How the Strongest Woman I Know Helped Me.

Crying doesn’t reveal weakness. It exposes vulnerability and humanity. Strong is the individual who cries… and continues.

To the Strongest Woman I Know:

I’ve been watching you since the day I entered this world.

I don’t remember a time when you said, “You’re not welcome,” not in your words, actions, or attitude. Not once.

When you were in high school, you invited me, your little sister, on your dates. You let me ride in the back of a blue Jeep CJ-5 while you rode in front with a boy named Paul who you liked better than them all.

You took me to high school football games and for some reason your friends fawned over me the way no one in my life (besides you) did.

I think mom and dad’s divorce hit you harder than me. Because you were five years older, you witnessed what was once a solid marriage, whereas when I arrived, it seemed the last straw fell upon their fantasies of forever. Like I entered a crack in time and stretched my legs into it. I never experienced our parents’ relationship as anything more than challenge.

I came to believe everything was or would be broken—especially marriages.

Not you! It takes strength to embark on marriage. You, my strong sister, trusted in the sanctity and opportunity being married offers. You didn’t let it deter you when our parents scoffed at you for running off for love at age 19.

Heck, I’m in awe of anyone who even coexists with another person for 33 years, as you and your husband Tommy did. More than that, you sincerely liked each other and were friends up until the day he died.

Not just friendly, not simply companions, but communicators, in good times and bad, agreements and arguments, raising two boys and facing cancer. You never backed down or lost your voice.

Nor did you give into the dark, controlling, win-at-all-costs power that our mother tended to evoke.

Oh sure, you tried that on for size a couple times, but you’ve always chosen to rise above—not just others, but your smaller self. You’ve elected to be full, authentic, and powerful from a place of love, dignity, and respect.

Your progress in life grew from your character and hard work, starting way back, flipping burgers and earning your way up from minimum wage.

If you and I embody the turtle and the hare, you’ve shuffled as quiet, steady, and tenacious as the turtle.

If the American dream is a staircase, you’ve placed your foot on every step and earned every opportunity you’ve given yourself to.

Many adults return to school decades later to earn degrees, as I did. But you diligently plugged away part time for decades, so consistently attending school it was like background noise.

But, wah-la! In 2013, you crossed the stage and simultaneously collected your BS and MBA, proving persistence pays. You started the process long before Tommy received his death diagnosis with the big C and continued while carrying your grief.

Psychologists say sometimes witnessing abuse can be just as psychologically challenging as being abused. I wonder if the same is true of cancer.

From the sidelines, you handled it like a champion, holding the hand of your friend and companion, the father of your children, the pillar of strength, as he shrunk into life’s finish line.

Working for a dysfunctional company, you focused on your gratitude for the great medical insurance that seemed to be the only reason for putting up with their crap.

You took Tommy to doctors, asked the important questions, and fought for medication and answers—not blindly, but realistically and optimistically, not an easy balance.

You asked the tough questions of your husband. You blogged about his battle. You worked full time, moved, navigated insurance and the medical establishment, as well as the emotions of a dying man, along with those around him who would do anything for him to live, especially your sons.

Most people tiptoe around the dying. Why wouldn’t they? You spoke truth and maintained your authenticity of feelings—love, anger, tears, sadness, and the seduction of hope.

You never resigned. Your husband and friend, the father and friend of your sons, your number one, died anyway—despite your strength.

If one’s never been broken, it’s easy to stay whole. When your heart shatters like glass and glues itself together time and time again for over a year, and upon death’s undeniability incinerates to ash, and then you become whole? This is strength.

Me? I was the hare—racing forward, certain I’d won the race, throwing money around like confetti, buying designer suits, dining in fine restaurants, and flying first class. I made my way through two marriages and landed flat on my ass, broke and broken.

How is it that you never judged me? Like the turtle still moving forward, you offered me a ride on your back, like “Hey, I’m headed that way anyhow.”

You opened your home to me as an adult and never attempted to induce guilt. Kindness and generosity at that level awaken humility and gratitude. Thank you.

If it was only me you treat with such respect and dignity, I’d bask in being the lottery winner. Instead, it’s everyone in your orbit—at work, as well as with friends and family.

You don’t offer syrupy sweetness, but business acumen and a way of carrying yourself which invites others to raise their standards and want to act in kind. Just the other day, a friend of ours said, “I’d do anything for Jayne.” I feel the same.

We also appreciate that you’re not afraid to speak your mind in the face of any challenge, including sexual harassment or outright lies (your kryptonite).

