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.

 

Leaning in with Her, The American Warrior Woman.

Leaning in with Her, The American Warrior Woman.

“I want to express gratitude to all the millions of women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed, bills to pay, and dreams to pursue.” ~ Oprah Winfrey, Golden Globes Speech

Generations of American warrior women
Standing up for what’s right
Against tyranny and bullies
At the risk of…everything.

Things could go real bad real soon.
Or, we the people, could consent
To some sort of reset,
Like a ship off course.

Like adults.
Like Americans.
Like now.

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.

 

Screaming in a Cemetery

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Yesterday, I lay in the grass in a cemetery. It’s a habit I’ve taken up since my boyfriend’s death. I let the clouds speak to me. Then, I rise.

My dead boyfriend tells me he has to go now. It’s time. It feels like he’s trying to break up with me. I say, “No, you said you’d stay with me.” I want to say forever, but he never said that, did he?

I can’t tell many people of our conversations—not because they’ll think I’m crazy (although it’s a consideration), but because they don’t believe. They look at me the way I look at my eight-year-old neighbor Parker when he says he has a black belt in karate. Or the way my stepbrother looks at me when I talk about God, condescending and a little self-righteous. He tells me he doesn’t believe in “the flying fairy.”

His response doesn’t diminish my faith so much as make me sorry he’s missing out. I feel no need to defend or explain that which can’t be proven, yet is as real to me as the sighting of a rainbow.

Like rainbows, stars and dragonflies, my dead lover, my friend, my twin flame Kevin comes to me. Truth is, I don’t give a damn if it’s fantasy. It’s mine. My connection and conversation with him continues. I’m in a world that feels like home, but it’s impossible, right?

Yes, impossible, like the love we had. Impossible, like all the words, experiences and sex we compacted into the two years lived like a decade. Impossible, like the fact that we knew each other for 25 years before either of us considered the thing that transformed us both. Impossible, like finding that kind of love in our fifties. Impossible, like he’s dead.

Kevin tells me he has to go. I beg him. “I still need you. Please don’t go! I’m not ready!” This is the third time we’ve had this conversation since his death, compared to the dozens of times he’s said, “I’m here, Icey. I’m here. It’s real. I’ve got you, Icey. I’m here.”

This—what feels like a break-up—was instigated by me the first time in June on the beach in Belize, the place I thought I’d go to drop off my grief. It was about as easy as abandoning a two-year old. Impossible. Kevin said, “I’m not leaving you, Icey.”

He called me Ice and I called him Fire. I keep melting, but he never goes out. He sends me signs, like the Capricorn Bar (he’s a Capricorn) on our morning walks at that yoga retreat. There are a thousand more I won’t say for fear you won’t believe anyway.

Yesterday in the cemetery, he told me he had to go. He’s not being cruel or saying he won’t come back, but he’s in a whole new world, too. He’s telling truth. I feel like a kid hearing, “Fido’s gone to heaven.” It’s a truth I’m not ready to hear, or am I?

No, I’m not. If Kevin was physically present, I’d cling to his ankles, seduce or guilt him into staying, though I never needed or wanted to resort to manipulation in our relationship on earth. He wouldn’t go for that kind of crap and I’m not that gal.

Still, in a cemetery I scream, “Don’t leave me!” I’m washed with peace. With love. His love. God’s love. And my mom’s—who’s also on the other side.

The second time Kevin and I had this conversation was a couple weeks ago. I was an emotional wreck. He said his presence wasn’t helping me, so he should go. Everything he does is about helping me. I told him it was. Then, I embraced his love all over again, like he convinced me to do in life.

Life—I have a full, beautiful, blessed one even with the loss. But, just because you know how fortunate you are doesn’t mean you feel it. Just because you stand on a beach in Belize and stare at turquoise water doesn’t make the noise of death subside.

However, I can see I’ve progressed. It’s weird to move forward in pain. It no longer chokes me, but God, how it hurts.

Kevin cannot wait for the pain to go away and in a sense, he never will. But now, I need to let him be in the world beyond.

