Grief is the Brave Dance We Do.

“Life is a continuous balancing of love and loss, because in order to have any loss mean something, we first have to have something we truly value.” ~ Alexandra Stoddard

On the front of my 9×11 hardcover calendar book it reads: “2017 is a good year to have a good year.” But, am I?

There’s a chasm between wanting to be over the grief of my beloved dying and clinging to the chaos born from his death.

After losing a loved one, this is the brave dance we do. We wrestle, grapple, fight, resist, and take ownership of our grief. We acknowledge, admit and attend to the full array of feelings which arrive with sorrow’s storm.

Many choose not to undertake this step. They prefer denial and bucking up. I don’t blame them. I’ve been there. I’ve tried the detour.

Folks are free to choose any path that works for them.

However, this time, I just can’t go around. I’m in the mess as much as I was into the relationship with the man I love who died a year and a half ago. A man I called Fire who burned bright right up until the night he died unexpectedly in his sleep (damn heart attack!).

He said to me, “I’m all in,” and he was. Until he was out. Not by his choice. Nor mine. I was all in, too.

Since his death, I’ve grieved like it was my profession.

Grief has been an honor, a spiritual opening and a building of my emotional biceps. And yet, even athletes don’t stay in the gym all day.

A friend recently asked me, “Do you think it’s true that the greater the love the deeper the grief?”

I said, “Yes, with a caveat.” (Because I love saying that word.) I had great love, as did my sister. So did the woman standing before me asking the question. We each still experience deep grief.

And yet, I don’t think the longer and harder one grieves is the measure of their love. With hard loss comes pain. How people cope is as individual as the paths to love.

For me, grief is a challenge, gift and opportunity bestowed upon me by the grace of a sacred love I was lucky enough to live. The aftermath is wretched. And it’s beautiful. In this moment, I vow to do my best to grow from it.

There’s no right way. There’s no wrong way. There’s only grief.

I Really Was Such a Baby About the Whole Thing.

“Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.” ~ Anne Lamott

My friend’s husband cheated on her. I’m not going to tell you the details, but let’s just say there were circumstances. Because there always are, right?

Still, in her mind, the action was unforgivable. Her family agreed. But, what about her kids? He was still their dad.

My friend loved this man and never imagined him cheating. She trusted him. They were the kind of couple that fit like puzzle pieces. They made a beautiful picture.

How f*cking dare he?! Well, you know—circumstances. No, not excuses. However, yes, in hindsight, I saw his humanity and how he came to be with that other woman, practically unapologetically.

Betrayal like that breaks something in a person.

Still, for a handful of years, my friend—you know, for the sake of the kids—continued taking family vacations with this man she meant to divorce. She had every intention. Because she couldn’t forgive him.

A couple years ago when I saw her, she mentioned his name without disdain or discussion of divorce. The way his name rolled off her tongue was casual and light.

I looked into her eyes and asked, “Are you guys back together?” The answer was yes without explanation, apology or fantasy. Just solid.

“How did that happen?” I asked.

She laughed. “You know, I was really such a baby about the whole thing.”

Ha! I’d say she’d been grieving. In grief we cry. We bitch about what happened. We analyze. We decide something different every hour of every day. We turn in circles like a dog, never finding the right spot. Until we do.

Grief is a game changer. It shatters the ground we stand solid on. It takes us with it like being sucked into a sinkhole. When our foundation crumbles, so do we.

My friend is one of the most balanced people I’ve ever known in my 50-plus years. She’s not naïve or gullible, more like strong, sensible, genuine, and yes, loving.

However, in her early stages of grief, she almost checked herself into a mental hospital because she met with rage that wanted to kill and sadness that wanted to die.

Instead, she learned to rise. So did her husband—after she determined she’d be okay either way.

It took time. In her case, years. Grief—whether from betrayal, death, divorce or tragedy—doesn’t come with an expiration date. It’s not linear and each case is different.

I recently read an article about a woman who was burned—face, hands, and body—life-threatening burns, in a camp fire started by her husband. After she arrived home from the hospital, her husband hit the road because she was just too much for him to handle. However, her young daughter needed her mother. The story revealed this woman’s resilience, faith and determination.

