blows me his kiss and touches me with his hand.

Love reaches across time and boundaries and warms my heart like Fire.

From across the room, I catch Grief’s eyes. She smiles and winks.

Held by Love, I smile and wink right back.

How I Lost and Found my Faith. #bloglikecrazy

 

“I’m pretty sure that it is only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way that we come to be healed—which is to say, that we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace.” ~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

I don’t know how it happened, but I lost my faith.

There was a time I believed so deeply in the Universe’s ability to line things up for me—because I had the evidence.

After losing my job, marriage, home, husband, and dogs, I found myself at home with my sister at a time when she needed me and I was available.

I was graced with the opportunity to dive into my writing dream.

And, the cream in my coffee was the Universe, God, and all the angels created space and time for my beloved and I to find each other and open our hearts in a way neither of us ever had, to know sacred love.

I felt like every heartache, break-up, divorce, and disaster led me toward fulfillment. And, it was only the beginning.

You know those chapters in life when everything feels right, you love living in your own skin, and magic moments become commonplace?

Well, if not, that’s on its way to you—because everyone gets at least one chapter like that.

Sometimes we don’t even know it’s been delivered until it’s taken away.

Not me. Not this time. I knew. So did my beloved.

We were old enough to have experienced plenty of so-almost-right relationships.

Our crazy, sexy, cool tasted like pure nutrients after junk food.

We’d also been burned by death’s flame devouring our loved ones and made individual vows to suck the marrow out of life.

So, we did. We loved deep, honest, expansive, surprising, and as undeniable as the three-day storm that shut down I-40 after Kevin’s last Christmas.

We didn’t know when we drove into that storm headed from his place in St. Louis to my parents’ home in Santa Fe, NM that the rain wouldn’t stop and we’d be forced to return to his home.   

We were stuck in each other’s arm with an open agenda. Big bummer. Not! I’ll forever cherish those three days of rain.

Like the time I spent with him the following February. Kevin asked me to stay two weeks instead of the one I planned. I did.

Then, he said, “Come on, Icey, one more day!”

He always asked me to stay. That last time, I did.

Surely, God and the Universe lined up these gifts of added time for us, like the way we came together after decades of never considering anything more than friendship.

People say things like that and sometimes we think, really?

Yes, really. I had zero attraction to the man, like he just wasn’t for me.

Until he was. Our magnified intimacy and connection intensified my faith.

Part of me believes it all went the way it was meant to.

How could something so right be wrong—even though it ended in his unexpected death in his sleep on a random night before he intended to visit?

Yet, in the rightness and grace of it all, my faith in the Universe, or God’s ability to align my life, fractured.

I started striving to survive grief’s pain. Then, when it began to subside, I set goals for accomplishment the way a lonely girl seeks a man.

I came more from sickness and sadness than faith. And that’s ok.

My faith doesn’t have a brand or a label. It doesn’t fit into a box and barely belongs to any church.

However, my faith—somehow reignited today—is as big as the God I believe in. And as mysterious.

Today—days after Thanksgiving, in Ohio—I sit warmed by sunshine on my deck, my dog at my feet, a pen in my hand, and paper receiving my words.

I feel the magic moving in me again.

I feel aligned, although I don’t know exactly what for.

Just as I had no idea the Fire (my nickname for Kevin, my beloved) would melt this Ice (what he called me since the 80s, as in Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby). Or that the Fire would go out.

I simply remember this feeling of faith—as clear as the day I laid back in his friend Big Daddy’s boat on Lake St. Louis, soaked up the sun, smiled at a man who was not yet mine and said, “I’m so happy right now. I love this moment.” It was days before our first kiss.

What a ride!

Thank you, God. For all you’ve given, for how you’ve reawakened and realigned me after the darkness threatened to seduce me.

I’m here. I stand—well, actually sit, in sunshine, in late November, in faith.