How I Came Full Circle with my Grief—and my Coffee.

“Once our bodies die, we are–I am–never far from you. I’m always around everyone I ever loved.” ~ R.A. Diane, Coffee with my Brother

Grief is a spiral staircase.

I’ve climbed higher than I once was.

I look back to my beloved’s sudden unexpected death in his sleep two years ago and see the staircase corkscrewed below the ground into a darkness I wish on no one.

But, in the depths is where he spoke to me from the beyond.

Impossible? Crazy? Sure, maybe, but it’s completely Kevin. He and I converse.

Fresh into my grief one morning, I go to grab my coffee, to drink out of the one striped cup with a chip on it that I took from his home in the aftermath.

He says, “Come on, Icey,” (his nickname for me), “Drink it black. Taste it. I want you to know how it tastes to me.”

I’ve been drinking coffee since third grade. I’m in my 50s. I know I don’t like black coffee.

But, in this instant, I’m talking to my insistent (just like when he was alive) dead boyfriend.

“Fine,” I say to appease him.

The black coffee settles on my tongue like his kiss. It’s appealing. New and old familiar flavor swirls inside my mouth and mind. I’m tasting it the way he did.

It’s different than black coffee I’ve tried dozens of times in the past. This time it’s smooth and hot and manly. I know why he drank it black. It tastes good.

From that day on, I drink my coffee black. This one thing is better than it’s ever been and offers me one less thing to worry about—the recurring panic of running out of some sort of cream to feed my morning addiction. I like the flavor and the freedom.

I know what black coffee tasted like in my boyfriend Kevin’s mouth, the way it now rolls into mine, the way we spooned in bed.

Over the following weeks and months, Kevin has me experiencing how things felt for him—in his body.

One Friday afternoon, I feel a physical quiver in my heart. It’s unnerving, attention getting, but not painful.

He tells me that’s what it felt like for him; it didn’t hurt; it was just a quiver; he didn’t know.

Cause of death: heart attack.

That Friday evening, I attempt to explain my strange beautiful experience to my sister.

After asking, “What time was that?” she proceeds to tell me at that same time, about 3:30, she felt a sharp pain in her heart and was short of breath to the point of fearing she was having a heart attack and considered calling 911.

My sister is the furthest one could be from a hypochondriac. She’s never called an ambulance for herself or even gone to the ER. I bet she can count on one hand the number of times she’s called in sick in four decades of employment.

Yet, on this day, shortly after Kevin’s death, she seriously thought she might be having a heart attack. Just when she decided yes, she should call an ambulance, the pain subsided.

Somehow, she knew the incident connected to Kevin, although neither of us know what it means. We just chalk it up to weird.

When someone you love is alive and healthy one day and gone the next, everything becomes surreal.

A few days later, I’m struck by intense pain in my heart, like being squeezed by someone’s fist. I fall to my knees on the floor in my kitchen.

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” I say through tears, “Jesus f*cking Christ!”

I feel Kevin’s presence, to which I say, “I thought you said it didn’t hurt!”

“It didn’t,” he says. “That’s what it felt like every time I hurt you. I’m sorry. I was trying to save you from the pain. But, I was saving me. It hurt me so much to hurt you. That’s why I didn’t tell you. I’m so sorry, Icey.”

I’d just found out he’d maintained a relationship with his ex-girlfriend after vowing to never speak to her again.

She and I connected after his death. Then, she revealed they’d stayed in contact. She said, “We were just friends. I promise you. He loved you so much, Alice.”

I knew it was true. I understood how their relationship had evolved into friendship. Now, I even get why he didn’t tell me.

I might have a small jealous streak that revealed itself as a walkaway woman before this woman understood the new boundaries.

After Kevin fell in love with me, it was only me.

Still. I’m furious that he lied—again! The one thing I hate the most. The reason for a few of our arguments. I despise being lied to!

Getting the truth from her is a gut punch. Mostly, I’m mad that my man is dead and I can’t even have an all-out argument with him!

So, Kevin lets me feel how much it hurt him when he hurt me. I physically experience what he says he experienced.

I believe him. It’s his truth.

Another day, I’m just walking down my street when I feel a pop and excruciating pain on my Achilles tendon, like a rubber band stretched too far, and snap! I sit down on the sidewalk in front of my neighbor’s house, grit my teeth and try not to cry. WTF?!

