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.

 

 

 

How Facebook Helped Heal my Grief. #bloglikecrazy

Dear Facebook Connections,

When my boyfriend died in March of 2016, you heard my cries. You read my words.

You walked beside me on my journey and many of you shared yours. We connected. You helped me heal by hearing my pain and not minimizing.

I’m fortunate to have a web of flesh friends and family who were there for me. I’m grateful for them, obviously.

Yet, Facebook folks were also integral to my healing. You were a safe space for me to publicly state my truth and share my tears without being faced with grimaces, the oh-so-subtle rolling of the eyes, the sigh of impatience, or the look of pity.

Nor did I feel alone. Many of you commented on and connected with me in my grief.

You also stand witness as my sister and I commemorate, celebrate and memorialize our loved ones who left this party called life too soon.

Not just my beloved Kevin, although losing him weighs heaviest on my heart. With him, I experienced sacred love. The love endures and you continue to react to my writing through this metamorphosis. Thank you.

Thank you, Facebook folks, for serving as a support system.

My sister found great solace with widownet. Deep Grief, Great Love and Grief Yoga educate, elevate, comfort, and even commiserate with me. Yes, sometimes we need that, too.

Elephant Journal publishes pieces (including mine) on grief, how to live a better life, and be of benefit to others.

Facebook friends, you’ve benefited Jayne’s life and mine by welcoming our stories about my beloved Kevin Lentz, my brother-in-law Tom Gerlach, my mom, and my brother Bill.

Thank you for serving as a sounding board for our losses and allowing us to use you to keep their memories alive as we learn to live without them.

We miss our people who died. It’s indescribable, and yet, you let us try.

How Grief Becomes Us. #bloglikecrazy

If you haven’t soared in ecstasy, contorted for intimacy, or caved in with grief, what have you been doing?

Grief used to grab me—by the throat, the shoulders, or even take me out at the knees.

Now, she whispers like the wind, sings like a song, and smells like his cigars.

Grief lingers. I think it would be a lie if I told her I want her to go. We’ve become such companions.

She’s the one I never thought I’d like. She’s certainly not my friend. And, how dare she claim a place in my family?

But, she’s a part of me now. She’s hard and she’s beautiful.

Grief’s wretched and royal, a tease and the truth.

She’s my testimony.

How I Walk Forward with the Chaos of Grief.

I didn’t just lose my boyfriend. I lost the man and relationship I spent five decades looking for, the one that fit me—in all of its imperfection. I lost my sense that I belong in that special club for two.

I never really believed in “the one,” but of all the men I’ve known and loved none of them knew me and loved me the way Kevin did. He said the same thing about me. The cool thing was both giving and receiving unconditional love, living in a no-bullshit zone.

Now, a year and a half after his death, I’m back to the bullshit. The people who think they know me may, but I don’t feel truly known or able to reveal myself fully because what I am now carries such sadness.

I spout off about grieving taking as long as it takes, but I’m pissed off that it’s taking so much of me.

I’m no longer in despair every moment. I set goals. I go forth. I attend events. I laugh and mean it. But, the backdrop of it all is the desire to go back to being with my beloved.

The truth is the extraordinary events without his presence on earth rarely stir me as much as the seemingly ordinary events like watching TV, talking on the phone, or sharing coffee did when he was alive.

Kevin was my man. He once said he wanted me to look at him like, “I know he’s an idiot, but he’s my idiot.” I did—when it came to my less-than-favorite of his tendencies, as he did mine.

I didn’t have to convince myself to overcome my feelings or force feed myself into affection, conversation or presence.

That’s always been an issue with me—being told what I should feel—often by myself and certainly by other men.

Kevin respected my feelings, even the irrational ones. I wasn’t put off by his bullshit, not after we went from friends to our all-in relationship.

God, please forgive me for wishing another one of those fools I loved would’ve been the one who died instead.

I guess all I can do now is love myself the way Kevin loved me—with appreciation for my femininity and humanity.

What would Kevin say of this grief? He’d hold me through it, as I did for him with the grief he carried over his mother’s death.

She died in 2012 and in 2014 it was still eating him inside, although few knew the extent of his pain, although many must’ve imagined, knowing how close Kevin and his mom were.

Now he’s with her. It’s lovely. And, it sucks.

It sucks that Kevin is not here for his father as he committed to be. Around Thanksgiving in 2015, Kevin was in Tampa with his father when the doctors considered cutting off “Coach’s” big toe due to diabetes. Kevin was relieved when his father bounced back and basically told his sons to get out of his house and hit the road.

Kevin made it clear to me when the time came, he’d be there—in Tampa—for his dad, even move there, whatever was required. I respected that.

Of course, Kevin couldn’t imagine he’d be dead when the time came. Or that his dad and twin would truly be scared when Irma hit Florida recently.

Or that at age 86 Coach would conclude doctors cutting off his foot was the right move. So, now that’s happened.

I can’t imagine having a foot cut off, but I suspect Coach would say losing his son was harder.

I didn’t just lose my boyfriend. I lost knowing the people he loved were better off because he was there for them—physically present without being asked, speaking directly, kidding and seriously making life easier to manage.

I feel helpless—for a foot that’s been cut off and a twin brother who’s shouldering the burden Kevin would’ve willingly carried.

I miss him more than ever. I miss him for the others who miss him more than ever.

This is the journey. This is the chaos of emotion one doesn’t master, but learns to live with like a missing limb.

Letter to my Beloved, a Year and a Half after his Death.