Although I’m your sister, not a coworker or employee, I know what an outstanding manager you are. Yes, from the daily stories you share about how you deal with people and situations, but also how those who work with, for, and above you speak to and about you when I’m with them.

Through diligence, resilience, continuing education, long hours, and adherence to high standards, you’ve earned (rather than lucking into, as some do) the respect you command and the salary you’re paid.

While many may be blind to the special challenges a female manager in a male-dominated industry faces, you’re fully aware without denial, pretty-pink paint, or over-the-top complaint. Part of your mission is to raise women up and mentor them where you can, honoring the gifts and talents inherent in women and acquired by them.

If you showed up awesome simply with your sister and at your place of business, you’d be winning, but like I said, I’ve been watching you.

When the love of your life died, you fell into an emotional sink hole, as anyone would. Still, you looked up and saw the light in the darkest chapter of your life.

You climbed and created a new life when you desperately longed for your old one.

You practiced serial dating in your search for a new mate. When you found out one of the men you were especially fond of was a player, you ended the game as smooth as closing a book.

You knew what you wanted and refused to settle, regardless of how you longed for the company of a man. It seems silly to say you soldiered on, but ask any widow; It’s a battle and you were brave.

You chose a man with whom you’re happy and didn’t let others’ opinions deter you.

That could be your motto: I will not be deterred. Not in work, integrity, or love.

There’s no greater love than that of a mother’s for her children. Yet, there are plenty of parents who blame their kids or turn their backs on them if, as parents, they don’t receive love in the form they believe they deserve.

When your husband and the father of your sons went to the other side, your solid family unit shattered. You loved patiently from the sidelines you seemed to be relegated to, as one son lived far away and the other found what felt like family for him elsewhere.

Your yearning for his presence and your place as priority in his life never wavered. Yet, you didn’t once play the guilt card, emotionally manipulate, or do anything other than make your love and open door undeniable.

In addition to how fiercely you love your sons, you consider your daughter-in-law as your own, giving her a safe place to share special joys like your future granddaughter.

Jayne, you’ve set the example of what it means to be a family—not just meals, laughter, games, and holidays, but connectedness, conversation, and unflinching loyalty.

The last few weekends, you’ve driven 16-20 hours to see a family member who’s battling his own brand of demons. You get just three hours with him and never question whether it’s worth it. You never complain about the drive, even when we went through the most treacherous storm of our lives—with one headlight!

Your strength is more than forging forward. It’s laughing, learning, being present, and allowing others the space to be themselves and travel their own journeys.

During and after Tommy’s cancer battle, people (when they weren’t busy dumping their sad stories in your lap) repeatedly told you how strong you are. You hated hearing that. You said, “Like I have a choice.”

You did, and you do. We all make choices, in our words, attitude, and actions.

A friend of ours told me when she has a dilemma—either at work or in her personal life—she thinks, “What would Jayne do?” I laughed when she admitted she often thinks this after she’s done the other thing in the moment.

Not all of us can be as strong as you are, sister. Sure, maybe in many ways, it’s because you had to be.

However, I never forget that when our mom was dying and needed the oxygen mask but fought to take it off, I left the room, while you stayed and said, “No, mom. You have to keep this on.”

Mom would be beaming if she could look into your eyes today. At one time, I called her the strongest woman I knew, a warrior.

Now, you’ve taken the title. Jayne, you’ve done hard things, but you haven’t become hard, bitter, or resigned.

You’ve taken the strength mom instilled in you and expanded it into hugs, I love yous, and laughter that lights me up, even when darkness feels like my destiny.

Not only are you the strongest woman I know, but because of you, I’m more determined than ever to be my strongest self.

How to Remember What We Can’t See on The Horizon.

Grief is the undercurrent telling me, “You’ll never be that happy again.”

The b*tch could be right. She has been about a few things I didn’t want to believe.

The thing is, I never knew I’d be as happy as I was with Kevin (my beloved who died in 2016) until it came upon me.

It’s funny how one can will love, pray it in, and almost deny its presence if it doesn’t look the way we imagined.

Or worse, we visualize our ideal, and then hold onto something or someone who appears to fit our list (ignoring inconvenient realities). We invite them in, call them ours, and even take their name because we’re certain this is the love for us.

We believe commitment can contain love’s glory and maintain it forever.

Nope. We learn. We learn to let go of that which we lose, even what we once loved and cherished.

I earned my education from the School of Divorce and the University of Grief. As an educated person, I came to think critically.

Kevin came along and said, “You’ve never been loved by a Southern man” and, “I’m not those other guys.” He wasn’t.