Again, Kevin is present. He says, “That’s how it felt. Remember I told you about that?”

It’s the agony he felt when, as a college basketball star (long before I knew him), he tore his Achilles tendon.

He says he wants me to know how it felt to be him.

I don’t need to feel everything he felt, but he needs me to know.

Sure, I want him to know how much I hurt in the wake of his death, but not to actually feel the soul-gripping intensity of my grief. Not that he feels pain where he is.

Besides, Kevin knows how wretched grief can be; we grew closer while he made his way through his after his mother passed in 2012.

In too quick a time, he’s with her and I’m drinking my coffee black out of one chipped cup, the kind we drank from side by side every morning I stayed with him in his home.

Why didn’t I take two cups?

Now, it’s going on two years since he’s been gone (“just in another room,” he says).

Full circle somehow, I no longer enjoy drinking my coffee black. It began to turn my teeth brown and I returned to my own taste buds.

So, was I fooling myself? No, I was gifted with knowing, feeling and experiencing what Kevin wanted me to.

I tasted black coffee the way my boyfriend did, just as delicious as my grief was wicked.

I’m reminded of a time I texted Kevin a sexy picture of me and he said, “Don’t do that, Icey. You’re wicked!” with a smile in his voice.

Higher on grief’s spiral staircase, more memories like that make me smile and I have fewer conversations with my deceased beloved.

Although I no longer drink my coffee black, I’ll never forget how good it tasted.

Why I’m Calling This Child Hope.

My dog’s a kid magnet. So, one neighbor girl has been hanging around uninvited since the day I moved into my sister’s place four years ago.

This three-year-old little girl and her ten-year-old brother came over to pet my Black Lab Phoenix, who was six, and almost as rambunctious as the kids.

They threw tennis balls for her with the Chuck-it while I fantasized about their parents coming to find them. (They never did. Like never.)

Long after the boy grew too cool for anything but basketball, his little sister still came around, mostly during the day when my sister was at work and I was busy writing the next Eat, Pray, Love.

Now, I’m going to call this child Hope. Her real name, sadly, sounds like another word for rejection. Like she got labelled even before she was able to knock on neighbors’ doors looking for friends. She had to work harder at that than the other girls.

Hope carried the look of different. She certainly hadn’t become accustomed to positive attention. She could only receive it in small bits, although she could hang in my home for over an hour on any given afternoon.

It’s funny how a kid can seduce you with, “Can I play with your dog?” if you did the same thing when you were a girl.

Like little Hope, I had to be taught some basic manners.

“You don’t just walk into people’s homes, honey,” I said, “You have to knock.”

I doubt anyone had to tell me this, as I did her: “Okay, so when you knock or ring the bell, if I don’t answer, you stop knocking and go away.”

“But,” Hope said, “I knew you were in there because I saw your car.”

“Yes, Hope, but sometimes people are home and they don’t answer the door because they’re busy doing something else, like taking a shower.”

“I know. That’s why I kept knocking—so you’d hear me.”

One neighbor said, “You just have to be stern and send her away. She knocks on everybody’s door trying to get someone to play with her.” As if it was a crime.

All the gossip couldn’t come up with a good reason why her parents’ parental practices didn’t line up with the norms of my cul-de-sac neighborhood.

The thing is, I was once that girl and nobody called me Hope.

So, in the early visits I gritted my teeth and tolerated the kid so many resisted.

As the weeks, months, and years passed, I couldn’t reason why no one had embraced her before.

Hope grew more confident and less irritating. She stopped following me when I took Phoenix for walks, insisting she was joining us.

The day she was locked out of her house because her brother was at basketball, her dad was at work, and she couldn’t find her mom, this frightened five-year-old found her way to my door. Her vulnerable voice shook as tears ran down her face.

I was as relieved to be home as she was to see me. She wrapped herself around me in a helpless child hug. In that moment, I was her adult.

Later that evening, she came back and apologized for bothering me. “You’re not a bother, Hope. You can come to me any time you need.”

I saw the shame release from her face.

Hope’s presence became a norm in my life—without any formal introduction to her parents (I tried) or real relationship other than designated neighbor.

After a while, Hope was assigned a sister from Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She eagerly awaited those visits.

One afternoon, Hope told me she met a “real author” at school and how cool she thought that was. I did, too. Then, she said his name: Jack Hanna.

