Today I go to a meeting to meet a candidate for the local school board. I’m considering running for office and they tell me I need to raise my in person public profile. So, off I go… When I arrive the only people there are the host and the candidate. So, we get into introductions and small talk.  The candidate asks me if I have kids in Lakota schools. Oh here we go… When you have a daughter who has transitioned, you always have to stop and think about the question “How many kids do you have?”  I typically try to answer as simply and truthfully as possible, but I will tell you I am a believer in situational ethics.  If someone asks you a question like this and you are uncomfortable and want to lie, do it. Lie. You’re not going to hell for it. In this case I try just giving a little information.

“No. I don’t have kids at Lakota anymore.”  
“Oh, so they have graduated?” 
“Well, my older daughter graduated in 2014 and is now a freshman at the University of Toledo.”  
“And your other daughter?” 
“She passed away. She was 15 and would have been a sophomore this year.”

Now we’re into the awkward time when she doesn’t know what to say and I feel bad for making her uncomfortable.  No one wants to be “that guy”. I’m a member of a club I really don’t want to be in. 

I will always honor Shayna. She will always be a part of my life. I will always be proud of her accomplishments. After this, as the conversations continues, I realize the woman I met must have known about Shayna because she mentions that she was accomplished at Lakota and she assumes my older daughter was, too. Yeah, Shayna was top 16 in a class of about 550. She was working on her Gold Award. She was on the volleyball team. She was extremely popular.  That was my Beautiful Light.  

I know this is just the beginning of these awkward moments and I don’t have a script for them. I will just take them as they come and give as much or little information as I feel like giving depending on the situation.  

Four months after Shayna’s passing, I’m still obsessed with death and I’m sure I will be for as long as I am alive. My friends both on Facebook and real life I think are getting pretty sick of it though.  I’m back to my political posting on Facebook which can draw over a hundred comments on a really controversial topic, but the blog posts are drawing fewer and fewer comments. Friends who were checking in on me daily are, naturally, fading away. People who were calling frequently are, naturally, calling less.  Some of that is natural.  We’re not that close to people where we call every day (most of us anyway), but I think part of it is people are sick of hearing about death.

Death is a topic that makes us uncomfortable.  No one wants to face the fact that we were born into a world where death is going to touch us one way or the other.  Either we die or someone we love dies.  When you got married you said “Until death do us part.”, but most of us repeat those words mindlessly, not thinking we are committing to mourn or to be mourned.  It can be no other way. We all die. I’m reminded of a line from the Game of Thrones where Arya’s sword teacher asks her “What do we say when Death comes for us?” and the answer is “Not today.”.  We all want to believe that.  Death is not today. So, I don’t have to think about it today.  But, in the back of our minds, we know it is some day.  As long as it’s not today, I don’t have to think about it though.  So, please don’t remind me.

I don’t have that luxury anymore. The death of a grandparent or a parent you can set aside for a while.  An uncle, a friend. I’ve lost them. You mourn for aa while then you move on.  You go from thinking about them all day every day to just every day to every few days to every few months.  Yeah, these things happen.  We can take that. The death of your child though.   Man, that changes you, fundamentally, deeply and forever. The person I was on June 23rd is forever gone. Dead. When Shayna died that person died.  A new person has been reborn and is in development freshly out of the womb. And this guy is probably not a lot of fun to be around.  That’s OK.  I have a job to do. I guess I signed up for this. I don’t remember, it was before I was born.

For as long as I can remember I have been taught to believe in heaven and, more importantly in my mind, hell. Be a good boy to get to heaven, but more importantly to avoid hell which is a place of no hope, eternal torment, loneliness and worse than you can possibly imagine.  And it was a one and done deal.  You got one chance. Come here for a few years or several decades, but if you slipped up, you sealed your eternal fate.  

As I’ve gone through the years, some version of that has always stuck with me. However around the age of 40 I just couldn’t reconcile a supposedly loving God who loved everyone at least as much as I loved my children (well even more supposedly) sending anyone to eternal torment.  I began to explore alternatives within Christianity and came across the gospel of inclusion or universalism. There are various forms- some still believe in penal substitutionary atonement (the notion that God killed Jesus so His blood could cover our debts). Those who believe that believe that Jesus’ blood covered all of our debts and that is made abundantly clear if you read Paul’s works (correctly).  Others believe in other atonement theories, but the bottom line is all are saved- at least eventually. God desires for no one to perish and God’s will will not be thwarted.