All I could think was, F*ck! I’ve been such a baby about this whole my-boyfriend-dying thing.

Maybe. But, like my friend, I can laugh. I went into the depths of my pain and came out with my lessons. I’m coming back to myself with new awareness and understanding, compassion and certainty, which, in this chapter, this time, could only be gained by going in.

This was master’s level grief. It required more of me. It demanded I go through the dark and crazy, and invest the tears and time.

Babies cry when things are sad. They naturally honor their emotions, rather than trying to buck up. Then, they stop crying and get back to playing—after they’re all cried out. Or had a nap.

So, yeah, I guess I was a baby about the whole thing, too. And yet, I don’t regret a single tear.

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.

Grief is my Advantage.

Dear New Man,

If you want to be with me in this chapter of my life, it’s a package deal. Some women have children. A man needs to know that going in.

Well, know this about me. I have a boyfriend; he just happens to be dead.

If you tell me to put the past in the past, you communicate a lack understanding and compassion for the depth of my love, the richness of my relationship that was ripped away from me, or the ongoing agony of grief.

Maybe you’ve been dealt the death of loved ones, too. So had I before I lost my beloved. I’d experienced the deaths of my brother, mother, and brother-in-law. This is different.

Maybe you’ve been in love before. I, too have been blessed with that heart-expanding experience a handful of times, including two marriages.

However, the kind of relationship I craved to create out of each of those previous relationships never came to pass.

Until Kevin. As I neared 50, I found everything I’d been looking for.

Not that he was perfect. And I was the other part of the equation. So, you know, not perfect.

Yet, somehow we shaped a world in which the two of us danced free, passionate, happy, open and engaged.

That relationship continues. He’s the Fire inside me that never goes out.

Some people think it rude to talk about previous partners once you’re with a new one. I say, until someone can convince me of the benefit of holding back, I’ll continue speaking Kevin’s name.

If you listen, you’ll hear my soul speak, loud and proud and feminine.

If you want to fall for me, take all of me.

Grief isn’t my baggage; it’s my advantage.

See, I’ve inhabited that space where wondrous, life-enhancing love exists. So, I know I can go there again. I just can’t tell you when, how, or if it will be with you. There’s much I don’t know.

I see you standing before me, saying you want to walk with me. It may be a hard road for you, as it may never be just us two.

Kevin is my constant, still. He’s the music in songs, the flavor in foods, and my mind reels with memory like the ticker tape running across the bottom of the TV screen.

Here’s the breaking news: I have no desire to dismiss my past.

The reality that I’m with another man—any other man—feels foreign to me.

It’s not that I feel I’m cheating on my beloved. It’s that a part of my heart lives outside this world and a part of Kevin’s remains in me.

It’s—to quote Glennon Doyle Melton—a brutiful thing. You can wish the brutal away or deny its existence. You can even disappear for fear you can’t compete with a dead man.

Trust me, there’s no competition. And no, I didn’t put him on a pedestal in the aftermath. I rose into love like a bird swoops on the wind.

Better than fantasy. it was my reality.

Good. Pure. Right. Until his lights went out. Out of this world.

You tell me not to dim the lights on us because of my past. I refuse to pretend to feel any more or less than I do.

How dare you accuse me of wallowing? Oh, not that you did, but that’s how it feels when you seem to insist I’m letting my past get in your way.

I honor my grief and if you respect me and want to get me, you will too.

You’ll understand Kevin’s love for me is an essential ingredient that goes into making me the woman you want to make yours.

Here’s the cool thing about my boyfriend being dead: I can take on another man if I choose. I can take on you.

I can take your hand and your kiss. We can date and I can appreciate your presence, even while missing him every single day.

A while ago, I would’ve told you I miss him every moment. So, progress!

It’s like this. When I was in junior high, my friend’s dog bit me on my face. I was rushed to the hospital for stitches. It left a scar on my lip, one which people felt compelled to comment on for years.

A boss once assured me I could get my scar fixed by a superb surgeon. When he saw me wince, he tried to convince me it was hardly noticeable.

As if I didn’t see my scar every time I looked in the mirror. As if I couldn’t see people staring and suppressing the question: What happened?

