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.

 

 

 

Grief is Life’s Little Sister.

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” ~ Vicki Harrison

Grief never really goes away. She fades into the background at times.

Other times, she insists on being the center of attention.

As an indeterminable amount of time rolls on, Grief makes larger circles before she gets back to you. But, she always returns.

The more time that passes, the more shocking her arrival seems because you—of such faith—believed Grief already had her way with you.

The truth is she’s just getting started. Grief is a force—both softer and harder than death. She’s only given to the living. In fact, the more alive one is, the more likely to experience her.

See, Grief is Life’s little sister. She’s a tag along. Death is their brother.

The longer you hang around with Grief and listen to her, instead of assuming she’s a nuisance, the more she reveals her wisdom and light.

Grief is nothing we imagine her to be—not enemy or friend, not a season or a time.

She’s both sickness and cure. She’s resurrection. Grief is a thousand stairs to climb, but she’s worth every step.

How to Walk the Bridge to Better

“Our job isn’t to fight fate, but to help each other through, not as soldiers, but as shepherds. That’s how we make it okay, even when it’s not.” ~ Lucy Kalanithi

Bridge Builder, Light Bearer. Those were the words I wanted on my tombstone.

Now, I think escort might be good. No, not that kind of escort!

It’s been my honor to chaperon people across their own life bridges. I didn’t have to build the bridge, but I often shined the light.

Sometimes, like when your sister’s husband dies, all we can do is sit in the dark with our loved ones and hold the light until it catches them.

The bridge seems to form under one’s feet as they walk the path of life.

However, traversing through the darkness—whether it comes from death, divorce, disaster, or simply losing our way—is lonely.

No one else can feel our unique brand of despair in our precious, vulnerable hearts.

That’s why for many years I didn’t let people in. I preferred to suffer the dark nights of my soul alone. I’d saddle up to my suicidal tendencies and keep everyone away from me. Until I didn’t.

Even now, I can’t let everyone in, but I’ve learned to recognize the light bearers. They’re the ones who stand in the darkness with you, shine the light, and fully acknowledge your right to sit where you are for as long as you need to. Light bearers aren’t there to convince.

They’re a power by their presence. They see your pain and appreciate it without pity. They don’t try to pull you out of the pain, but hold your hand while you’re in it.

That’s what my sister does for me—always. Not just since the death of my beloved.

Jayne showed me the light when we were kids and our parents divorced and later, when I was a teenager, she opened her home to me.

My sister has held the light a thousand times.

The light is like bird food. I can’t actually feed the birds. But, I can fill the feeder and let them come.

Now, I’ve become a woman whose heart fills with the sight of cardinals’ colors, beaks and feathers outside my window.

I’ve done nothing; I’ve done something.

I offer food, but I can’t physically carry or direct the birds to it. That’s not my job; it’s God’s, or angels or the Universe. This Amazing Force alerts the birds the food is out and calls them to fly to it.

For me, that’s God. He builds bridges and sends the escorts to help us across the dark chapters of our lives into the light.

God isn’t just in the magic. He’s in the in-between moments building bridges to tomorrow, to our next beautiful chapter.

My biggest lesson: we don’t have to build the bridges!

Often, I have no idea how I’m going to get from here to there.

How would I get out of my marriage and onto solid ground? How could I get out of sales after 20 years? How could I become a writer? How could I get out of relationships that weren’t right—especially when I was desperate to make them into more?

Sometimes falling apart is the bridge.

If those men I was involved with hadn’t let me down or dismissed me, I would’ve missed the greatest love I’ve ever known—sacred, worth-it-all love.

Deep in it, when my beloved Fire died and I cried every f*cking day, when devastation felt like my middle name, God was building a bridge.

My sister—and so many others—held the light.

Earlier, when my sister’s husband died (four years before I lost my guy), I wanted to be the one to build the bridge for her. But, the only bridge she wanted to walk over was the one leading to yesterday, the one that no longer existed.