She also told me about her friends at school and the kids she tended to get into arguments with.

She mentioned how on special mother-daughter days she got to go to the movies with her mom while her brother and dad did father-son activities.

Sometimes, Hope and I colored together. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her my dragonfly coloring book after I’d said yes to so many other things.

Hey, the girl needed some boundaries, and these were my dragonflies.

So, I made copies of some pages for her. She said, “That’s okay” and left them.

She spent countless afternoons at our kitchen table and on our deck chairs doing homework like the good, smart kid she is.

One day, Hope said, “Can I come in and talk to you?” She was seven, so grown-up compared to the tag-along three-year-old sister I met on day one.

“My mom and my brother and I are moving to an apartment and my dad, he’s moving to New Jersey. That’s where he spends a lot of time because that’s where he’s from, and also, it’s where his girlfriend lives. So, that’s it. My parents are getting divorced. There’s a lot of stuff to pack.”

“Okay,” I said. “How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s sad, but I think she’s kind of relieved. They’ve been fighting a lot.”

Years before, this bright young girl who no one wanted to listen to said, regarding my sister whose husband had recently passed, “She just seems so sad.”

Hope knew what sadness looked like in another’s eyes. I winced seeing it in hers, especially after I’d gotten so used to the light.

I asked Hope how she was feeling about her parents getting a divorce and about moving. She said, “I guess I’m both sad and happy. I’m going to have my own room.”

I flashed back to the awkward, lonely girl I once was, my neighbor Mary Ashby who let me knock on her door and “play with her dog,” which led to playing cards and drinking sweet tea, and how my parents divorce hit me when I was just 10.

Sometimes we do kind acts by overriding our resistant egos and our constant need for comfort and convenience.

Hope was inconvenient. At first, I found her hard to take.

However, by the time she came to say a brave-faced goodbye and it was likely I’d never see her again, she’d tattooed herself on my heart and left me hopeful.

How History Helps Us Endure Grief.

“Acknowledging and letting go of these feelings brings us up to courage and, with that, finally acceptance and an inner peacefulness, at least as it regards the area which has been surmounted.” ~ David R. Hawkins, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender

I’ve fallen into grief’s pit again. I know; I’ll crawl out faster this time.

It’s temporary, but this is the place I miss him the most. Grief is a gross comfort.

In grief’s grip, no matter how magnificent my daily life, it pales in comparison to any moment, memory, or experience shared with my now-deceased beloved.

Before Kevin stepped up into the role of boyfriend, he hung around the sidelines of my life ever since my first career opportunity, where we met, and my first marriage, which I left.

Yep, Kevin was there decades ago as I burned rubber out of both.

He seemed to pop up in every chapter of my life, while I gave him little thought, took our friendship for granted, and tried to set him up with my girlfriends.

Actually, I thought him a bit of an ass. I had no desire to impress him, which allowed me to feel free in his presence.

He wasn’t trying to win me over, either. So, I benefitted from the safety of a man by my side, like a brother.

Back in 1989, Kevin took me to his friend Ed’s party out in the country, close to St. Louis. Although I didn’t see Kevin much throughout the weekend, I felt his presence as we each mingled with other people. I knew he had my back.

The physical safety a man can offer came automatically with Kevin’s 6’3 stature. But, there’s another kind of safety.

Like when I said something I feared I had to wrap in an apology or explanation, his reaction proved the wrapping unnecessary.

I once said, “I’m not trying to judge you, but…”

Kevin said, “If you want to judge me, that’s ok. It’s on you.”

He showed me what it meant to be non-defensive, which I wasn’t used to, and non-judgmental, which I, like many people, longed for my whole life.

Best of all, Kevin embraced the gifts of my words, opinions, feelings, ideas, stories, and even my anger and fears.

It’s a whole new level of safety when a man loves a woman the way her dog does—not trying to change, impress, prove wrong, scold, compete with, or rescue.

I’d had enough of all that.

Finally, I didn’t have to or want to feel or say anything but my soul truth.

I didn’t have to work so hard at being happy or understood.

Amazingly, I saw Kevin the way I wished I’d see all the men who I’d shared chapters of my life with, but never quite managed.

He knew my sh*t. I knew his—and loved him even more for it, the way I wanted to love the other men, but didn’t.

