How Wild Women Roll. #bloglikecrazy

“You grow most vigorously in conditions of kindness, resonance and good laughter.” ~  Danielle LaPorte, White Hot Truth

Hocking Hills.
Handful of women.
Spoonfuls of gossip.
Emerging friendships.
Gallons of deep diving.
Conversations on grief.
The MeToo hashtag,
Most of us know.
Been there. In it.
Growing awareness.
Heartache and love.
Stir in laughter.
Hiking along cliffs.
Considering our edges.
Meditating and creating.
Manifesting new chapters.
Practicing a no-bullshit zone.
Singing our souls’ songs.
Howling at a full moon.
Threading a web.
Releasing tears.
Owning pain.
Worrying as women
Over the state of our country.
Holding individual sorrows.
Taking root in trees.
Unfolding tarot cards.
The mysterious unknown.
Openness. Presence. Nature.
Practicing a no-bullshit zone.
Turquoise and purple flames.
Spectacular colors crackling
The center of feminine fire.
Yoga flowing like water.
Aromas simmering.
Food nourishing.
Sisterhood
Giving birth.

 

How my Sister & I Grew up in Different Families. #bloglikecrazy

“There is space within sisterhood for likeness and difference, for the subtle differences that challenge and delight; there is space for disappointment—and surprise.” ~ Christine Downing

My sister once told me one reason siblings are different is they’re not born into the same family.

Jayne—the one and only first born—was welcomed into the world with hope during a stage my mom and dad had been told the world was tough, but maybe they didn’t quite believe it yet.

Our brother—Mr. Middle Child—arrived on the scene into Hey, maybe we can make it.

Then, just five years after my sister’s arrival, I was born into the heart of challenge.

I swam in my mom’s frustration for nine months. I ate her Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? for nourishment.

Maybe that’s why I spent too many years wishing to leave this world.

Or what I was doing at the age of eight weeks, returning to the hospital with pneumonia, checking into an oxygen tent, and keeping human touch at a distance.

My mother said the doctors told her, “Go home and take care of your other children.”

Five days later, when my parents picked me up from the hospital, a nurse said, “This time, take care of her.”

My mom hardly had room for me in her arms with all that pressure.

Besides, my independent streak and fighting inclinations had already taken root in that tent. I won my first battle and was ready for more.

However, as a toddler, I quickly learned my mother was not somebody you wanted to do battle with.

The lessons my sister learned—baking, measuring, and Winnie the Pooh seemed spent before I arrived.

We all learned about Mama Bear and that saying: If mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy. Yeah, totally true.

My mom wasn’t happy.

My dad worked. If I said all the time, it might seem like an exaggeration, but if I said he was a workaholic, that might be underplaying it.

My father appears as a visitor in my young memories.

Then, right at that crux, where my parents parted and my sister did her final years at home, the families my sister and I lived in shifted again.

By the time I was a teenager, I knew parents were just playing at righteousness and big sisters were really the difference makers.

After all, who explained divorce and that love that goes on, anyway? Who took care of me when I was sick or let me tag along on dates? Who worried when I stayed out late?
My big sister parented me when my parents were busy doing other things—like trying to get their sh*t together.

Ok, are you with me so far?
1) Parents fall in love.
2) Get pregnant.
3) Get married.
4) Have my sister.
5) Have my brother.
6) Have me.
7) Struggle.
8) Make a new decision.

My formative years were filled with my parents arguing, cutting up credit cards, building bookshelves, road trips to therapists, and me being left alone. Well, often in the care of my brother and sister.

This was the 1970s. These things were done. My parents tried for traditional, but that’s one thing neither of them could adhere to.

The thing is they tried—really hard. They wore us all out with the struggle.

What a different world develops in five short years—both the years since my sister was born and the ones after my parents divorced.

Jayne found love and leaped into it. She moved to the other side of the country.

I was unprepared for life without her. She built a family with her husband and sons, as she should.

I found myself a part of a new family with my stepmom, stepbrother and stepsister. We did family stuff like vacations, dinners, and playing canasta.

I was getting the love I needed. So was my sister—in another world.

In the beginning—her beginning—my sister was served hope with a side of parental presence. I arrived for leftovers.

I never saw the full meal in my original home, so I didn’t miss not getting dessert.

Jayne knew something had been left off the table. She took off to find something sweet.

I stayed home and was introduced to peace. Plus, I got my turn to be the big sister! I poured love and protection into my stepsister’s atmosphere.

See, my sister showed me how, having arrived first in the world. And those five years, they made all the difference.

 

 

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.

I’m Sick of People Telling me What I’m Ready for or not Ready for.

“And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

When my sister Jayne started dating after her husband of 33 years died, a friend told her, “You’re not ready.”

She said, “I’m sick of people telling me what I’m ready for or not ready for.”

As if anyone else knows, right? After a break-up, divorce or death, deciding to move forward is an individual decision.