My personal view has come to this, similar to what a guy named Emanuel Swedenborg concluded from his visions and visitations in the late 1600s and early 1700s.  There are hellish states of mind.  There are heavenly states of mind. And, I think that people, after they die can enter either realm or possibly something in between. Hell is not a place made by God though. It’s a creation of our own mind. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce, the gates of hell are locked from within (and Jesus said the gates of Hell would not stand against His kingdom).  Gates are defensive structure, keep in mind. So, people will and do experience hellish states, but God never gives up on them and no one will resist God forever.  Others go to in between realms and some go directly to “heaven”. 

And it’s not a one and done deal.  Most of us have been here before and we do this time and time again. I don’t necessarily believe in the idea that we have to keep doing it until we can escape some sort of cosmic terminal velocity and permanently stick in heaven. I think we do it again to have new experiences and learn new lessons. 

While I remain a universalist, more convinced than ever, I don’t believe death is necessarily a free pass to heavenly realms.  A small percentage of people who have had NDEs have had hellish experiences. There is no denying that.  But, every one I have heard has been rescued from that state even before returning back to this realm.  It’s not permanent.  But, why go there at all?  I’m doing all I can to reach a heavenly state while here so the transition back Home is a smooth one.  

I believe that those who have passed over are in a dimension that is normally beyond our comprehension and perceptions. Some describe it as a higher vibratory plane. It’s not in our time-space continuum.  However, there are those who can communicate through the veil and there are times when the veil is very thin and the rest of us can pick up glimpses of the other side. Earlier I posted a video that answers the question “Why Don’t The Dead Communicate With Us More?”

In addition to the technical issues involved with communications across the gulf or through the veil or whatever analogy works for you, I think there are other reasons. We tend to think of things from our side- naturally. If they communicated with us more, we might become fixated on them. We couldn’t go on and do what we are still here to accomplish. The illusion necessary for our growth would be shattered and we’d just wish for heaven all day.  I can think of a lot.  One that has occurred to me recently though goes back to when I was a child and learned that some of us would go to heaven “up there” and most of us would go to hell “down there”.  This brought up the question, how could we be happy partying up in heaven while those in hell are being tormented. And all of us, all of us would have some loved one in hell and we’d know it if in no other way by their absence. Wouldn’t we as caring, loving people mourn those in hell?  And if we did, how could we be in bliss? Well, this Earth, many tell me, is about as close to hell as one can get. Yes, it’s beautiful at times. And yes, we find ways to pass our time here.  But, it’s filled with tragedy and pain and if you haven’t felt it, just wait.  You will. We don’t know who we are.  Most of us long for deeper relationships with each other. We cry out to a God who doesn’t seem to hear us.  And when we lose a loved one, we literally want to die the pain is so deep. So, I believe that the purpose of the veil in addition to protecting us, is to protect our loved ones who have crossed over so that they can go about their work, their growth and they can be shielded from our pain.

When both girls were born I wrote a prayer for each of them.  One thing I have always tried to keep in mind, even as they came into this world, was that I did not own them. Some parents think of children as possessions to be controlled, to be turned into mini-Me’s, to live out our unfulfilled dreams.  I tried to think of them as their own souls who were entrusted to us for as long as they needed us. My job was to be the teacher and guide since my soul had come into this incarnation earlier, but they were always my equal.  Kids are on loan to us for as long as they need us, then their lives are their own to live.

However, when your child is still a minor, it’s so easy to take ownership of her. One of the reasons the loss of a child is so different from any other loss is you feel you have lost something/someone that belongs to you.  Shayna was still my responsibility. I was still guiding her. And that guidance between a parent and a child doesn’t go away at the age of 18, by the way.  Ty and I are both still working on letting go of Kayla (who still needs us more than she would like to admit). 

It’s really difficult to wrap my ahead around how suddenly, literally overnight, Shayna doesn’t need me anymore. I want to still be her Daddy. I want to still guide her, to comfort her, to teach her, to share the wonders of the world with her.  I’ve been trying to fathom what it’s like when a child passes. I’ve read that they immediately receive an amazing amount of knowledge and understanding, but I’ve also read that they continue to “grow up” in heaven.  I don’t know.  

I will never let go of Shayna. I will never stop loving her, which means I will never stop grieving her.  Grief is love of a person that you no longer have with you. I do however, have to come to grips with the fact that she is OK and doesn’t need me anymore.  I did my job while she was here, but that job is over.  That’s a tough one.

