How to Lean into Joy after Loss.

“Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

I’m leaning into joy the way
a cross-country runner
leans into the tape.
My chest hurts from
shining my heart forward
and flirting with men
who aren’t my beloved.
Because he’s dead.

I’m mad/sad/hurt/angry/lonely and exhausted from trying not to be.

Doing affirmations and
taking meditation courses,
along with walks in the woods.

I’m leaning into joy
the way my dog
wishes she could
lean into the wind.

But, she can’t
because I put her
in the way back,
behind the backseat
of my SUV.

She longs to be like
other dogs in other cars,
Golden Retrievers leaning out windows
with long hair blowing
in the wind and smiles
beaming from their faces.

Truth be told,
I’m still saddened
by men with fine physiques,
who wear ACDC t-shirts,
and smoke cigars.
The blues still strikes my heart like a fist.

I’m laughing loud and
leaning into the love
of being alive.
I’m grabbing gratitude
like it’s my last refuge.

I’m celebrating love, when it’s not mine.
I’m dancing to music that
didn’t exist when he was alive.

I’m leaning into joy
the way my Black Lab
asks for a third helping of food.

I’m devouring books and gathering friends and eating healthy and meeting new people and keeping up with world events and our crazy-ass country to the best of my ability and going on evening walks with my sister and

Missing him like a dripping faucet in the background of everything.

I’m learning social media
and getting published.
I’m planning and revising.

All the while,
I’m remembering you
cheering me on
with an awe
I felt I deserved

And miss like a best friend.

I miss you.
The world goes on.
I rise daily.
I miss you.

Every time the clock ticks.

 

How to Know When You’re Getting to the Better Side of Grief.

How to Know When You’re Getting to the Better Side of Grief.

When drinking out of that one striped coffee cup (his)—which you relegate to a special place and celebrate sipping from, holding the connection to him the way a child holds her Teddy Bear—no longer feeds you an emotional feast.

Of course, you still choose it the way you’d still choose your beloved were he alive, but its existence, meaning, and memories don’t grip as tight as they once did.

When you flirt with other men because you want to, not just to prove to yourself you still can.

When meeting potential suitors, you no longer seethe from your soul the words that rolled off your tongue fresh after his death: Every other man is going to be such a f*cking disappointment!

Although each one will say or do the wrong thing by virtue of not being the man you called Fire!.

He lit you, warmed you, melted you, and went out in the night while you each slept snuggled in the peace you’d longed for your whole life.

Yet, you remember you once gave him a hard time, too–even considered him unqualified.

Until he shattered your walls with his Southern, all-in, “I’m not those other guys” determination and dedication without expectation.

Damn. He showed you how a real man steps in.

So, you might be getting to the better side of grief when you believe maybe there’s more than one emotionally courageous man on this earth, even another for you.

You stop banking on your beloved coming back, although you still secretly believe.

Your fascination with the other side, psychics, and signs subsides.

Sure, the songs still come, like Summer Nights for your sister, the flash from her first date with her husband some 35+ years ago, before he died after decades of love and a devoted family foursome.

That same night in the Bahamas, gals sing and slaughter Ice, Ice Baby, the song that originated Fire’s nickname for you in 1988 when your friendship began, as playful as a paintball tournament.

You’re getting to the other side of grief when these songs, reminders, and hellos from heaven break a smile instead of your heart.

You find yourself fully present vacationing with your sister, letting the alligators in the Everglades and lobster on the beach in the Bahamas own your attention.

Easy, one might say, but to grieve is to always wish you were elsewhere: with him.

When every breath isn’t I wish you were here; I miss you so much! Although the thought still indulges your days, it’s not every. single. moment. Progress!

Now, you’ve done 30 Days of Meditation, cleared everything from your chakras to your lineage, and found your heart bursting with love.

Determination isn’t only in your head; you embody it.

Goals and dreams matter, rather than just trying to convince yourself they should.

You might be getting to the to the better side of grief when birds singing and feeding at the feeder that belonged to your beloved goes from bittersweet to simply sweet.

Morning air and the wearing of his KISS robe isn’t ripe with flashbacks of early country mornings, arising from his bed and arms to let your dog out, hearing your favorite holler, “Come back, Icey! Come back!”

When you stop betting 100% he will.