So, I prayed and stayed present through the black nights that rippled into days, weeks, months and years. I held the light, as did a whole gang of angels—both human and beyond.

Somehow, my sister, after going one direction for 33 years of marriage, learned to walk a new way through the darkness. Over time, a bridge to a better life formed beneath her—right there, in the dark.

Now, after all we’ve been through, I no longer feel the need to be a bridge builder.

Instead, I pray: God, use me. May I be of benefit. Let me shine the light. And especially, Help me pay it forward.

All I can tell you is this: that rush I get from feeding the birds is nothing compared to being a light bearer for another human being.

When the light catches their eyes—after the darkness—they almost fly.

 

One Night in a Bar with Grief & Gratitude

“Resilience does not mean bouncing back to where you were before or pretending that the hard stuff isn’t hard. It’s painful, messy stuff. But, it’s the stuff.” ~ Lucy Kalanithi

When my fellow grievers ask, “How are you?” I want to tell them I’m fine.

I’m farther on the journey, so I want to tell them it gets better—because it has. I want to tell them I miss him now more than ever—because I do.

They’re not grieving the man I am—my beloved who died 15 months ago. Each of these friends carries their own loss—more recent, fresh and raw.

I tell them I’m moving on, even seeing other men, but my heart is still deeply in love with Kevin.

Kevin is dead.

With these two friends, I can say his name loud and proud, although they only know him the way I know Jeff’s brother, Michael and Sharon’s sister, Judy—through afterlife stories.

I don’t tell them about the morning I woke up with the man I went to bed with the night before only to be deeply disappointed—not because of anything I did or didn’t do or who he is—but, because he isn’t Kevin. So, I went into the bathroom and sobbed.

I’m still so sad. Even these two, who completely get it, aren’t privy to the part of me that’s in agony.

I’m not keeping a secret from them; I’m keeping it from myself.

I’m still sad. I don’t think any other man will ever compare. I’m mad that my man is dead—still. Hasn’t he been dead long enough?

I envy the two grievers sitting opposite me in a booth at Matt the Miller’s bar because they have long term marriages with the loves of their lives. I’m jealous.
I wanted a chance at that—even though Kevin and I came together decades after we met, giving us a late start off the bat. But, really? That’s all we got—a start?

I talk to my friends about divine timing—how I believe my brother, mother and beloved lived their full lives—even though for me, they died too soon.

I amaze myself with truths that are also lies.

I’m fine. I’m crumbling. It will be okay. It gets better.

F*ck that. F*ck it all.

As Jeff says, “I’ve got no f*cks to give.”

We seem to cuss a lot. Tonight. Together. In grief.

How am I? I’m sad because we’re all grieving, but comforted because we’re in it together.

Making Peace with the Unpredictable Triggers of Grief.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

When grief is fresh and raw, we’re vulnerable to being triggered by every song, word, thought, piece of clothing, food, coffee cup, email, restaurant, and memory of moments with our loved ones.

Early on, the best we can do is breathe, fall to our knees and howl out our animalistic wounds. But, we can’t live there.

Eventually, we stand and walk on in our grief.

Repeatedly, we may think the worst has passed, as if we’re over it simply because for one day, week, month, or even a year, we function as if not engulfed by the gigantic hole in our hearts.

We act as if we overcame a bout with the flu or a nightmare vacation. Now, we’re home safe and feeling better—better able to navigate.

Now, I’m back in control.

The triggers move to the back and we believe we’re in the driver’s seat.

Maybe, but just as there’s mystery and magic in love, what ignites our grief can surprise.

If someone told me shopping would be my sucker punch after my beloved’s death…well, I wouldn’t have believed them any more than I believed I’d fall in love with a salesman I’d known for decades who lived in St. Louis and had a KISS painting on his living room wall. His kiss was definitely not on my list.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

I’ve watched my sister plan for the days that might wreck her—anniversaries, birthdays and holidays shared over 33 years with her now-deceased husband.

