I’ve always been pretty active. Exercise is a great stress reliever for me. I like to workout hard, building a good sweat or at least getting my heart rate up. Even before Shayna passed I had begun walking/running and was up to around 3-4 miles a day. I’ve done Insanity, P90X, P90X+ and T25. I had taken off 40 plus pounds using T25 when Shayna passed, but I had shelved the program and was into walking and running. I try not to go more than a few months at a time without some sort of pretty rigorous routine. Too much time off and I start to feel sluggish. The harder I work to expend energy, the better my mood. Staying close to my goal weight is important for my mental health as much as for my physical health.

Exercise is my first priority of the day. If I don’t get it done in the morning I find the urgent overtakes the important and it doesn’t get done at all. So, first thing out of bed it’s a workout or a walk or both. Controlling my weight helps me feel better physically. The time spent on a run I used to listen to a PodCast or inspirational music. I can get out some aggression and anger during a good workout. And I know I’m taking care of my responsibility to take care of myself for those who want me to stick around.

Proverbs 31: 6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. 7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

This one is going to be controversial. So be it. Again, these posts are not my recommendation for what anyone else should do. These are what is working for me. I am a whatever works person. If it works for you, I say go for it. A couple of days after Shayna passed I called my doctor. I was not sleeping well, if at all. I was in a daze, a fog. There was a buzzing in my head. I could not think straight. I knew something had to change. I had a lot of decisions to make and I had to deal with a lot of people. My doctor immediately wanted to put me on Zoloft. I didn’t want that. First of all Zoloft takes weeks to kick in and I didn’t have weeks. Second, I’ve been on that type of drug before and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. I felt zombied out. I was no longer stressed or depressed, but I felt slightly drunk all of the time. It took too much of the edge off twenty four hours a day. I want to be able to feel what I need to feel.

I told her I wanted Ativan. I had been on it before and it’s the only thing that has ever actually controlled my blood pressure and made me feel better. It is also highly addictive, so they don’t like to give it out. I got a prescription for about 30 days worth. I took it a couple of night for sleep. I took it before Shayna’s celebration of life. I think I have taken one or two since. The last time was about five months ago.

I have been using alcohol to help. People will tell you you that you should not self medicare with alcohol. I don’t understand that. God gave us alcohol for a reason. It’s called spirits for a reason. People get hooked on prescription drugs every single day. Alcohol certainly can be abused, but it has its place. I find a couple of drinks after work help me to unwind. Too much alcohol disrupts my sleep pattern, but just the right amount helps me to get to sleep. When I don’t have a drink at all, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. A little alcohol dulls my brain enough to slow the thoughts down enough to allow sleep to find me. I don’t need any other sleep aids. I can control when the alcohol kicks in. It’s not 24×7 like Zoloft. I can be sharp during the day when I need to be creative and full of energy. During that time my brain is occupied enough that I can’t dwell on the depression. At night, when things slow down and my mind can go where it wants, the alcohol helps slow it down.

The downside to resuming drinking again is alcohol has a lot of calories. I’ve gained about 13 pounds from my low weight I hit last year. That’s still almost 30 pounds down from my peak weight. I had lost forty plus pounds. I workout at least once a day, often twice. Walking 4.5 miles a day in the hills of West Chester keeps the weight managed.

So, that is what works for me, so far. Things will most certainly change at some point and when they do, I will adjust accordingly.

I love talking to Kayla. She’s home this weekend.  So, today’s a good day.  We were texting the other day. I had just found this group Twenty One Pilots. They’re not new, just new to me. I’m all about the lyrics and I love their lyrics. Turns out Kayla has been listening to them for years.  We were talking about how the lead singer has anxiety/depression problems which seems to be common to artists, particularly the ones I connect with.  People have always asked me “Why so serious?”  I quipped to Kayla anyone who really pays attention to what goes on in this world would deal with anxiety and depression.  She replied that “Well, that’s a little dark.  Maybe anyone who pays attention would see how beautiful our life/world is and would be happy.”   Hmmm…. I had to think about that for a moment. Then I realized she’s right.  If we I can really sit back and look at the big picture, really know who I am, really know what this journey is about. When I can hold those things, the anxiety and depression do fade away.  The problems are temporary. They are bumps along the road. They cannot last longer than I can.  

Ah…. I love that girl!  

And we’re going to the Twenty One Pilots concert together. How lucky am I?

Little Miracles Happen Everyday- Jizo Part 2

A couple of days ago I went to my room to meditate and my Jizo statue had moved from on my altar to sitting several inches away. He was standing there upright and my treasure box had been moved into his place. I wrote about it on my tumblr. A friend who is a medium told me that Shayna was not trying to tell me that Jizo didn’t belong there just show me that she can move him. That was on Facebook and Kayla doesn’t do Facebook.