Or sometimes, it just happens. I went out with my sister and a friend one night and suddenly months later, I’m trying to decide if this guy is right (for me).

I never made a conscious decision to start dating after my beloved’s death.

I did determine to stop saying, “Every other man is going to be such a f*cking disappointment!” I wish I could stop feeling that way.

I wish I could be ready to allow a man to replace the irreplaceable. Of course, that will never happen. How nice it would be to invite a man into the space that once held me like a hammock swinging at the beach.

It’s still a stretch I’m not sure I’m ready for. It’s been a year and a half since my Fire (as I called him) went out of this world.

He called me Ice for 25 years before he melted me with intimacy and we became us. After his departure from earth, part of me froze again. Then, shattered. You know what it’s like when you drop a bag of ice on the cement? In grief, I’m that ice, and forever his.

He (still) wants for my happiness in the way that I ache for his presence.

Maybe I’m not ready for another man. However, if I wait until I’m totally solid again, I could turn into one of those women who swear off love. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

My sister Jayne has taught me that once you’ve had a happy, successful relationship, it means you know how, you’re capable, and when you’re ready and open, you can create it again.

From where she stands now, it may appear easy to the outside world. Nope.

I remember her first date with another man and how she crumbled the second she got away from him, like I did after my first date with someone other than my beloved.

Those dates weren’t with less-than-fine men. They just weren’t ours.

Jayne had great love with her husband, Tom Gerlach for triple decades. They never stopped holding hands, laughing, and navigating life in unison—until his life was over.

She went on, the way one braves Mt. Everest. Moving forward tested her.

Now, five years later, my sister’s in love with a man who fulfills and ignites her in fresh ways. She’s different now.

Not just different from the 18-year-old who pledged her love to a man a lifetime ago, but transformed through the experience of grief.

Grief drops us. The pieces that once fit easily are lost and new parts form.

We determine to be ready for life without the one thing that matters more than anything. Then, we say, F*ck it! I’d rather die.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as it feels at the time, we know better. We could never willingly inflict the pain of loss onto our loved ones.

So, we determine to be ready, to turn the page to our next stage of life. We do this over and over again.

We take baby steps when we long for gargantuan leaps. We smile and laugh and find ourselves caught off guard when the tears engulf us again.

Grief is kind of like being a teenager; emotions are raw and we’re growing, but we can’t see it. Like a teenager wants to be grown, we want to be woke.

Who’s to say when we’re ready? Just the quiet voice that whispers, Yes!

The Days on the Calendar after Death

“Bring me your suffering.
The rattle of broken bones.
Bring me the riot in your heart.
Angry, wild and raw.
Bring it all.
I am not afraid of the dark.”
~ Mia Hollow

If you’ve lost someone and you’re still grieving, I get it. If you haven’t and you don’t, lucky you.

Sadness slipped inside my skin today. She’d taken a vacation and I began to think of her in the past tense. I was making peace with my beloved’s passing and the signs from the other side waning. I’d be alright.

Until I wasn’t, again. The heaviness came upon me after days of living in my head and socializing.

It’s not that I’m pretending I’m fine with others. I am. In the moment.

That’s a giant leap from where I was when Kevin died a year ago.

Now, there are more good days than bad.

Today isn’t wretched, but I’m tired from digging my way out of Grief Canyon to get a better view.

For all my progress, I’m without him. Still.

I miss him like trees miss rain. Still.

I wail in the woods. Still.

Even with hope’s evidence before me.

After the death of my sister’s husband five years ago, she’s fallen in love again. It’s a beautiful example. I knew it would happen because she wanted it so fiercely she manifested this new love.

The only thing I want today is my yesterday man—not another one. The one who soothed my soul and served as alchemy to a better me.

In grief, we stand staring at our path with our only desire to run back.

The year my boyfriend died ended. A new year began. I drew a line in my mind, but it washed away like words in the sand at the beach.

On January 17th, friends and I celebrated my beloved’s birthday. While memories of his last two taunted me, I toasted him, ate Italian food, laughed, told stories, and ached for his presence.

I endured Valentine’s Day—that cheesy holiday I made fun of until he gave it meaning.

The anniversary of my beloved’s death came and went, like it does for so many.

We move on, but they’re all just days on a calendar. Without him.

 

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.

 

Making Peace with the Unpredictable Triggers of Grief.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

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

Eventually, we stand and walk on in our grief.

When grief is fresh and raw, we’re vulnerable to being toppled by every song, word, passing thought, article of clothing, shared food, a coffee cup that once held his hand,  a random email, a favored restaurant, … any memory of involving our loved ones who had to leave us.

Why did they have to go?

 

Repeatedly, we believe the worst has passed, as if we’re over it simply because for one day, week, month, or even a year, we function unengulfed 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. I went to visit and to see a Hall & Oates concert. Kevin’s kiss was 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 dates 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 like 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.

He’d say, “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 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 something 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.

The bracelet must’ve fallen off when I tried on clothes. I checked 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.