Often, the days and places we imagine will break us don’t. Then again, sometimes they do. There are no rules or formulas.

We can navigate better through love and grief, but to imagine that we’re in complete control is laughable.

My now-deceased boyfriend Kevin was a shopper, not like a shopaholic, but a man in love who enjoyed seeing my face light up with the gifts he gave. Most often, it was clothing.

It wasn’t just that he bought me gifts.

Plenty of men have done that and there’s nothing that punches the way guilt does when you don’t like a gift you’re given—because it offers only two options, neither good.

First, lie and say you love it, like it, appreciate it, or even just “thank you” can feel like a lie when you’re thinking why the hell did you get me this?

Then, there’s option two. Tell the truth, which rarely makes the giver feel good, since most gifts are given with love and an invitation for happiness.

My ex-husband lavished me with gifts, which at first felt fabulous. Over time, I tried to tell him when the style didn’t suit me—or anything that resembled truth.

He’d say, “Well, what don’t you like about it?” “Try it on.” “It looks good. You should keep it.”

Or, in response to my saying, “I just don’t like it,” he’d say, “Yes, you do.”

That’s just one man, and maybe I sound like a bitch complaining about my history of men giving me gifts, but my fortune often came wrapped in contorted feelings.

That’s why when I opened the first box from Kevin, I did so with trepidation.

We were headed to the St. Louis Big Muddy Blues Festival. He gave me a brass (not gold) necklace and bracelet handcrafted by his friend.

He said, “Icey, everybody needs a peace bracelet to wear to the Blues Fest.”

I needed the peace that perfect present offered. Not too over the top and ideal for the occasion. He didn’t invest big money, but put in the thought.

As much as we like to say it’s the thought that counts, getting it right feels nice. It was one more way Kevin helped erase my painful history.

He went on to give me gifts—mostly clothes—right up until he died.

His packed bag ready for a visit contained a final gift: a light sweater, blue, pink, and gold, a festive Reba McEntire design purchased from Kohl’s, one of Kevin’s favorite shopping spots.

Every time I wear the sweater, I get compliments. The first I wore it, I only had it on about an hour when I stood in the bathroom at Kroger. One of the employees came out of a stall. Her eyes lit up.

She said, “That’s a beautiful sweater.”

I said, “Thanks. My boyfriend just gave it to me” (kind of).

She looked into my eyes, then at the sweater, then back in my eyes.

She said, “Wow, he really knows your style.”

Yes, he did. I have a closet full of clothes given to me by Kevin, clothes that make me feel more like myself. He knew my style before I really did.

My sister and I enjoy shopping for clothes together. At least, we did before Kevin died.

After, I needed a dress for his memorial service. Jayne told me when she needed one for her husband’s funeral, she said, “Okay Tom, you’ve got to help me with this.” The first dress she tried on was the one.

I said, “Maybe Kevin will help me.” Same thing. First dress. Perfect. Slim fitting, but not tight. Black, with one white and one lavender stripe—the color of the Tanzanite bracelet Kevin gave me and the color of the sky since he died.

I sent my little sister a picture of the dress and told her, “I still want to look pretty for him.”

It was the kind of dress my man would’ve found for me, but now, he’d never buy me another piece of clothing.

That was the thought that hit me the first time Jayne and I ventured on a typical girl’s shopping afternoon after his death. We went to Kohl’s, where Kevin took me shopping for my birthday.

Kohl’s in Columbus mirrors the Kohl’s in St. Louis. The dressing room is set up the same as the one Kevin sat outside as I tried on clothes he picked out.

He participated in the process—the perfect balance between the guy trying to ply his gal to win her favor by shopping for her and the bored man in the corner.

Kevin enjoyed shopping with me. He enjoyed being with me and seeing me happy.

