Every Step (in Grief) Counts.

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On the road to metamorphosis, every step counts. Those books you read on grief count. The prayers you prayed, walks you took, tears you shed, hugs you embraced, the contemplation, questioning, wishing the truth away, wasting days watching Law & Order or submerging yourself in Facebook—all part of the process.

It all counts. The phone calls you took and the ones you resisted. The words and prayers you let seep into your heart. The warmth you felt on that one sunny afternoon for one minute—a special step forward.

You can’t see it now. You feel stuck, frustrated, so done with not being done with this! I get it.

You’re not alone. You’re a work in progress. Part of your divine destiny is learning to process grief. You’ll always be learning and taking steps forward.

Some will seem miniscule. Moving your beloved’s picture from your bedside stand to your dresser will feel like divorcing the yesterday you love. You will crumble.

What was once little will become huge. What was once important will become meaningless.

Plans taken by the tornado of life don’t make one eager to plan more. You will.

You’ll make many plans in your head and carry out few—for now.

The good news is you’re still here. Even that may feel like another bad hand.

Question that. Find answers worthy. Or don’t. Just stay. Stay for the next act, next character, the next scene of your life.

Keep turning the page. You don’t have to learn the meaning of every word or sign, unless that helps.

Just know: every step counts. Play the music and dance when you can, even with tears. Let the laughter sneak out. When you need to, break glasses, throw eggs, or punch pillows.

Or, better yet, hold your anger and sadness like babies. Just hold them. That sitting with your feelings is a championship, albeit counterintuitive, move out of the depths.

Remember: it all counts. You can’t lose points or do it wrong. You won’t be punished for any of your moves.

Except getting drunk and falling on your face. You’ll pay for that.

But seriously, you’re growing and changing—like adolescence, pregnancy or menopause.

You’re giving birth to a new chapter in life. An old chapter is being ripped away. There will be pain.

You may be in the worst of it. On the road to metamorphosis, everything baby crawl counts. Just don’t count yourself out.

 

Behind the Mask

I wish to rip off your mask and talk deep with ease.

If you wish to know me, see me. If you wish to see me, look beyond the maintained by the manmade.

If you wish to make your way into my heart, open yours. I’ll look past your label, your name, and my subconscious assumptions I’d rather deny.

Please don’t put me on a pedestal unless your destination is disappointment.

I won’t dismiss you—today, but don’t book your expectations on me. I offer you no promises and tell you I’ve broken plenty in the past.

I promised forever and failed—twice.

I’ve also lived in the moment and given full-on, exercised-in-delight love.

I’ve changed men. Some woke up and others shattered.

With men, I’ve both expanded and become completely undone.

I’m the phoenix. I fly into the fire and come out transformed.

That’s why I leaped off a 50-foot telephone pole and walked across 40-feet of hot burning coals. Metamorphosis is what I do.

It’s my chosen path even when I attempt to avoid it, which I do less and less as I age. I welcome change because it’s coming.

I’d like to invite you with me, but I don’t know how long your destiny is meant to intertwine with mine.

Some main characters of yesterday are no longer on the page.

This isn’t a novel. I’m the author of this true story.

I have a say, but how many actors and factors come into play in a life? Prediction seems preposterous.

I’m a risk taker, but today I cling to certainties.

You’re on my path. That’s all I know.

I want to know more. I want to know: who flung those arrows into your heart, how did you escape the pain, and what have you learned about walking in this world? How did you learn to sing and what drives you to get up in the morning?

I want to know the answers below the answers. I yearn for soul connection.

It starts with the eyes. Yet, sometimes I turn away from yours. It’s the intimacy I crave colliding with my protection mechanisms.

I want to ask, why are you still here? And, thank God you’re still here.

Yet, I look away. I look away? Forgive me.

I’m afraid of the unknown, disappointing one more man, and death—yours—even though I don’t know you that well yet.

Only beyond words. From that other lifetime where we meant something to each other that’s been carried over here—in coincidences, synchronicities, habits, and conversational patterns.