Now, it’s been decades and people rarely ask this adult woman, What happened to your face?

This happened: I got hurt. It left a scar on my lip, just as Kevin’s death left a scar on my heart.

Do you know scar tissue is stronger than the original skin?

I think Kevin knew. Only one scar shows on my body, but Kevin loved them all. By doing this, he made way for me to love what I once considered my inadequacies. He insisted they were all a part of the ICE (his nickname for me) package—unique and beautiful.

His love opened the door for me to be more of who I am.

I’m the woman who you, new man, now claim to want. And yet, you want me to close that door?

Not happening. I’m still healing. The scar forming on my heart doesn’t need to be fixed. It needs to be seen.

If you really believe I’m the one for you, see my scars. See the pain, but look for the beauty.

This scar sews together the seam between where I got hurt and where I need to be loved.
My dead boyfriend isn’t an obstacle or a hurdle to leap. He’s not your competition. He doesn’t stand in the way of anything you and I might create.

My grief is a gate.

It opens to all of me—my wisdom, resilience and feminine essence. It lives in my heart. Do you have the courage to go there?

I promise only this. I offer you no less than my real self, the scar upon my broken heart and the sagacity born from my soul’s searching.

So new man, don’t be afraid of what happened to me yesterday. Lean in. Love my scars.

 

Why Did I Take Toothpaste from my Dead Boyfriend’s House?

“Inside your home, you keep mementos of your past that help or hinder your movement into the future.” ~ Kathryn L. Robin

I think I know by now what might throw me, because I consider myself experienced in grief.

I already endured the deaths of my brother, mother and brother-in-law. I’ve navigated life without my beloved for more than four seasons now.

I went all in to the grief. So, on some level, I believe I’ll be freed at some grandly appointed time. Wala!

Silly me, thinking I’ve got a handle on grief.

I remember what my friend Heather said as I announced I was crossing the one-year line: “Oh, honey. You’re just getting started.”

I shivered, but didn’t show it. She didn’t know then how strong I am. She’d see. Yeah, sure.

Then, Heather showed me her scars from when grief walked on her heart—like bear claw marks. And, I saw her beauty shining.

I knew, as hard as my path is, hers was harder. And yet, there she is—standing, advancing, dancing with divine feminine fire.

That will be me, I thought.

I didn’t know on a Thursday afternoon I’d squeeze my dead boyfriend’s Colgate toothpaste tube for the umpteenth time into admission that there’s absolutely no more of this thing his hand touched every morning for months.

Silly. Ridiculous. Who the hell takes toothpaste from a dead man’s house?

I did. Now, it feels like one more thing I have to give back. It stays on the edge of my sink for a week. I can’t make myself throw it away.

I think I know what will throw me: anniversaries, birthdays, KISS songs. Actually, those make me shout, “I want to rock and roll all night and party every day!”

But, sometimes the things I don’t make a big deal of silently overwhelm my heart.

The little things—like toothpaste?!—might throw me on a random Thursday, maybe even make me think I’ve made no progress.

Stop. I remember the day I took the tube from his house. It was just days after he died. I gathered my shampoo, conditioner and razor from his shower and replayed the last time I’d taken one with him. Then, grief sucker punched me in my gut: that was the last time.

I crumpled to the floor and Kevin’s brother Glenn swept me up in his arms from behind. This was the first time I’d met him. He held me with grief’s grace, giving me a hug that felt like Kevin’s arms, his breath, home.

Just standing required enormous energy.

Now, I’m standing. I’m breathing. I’m walking, loving, dancing and writing.

And yet, I die a little inside when grief’s winds remind me how much I still miss the man I never wanted to walk away from.

Look, Icey, he says from some other world. I see I’ve squeezed a bit of toothpaste—and life—daily.

I haven’t gone crazy (although I considered it). I stayed sane in the midst of this f*cked up thing I did not want to happen to me.

Now, I smile at the size of my emotional biceps.

I know I can let one more thing go. Or not.

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.

 

One Night in a Bar with Grief & Gratitude

“Resilience does not mean bouncing back to where you were before or pretending that the hard stuff isn’t hard. It’s painful, messy stuff. But, it’s the stuff.” ~ Lucy Kalanithi

When my fellow grievers ask, “How are you?” I want to tell them I’m fine.