With Kevin, I saw the quirks and flaws I’d normally judge—his loud mouth and undeniable ability to be politically incorrect, but I felt within me a new level of understanding and compassion, which felt oddly natural.

Here was a man full-on present in a way I’d never known a man to be.

Our experience flowed, rather needing to be reasoned around.

Sure, we had our moments. When I exploded with anger or jealousy (because he showed me it was safe to feel and deal with both), we got through it together.

Early on, I told Kevin I wanted nothing less than authenticity—because I couldn’t handle any more lies or disappointment—after my last three strikes with men, which he knew all about.

Like an old-fashioned gentleman, Kevin put his promise in a hand-written letter and mailed to my home: “As we go down our path, I pledge to give you the authenticity you crave and deserve. I want to have it all with you, Ice. Will you let me?”

Ice. He called me Ice. I let him melt me. Thank God I did, but damn, who could say no to that?!

Well, me—the gal who said no to or walked out on plenty of men who offered their hearts. It was just never enough for me.

Until Kevin. He was far from perfect, but he was real.

I’d have paid any price to take the ride we took together.

I relaxed and became my full self in his arms. He grew and awakened in my presence.

Our deal was divine.

Now, he’d dead—physically. (Heart attack in his sleep.)

This fact challenges me more than anything ever has.

My losses and lessons before couldn’t prepare me for this one.

This grief is like a gal with math anxiety learning calculus.

I face confusion, vulnerability, and some days, despair.

However, history says I’ve worked my way through before.

History says: love comes around again.

 

 

 

How to Be and What to Trust.

Be open. Be curious. Be a kid. No, really.

Own your experience, but don’t keep repeating it.

Nurture your heart with the intention of healing.

Be trustworthy to attract the like.

Be a magnet for good.

Share good. Pay it forward.

Assume good intentions. Act intentionally good.

Talk about your faith without imposing it on others.

Lean into your weirdness.

Trust what you know: God, angels, guides, fruits and veggies, water, yoga, spices, reading, writing, research, and provable facts.

Love. Dig into love.

Witness the divine feminine, Spirit, nature, trees, and clouds.

Welcome curiosity over judgment, and a slow pace over a winning ego.

Get close to any yoga teacher named Addie who tells the truth about anger—hers, and anything or anyone who helps you evolve.

Honor yourself and your sisters, the ones next to you on the swings of life.

Pump your legs to ride for decades. Sit next to each other. Hold hands.

Laugh. Fly. Experience delight.

Be alive.

How to Say Goodbye to Grief.

“All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Hello, my old friend, Grief. It’s like you to visit in honor of my deceased beloved’s birthday.

I tell myself it should be a day like any other. It’s the day my friend Sharon will visit, randomly scheduled and now seemingly divine.

It’s also my stepbrother’s birthday. I never remembered it before my man Kevin died. Now, it’s a forever-linked coincidence.

Kevin Lentz was born, along with his twin brother Keith, on their father’s birthday, January 17, 1958. This year, his twin will turn 60 years old.

Hello, my old friend, Grief. Of course you visit today.

I felt my productivity wane and my emotional brakes firing before I even realized why.

The calendar turns and suddenly just another day feels like a shadow of all my yesterdays.

No matter how I try to minimize, January 17th haunts me without my beloved here to celebrate his birthday.

But, I’ll smile, toast him, and try to be true to him by being true to myself.

That’s how I say good bye to Grief—a little bit at a time, as the occasions arise.

I celebrate in Grief’s face.

I see her in the corner, a little taken aback not to be the center of attention.

See, I decided to invite Love to this birthday party for my beloved.

Love shows up. She shines. She showers me with memory and the sound of his laughter.

Love blows me his kiss and touches me with his hand.

Love reaches across time and boundaries and warms my heart like Fire.

From across the room, I catch Grief’s eyes. She smiles and winks.

Held by Love, I smile and wink right back.

How to Find Your Way out of the Valley.

“So, it will come to pass for all of us—for all couples who stay with each other in love—that someday… one of us will carry the shovel and lantern on behalf of the other.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed

You’re strong. You’ve seduced Hope and slept with Faith.
You carry compassion across your body like a bullet-proof vest.    You’re a woman who loves fuller because you’ve lost.

When your earth splits, you strengthen every muscle,
So as not to fall into the pit of desperation.
You balance yourself, on all fours if you must.