So, lean in and tell me the color of my eyes; I’ve forgotten.

Maybe I need to go to the mirror before I can meet you where you are.

I wish to know you, to see you. I wish to rip off your mask and talk deep with ease.

See, I’ve got a thousand hopes, but today, I only offer you my hand.

 

How I Exercise my Introvert/Extrovert Status

If someone says, “She’s high maintenance” referring to me, I’ve got one thing to say: You’re damn right.

I don’t understand low-maintenance, high-functioning folks. Sometimes I see people maintaining themselves by sucking on other people’s energy.

I sustain my own energy by tending to the two sides of me.

I envy extroverts who get revved up by hanging with others.

For me, these are my required maintenance procedures:
1. Writing—morning pages, journaling and writing with purpose for publication.
2. Yoga or stretching. My body gets physically knotted up and I’m in pain if I don’t find a way to untie the knots. (Massage works, too.)
3. Walking in nature. It’s the act of movement, and nature kisses my skin and whispers to my soul if I go it alone.
4. Reading—expands my mind and heart.
5. Prayer—to God, angels, guides, Mother Mary, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, and my loved ones on the other side. It can take a while.
6. Meditation—without it I’d come undone.

These are solo pursuits. When I take these steps I’m better able to connect with the world.

Also, I love being alone. I’m not bored. I’m not lonely.

Extroverts, I love you with your eager invitations and how you can’t fathom my time alone is your competition. It is.

Introverts, I’m with you in the magnitude of solitude, silence drawing out peace and presence for ourselves in order to invoke any magnificence we may hope to possess.

Extroverts, you drag me from the dark depths of myself—beyond the blackness. Some days and nights, I stand at death’s door begging for entry into something beyond. You entertain me and keep me awake to others’ laughter, dancing, voices and stories.

You make me come out and live. Thank you.

Introverts, we know our time alone can be where we feel most alive, authentic and valid. They may think we’re hiding, but it’s here where we face life head on. We’re not afraid of darkness. Or light. The sacred ignites our souls. We see stars intimately. We speak poetry as if it’s our first language. We dance with music because it becomes us. Alone, we’re more than we care to explain, show or present to the great pretenders running the world we run away from.

Extroverts, I adore your laughter and our connections. Yet, I can’t comprehend your apprehension toward solitude. How can it not soothe you?

Don’t you dare to dance with your one true soul mate—you?

We introverts don’t quite understand the loneliness you speak of, for others tend to engulf us in emotional claustrophobia.

Me, I dance between the world of people and parties and my full-on presence. Too much out there invites pretense, lest I speak truth most don’t care for.

Truth—I kiss her and let her seep inside my soul alone on quiet nights and precious days. She allows me to return full and ready, capable of conjuring words, not to hurt but ideally to awaken and elevate.

I’m two sides of the personality coin: introvert/extrovert. I must spend them equally. And so I dance—in the world and in my kitchen.

 

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.

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.

 

Triggers, Letters & Love

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How many layers of grief? How many levels and triggers—everywhere, like gunfire only I can hear?

Or, more like the sound, sight, and magic of watching fireworks while holding my man’s hand—then silence, darkness, and dread.

It happens repeatedly, like I’m a ball tied to a paddle.

I’m feathered with memories: songs, the smell of cigars, the seat where he sat smiling at me…

Like one match ignites the shower of Fire! crackers! Bam. Beautiful. Then dark.

Like seeing someone you love and immediately being horse kicked. So fast.

Memories sneak up on me. I have this silly notion I could get through them all and be done. Impossible.

I was just looking for a pen in my bedside stand. Sure, I felt a twinge as I opened the drawer that holds the love letters from Kevin. That’s a drawer I’ve opened many times since Kevin died. It’s a drawer I’ve lived in. I wasn’t afraid of those letters.

But, for the first time, from a new angle—on my knees rather than in my bed—I remembered I copied the letters I’d written him.

They seemed to call out for attention. I picked one up. Why did I make copies of these? I thank God I made copies. I think. What did I say?