I’m farther on the journey, so I want to tell them it gets better—because it has. I want to tell them I miss him now more than ever—because I do.

They’re not grieving the man I am—my beloved who died 15 months ago. Each of these friends carries their own loss—more recent, fresh and raw.

I tell them I’m moving on, even seeing other men, but my heart is still deeply in love with Kevin.

Kevin is dead.

With these two friends, I can say his name loud and proud, although they only know him the way I know Jeff’s brother, Michael and Sharon’s sister, Judy—through afterlife stories.

I don’t tell them about the morning I woke up with the man I went to bed with the night before only to be deeply disappointed—not because of anything I did or didn’t do or who he is—but, because he isn’t Kevin. So, I went into the bathroom and sobbed.

I’m still so sad. Even these two, who completely get it, aren’t privy to the part of me that’s in agony.

I’m not keeping a secret from them; I’m keeping it from myself.

I’m still sad. I don’t think any other man will ever compare. I’m mad that my man is dead—still. Hasn’t he been dead long enough?

I envy the two grievers sitting opposite me in a booth at Matt the Miller’s bar because they have long term marriages with the loves of their lives. I’m jealous.
I wanted a chance at that—even though Kevin and I came together decades after we met, giving us a late start off the bat. But, really? That’s all we got—a start?

I talk to my friends about divine timing—how I believe my brother, mother and beloved lived their full lives—even though for me, they died too soon.

I amaze myself with truths that are also lies.

I’m fine. I’m crumbling. It will be okay. It gets better.

F*ck that. F*ck it all.

As Jeff says, “I’ve got no f*cks to give.”

We seem to cuss a lot. Tonight. Together. In grief.

How am I? I’m sad because we’re all grieving, but comforted because we’re in it together.

Drinking Memory

“Your memory has gone through me like thread through a needle. Everything I do is stitched with its color.” ~ W.S. Merwin

I’m drinking Tim Horton’s coffee like taking a hit of memory.

Once, the man I love was alive, here, with me. We went to Tim Horton’s.

Now, the coffee tastes like that particular day and all of his kisses. Ordinary memories I could’ve forgotten find me falling into them since his arms are no longer available.

In less than two years, I became as addicted to Kevin as I am to the coffee I’ve been drinking for 40 years. Kevin became a part of my normal, my ritual, a thing that kick started, comforted and warmed me.

Any addiction is beatable, but one must have the craving for sobriety as strong as the call for one more hit. What if I don’t want to quit?

What if I want to drive through Tim Horton’s on random Thursdays, play Etta James and absorb memories like vitamins? What if I don’t want to move on?

I suppose that makes me like my friend’s son after she cut his hair. He screamed, “I want my yesterday hair!”

I want my yesterday man!

Don’t tell me there will be others; there are others. It’s like telling a boy his new short hair looks fine. Maybe it does, but he’s not yet identified with the new look. The change shocks.

The change. The loss. The shortness of our time together. Shocks. Me.

In my days, I move forward, take action and set my vision. With my head, I lean into tomorrow’s tape. In my heart, I still wait for yesterday to pass me the baton.

I wait. I look. I see the crowd. I feel the excitement of other runners. I’m ready. I look back and wait.

My hand stretches open as if Kevin could reach for me once again.

While I wait, I drink coffee. I summon my soul to save me from the place I really want to go—where my beloved lives. The place from where he cheers me on and on through the memories which hold the magic we once danced with and the passion that never dies.

Yes, the passion of my soul lives on like a fire that never goes out.

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 Discomfort can be our Launchpad

The mistake we make is thinking our lives should always be comfortable.

When my grandfather came to New Mexico for my mother’s funeral, I asked if he’d be more comfortable staying at my father’s house or my stepfather’s. He said, “I’m not comfortable with any of this.”

His words were a declaration from a man who’d buried his wife of 56 years, and the lady friend who followed, after being an amazing caretaker to both.

My granddad had triple bypass surgery and came out of it to take up walking five miles a day. He’d spent his entire career working his way up in Mountain Bell Telephone Company—way before cell phones.