Today I’m talking to Kayla (well, I still use the word talking- texting actually). Here is our conversation

Kayla: Can you do a weird favor for me?
Me: Anything.
Kayla: Please put your little Jizo statue in Shayna’s room on top of her bookcase. I don’t know why but she wants it there.
Me: On top of her bookcase? In her room?
Kayla: Yeah, the tall one with her snow globes. I keep seeing him in her room.
Me: Ah…. But I love my Jizo.
Kayla: You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Me: But yeah, I will do it.
Kayla: I think he can guide and protect her from there.
Me: So, you’re seeing him there?
Kayla: She’s up to something. Yeah, I’m seeing him there.
Me: OK. No problem. You saw that she moved him? (on my tumblr)
Kayla: Mom?
Me: Shayna. Check my tumblr
Kayla: OK. ….. weird
Kayla: That happened today? I dreamed about her last night.
Me: You hadn’t seen that? No. It happened Monday (two days ago)
Kayla: No. I don’t usually read your blog.
Me: Yep. I asked Tywana. She said she hadn’t been near it.
Kayla: The past two dreams I’ve had about her have been action-y. In this one we were with a bunch of people trying to protect them. I think she’s doing something.
Me: Wow.
Kayla: Yeah, we’ve talked about how the afterlife isn’t just sitting around playing harps. Maybe she’s doing some kind of mission. And Jizo guards children. Right?
Me: Yes. I will put him in her room tomorrow.

This is similar to the incident after we watched Heaven Is For Real and Kayla saw the painting by Akiane and said it was the church she and Shayna had visited in her dream. I wrote about this on Day 39. I like to feel like I have a connection with Shayna. She and Kayla are like twins separated by three years at birth. Kayla had not read my Facebook page or my tumblr. She had no idea that Jizo had been moved from my altar. And it’s not as if we talk about Jizo a lot. So, as I go up to bed, I grab Jizo from my altar and place him in Shayna’s room next to the angels on her bookcase.

This is the key to me being able to continue to walk the face of this planet. Underlying just about every one of my coping mechanisms is the belief/hope that Shayna is still here with us. As Paul wrote, we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. But, it’s even more than I will see her again one day, in the by-and-by which is what I was taught. I believe that our loved ones who have crossed over are simply in another dimension, at a different vibration or however you’d like to term it, but they are still right here and the veil is thin, particularly from their side.

A growing approach to grief counseling is this continuing bonds approach. Both grief counselors I met with used it even though I did not hear the term until much later. Both encouraged me to continue to think of Shayna as part of the family. For Ty and Kayla it has come naturally. We look for and acknowledge signs from Shayna and we have seen many. I have spoken with mediums who have been able to contact Shayna. And, I am working on my own ability to be able to hear her.

It’s not the same as having Shayna here physically, but we do the best with what we have. I say good morning to Shayna’s picture on the staircase every morning as I leave my bedroom. I tell her good night as I take the dogs out for the last time, face turned to the stars. I don’t know why but when I’m outside, I envision her up there. I talk to her in the car and I imagine (feel?) her sitting in the passenger side as I’m running my errands. I hear her correcting my form as I do my workout. I miss her constant chatter, but I try to think about what she would be saying if I could hear her. And I believe she is sitting right there chattering away probably frustrated because I can’t hear her.

This continuing bonds approach is a bit difficult because it seems too good to be true and it’s a lot like having an imaginary friend. The rational side of me tries to tell me that I’m deluding myself, but from what I read and I listen to it’s not a delusion. Our loved ones are still involved in our lives, still care about us and are still right here hoping we will acknowledge and appreciate their presence. I do this as much for Shayna as I do it for myself because I know we have an untreatable bond and I believe it’s still important to her. I know it is to me. So, on a daily basis I do what I can to reinforce that bond and to reinforce my belief in it because it’s the really the only thing that gets me through the days and nights.

On the left is how I found my meditation altar this afternoon when I went up to meditate.  Jizo had moved from standing on the altar (pictured on the right) to standing behind the bamboo.  OK.  Maybe the dogs did it and he fell off and bounced. This Jizo is pretty heavy though, made of some sort of stone and he would have had to bounce and landed upright.  Not likely.  Then there is the box. The box is normally to the right of Jizo who stands behind the candle so I can see the light reflect off of his face. The box was moved to the far left edge of the altar.

Being raised in the church from the time I was born, church has played an on and off again role in my life for nearly 55 years. The ideal of church is great, but I don’t think there is a single church on the face of the planet that lives up to the ideal. I have gone to church for my parents, for Ty, for the girls and yes, sometimes for myself.