You invest in people and experiences,
Recognizing the impermanence and
Declaring gifts in the midst of grief.

Against your will, you know
You’ve grown more authentic,
Wise, and alive in the aftermath.

You think back to your selfish, smart-*ss, 20-something self: invincible.
Until your brother’s car accident that made him leave the life he
Partied, worked, and loved his way through for 27 years.

Now, you’d live for two.
You’d put the joy back in your mother’s eyes.
Oh, the yearning for yesterday’s light!

I’ll learn from this, you said, as if
That could prevent repeating
The lesson: Live! Love!

You were living large and loving your
Mom well when cancer kicked her *ss and
You saw the strongest woman you knew fall.

You stood taller.
You made better choices.
You even got comfortable again.

Before life’s forces shook you
To the core, emptying you of
Possessions and identifying labels.

Once again, you were free
To fall. Or celebrate and
Recreate your life.

You did. You found your
Purpose in a pen and your
Power in an ever-expanding heart.

You even danced in sacred love—
You allowed it to capture you and
You’d never been so thrilled

To submit to its forces.
It felt like flying. Like
You’d earned your wings.

CLIP!

Like that. Your beloved’s death
Slammed you into the valley
And you began to crawl again.

Deeper love. Deeper valley. Deeper woman.
Wiser. More understanding.
Humble and fierce. Transformed.

Maybe you’re the clay and
God’s the potter and the
Punches shape you for the better.

You may not love life’s forces, but you honor
The evidence of metamorphosis in the eyes of
Those who’ve walked through grief’s valley.

No, you’re not clay. You’re free will.
You choose to merge with the mystery and
Some magic manifesting the new you—again.

 

 

How I Regained my Mermaid Status.

“I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” ~ Anais Nin

When my boyfriend Kevin died suddenly in his sleep from an unanticipated heart attack, I was like F*k all the positive thinking, healthy eating, personal growth crap! In fact, f*ck everything!

Kevin wasn’t a positive spin guy. But, he was a work hard, party hard, turn up the music, laugh out loud, storytelling, lovemaking fool for the juice of life.

He wasn’t a health fanatic, but he was a rebel.

So, when diabetes, cancer, and the long arm of the law tried to take him down, kick his ass, and reduce his freedom, Kevin, aka the Fire! revolted by coloring vibrant and audacious within the lines.

He worked out most mornings. He took me to his gym to meet his hot female trainer. Like, “Here, Icey (what he called me), come look around the corner and see me. There’s no reason to get jealous.” It was a cool gesture.

Kevin worked out and ate better for his health, but his motivation tuned up as we became Fire & Ice (as in Vanilla Ice and “Ice, Ice, Baby”—not because I was cold, though I could be.)

I turned up the heat in my life, too.

Because great relationships generate synergy. Isn’t that the purpose?

When our Fire & Ice synergy spun as smooth as a Ferris Wheel glides, when we were on top, holding hands, smiling like kids eating cotton candy, awash in peace, tickled by embracing all the world’s sparkles and the rightness of the moment, the ride shut down.

Like a curtain lowered, my life’s lights darkened the moment I learned Kevin left this world.

A crowd hustled, bustled, and moved noisily on the ground, but I was stuck up there, at the top, in the dark, solo in a car made for two.

I wanted to rock my way out, climb down, scream for help, and cry for Kevin. And my mom who died decades ago.

I didn’t want to get off the ride. I wanted the lights back on! I wanted my favorite person by my side.

Maybe that’s why our ride never stops.

Kevin and I were friends for two decades.

Then, we grew into our friendship on a whole new level.

Later, as lovers, we swam to the deepest levels in the sea of intimacy.

He dove in seeking treasure. I enchanted him like a mermaid.

I could go on with the metaphors, and we could swim in a few clichés, but the diver’s oxygen ran out.

There are innumerable ways to tell our story and I choose the meaning I make from it.

People die—even in the midst of a groovy love affair.

People who work out and eat healthy can be convinced to try a pharmaceutical that’s fine for 90% of the people who take it—and be the one it kills.

Life. Reality. Unfairness. Sadness.

Such wretched grief I thought it would eat me.

Then, I swam to shore. Finally, I stood and walked barefoot through time.

Although the diver no longer breathes air, my Fire still walks the sandy shores and swims the sparkly seas by my side.

I’m still a mermaid. And, I’ve still got the treasure.