There, in the dressing room entrance, I reminisced and forced myself to swallow the fact that none of it will never happen again.

My tears took me into a hot, wet flood of emotion. I missed him so bad I wanted to throw up. I dropped the clothes I’d been considering. I got my sister and we left of the store.

She said, “I’m sorry.” She was sorry I had to endure this pain she knew too well.

We weren’t too far down the road before I realized, “My bracelet!” The Tanzanite one Kevin gave me. I called the store as we drove back. The gal assured me she looked in the dressing room and found nothing.

The bracelet wasn’t expensive; it was irreplaceable.

We raced back—Jayne wanting to fight for her little sister and me desperate for the damned bracelet, as the memory of the moment he gave it to me hit me like a slap.

I tried to tell myself the loss was nothing; the bracelet didn’t matter.

Not too long before (hours? at lunch that day?) I told Jayne what I never got around to telling Kevin, although he would’ve been jazzed about it.

People get diamonds when they get married because it’s the hardest substance known to man. Many people think diamonds are unbreakable, but they can break, like marriages. Hit hard enough in the right spot, they can shatter.

I sold diamonds and jewelry for years and took full advantage of my discount. Tanzanite was one of the only stones I love, but never acquired.

Without that knowledge, Kevin gave me a Tanzanite bracelet I love more than my 3-carat diamond tennis bracelet.

Tanzanite is rare—much rarer than diamonds. It’s only recently discovered. Its color—which can range from light lavender to deep purple—is unique in nature. However, Tanzanite is fragile.

I told my sister that was exactly why if Kevin and I had married, I wanted my ring to be Tanzanite. It represented him, us and our crazy, sexy, cool love, recently found, unique and special enough to be worth caring for.

Now, I’d lost the only piece of Tanzanite jewelry I owned.

It was with me one minute, then gone—like Kevin.

It was too much to bear.

As we made our way back to Kohl’s, I prayed no one played Finders Keepers. My sister insisted I not give up hope, but she was scared for me.

She drove like a woman determined to stop disappointment.

We parked and split up. Jayne headed to customer service. I went to check the dressing rooms. I couldn’t remember which one I’d been in.

It must’ve fallen off when I tried on clothes. I looked on the floors in every dressing room. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Then, in the last dressing room, the little corner shelf held my bracelet—and more, a sort of restoration of my heart.

I was elated. It was worth the trip back. It was worth the hope.

When I told Jayne, she saw the Band-Aid on my battered soul.

Shopping would never be the same easy high it once was for us. I’d decline for months.

When I did go, many times I felt the heat of tears and we’d leave.

I love the wardrobe Kevin blessed me with. Somehow, all the clothes he gave me suit me perfectly. They fit me, not just in size. They become me.

Surprising colors, like blues and pinks I long ago decided weren’t mine. Like Kevin, the blouses, jeans and shoes were an upgrade I never imagined.

I joke that I’ll be wearing the wardrobe from Kevin for decades.

However, Jayne and I recently returned to shopping. She needed shorts for her trip to Florida with her boyfriend.

That, too, was bittersweet. Kevin was from Florida and for our first trip he took me to Indian Rocks beach, back when he was convincing me to call him my boyfriend.

Deep breath. My sister was excited for her trip. I was thrilled for her.

We went to Clothes Mentor, a second-hand designer store Kevin likely never went to. Still, I wasn’t in a shopping mood.

Until I was. Jayne and I spent hours trying on clothes. I didn’t even cry.

We scored. We walked away with two big bags of clothing (over 20 pieces, but only one pair of shorts) for under $200. Nice!

Plus, as elephant journal founder Waylon Lewis says, “The most eco thing is second hand.”

On that Saturday, I allowed myself to be happy. It’s part of the path to loving life again.

I do, mostly. And, I have a new favorite outfit. Kevin would love it.

How I Learned to See Through the Lens of Sacred Love

I’ve experienced an impossible reality; my dead boyfriend lives in me and shows me what he sees.

