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.”

 

 

 

 

 

Life Can Horse Kick

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It’s easy to get down. We have a right to our pain. When you fall on your ass, it hurts. When people die, it changes everything. Sometimes, you’ve got to sit on the sidelines and take care of yourself.

Recently, I’ve advocated for owning the pain as strongly as I took on positive thinking in the 80s. I came to conclude all that optimism had me skating on thin ice.

The Ice (my deceased boyfriend’s nickname for me) broke. What shattered was my illusion the pain had no value.

The juice of a coconut is found inside that hard shell, under the meat of it. That’s where the juice of life hides, behind our hard, human shell of self-protection. I drink the juice of life and I’m restored.

However, beyond all my metaphorical bullshit is a tipping point, transformation, even metamorphosis. The point of sitting with our pain is so we can learn the lessons it offers. Grief can bring wisdom and growth.

Or, we can get stuck in the pain and end up being a victim. That’s where we stop believing. It doesn’t matter if before our fall our faith was in God or our badass ability to make shit happen.

When our foundation falls out, our faith waivers and we yearn for the hope that once shown from our own eyes.

So, we’ve got to stir it up, call it up, demand it from the depths of our soul—something, anything! I must remind myself of my strength.

Like a muscle gone flabby, hope needs to be worked. So do our imaginations.

Until faith takes shape again, we can imagine things will get better. We try taking little bites of truth about how others had it hard, too and overcame.

Oh, we think no one has had it as bad as us?! If only that were true, we could pick up our victim license and drive in the poor-me lane for life. We seem to like it, but we don’t.

I know I’m being harsh. This is the challenge to myself as life holds a giant mirror before me and shows me all that’s going on around me.

Flexing our compassion muscles rather than repeating victim chants can do wonders.

Are you still with me? If you’re early in your grief, please disregard my loud words. There’s a time for everything. The first chapter is fetal position.

If you’re there, I send you love and the healing comfort of angels.

But, I’m on that place in my path that’s calling me to decide my philosophy of life. For me, it’s time to choose.

Yeah, I got dealt a bad hand, a raw deal, and it’s unfair that my beloved died just as we began soaring in our relationship.

We’ve all heard it: life’s not fair. Nobody should have to lose a kid or a husband or have cancer or PTSD after serving or get hit by a car and die crossing the street on the way to work at 6 a.m.

Life’s not fair. Women shouldn’t be raped. Nobody should be robbed at gunpoint for her cellphone. Life sucks and people die.

Or, sometimes they don’t. They live in comas or come out as different people or have strokes, left with the only words, “Tee. Tah. Toe.”

Babies die before they’re born or they’re born… beautiful, often.

Isn’t a new baby a beautiful reminder of innocence and hope? Let’s find hope. In a child’s eyes. Or a lover’s. And when we have none, can we wrap our arms around ourselves and enjoy a moment? Just one?

Let’s not punish ourselves by becoming victims. How long can we sing our sad songs? There’s beauty in it, sure. But, there are a thousand songs to sing. Can you remember a happy one? (I ask myself.)

It’s easy to get down and there are plenty of majorly fucked up difficult challenges to overcome.

But, the saddest thing I’ve ever seen is a woman who was once a warrior wearing a name tag that reads “Poor me” holding hands with a man whose brow announces, “No options.”

Victims like that make me want to get back to the 80s. I’m not saying it’s easy and affirming “I’m happy” when you’re heartbroken is ridiculous.

Pain is real. Life can horse kick. When we’re down, we’ve got to decide that somehow, some way, we’re going to get up. I’m rooting for us, you and me.

There are more chapters in life. This may be the worst one.

Let’s fight to find our faith again. I’m believing in others who are in the midst of their struggle, like all the lovely beings—human and beyond—have done for me. Let’s not give up now.

Flowers the Size of my Fist

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I found a card for flowers from my now deceased boyfriend Kevin. It was used as a bookmark in Jesus, Entrepreneur, which grabbed my attention from a shelf yesterday. I even moved the card as I read a couple chapters, but I was looking at the blank side. Today, I turned it, not knowing I’d see:

Hey Ice Baby,

I hope these are half as beautiful as you are.

Wish I was there to deliver them in person.

The card came with the first flowers Kevin gave me. A dozen red roses, so classic I would’ve considered it cliché from anyone else. There’s no date. It doesn’t matter. Time took on a different tone with Kevin.

It’s all surreal now. In our chapter together, we experienced the love that clicked after all those years struggling in other relationships.

Back then, watching other couples, it seemed so easy, right and smooth. They assured me they worked hard on their relationships and I tried harder in ones that wouldn’t fulfill.

It wasn’t until I was with Kevin that what I suspected was proven true.

When you’re with the right person, everything is easier.

I knew it! Being with that special someone that fits you like your favorite pair of jeans makes even the tough times more comfortable.

See, I’ve had a lot of men and I’ve been given a lot of flowers, but none as striking as the ones Kevin gave me.

My sister and I marveled about their strong, sweet aroma. Those roses blossomed to the size of my fist and stayed fresh for weeks.