Due to the wonder that we know as Facebook, I have become aware that this weekend is high school homecoming for a lot of local schools, not that that means anything at all to me.  Usually I just ignore the pictures of all the little ( kids getting dressed up for a night of fun, but this year it’s different. Shayna was looking forward to homecoming this year (Ty told me that one of Shayna’s friends had told her). Last year Shayna went to Saint X’s homecoming with a friend of a friend and Shayna was, of course, gorgeous. Shayna loved dressing up, doing her hair and makeup and having a good time.  Had Shayna been physically with us this year, she and Ty would have shopped for a dress, Ty would have seen her off and taken pictures. 

Seeing all these girls in their dresses with their bright smiles, seeing them proudly holding their driver’s licenses, seeing them hit milestones that Shayna will not brings about mixed feelings.  As I look at the pictures, I am happy for my friends. I’m happy they are having these moments. I’m happy their children are healthy and still with them. And most of all I’m happy to see them cherishing these precious moments- as we always did while we had Shayna. But, it also brings about a deep sense of sadness of loss of things that we will not have.  I’m sad that Ty doesn’t get to share that with Shayna this year. I’m sad that our photo album of Shayna has been cut off. 

As I look at the Facebook feed, I find myself almost wishing they wouldn’t post these things.  How could they be so insensitive to not know that not everyone has her daughter with her this year? Don’t they know how much it hurts for me to see their daughters growing up and having fun?  But, that’s nonsense.  It reminds me of a friend we used to have who didn’t think people should celebrate Mother’s Day because not everyone had a good relationship with her mother.  No.  If you have something to celebrate, celebrate it. Those of us who have experienced loss will do our best to be happy for you and we’ll try to remember the good times.

What came to me as I was contemplating this was that Shayna has already graduated from this plane and Shayna has already had The Homecoming of all homecomings. Shayna was welcomed back to where we all truly belong. I just wish I could have been there to celebrate it with her.  One day I will be. And that gets me through today.

Today we’re going up to spend the day in Toledo. She wants to see us (and we want to see her), but she has a chemistry test on Wednesday and says she doesn’t study when she comes home. So, we are hitting the road for Toledo. Ty talked to Kayla last night and they are supposed to Facetime this morning so Kayla can instruct her on the winter clothes to bring with us.  It’s going to be 16º cooler in Toledo today than in West Chester- high of 76º for us 60º for them.

Around 10 o’clock Ty starts trying to reach Kayla.  Kayla doesn’t answer Facetime. I text her.  No answer.  Maybe she’s decided to go to her one class this morning.  Normally she wouldn’t because the lecture is recorded. Ty and I both have thoughts that something bad might have happened, but we push those aside.  We pack some clothes we think she’ll want hop in the car and start scooting up the all-to-familiar 182 mile stretch of I-75 that connects our hearts to Toledo.  As we drive, Ty keeps texting Kayla. Still no answer.  Kayla’s roommate has left for the weekend or we’d call her. The last time we have heard from Kayla is about 10:30 last night. She sounded fine.  She was looking forward to seeing us and made the appointment for a Facetime between 10 and 11 this morning. Why isn’t she answering?  

My thoughts now start to turn dark.  I picture how we found Shayna in bed. I wonder if Kayla might have overdosed on pills.  I start to go through my checklist of what I should do.  I could call campus security, but tell them what?  She is an adult and has been “missing” for less than a few hours.  I think about calling the front desk. Kayla would be so embarrassed if they came barging into her room. I start thinking about what I will do if I’ve lost Kayla.  Going on without Shayna has been a monumental task. Without Kayla. Well, that’s it. I’m done.  I think about planning Kayla’s funeral. Nope. I simply cannot do it.  Ty, I find out later, is having the same thoughts about all the bad things that might have happened to Kayla.  I keep driving. Might as well.  No matter what has happened, we have to get to Toledo.  That’s where her body is.  An hour in the car turns into two.  It’s been three hours since we started trying to reach her now. Ty’’s not saying anything about being worried and neither am I but our calls to Kayla are coming more often now as we try to will her to answer the phone.  I start searching for less dire explanations as to why she hasn’t answered her phone for almost three hours.  Maybe she dropped it in the toilet or lost it.  But, surely she’d borrow someone’s phone and call us.  Or would she? I think I’m wasting time if she’s incapacitated, but there’s no story I can tell that would get anyone to break into her room anyway. I feel helpless, hopeless, but I keep driving.

