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.

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!

My Heart Broke in the Midst of a Party.

Grief is bittersweet. I have the most beautiful vision of a place I can never go again.

People say, “Don’t look back.” “Don’t live in yesterday.”

I miss my young spunk and the belief that all great things were coming to me. They have. They did. However, when we’re young, we don’t acknowledge all that can fall away or the price we may be asked to pay.

I thought I’d paid upfront for legendary love. I thought my lessons before Kevin and I became a couple were my ticket to fly with him. And, oh how we did!

For a brief time. We were so in when he was taken out of this world. I wasn’t young or full of naïve hope. For two decades, Kevin bitched about women and I bragged about men.

Shortly before we got together, Kevin said, “Hey Icey,” (his nickname for me), “Am I your only guy friend you haven’t slept with?”

I laughed and said, “No, there are a couple others.”

In all those years, I never imagined I’d be Kevin Lentz’s girlfriend. In fact, I thought he was an ass.

Don’t get me wrong, I was quite the brat when we met back in our Britannica selling days. Somehow, I overlooked his bullish, but Southern behavior and we became friends.

Still, I didn’t envision or desire anything more until after our time together in May of 2014. I was staying in Kevin’s home for Mother’s Day. We talked until late in the night, huddled on his living room floor.

We told stories about our moms, their health and deaths, our connections with them and the challenges these strong women delivered us as kids. Kevin and I shared the good and bad about our moms and ourselves.

It’s like I’d always been standing outside the house of Kevin. We’d been close, but on that visit he threw open the door of his true self and said, “Come on in!”

How many people stand outside the house of others believing they know the interior? How rarely we really reveal the depths of ourselves.

Kevin did. He invited me to do the same. As much talk as there is about authenticity, there’s a level so much deeper than most of us ordinarily go.

Kevin invited me in—not just to the living room, but to the bedroom and basement of his soul. I walked timidly at first, trying to express my fears and explain how I’d been hurt in the past.

The way he said, “I’m not those other guys” was like walking into a friend’s basement when you fear it could be a dark scene from Law & Order, but he says, “Don’t be scared.”

So, I stopped being scared. When we got into the basement, I had as much fun as those kids on That 70s Show had in their basement.

And riding in the car with Kevin was like that, too. If you’ve watched the show, you know the feeling of singing and laughing, the feeling I had with Kevin. Then, our show was cancelled.

I know I’ll fall in love again. I’m lucky like that.

But, I’m not new at this game called life. I’d been on earth for 49 years—some 17,885+ days—before Kevin and I became Fire & Ice. He held my heart for 660 days and those were my favorite of them all.

I thought all beginnings were good, but Kevin said, “No, they’re not. This is different.” He was right.

Kevin was convinced his mom, from the other side, brought me back into his life because this was the kind of relationship she always desired for him. He made me believe and even assured me we’d “just keep getting better and better.” We did. Until he died.

Now, I’m trying to adjust to the idea that my life will just keep getting better and better, even with my Fire burning on the other side. That’s a big idea when my heart broke in the midst of a party in the basement of our souls. I was crushed, buried in my grief.

I’m crawling out. I see the light. I feel his love. I’m finding my divine direction again, but this grief still tastes bittersweet.

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.

 

Warrior for Love

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I’ve learned how to love a man by watching wise women. Mostly, they’ve learned the way we all do—life. Some of the best relationships I’ve seen are third-rounders by try-harders determined to get it right. Others are first-timers who acknowledge luck, serendipity, and stick-to-it-ness.

My best friend learned by leaving and slamming the door for a damn good reason on the only man she ever loved—then, opening it to find him and love again.

Women getting love right, I salute you. Women who found your ideal mate, no matter how many frogs you fell for along the way, well done. Those of you stacking up the decades and gluing them together with joy, hard work, and well-earned connection, impressive.

From you women warriors, my family and friends, I’ve learned we each choose what works for us, what we’re attracted to, and what we cannot or will not tolerate. For me, it’s nonchalance that I absolutely refuse to endure. It’s connection and intimacy that invite me stay beyond reason.

I’ve learned one can see an upsetting truth about one’s mate and set it aside for the sake of the relationship. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid (or smart), just your eyes are open.

I’ve learned you have to want to stay. You have to want to make it work. Yet, you cannot manufacture those desires any more than you can make magically appear the one with whom you’ll feel that way.

But, when you do, as long as he also wants to stay and make it work, anything can be a source of growth.

Wise women, you’ve shown me marriage is a balance between working on it and letting go, being true to yourself by speaking your mind—even when you may look like a bitch or a baby—and respecting with compassion that your mate comes from a different perspective.