When this man said he wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t a complaint so much as a clarification that life is often uncomfortable.

Comfortableness is a luxury of our modern society. Yet, it’s been in my least comfortable situations—such as loved ones dying and me divorcing men I once vowed to stay with until death—I dedicated myself to higher values.

I don’t believe growth only comes from life bitch-slapping us. Those are just the occasions our character is clearly called into play.  

Although I used to live by the motto, “What doesn’t destroy me makes me strong,” I learned pain isn’t something to invite and it doesn’t always ignite the positive.

Some people succumb to living a life of agony because they become accustomed to it. Change, even for the better, can be uncomfortable.

When I was flat broke living in a motel that kept me on high alert and distressed all night, I proved thinking and acting clearly in a state of fear can be a challenge.

My friend Sam convinced me to get out of there, not because she worried for my safety, but because she heard me telling myself it was okay.

I was becoming comfortable living in a space where I didn’t belong, where drug dealers argued in the hallways.

I even tried to convince Sam the situation was fine.

She said, “No, this isn’t something to become comfortable with. Don’t start thinking you deserve this and allowing it to become your identity. You get out of there or I’ll get you out, but you’re not staying.” Now, that’s a friend.

Like my other friend who responded when I set aside my ego and asked for his help to get into a safer place.

In a way, I put myself in that disturbing situation because I became comfortable in a job (retail) where I wasn’t growing and a marriage that was dying.

The comfort kept me from planning for a better future. After all, I made good money and my husband loved me.

I loved him too, but I how can we love ourselves if we stifle our truth on a daily basis?

The truth was even though my life was secure in so many ways, I wanted more.

I wanted more out of a relationship and as much as my husband wanted to be my hero, he wasn’t able to engage in the depth, intimacy and passion I desired.

Sometimes our longing for more is our soul showing us the way.

At work, although I was a top producer, I found myself bored and unfulfilled.

While many of my coworkers loved what they were doing, I craved a career with more meaning, even when I didn’t know what that might look like.

While living a life that looks good from the outside, it can be challenging to admit we want more.

With courage, we can invite the comfort we have to be our launch pad into growth.

We must be willing to stretch for more, to dive into the discomfort.

It wasn’t easy to go back to school at age 37 when I’d never been a good student.

It was difficult to sign up for my Masters in Technical Communication when I believed myself to be the least technical person I knew.

Then, uneasiness riddled me as I feared the adult college students I taught were smarter and worldlier than I was.

By stepping into the discomfort, I found my way to a life doing what I love.

Now, here I am, years later—comfortable. Once again, I must recognize where I’m unsettled—in order to rise.

See, I wrote my first book and although it was work, I enjoyed the process.

Now, it’s time for the hard work—marketing myself and my writing and seeking an agent to represent the most important project of my life.

At this stage, I acknowledge why I held back. I resisted the discomfort of potential rejection or failure. Don’t we all resist at times?

No more. I’m stepping into it so I can grow into the professional published writer I’m on the path to becoming. It’s a winding path and not without its pitfalls.

The mistake we make is thinking our lives should always be comfortable.

When my boyfriend died in March of 2016, grief became the uncomfortable, foreign, painful world I existed in.

Until I started to make peace with my grief.

Now, I’ve lost enough loved ones to know grief isn’t something we can take off like a winter coat just because it’s heavy.

Sometimes grief is the only thing that keeps us warm when it feels like our hearts are freezing.

In another chapter that began with “not being comfortable with any of this,” I’ve become accustomed to my grief.

This is the stage from where I move on and stretch once again into the uncomfortable, where I walk in the world without him and date men who won’t compare to the one I lost.

This is where I lean into laughter and joy, in spite of them feeling uncomfortable.

Because if we refuse to reach for more and better, if we remain where all is comfortable, we live in stagnation.

What was once appropriate transforms into an opportunity to expand, to live more fully.

Growth isn’t always comfortable. In fact, it often hurts like hell.

Know this: it’s worth the discomfort, the challenge and the ache. If we’re willing to become uncomfortable, we can grow forward through the discomfort of life into our better selves.

As for me, I refuse to die a slow death in yesterday’s comfort.