His words collided congruent with his actions: “I’m all in.” I met him in that brave space and knew every heartbreak before was worth being fully known and loved for who I am.

Even beyond death, Kevin communicated, “I’m here, Icey,” (his nickname for me), “I’m here.” He was, but he wasn’t. Not physically.

Simultaneously blessed and broken: How does one prepare for that? We can’t.

Kevin loves me from the other side and that’s another unexpected delight.

Because he broke the barrier of that which even open-minded me believed, I came to hope he could come back, be a walk-in through another man’s body, like in the book A Life by Request, which I read after his death.

While alive, Kevin once said, “I could be a Black man.” I told him he had no idea what Black people endure (as if I did). Kevin said, “You’re right, Icey, but I could be a Black man.”

Could he? Would he—come back like that?

What a ludicrous idea, but I clung to hope the way a child who’s seen Santa at several stores and feels reality in the periphery still clings to the magic of Christmas.

Sometimes we must grow up, face facts, and let go.

During the critical analysis of reality, Sissy the Cynic likes to sneak in delivering her version of truth, like Grief’s friend, or mine.

She says, “You’ll never be that happy again.” Her tone is the same as when early on she told me Kevin wasn’t trustworthy (because no men are) and he would only break my heart. Even now Sissy insists she was right, despite the sacred love I experienced with Kevin.

“Yeah,” she says, “Then, he died. How’d that work for you?”

Not very damn well. But, I’m about to tell that b*tch to step off like I did when she tried to F with my relationship with Kevin and convince me to break up with him to avoid potential pain. His reaction was “WTF? Where’s this coming from?”

Sissy is a bad influence. She likes to twist the truth.

Maybe I’ll never be as happy as I was with Kevin. But, I didn’t know I’d be that delighted when I turned the corner into a relationship with him.

Years prior, I couldn’t know how confident and free I’d feel after leaving my second husband, after years of hemming and hawing because what was once bright and shiny had become dull and untenable. Yet, bliss awaited me.

These days, I remind myself how happy I was before Kevin and I became Fire & Ice. Not in relationship to a man, but in alignment with myself.

We don’t know what the future holds.

Kevin and the crazy, sexy, cool love we shared proved the kind of relationship we each sought is not only possible but can change one’s life in the way good nutrition can improve every cell in the body.

After death, he still reminds me, “Don’t settle.”

It’s as clear, simple, and anti-Sissy as a day long ago on Big Daddy’s boat on Lake St. Louis, when bikini-clad Alice (me) announced (with Sissy whispering in my ear): “Relationships are all about compromise.”

“No,” Kevin said, “they’re not.” I’d later learn with him I never had to compromise my voice, my values, or my truth. Neither did he.

In May 2014, we were just friends. I neared 50, with two divorces and two recent boyfriends in my wake.

That day on the lake, Grace blew like the wind in my hair. I drank her like the ice-cold Michelob Ultra in my hand. I let Grace caress me—ever so slightly—the way Kevin did, almost accidentally, when he reached for the cooler.

Sissy slithered away, but she’s stayed in the background like the wait staff at a party. She likes to whisper not-so-sweet nothings.

This is what I know: I was that happy and therefore, I have within me that capacity.

Kevin and I connected and transformed a double-decade friendship into legendary love, born from individual prayers and desires, combined with divine timing and help from his mother on the other side.

We had within us the capacity to be that happy together. Still, we had to decide to dive in and take the risk. Sissy be damned.

Why I Love Christmas

Alice in Authorland

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I was the baby of three children. In my mind there was my dad’s favorite—my sister, my mom’s favorite—my brother, and the extra child—me. It seemed my parents loved me in a perfunctory way. Of course they loved me; I was their child.

But there was no call for anyone in our family to reach out, hug another or say the words. And for me to tell them I loved them? Well, first of all, it didn’t occur to me and if it had, I wouldn’t have risked the rejection.

My parents weren’t bad people. Somehow though, they took their parents’ failings and rationalized them into sound child-raising principles. When as a little girl, my tongue would get the best of me by offering some idea, or worse, my feelings, a towering figure condemned, “Who asked you?!”

At Christmas though, someone did. My parents asked me what I wanted. They…

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Regaining Radiance

Alice in Authorland

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“Past, present, future—it’s all the same.” That’s what the psychic said my dead boyfriend said from the other side. Now, as I peruse old journals, I see it’s true. What I struggled with then—all the thens, is what is what I struggle with now, just in different forms.