The first one I picked up was the first letter I wrote to Kevin: May 30, 2014. He’d written me several letters by then. My response was the best of me—feminine, bold, soft, honest, clear.

My letter mirrored his in authenticity and excitement. Remember that rush when you’re about to leap into love’s arms?

I wrote: “I’m in! I’m into you! In spite of my fears.”

Finding my response to Kevin when we stood on the brink of wonderful reminds me the gift isn’t only in being loved. It’s in the loving.

I leaped and he let me love him. It seems simple, but many people don’t know how to welcome love when it arrives at their door. They examine, question, and challenge love. They say they want love, yet resist it.

Not Kevin. Just like he said—he wasn’t like those other guys. When I showed up as love, Kevin said, “Come on in. Let’s party.”

There’s glory in risking for love, especially after decades and scars have multiplied.

When a man welcomes a woman to love him, dances in the light of her love, and drinks her like water, she blossoms.

To give love and have someone gladly receive it while recognizing the value of that gift (rather than dismissing, denying, or competing with) is medicine for the soul. We drank our medicine.

I was blessed to be loved by Kevin. It was my fortunate joy to love him.

House of Joy

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Grief arrives uninvited, bringing sadness as his plus one. The energy of the party shifts. You can’t even hear the music. Grief and his loud mouthed friends stir up memories and what ifs. You’re pulled into an emotional battle, a mental game without rules where strategy fails, not to mention your body is sick with sorrow.

You’re an outsider at a frat party. Grief is the big man on campus. You resent him and all his damn attention. He pours it out for you, as you turn your back. Guys like that always hurt girls like me.

You hide in the bathroom to compose yourself. Grief greets you outside. How are you doing? Remember that time…? You look so sad. Can I get you something to drink? Do you want to dance?

Oh, how you want to dance! Grief leads you to the floor. He holds you surprisingly soft, even comforting, though you resist. He whispers in your ear—something that makes you laugh. Grief steps back, looks you in the eye, and promises to believe any lie you want to tell.

You tell the truth. Grief listens. Grief knows. Grief gets you. He holds you. He isn’t trying to control or corral you, but what’s a guy to do? You keep falling into his arms.

Each time you swear you’re walking away. Grief explains he’s never leaving you—like a promise to be blood brothers. You cry and let him carry you in his strong arms.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” You say, “I wasn’t supposed to end up here!”

Grief says, “I know, baby. I know. There’s another party across the street. If you want to go, I’ll escort you.”

A part of you wants to stay at this party. How weird—because you don’t belong.

Grief holds out his hand. “Let me take you someplace new. It’s at the House of Joy.”

“I don’t know,” you say. “It sounds wonderful, but am I ready for it?”

“Hell!” Grief laughs. “You weren’t ready for the last party! What makes you think you’ll ever be ready? You weren’t ready for me to come into your life, but I’m here. You’re standing. Do you want to walk over?”

Still, you hesitate. You take a step forward with grief by your side. You hear music. More important, you feel the music.

You make it to the other side. You want to run back. Maybe you forgot something.

Grief assures you: you have everything you need and you can come back any time you want.

“Sometimes,” he says, “it’s best to just watch the House of Joy before you go in, before you let yourself in.”

You observe people smiling, kids playing, plants blooming, and animals doing their thing. You remember what you forgot back there—resentment toward other people’s happiness. You didn’t bring the anger, either. Nor did you realize how heavy it was until you were free of it.

In the House of Joy, you witness lovers kissing. You see art and invention and oh my, is that an angel?! You spot your old friend Funny hanging with Miss Curiosity. And you worried you’d be alone!

You turn, “Grief, are you leaving me? You can. I’ve got friends here.”

Grief smiles like a big brother.  “I’m your friend,” he says. “But, you go enjoy. This party is for you as much as anyone. It’s your time. Go ahead. I’ll see you around. Oh, hey baby, when you get in there, look for a guy called Adventure. I think you’ll like him.”