It happens still—not often, but there are days when I look in the mirror and see myself through my beloved’s eyes.

I gasp at my beauty and light up at the sight of me.

It’s not ego trying to gain on my good looks, or my slightly insecure self desperate to deny my faults.

No, it’s him. I see myself as he sees me.

Feminine. Bright. Easy and extraordinary.

Not flawless, but perfect with the scar on my lip—lips that call for kissing. Eyes that invite gaze. Body worthy of touch.

Seeing myself through his eyes, I feel love—intentional, chosen, yet gifted.

I’ve looked in the mirror for five decades, but not until my beloved’s death did I have this vision, this new way of seeing myself. It’s a subtle shift beyond my confident acceptance (which I worked damn hard to earn) and even praise (which served as affirming armor).

No, this way I see myself is how I saw him since the fateful few days when we slipped from friendship into the fire of love.

I looked at this man for years before I ever saw the treasure before me.

Overnight, I came to relish the sight of him—his eyes, moustache and stature that was all man.

I enjoyed looking at and touching his skin, face and long legs.

I took in the way he sat in his kitchen and office, smoked cigars and made coffee. And damn, did his smile light me up!

Now, all of that joy is mine again—from a glimpse in the mirror.

I see myself the way he saw me, the way I saw him, through the lens of sacred love.

My prayer is that I may learn to see the world with such eyes.

 

The Dangerous Game of If

The only thing I know about death is it comes when it does. We’re not in control and only in the rarest of cases responsible for it.

Recently, two women I know lost their sisters. I ache for them, knowing they’ve just been thrown down a cliff.

One saw it coming; one didn’t. Does it make a difference?

We can’t really prepare for the pain of loss when we’re busy begging death to keep its distance.

We can’t save people, even from themselves.

When my mother was diagnosed with…well actually, the doctors didn’t know what the hell they were diagnosing her with, but the soon-to-be-ditched doctor who delivered her first diagnosis said, “You just want to take her to a better doctor or a better hospital, but you need to face it. She’ll be dead in two weeks.”

Yes, we took her to a better doctor and a better hospital. Still, she only lived four more months.

Can you imagine what I thought while my mom sat silently as that doctor’s words seeped into her soul? Surprisingly, I didn’t slap him.

Now, with decades of hindsight, I imagine the doctor’s crassness was him trying to prepare me for what I couldn’t control. I was in my late 20s.

I had to learn through experience. Death came and there’s no one to blame.

Yet, people do. Not too long ago, I learned my brother’s friend blames himself for Bill’s death. Oh, that breaks my heart!

He wasn’t the person who was driving the car or bought the beer or sold it. It’s someone who wasn’t even there.

Yet, he’s concluded it’s his fault because maybe if…if…if.

That’s a dangerous game to play. If I’d convinced my now deceased boyfriend Kevin not to take the medication that I believe killed him… If I’d been more panicked over what may have been warning signs, but at the time seemed simple symptoms of life… If I would’ve been with him…

Anyone can jump in on the guilt game—even someone completely removed from the situation at the time of death. Or, we can play the blame game.

For me, I wanted to blame the doctor who prescribed the medicine and the pharmaceutical company that put it on the market.

In fact, I indulged in that for a bit—maybe so I could feel the anger of my grief. Guilt is anger turned inward.

But, I’m not guilty. I’m not angry.

I’m sad. I’m sad that people, especially the ones I love, die.

Yet, it’s the inevitable part of life we like to pretend away.

Isn’t thinking it’s our fault or we could’ve controlled death a way of denying it?

Maybe the what-ifs are a part of grief, but I choose to let them go, knowing they don’t serve, but only harm.

What-ifs invite guilt and anger. Both could kill me—slowly, but surely.

So, I let go in honor of love—for myself and those who died.

For now, it’s my job to live and love the one my beloved loved with a fire that refuses to die. No what-ifs about it.