The chapters of my life repeat: ch.1 I’ve Got to Get it Together, ch.2 How Can I Get it Together?, ch.3 I’m Getting it Together, ch.4 Hallelujah!, followed by ch.5 Storm Ahead or, Shit, I Didn’t See That Coming, then ch.6 I’m Falling Apart, often followed by I Can’t Believe I’m Fucking falling Apart Again! leading full circle to I’ve Got to Get it Together and How Can I Get it Together?

Here, bingo! Ding! Ding! Ding! This is the most important chapter, yet maybe my least favorite. It comes after the crash. It’s picking up…

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A Marriage in the Context of Rape.

As an American girl in the late 80s, I wore a suit and heels as armor. My Wonder Woman tights were panty hose. I carried a briefcase. A smile was my sharpest tool, cutting me on the inside.

I’ve told the story of my first marriage dozens of times.

I was a 23-year-old salesperson burning to tackle the world. I was a runner—in every sense of the word. Usually I got away, with my autumn-green eyes sparkling and my long blonde hair flying.

My husband was a 29-year old farmer who looked like Ron Howard and reminded me of Opie, with his boyish hopes. He played volleyball. He owned four apartment buildings. He wore a toolbelt when he climbed down from a roof and introduced himself to me and my girlfriends. We were in Champaign, IL for a summer sales job with Southwestern Publishing.

I tell about leaving him after one short year of marriage and running back to the southwest. I freely paint myself as hurtful.

I add in the part about the therapist, who told me: “Look, you’re going to leave or you’re not. If you leave, you’ll break your husband’s heart and it will be up to him how he deals with it. Or, you’ll stay and dull your dreams and you’ll have to live with that.”

I immediately booked a U-Haul and convinced some “It can’t be done” guy to install a tow bar on my Honda CRX so I could move to Arizona.

As I packed, Ron Howard played Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on the stereo. He said he’d help me do anything, but he wouldn’t help me leave him.

Fair enough. I was so giddy for my freedom, I’d carry my own damn boxes!

Actually, my friend Kevin Lentz came and helped me load the heavy stuff. Whatever I owned then filled a 5 x 8 U-Haul.

I fled the Illinois winter, oblivious to the treachery, wide-eyed and white-knuckling black ice across Oklahoma.

I was free!

That’s my story. There’s not much to a one year of marriage to a good man by a rebellious, ambitious, independent runner.

I was 24 when I married grown-up Opie. I’m now 54. I no longer call myself a runner.

I’ve invested countless hours and dollars in therapy. I paid for perspective. Looking back, I see the broader landscape.

I recognize my MeToo experience shattered something inside me. My boss raped me and that night I returned home to a man who knew only good.

I buried the secret I didn’t think he could handle, which made me feel I no longer belonged there. I didn’t belong with him.

In survival mode with the adrenaline of youth and the denial of the intimate violence against my young body, mind, and soul, I turned off feelings and ignited will power.

Now, in the context of the MeToo Movement, I see being raped as the internal landscape from which I functioned, and the elephant in the room I never mentioned—to anyone.

Keeping secrets is hard. When the truth is unbearable, we can even keep it from ourselves.

We can get up in the morning, make coffee, shower, dress, strengthen ourselves, strut into our boss’ office—the same one in which we were raped the night before—and declare ourselves invincible, to our rapist.

It’s like I took a magic eraser to his “error” of raping me. I soldiered on.

Isn’t that what guys do after their injuries?

I’m an American girl and I wanted to be the hero of my own story. I didn’t want to be the victim.

I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable, even though vulnerability proved mine when I was physically overpowered by a man I trusted.

In the face of my rape, I refused to give up my identity as strong, independent, unbreakable.

I was my mother’s daughter and she was a warrior.

Looking back, I’d been skipping on love’s path with my soon-to-be husband when I met a sales manager who would intrigue, irritate, befriend, teach, mentor, manipulate, and rape me.

That’s not how we think of our rapists. They’re not kind, helpful, smart, successful, family men. They don’t smile like our friends.

He did. No wonder I walked into the situation blindly. I’d been groomed.

I chose to walk out of the white picket fence life I briefly entertained because the truth would’ve made a worse mess than the divorce, which I came out of quick and clean.

I’m sorry for the pain I caused my first husband. I honestly believe leaving him hurt less than learning I’d been raped would’ve.

Men like to be heroes and fix things. Too late. There’s not a fix for being raped any more than for a loved one’s death. There’s only navigation.

On the night I was raped, a schism shook me into full protection mode.