That particular bouquet came from Pro Flowers, but all the flowers Kevin gave me, even from the grocery store, carried more scent, lasted longer, and captured extraordinary beauty—like true representatives of his love.

The guy was something—not just to me. To his numerous friends and family, Kevin acted as an example of living full, giving freely and saying it all. He didn’t hold back.

We came together in divine timing after knowing each other for decades. He was my treasure after all the digging I’d done.

Our relationship felt like home for both of us. We wanted to live there.

Unfortunately, unexpectedly, he died—in his sleep. Had Kevin been awake, he would’ve tried to fight death off. Now, he’s gone.

So, I’m moving forward, with him by my side from the other side. In life, he gave me flowers. Now, it’s hearts in clouds.

And occasionally, I find flower cards as bookmarks. I let myself smile and feel how delighted I felt the day I received those roses, as happy he wants me to be now.

 

The Dance

 

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I spent all those years—what since age five?—convincing myself of the value of independence. It was the one thing I could always fall back on: the beauty of being on my own.

Sure, I had multiple chapters of happy with men, but when things ended I knew how to bounce and become better.

After my first divorce, my stepmom said, “A lot of people say they’ll never marry again, but with you, I’m starting to believe it.” I did, too. I meant it. I didn’t need anyone and I was good at walking away.

Still, it was tiring. I wanted to learn to stay. I did, with my second husband, for over a decade. For much of it, I was dying inside.

I got the value of a relationship. I just never got the kind I wanted, the kind I wrote about, and believed in like a dream that comes true for some. I was okay with that—in a way that I have a tendency to affirm I’m fine when what I long to be is fantastic.

Little did I know, my friend Kevin had the same dream—that someday he’d find the kind of gal and relationship his mother wished for him. I had no idea the depth of Kevin’s longing because when we got together, he talked about his crazy ex-wife he hated and his not-so-great girlfriends who came before. The one previous to me was good, but that’s a long way from the grand love this man dreamed of.

Somehow in 2014, our walls fell from our friendship into something deep. With Kevin’s confidence, coaxing, and congruent actions, we both dove into the crazy, sexy, cool relationship that became us: Fire & Ice.

Our paths to that place became worthwhile. Early on, Kevin said, “Why didn’t we do this 20 years ago?”

Because we couldn’t; we had lessons to learn. I needed to be prepared to let go, to totally trust and tell my truth and be open to his in the ways I’d only talked a good game before.

Back when Kevin and I were just friends, I said, “Relationships are about compromise.” Kevin said, matter of factly: “No, they’re not.”

My god! How many times had I compromised myself, my voice, or my values in an effort to make a relationship work? No wonder my independence after a break-up felt like a vacation.

With Kevin, it all felt like a vacation from everything I’d known before. And yet, it was everything my heart and soul had pushed me towards all those years.

I wanted all or nothing: the communication, openness, honesty, passion, and fun. Kevin wanted it all and gave it all. He said, “I’m all in, Icey.”

Then, he gave me something I could lean into with my feminine authentic self, not some version I thought I should be. I lost my need to appear perfect. He loved me through my anger and fear. Trust me, those don’t always show up as pretty.

I loved Kevin through his rants. I even spoke up and cut him short. I didn’t judge him for smoking cigars or all the drugs he’d done years prior.

I understood him and that made all the difference. In his presence, my compassion muscle strengthened.

I saw his worst (when he lied) and his best (the way he showed up). Kevin knew my failures and insecurities. He didn’t let that define how he saw me.

That was the kind of relationship I craved. We were both in it for the long haul and in no hurry to do anything but enjoy our time together. I thank God we did.

I thank God for it all—except how Kevin’s life was cut short. We didn’t know he’d die completely unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep on March 4, 2016.

In the face of this loss, I don’t grab up my independence as protection for the pain. Nor do I think I can replace him. Some things are impossible, like what we had.

Maybe it had to be everything it was, not only the lessons we each needed to learn going in, but the lack of warning for his going out of this world.

I resisted enough in the beginning. Had I known the pain awaiting would be harsher than any break-up, I might’ve taken a pass. As Garth Brooks sings, “I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Not that dance. No way. It was my favorite.

When Your Sister’s Husband Dies and Your Boyfriend Follows Suit

You had a history.

I—finally—had a happy story.

You built a foundation of family and security.

I searched 50 years to find this man, the one that fit.

You had 33 years and then the warning called cancer.

I had magic moments stacking up—until they stopped sudden, like his heart.

You bonded brick by brick: your boys, 12,000 dinners, 33 Christmases, birthdays, and anniversaries, 1,000 inside jokes, and 72 secret sorrows.

He and I tried the others and took so many wrong turns that landed us right where he called destiny.

You still held hands.

We held hope.

 

Simple Joys

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She came back today, that girl who cries. She cried on my deck and in my bathroom. I told her it’s ok to cry. She cried more. I asked her what I could do. She said, “Take me back to last October!” Then, I cried.

That was the best October ever, the one I spent with Kevin, in his home with my dog. So beautiful and normal, like coffee together in bed every morning. Like his touch, quiet conversations, and my Lab loving the country life.

Simple joys. Gone. Replaced with tears.