I’m home now. It’s a day later. I decide…no, I’m overcome by a peace, a release. He says, “Yeah Icey, yeah, I got you. It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”
 

He’s Here

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I’m taking Midol, not because I’m PMSing, but because everything hurts—mental, emotional, physical—especially the fact that my boyfriend Kevin isn’t coming back. Because he’s dead. He’s dead.

I keep telling myself that, but it’s hard when he’s saying, “Quit saying that. I’m here, Icey. I’m here.” Part of me thinks I’ve cracked: I’ve gone mad with a dead man. It’s beyond belief, so we call it crazy. Yet, it’s everything I’ve always believed—the tidbits I tasted and the reasons I went to psychics. What happens when faith, reality, and miracles merge?

I resist—because it’s so unreal. I give in—because it’s ecstasy. The man I love more than any person in this entire world, the one who took me from my theory of how a relationship should be to experiencing the ideal with him, yeah, that guy, he died. But then, he didn’t.

Sure, his body did, although I never saw it. But his essence, personality, and crazy-ass words and ways, they all just stepped into another dimension. He tells me it’s just like he’s in another room.

That’s kind of how it feels—like he said it felt different the first time I was in New Mexico without him—like I was further away than Ohio, even though it was all just a phone call away.

Now, there are no phone calls. I can’t see him or hear his beautiful, masculine voice. Yet I tell you what he tells me: he’s here.

Surrendering to Love

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Marianne Williamson says, “We do not surrender to another person so much as to love itself.” Surrender? That’s a word Kevin used in one of his early letters. I’d tried to submit to love before, but had I ever surrendered to it?

Nope. Usually, I tried to control or reject love. I tried to dismiss Kevin by comparing him to previous men. He wasn’t having it. He asked me to believe and surrender to the FIRE!

He asked—not demanded, expected, manipulated, or sold me on putting myself second. He put me—not first, as so many men did in the beginning—but equal, my desires being as important as his were strong.

Hell, yes, I surrendered—not just to the love, but to the relationship and the man. I opened myself to fresh love. I let go of outcome. I never had a man love me in such strong ways that softened my edges without weakening my boundaries.

Kevin said I could trust him. I learned to, as he learned to be more trustworthy. We were each other’s mirror. Not pedestal mirrors—you’re so beautiful, smart, perfect … Those people aren’t mirrors.

Yes, Kevin saw me as beautiful, sexy, and smart and he told me. His actions matched his words. He saw my scars and loved them, too. He was the opposite of a crazy maker. Kevin helped me let go of my crazy and own my weird.

He looked at me sideways if I said I’m sorry for disagreeing, or for being me, as I once had a tendency. He made my apologies unnecessary and my desire to flee disappear.

The depths we went to, the conversations and experiences we packed into two short years was more than the previous 25 years of friendship—even though we’d worked and partied together and talked on the phone for hours many times.

Mathematically, it doesn’t make sense. Kevin’s friend Garry said, “God slowed time down for the two of you so Kevin could have that experience.” Garry said, “I knew it the first time I heard him talk about you. Then, when I saw the look in his eyes and when saw him with you, I knew.”

Those guys knew each other since they were 17. Garry knew. I knew the depth of their connection, too. That’s why after Kevin passed I gave Garry the watch I’d given Kevin.

Now full circle, Garry’s telling me about time and God’s ability to do ANYTHING, praying that God close the gap between heaven and earth. He calls Kevin and I husband and wife, saying that’s how Kevin felt.

Garry confesses his conversations with Kevin—now, after his death, like me. He tells me what Kevin says back, like I’m experiencing. Garry says he and Kevin go walking together, like we do.

Damn, I don’t feel so crazy or alone with this religious man who also touched the depths of Kevin’s soul—and still does. They were brothers, black and white, accountable to the word.

So now, somehow, Garry is my brother and I’m his sister. He calls me and prays for me—fully present in his faith even on the phone. Garry tells stories, laughs, listens, and confirms.

I’m not crazy. Kevin was all that. Time slowed down. I surrendered to love and to Kevin.

He was the FIRE! He didn’t burn me. He didn’t go out. He keeps saying, “I’m here, Icey! I’m here!” Again, I surrender to love.