Finally, just before 1 o’clock as we are an hour outside of Toledo, Kayla sends Ty a short text. She doesn’t know what happened. She went to bed at a reasonable time, but her roommate’s visitor woke her up in the wee hours of the morning and she couldn’t get back to sleep. When she did go back to sleep she fell into a sleep so deep that she didn’t wake up until almost 1 in the afternoon and didn’t feel/hear her phone vibrating (she and Shayna have a terrible habit of always leaving their ringers on silence).  

Ty and I both take our first deep breaths in hours.  We continue up and enjoy the day with Kayla.  In fact, as we are walking into her dorm, Ty finds a dime in the parking lot of her dorm. This is the third time we’ve been together out of town and found a dime- once specifically after I prayed to find a dime that day.  We go shopping, go to the art museum, go out to dinner and have Cold Stone ice cream on a gift card that belonged to Shayna. The whole day we are telling Shayna stories and I’m sure all imagining what it would be like if Shayna were with us and knowing Shayna would not be happy we are using her Cold Stone gift card.  We love and miss her SO much.

As we’re driving home, Ty tells me how she doesn’t like the fact that not knowing how Shayna died has made our world feel so much less safe.  I tell her, we only had the illusion of safety before. The chances of anything happening to Kayla are no more or less than they were before. Shayna’s death doesn’t provide us protection from other tragedies nor does it mean that other tragedies are inevitable. What it does mean is that for the rest of our lives we will be on edge. Those thoughts of major tragedy will come to our minds whenever the slightest things goes wrong.  PTSD sucks.

Today, another friend checks in on me. She wants to know how I’m doing.  Am I taking care of myself? I always say I’m taking care of Ty and taking care of Kayla, but people want to know I’m taking care of myself.  She’s also concerned about my relationship with Ty, not because of anything I have said, but because she is familiar with parents losing children and divorce is far too often not far behind that as one or both parents withdraw into themselves, blame themselves or the their spouse and neglect the relationship or strike out in anger and frustration.

Yes, I am taking care of myself, but it’s because I have to be here for others.  it’s not because I’m trying to prolong my existence on this plane. People try to tell me that’s unhealthy- that I have to live for myself.  I can’t solely live for others.  Maybe in the long term that is true. Maybe…  But, when you’re in the situation Ty, Kayla and I are in whatever gets you through the day or the night is just fine for motive.  There isn’t any motive that’s better or worse than any other.  People are trying to convince me a long life here is desirable.  Why?  We like it here, but do we know what we like?  Or, do we like what we know? If Heaven is so wonderful, then why is a long life here the absolute most desirable thing as most of us act like it is?  This world is a mixed bag at best. It’s beautiful.  So much beauty and pleasure. So much love. But, none of that is permanent.  Inevitably, something will go wrong. I am told by my Master not store up treasures on Earth. I am by the Buddha that clinging is the cause of all suffering. We are told to let go of everything. But, we’re flesh and blood and this stuff is appealing.  I’ve tried to let go and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of letting go of everything except Ty, Kayla and Shayna.  Even my parents- they’re older. They’re supposed to go before me. I expect that phone call any day. My brothers and sister- all over 40 now. Yep.  Could happen.  But, I confess I was clinging to Ty, Kayla and Shayna. That should have been safe. They all younger than me, in better health and I’m a male. Bad bet.  So, now I suffer. Buddha would be saying “Told ya so.”

I tell my friend it’s OK for me to be here to live for others.  And as I’ve been contemplating while I am still here (despite having the premonition I was going to die young since I was a teenager), I have been getting the growing sense that the rest of my time is for others.  More than one person has told me they have the impression Shayna didn’t live this lifetime for her own soul’s growth, but for others.  Kayla and I are convinced that she, Shayna and I have done this many times before.  I was listening to a Podcast last night where the guy was describing pre-birth planning- how our Soul creates our personality and sits with our personality, our guides and ascended masters to plan our lives and what our goals are- what are we here to experience or learn?  Others in our soul group may come with us solely for our benefit. As we go along the path there are potential exit points where our lives may terminate.  Our life here terminates when either the Soul realizes the goal cannot be met and wants to start over or when the goal has been achieved. But, there is also the possibility that the goal can be achieved and we stay here for others. This, to me, confirms what I have been feeling. i think that is the point where I am now.  