Watching you gals, I’ve seen the variety of relationships and marriages and how each pair is an entity of its own personality, rules and character. Ideally, whatever the shape, it represents a synergy in which two individuals become better because of the presence of the other.

You’ve kept me believing in serendipity, and yes, even in my fifties, there’s someone wonderful for me. I shall do my best to apply lessons learned. I’m no longer a girl. I’m a woman, a warrior for love.

Woman

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I’m not a toy

To be played with

And tossed aside.

I’m not a showpiece

To be displayed

On your arm.

I’m not a prize,

Inflated proof of your

Self-created success.

I’m not a pet or a doll or

A possession of any kind.

I walk by the sight of my soul.

There’s only one man I

Follow in this world.

He’s here and he’s not.

I don’t need your permission

To walk behind you.

I was born from your side

To be by your side.

If you can’t abide by

The beauty of nature,

Mine and yours,

Faults and vulnerabilities too,

Just remember, I got us into this.

Me, and that damn apple, but you

Damn well better believe I—

By the grace of God—

Will get us out.

Cutting Words

I remember the first time my boyfriend at the time belittled me. We sat with two of my favorite people in the world: my stepsister, Emily and her husband, Aaron. The ocean crashed beautifully below us in Laguna Niguel, California, where they lived. The sun rose a perfect day, leading us into lunch, laughter, and Bloody Marys.

I started telling a story. My boyfriend interjected, “Alice doesn’t have a very good memory.” I was taken aback, but let it register no more than had he said, “Look at the bird.” It was the interruption to my story that momentarily perturbed me.

Emily and Aaron defended me. Aaron said, “Dude, what are you talking about? Alice has a phenomenal memory.”

Emily followed with, “I think she has a great memory. Have you heard some of her stories?” The detour passed like a salt shaker across the table.

Aaron laughed and said, “Come on, Alice! Tell us the rest of your story.” I did—because that’s what mattered to me.

Now, fifteen years from that scene, twelve years after marrying him, three years after leaving, two years after divorcing, it registers.

What was I thinking? Why didn’t I stand up for myself?

Why didn’t I question why he made such a statement? Based on what? Why didn’t I kill the monster while it was small? Set a more enriching tone for our communication?

I didn’t do any of those things because I’d been letting comments like that slide my whole life. They slid from my father, another man who loved me and was mostly good, but without evil intent could make words cut like a scalpel into a lemon.

Like when I took a summer job across the country and he told me if I failed he’d buy me a bus ticket home. Like when I headed to my ten-year high school reunion and he told me not to feel bad about my lack of success, as my peers were likely in the same boat. After all, he informed me, mine was the first generation to be less successful than our parents.

When my sister landed a job with a software company, my dad said he was concerned for her because to do well in the position one would have to be smart and learn about computers. (She rose to the executive level in that company.)

My father once told me, of course he chose my stepmom and her kids over my siblings and I; we’d grow up and leave, but she’d always be there.

Later, I chose a man’s condescension to mirror my father’s arrows. Comments I long since resisted registering, but that never stopped stinging on an unconscious level. That’s why I didn’t defend myself.

Now, at almost 50, I’ve learned to call my father on his insensitive remarks. He’s learned to apologize. We’ve come to a place of peace and pardon. But that husband?

The worst part wasn’t that I didn’t defend myself. It was that I ingested his unintended insults like one takes in negative news—like he revealed the fucked-up facts of life I had to deal with.

I didn’t have a good memory. I wasn’t good at math. My humor hurt people. Business wasn’t my forte… There was just enough truth for me to trust, especially early on when I believed that his was the love I longed for my whole life.

Truth is a funny thing. What I told you here possibly paints a false picture of the man I spent a big chunk of my life with. He wasn’t mean or malicious. He was kind, giving, generous, and certainly delivered as many compliments as hurtful words.

He’d just learned to point out the “facts” with the confidence of his father, who had put his own ploys on his seven sons. And so it goes. Or, so it did.

One can’t do better until she knows better. Now I do. Not in a 20-something defensive way. Now, as I near 50, I know myself better.

I know my faults and my weaknesses. I don’t need someone to shine a light on them. Nor do I need to hide, deny or defend.

I know my strengths, starting with my memory. I remember men insulting me, approaching me inappropriately, or dismissing me with male superiority, while their words whittled away my self-worth.

My self is worth more. I can see what’s mine and what’s yours. If you’re mine and you can’t see that I’m more, I remember how it hurts to let that shit fly. So, I don’t.

I’m not a child anymore. I’m not obligated to agree. I’m a woman. If you don’t get that, you don’t get me.