Once again, you start finding two pennies repeatedly. Then a nickel and a penny, hearing him say, “For your sixth cents,” laughing, and you laugh, too.

Your own laughter rings as real and unrestrained as it flowed back in 1989, before your brother died, when you called The Fire! only Kevin, and he helped you pack your Honda CRX hitched with a U-Haul, so you could haul your ass out west and run away from husband number one.

You no longer want to run away from your own life.

Instead, you lean into the laughter and how it feels in your belly and looks on your face reflected in the eyes of your sister, friends, and strange folks you’ve yet to know.

You could be getting to the better side of grief when gratitude doesn’t feel like false affirmation, when you look forward to time with friends, and frankly, you stop wishing you were dead.

When you don’t keep your eyes on the clouds, begging for the heart shapes so prominent and clear in the first year after he died.

You begin looking at all that is before you.

You stop carrying conversations on autopilot like your decades spent in sales. You listen to others’ pain as more than pacifier for why yours isn’t so bad.

You still yourself and speak from your soul without the deafening echo of his goneness.

You hear joy—theirs and yours—and let it rise like a favorite song you sang in your 20s. Passion!

I find I’m getting to the better side of grief when I want to grab every morsel of life.

I don’t want to miss out on one grand, or even mundane experience, like savoring coffee, because I’m so damn busy missing my beloved, my Fire!, although I always will.

I crawled through the dark tunnel of grief after experiencing the ecstasy of sacred love.

It hasn’t died. His love lives in me. I’m forever his Ice Baby.

I’m all that he fell for—broken, vulnerable, smart, strong, feisty, funny, and beautiful.

We were crazy, sexy, cool. He still is; I still am.

I’m alive, eager for the moments before me, and excited for the chapters unfolding.

I feel like me again. I’m a woman who loved unbounded and grieved with every fiber of my being.

I’m not a fool. Grief will grab me again. She can knock me down with the power of a colossal ocean wave. I accept her power, her nature.

But, we may be getting to the better side of grief when we once again feel our own power and God’s grace within this brutiful life.

And giddiness! There’s no such thing as giddiness in the grip of grief.

So, if you’re in it, I extend my hand in hope to hold with your honorable despair.

There’s another side to grief. May I see you there.

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.

 

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.

Butterfly

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Every time grief washes over my sister’s face, I feel it like a slap. I want to fix it—the way she’s fixed me up and put me back on my feet.

My sister doesn’t yet see her reflection as the butterfly she’s becoming. It’s still sticky where she lives, in a cocoon of grief. But, the sunshine is bursting in and someday soon she’ll realize she has wings.

Right now, she’s remembering all that went wrong and why can’t it just be yesterday? From the sidelines, it’s almost too much to endure, like watching a teenager attacked by hormones screaming hatred and then melting into a hug like only the innocent and broken can do. But a grown woman does it all with poise.

My sister was broken when I arrived to live with her. Now, she’s spiraling up in life. She’s loosened her grip. Sure, occasionally she trips. And no, she’s not there yet. And yes, grief’s shadow haunts her every step.

Still, sometimes I stand a few steps below. The vision of my sister is radiant. She turns to look at me, always looking out for me. She sees me beaming back at her and gives me undue credit. She can’t see all the light shining from behind or the team of angels assuring, “We got her.”

My sister can’t see her ocean-blue eyes are alive again. She stands oblivious to the formation of her wings. Perched at the edge, just a little bend and the right whiff in her direction, this gal’s going to fly.

Strings on Gifts

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When your sister’s husband dies

You drop everything

As if you could do anything

About the thing that’s kicking her ass.

Damn, if it don’t make you ache to

Watch her brave it, and badly.

Because there’s no good way to do this;

Grief doesn’t look good on anyone.

Oh, it might make you wise.

Sure, someday, some way

The thing that takes you to the brink

Will bring you back with compassion.

Yeah, soon my sister’s life will

Feel like a call to action.

But, today, this moment,

It’s like a girl—if she had any—

Getting kicked in the balls.

A girl I grew up with.

A girl who stood up to life

When it told her to play it small.

She shouted, “Give me something big!”

It did. And took it away.

A high price to pay,

What she was asking.

Unprepared, as we all are

For gifts and their strings.