We were blown away by the people who came out for Shayna’s memorial service, but even more so by the people who said “We will not forget Shayna”. Since then people have been finding ways to commemorate her to keep her in their hearts. Ty, Kayla and I know she will always be in ours. Lisa Lorenz, the mother of one of Shayna’s friends, wanted to set up a scholarship fund in Shayna’s name. She has made that happen, getting a 501c3 status, raising several thousand dollars and setting up a board to manage the scholarship.  In a couple of months we have raised enough money to fund the scholarship for at least four years.  We have set the criteria to choose someone who, like Shayna has a good GPA, but is also involved in the community and who wants to study the sciences in college.  Our good friends Chuck and Deb wanted to get involved when they heard about the scholarship and they set up the fundraiser which is tonight.

Today I meet with some people who have called me to talk to me about considering running for political office.  I’m deeply involved in politics, but purely from a lay perspective. I have never run for anything and, like The Donald, I’m not politically correct.  However, being rude and having no experience is not something the Democratic party is looking for and I’m pretty sure at this point in my life I’ve blown my cover and can’t run as a Republican. I’m thinking about it.  I’d like to serve, but I’m not sure it’s within the realm of possibility for me.  We shall see.

After lunch, I’m nervous thinking about the fundraiser. I’ve described myself as an introvert all my life, but I really do like people.  How will I react? What will people want from me? Will I be able to get out of the room if it becomes overwhelming?  My good friend Bill texts me and tells me he will be there for me for anything I need. Chuck and Deb both message me.  They assure me nothing is expected from me. I don’t even have to show up.  But, I do have to show up. This isn’t just for me and Ty. This is for the community. I am filled with pride and gratitude to overflowing that my Shayna touched so many people in such a profound way. Ticket sales for the event have been great. I don’t know the final number yet, but I believe 75 tickets were sold.  Three different musical groups have volunteered to perform..  One is Shayna’s homeschool art teacher and swim teacher.  One is one of Shayna’s best friends from the high school and, of course, Chuck and Deb.  Everything is handled for us.  Lisa told us we wouldn’t have to do anything for this scholarship fund and outside of providing some guidance, we really haven’t done much. This is a true community effort. 

Ty and I enter the room about half an hour before the scheduled start. Everything is set up.  Several friends are already there. The evening goes off without a hitch.  The room is completely full, not so full that you can’t move, but full enough to be full of energy. People are sharing stories about Shayna.  Just thinking about it now brings a tear to my eye. I truly hope that Shayna is here tonight and I believe she is.  

Bill comes up to check on me.  He knows I can be uncomfortable in crowds and offers to step outside with me, but I’m doing all right.  A father who lost his son two years ago stops by toward the end of the evening.  His daughter is on the West Volleyball team. I’ve never met him, but he walks right over to me, tells me his story and says any time I want to talk, he will be there to listen. 

You hear about the bad in people, the selfishness, the jealousy, the pettiness.  But, keep in mind that people are good.  People can be absolutely amazing and our friends are. 

Being around Shayna’s friends is always bittersweet. Shayna had made some really, really great friends at West and in the neighborhood. A couple of her teachers showed up.  Shayna and her friend Caroline both planned to go to OSU.  We’re going to miss those girls and the next three years we thought we had being part of that community.  But, to know how much of an impact she made on their lives in such a short time is comforting. At least for the next three years when the scholarship is announced and her names is called, someone will remember Shayna and how wonderful she was because they were in class with her.  That is another way Shayna will continue to grow here where she was planted.  

I don’t read the Bible much anymore. Well, not all really, but verses still come to me at times. Today it’s Dying to Live- Romans 7:24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

I know people are concerned with my obsession with death. Understand I had a fixation on death from about the age of five years old. I was taught in Sunday School I could die any moment, or Jesus could come back and I would go to hell. Then there was the sudden death of my grandfather, in church, while testifying when I was about 7 years old. I was terrified of being alone after I died. I was terrified of what God was going to do to me. For years I suffered from panic attacks. Finally, I became a universalist, studied NDEs and become comfortable enough with death to put it aside and be relatively normal for about 15 years.

Shayna’s passing has brought death into sharp relief for me again, but it’s different now. I’m middle aged. I’ve raised my children. I have accomplished a lot. And, I now have confidence, real confidence that Heaven actually is a better place. So, yeah, kinda feeling like Paul today. This body of death is holding me back.

It’s not that I want to die. See, most of us think of death at the end. Death is not the end. Death is the beginning. Death is a new birth. I don’t want to die. I want to have the life that we have all forgotten.

Do not worry for me. I am doing all I need to maintain this thing. Exercising, decent diet, taking my medications, rest- all that stuff. I have responsibilities. I have a contract to fulfill. I signed up for this and I will see it through, but when it’s time for me to go home, whenever and however it comes, do not grieve for me.