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.

 

How to Walk the Bridge to Better

“Our job isn’t to fight fate, but to help each other through, not as soldiers, but as shepherds. That’s how we make it okay, even when it’s not.” ~ Lucy Kalanithi

Bridge Builder, Light Bearer. Those were the words I wanted on my tombstone.

Now, I think escort might be good. No, not that kind of escort!

It’s been my honor to chaperon people across their own life bridges. I didn’t have to build the bridge, but I often shined the light.

Sometimes, like when your sister’s husband dies, all we can do is sit in the dark with our loved ones and hold the light until it catches them.

The bridge seems to form under one’s feet as they walk the path of life.

However, traversing through the darkness—whether it comes from death, divorce, disaster, or simply losing our way—is lonely.

No one else can feel our unique brand of despair in our precious, vulnerable hearts.

That’s why for many years I didn’t let people in. I preferred to suffer the dark nights of my soul alone. I’d saddle up to my suicidal tendencies and keep everyone away from me. Until I didn’t.

Even now, I can’t let everyone in, but I’ve learned to recognize the light bearers. They’re the ones who stand in the darkness with you, shine the light, and fully acknowledge your right to sit where you are for as long as you need to. Light bearers aren’t there to convince.

They’re a power by their presence. They see your pain and appreciate it without pity. They don’t try to pull you out of the pain, but hold your hand while you’re in it.

That’s what my sister does for me—always. Not just since the death of my beloved.

Jayne showed me the light when we were kids and our parents divorced and later, when I was a teenager, she opened her home to me.

My sister has held the light a thousand times.

The light is like bird food. I can’t actually feed the birds. But, I can fill the feeder and let them come.

Now, I’ve become a woman whose heart fills with the sight of cardinals’ colors, beaks and feathers outside my window.

I’ve done nothing; I’ve done something.

I offer food, but I can’t physically carry or direct the birds to it. That’s not my job; it’s God’s, or angels or the Universe. This Amazing Force alerts the birds the food is out and calls them to fly to it.

For me, that’s God. He builds bridges and sends the escorts to help us across the dark chapters of our lives into the light.

God isn’t just in the magic. He’s in the in-between moments building bridges to tomorrow, to our next beautiful chapter.

My biggest lesson: we don’t have to build the bridges!

Often, I have no idea how I’m going to get from here to there.

How would I get out of my marriage and onto solid ground? How could I get out of sales after 20 years? How could I become a writer? How could I get out of relationships that weren’t right—especially when I was desperate to make them into more?

Sometimes falling apart is the bridge.

If those men I was involved with hadn’t let me down or dismissed me, I would’ve missed the greatest love I’ve ever known—sacred, worth-it-all love.

Deep in it, when my beloved Fire died and I cried every f*cking day, when devastation felt like my middle name, God was building a bridge.

My sister—and so many others—held the light.

Earlier, when my sister’s husband died (four years before I lost my guy), I wanted to be the one to build the bridge for her. But, the only bridge she wanted to walk over was the one leading to yesterday, the one that no longer existed.

So, I prayed and stayed present through the black nights that rippled into days, weeks, months and years. I held the light, as did a whole gang of angels—both human and beyond.

Somehow, my sister, after going one direction for 33 years of marriage, learned to walk a new way through the darkness. Over time, a bridge to a better life formed beneath her—right there, in the dark.

Now, after all we’ve been through, I no longer feel the need to be a bridge builder.

Instead, I pray: God, use me. May I be of benefit. Let me shine the light. And especially, Help me pay it forward.

All I can tell you is this: that rush I get from feeding the birds is nothing compared to being a light bearer for another human being.

When the light catches their eyes—after the darkness—they almost fly.

 

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.

The Ocean of Love

Alice in Authorland

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There are things I know logically: I will survive. Suicide isn’t an option. Adversity invites growth. Time will heal. Good things will come again.

However, grabbing onto logic, platitudes, and even what I know to be true at the expense of denying the powerful force of grief is not a position I’ll take. I’m not saying I’m at the mercy of my emotions so much as I surrender into them. I respect my grief.

Why does a baby wail upon birth? Because of the separation. One minute she was swimming in the ocean of love, completely connected to her mother, safe, protected, warm. Suddenly, without choice, but simply due to the nature of life, she’s forced into a new dimension. The air shocks. The light burns. Everything feels foreign. People surround her with love, wrap her in comfort, and confirm she will not die. Still, a newborn baby wails her…

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Making Peace with the Unpredictable Triggers of Grief.

Life surprises us—in love and grief.

When grief is fresh and raw, we’re vulnerable to being triggered by every song, word, thought, piece of clothing, food, coffee cup, email, restaurant, and memory of moments with our loved ones.

Early on, the best we can do is breathe, fall to our knees and howl out our animalistic wounds. But, we can’t live there.

Eventually, we stand and walk on in our grief.

Repeatedly, we may think the worst has passed, as if we’re over it simply because for one day, week, month, or even a year, we function as if not engulfed 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. His kiss was definitely 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 days 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 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—or anything that resembled truth.

He’d say, “Well, 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 for clothes 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 what 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.

It must’ve fallen off when I tried on clothes. I looked on 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.