As an American girl in the late 80s, I wore a suit and heels as armor. My Wonder Woman tights were panty hose. I carried a briefcase. A smile was my sharpest tool, cutting me on the inside.

How much does being raped impact a woman? Each is different, but every rape is like a head-on collision. The damage varies in degree, sometimes irreparable and not always visible.

When we see cars on the street, we have no idea how much work has been done on them. The same is true of women. And marriages.

See, it’s not just the women affected by rape; it’s also the men who love them.

Why The Tough Girl is Tough.

“Alchemize the pain and it becomes something else.” ~ Sarah Entrup


Pushed out into the world too young, forced to fly,
you said f*ck that and crashed on purpose.

You lied: It’s not hard. I’ve got it handled.

I get the yeah, I meant to do that attitude,
That FU!, I don’t need anyone!
You’ll see! You can’t stop me!

We scream, “I’ll never be like you!” when
We’re trying to figure out who to be.

We swear we don’t need anyone.
We don’t even like people.
They’ve all let us down.

Especially that one in the mirror.

In the process of maturing, we can succumb to a sickness of the soul.

Those who hurt us live inside our hearts and minds.

We’d die to be rid of the pain. We’d steal to get attention.

We’ll do anything to prove we’re wild and unworthy.

Because that’s what they told us, if
They showed us any attention at all.

We’ll fight because we had to.

We’ll manipulate because it’s been our survival strategy.

What looks like anger is a cry for love.

Yeah, tough girls, they can’t see it either.

How Women are Reshaping Society.

“Each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world.” ~ Marianne Williamson

Women are taught to be kind. I was taught to be nonjudgmental.

That’s hard. Judgments pop like synapses in my brain. I don’t discriminate and I’m likely hardest on myself.

Still, we’re implored to “Smile!” as if it’s our badge to walk free in society.

Otherwise, we’re called out as bitches, even angry bitches.

Nevertheless, we persist as individual women who often smile instinctively, sometimes don’t mind if you wink at me, but get damn tired of being treated as objects or told we shouldn’t feel as we do.

In the 1970’s Women’s Movement, women stopped smiling, and wearing bras. They traded for emotional armor, determined to succeed in a man’s world.

In the 80’s, as I embarked on my career, my mom and I might as well have worn matching suits and carried matching briefcases.

We cheered in 1992 when Hillary Clinton said, “I suppose I could’ve stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

My mom and I bantered feminist sayings like tetherballs:

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. (popularized by Gloria Steinem)
Anything a man can do a woman can do… better.
Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job; Send a woman.

That wave of feminism paved the way for my professional sales career working among men, proving myself.

Women established our ability to work in a man’s world. But, when you borrow someone else’s pants, even if they’re the right size, they still don’t quite fit.

The way men built foundations, set boundaries (which they may freely bulldoze), and invited us begrudgingly—and sometimes eagerly—serves them and their agenda, even if only through subconscious bias.

We made it in a man’s world. Sure, there’s a glass ceiling and sexual harassment is rampant, but as Donald Trump inferred, harassment in the military is to be expected. His son Trump Jr. clarified that women who can’t handle harassment in the workplace should teach kindergarten.

Trickle-down bullsh*t.

Just as women made comfortable, although not equal, strides in careers and corporations, the guys we believed to be rare and living under rocks revealed themselves in the #MeToo chapter of the Women’s Movement.

“Yeah, I grabbed her by the pus…” Yeah, those guys. The bratty boys with names like Brett who threaten not to let us in the club again.

Guess what? This is a new movement of women.

We’re moving with love, yoga, hot tea, and Kundalini. We’re meeting under full moons and awakening. We’re creating a new world for women, children, and men.

We’re focusing on inclusion, understanding, showing up, and speaking truth—direct, soft, and strong, like a mother who’s had creation born through her.

We wanted in the boys’ clubhouse when we were girls. Then, we grew up and found out what’s in there. It stinks!

We’re building more than clubhouses. Women are creating families, businesses, and communities. We’re shaping societies.

Like the alt-right silently, and sometimes violently, infiltrated our institutions, women are waging a revolution. A revolution of love.

We’re burning sage and taking to the page. We’re purging toxins and cleansing chakras. We speak feminine languages. The witches are back.

We chant with our sisters and our ancestors, who stand with us as we create the new ways—devoid of glass ceilings and golden handcuffs.

Human progress. There’s no going back. Only sitting it out or showing up.

Women are showing up united, ignited, empowered, and determined. We’re here for the future of our children, country, and society.

We might even do a little house cleaning!