“When good men die their goodness does not perish, but lives on though they are gone.” ~ Euripides

Dear Kevin,

Thank you. Thank you for embodying your authentic self and welcoming me to be the Alice Lundy you saw—not just my best self, but the real me: raw, vulnerable, smart, beautiful, jealous, funny, a writer worth reading, sexy, determined, feisty, intuitive, angry, weird, stubborn, free-spirited, and a terrible singer, but a great story-teller.

You saw me. You got me. All of me—the parts I wanted to deny, abandon, or project onto others, and especially the qualities about myself I believe on my best days.

You knew who I was back when the only thing I cared more about than selling books was the truth, and I assumed it was clear and simple.

So, I held truth against you for 20 years and you let me without pitting alternatives against me, as you could’ve easily done.

Thank you for carrying our 25-year friendship and calling consistently, despite me taking it for granted and leaving you hanging, sometimes for weeks. My obliviousness, along with all the times I tried to set you up with other gals, matched your persistence.

You doled out invitations, starting way back in 1989 with the first party you took me to out in the country at your friend Ed’s, when I was escaping my ill-fitting life with my first husband and you were partying like a rock star.

You dismissing hard drugs before we became a couple opened the door for us, and divulging the details about your troubles swung it wide.

I’m amazed at how you evolved as a man in the years we walked separate paths. You came back into my life carrying a brand of manly emotional courage I’d never known.

You braved our love by going deeper than you’d ever gone. Early on, I couldn’t imagine it wasn’t your M.O. or a kind of show, but you showed me!

Your colorful personality, passion and resolve earned you your nickname: Fire!

Your creative questions and present listening, as you navigated knowing me on a soul level, left an imprint of intimacy actualized.

I cherish the memories of our challenging conversations on subjects like race, death, politics, religion, and education.

Many assume I’m sad about all the things we didn’t get to say or do. Not true. We said and did it all.

We sucked the marrow out of life. In our less than two years as a couple, we did a decade. As your friend Garry said, “Of course. I saw it. God opened up time so Kevin could have that experience before he left this life.”

True, and I would’ve loved to keep riding with you until the end of my days.

Thank you for planning for us, making way and expanding our everything.

You taught me to wrestle with our differences without dismissing me or letting me run away.

Thank you for always encouraging me to run back into your arms, like the time I jumped in my car and took off down the road, in a furry bound for nowhere, so mad I was unaware my parking brake was on.

You said you were sorry and, “Come back home,” as if it was ours.

Thank you for knowing and acting on your ability to apologize as a man and not letting me belittle or bullshit you, which I once had a tendency to do.

Kevin, thank you for sparing me the one truth I would’ve sworn I could handle—your friendship with your ex. You were right, even though you were so f*cking wrong for lying to me.

Thank you for coming back to me after you died.

You came through your brother Glenn’s body and hugged me—as only you could do—when I went to your house and crumbled on the bathroom floor.

You told me the perfect things to pack at 4 am, after I overslept and stood in a fog from trying half an antidepressant the night before, leaving me unpacked and unprepared for the flight to your memorial service in Tampa. Because of you, I had exactly what I needed, no more and no less, even with the unexpected detour and change in weather.

Then, two pennies (one dated 2014, the year we got together) appeared on a table in the airport, on the hotel room bed, in my car and other places.

Back home, as I walked into church alone to my bones, you sang “There Must Be 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and made me laugh.

The day I looked up out of my sunroof to dry my tears before yoga class, you sent your heart in a cloud, as you’ve done dozens of times since, because as you say, you can no longer send flowers.

And the smell of your cigars (the only ones I ever liked) while I’m on my mat? Nice.

One night under a full moon, you led me through the woods on a path and told me it would continue to unfold if I just keep walking. I’m trying.

You repeatedly say, “I’m here, Icey, I’m here.” I accept; you really have just walked into another room.

Thank you for filling me with your love and divine lessons—most of which you never intentionally taught or articulated.

One of my favorites is: never argue for your limitations. I’m working on it.

You mirrored to me the things I needed to see in a way I didn’t resist, which is rare for a rebel like me. I’m forever grateful.

Thank you for everything you left me: the tangible gifts of a killer (your word) wardrobe, the Tanzanite bracelet, my Kindle Fire, little black jam speaker, piles of legendary love letters I’ll forever treasure, and especially memories of our time together bursting with crazy, sexy, cool, even in the mundane—morning coffee, car rides, and the sound of your voice.

Thank you for kicking cancer’s ass before you and I became Fire & Ice and sharing your conviction that your mother brought me into your life so you could have the kind of relationship she desired for you.

Kevin, it was my honor to give you that gift. Your arms were my home.

You said it was destiny, not fantasy. You delivered real.

If you had to leave me, thank you for preparing me with an overflowing bank of love and your belief in me as a woman and a writer.

Although we both wish you didn’t have to go, I (almost) appreciate how you slipped out in your sleep. That’s the only way the angels could snatch you!

You know I thought I could endure standing by your side if cancer ever tried again or watch you wither with old age, but that’s not how it went down.

We had no warning and maybe that’s best because we had no fear.

I hate that you died in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a page, in the center of my favorite chapter of what I thought would be a long book.

You said our love would “just keep getting better” and I believed in your certainty. We didn’t see it coming, did we?

In one of your voicemails (yes, I still listen), you told me you couldn’t imagine your life without me in it. Ditto, but here I am.

Oh, how I absolutely despise your death! Yet, I (try to) believe it to be a part of our divine destiny, as you make it known to me.

Thank you, baby. For staying with me still. Death can’t divide Fire & Ice!

I LOVE YOU.

From the one stuck on this side,

Your Icey