Ty and I love the UCC denomination. It’s open and affirming when it comes to homosexuality. It’s progressive on social issues. There is no real dogma. I was free to be an open universalist when I went there, but the church we attended for five years became too much of a burden. I was burnt out from serving there and it was struggling financially the entire time which was exhausting. It was also no place for teenagers or pre-teens as Kayla and Shayna were at the time. We needed a change. For convenience we started attending Crossroads, a non-denominational mega church. It is close to the house. They have the mega productions and the coffee and all of the trappings. It was good enough for Ty and not too offensive for me, usually.

However, after Shayna passed Ty actually needed more from a church spiritually. She started listening to Unity church via Podcasts and finding a lot that was actually helpful in her grief journey. We decided to check out the “local” Unity church which is 25 minutes away from us on the other side of town.

Unity is a church that is founded on metaphysical principles. It’s a new thought church. There is no dogma one must adhere to. The sermons present things in ways I have never heard in a church. It’s more like the stuff I read. Deeply Chopra, the Dalai Lama and Buddha are often quoted. Jesus is highly revered, as our role model and spiritual leader, but you are free to believe what you choose about Him. There are energy healing Sunday’s where you can get a reiki healing or even a reading from a medium.

We haven’t really plugged into the community there yet. While it’s a smaller church and we can actually see the people who are there on Sunday mornings, we are kind of laying back. I’m not involved in serving. I’m still on a break from that. But, it’s nice to have a place we can go on Sunday morning and both get something from it. It’s nice to know we’re not going to hear about hell or why homosexuality is wrong. It’s nice to have a church to go to that actually has something helpful to say about the grief we are going through in the here and now, not in the by and by. A church like that is a rare find, for me anyway.

Blogging/Writing Whatever Gets You Through The Night – Part 2

I have journaled off and on since a creative writing class in high school. Journaling can be a cathartic experience and looking back on past entries is a great way to see just how much you have changed over time. When the girls were born I journaled so they would have a record of that time of my life and the joy I was experiencing.

When Shayna passed I decided to pick it up again. I have had a blog for years where I discuss politics and religion. I’m active on Facebook. So, sharing my feelings with the world isn’t exactly new to me. I decided to make this a public journey because we generally are so private with grief that people feel like their situation is unique. “No one has ever experienced before what I’m going through now.” That is true on one level, we are all unique and each situation is unique. We are also the same on another level and there is nothing new under the sun. I knew the moment they told me Shayna had passed that this marked the end of the life I had come to know and love. I died when she died. I could not see a way forward, but I knew I had to keep this body going forward for Ty and Kayla. I knew this would be the biggest challenge of my life and the next day, I knew I had to share it. I also wanted to be able to look back at my own posts in months or years should I be here that long. I wanted to be able to see the process retroactively.

The simple act of writing things down forces us to organize and examine our thoughts. Sharing them provides additional benefits for me. Knowing that a handful of people are reading keeps me somewhat accountable. There are times when I just don’t feel like writing. Knowing someone is reading gives me motivation on those days, like today. Some days the ideas come pouring in from somewhere and I have to get them down before they evaporate. Several people have told me that reading my posts has helped them with their own grief whether it’s fresh, many years old or anticipatory. It’s not that my words are so full of wisdom. As human beings there is something comforting in just knowing that we are not alone in our experiences. While I feel like my love for Shayna was greater than any love that has ever existed on the planet, I know my loss isn’t one that no one has felt before. And having watched other people lose loved ones in totally other ways I know that while it seems like has just vanishing like that couldn’t have been any worse, sharing with two people who lost their kids to long term illnesses, I can’t say their situations are any better. We all have our shit to deal with in life. And it’s not easy for any of us. If it looks easy for someone either you don’t know their struggle very well or you just need to wait a while. None of us gets out of here unscathed. And we all have crazy thoughts. We think we are going insane. I share as many as I can without worrying my family too much. I don’t know how anyone can lose someone as close to them as Shayna and not think all kinds of crazy things. I was listening to a woman whose adult daughter had died and she said she had thoughts of stepping in front of a bus. I knew at that moment I had to get that book, because she has felt what I feel. I don’t want to go on without her. I wanted to know what else she had to say because she is alive over a decade after her daughter’s passing and seemingly thriving and happy. How did she do it? I had to know. Her sharing that thought that most people would have kept hidden helped someone she will never meet.

I’m glad I took up the blog. It gives me something productive and regular to do. I write almost every day. I number the posts to force myself to and to create a timeline. It helps me and I hope it is like a pebble in a pond and sends ripples out to help others.

Whatever Gets You Through The Night
Nearly eight months into this new life of mine, I must confess that I marvel at myself and Ty and Kayla. The fact that we are still here, still standing is good. That Kayla is back at school is amazing. Ty and I are still running the business and handling all the daily tasks of running a household, albeit a much smaller household. As Ty and I discussed it last night, it’s like Shayna just vanished. One minute she was here. I said “I love you Sweetie, good night.” And the next she was gone, I was giving her lifeless body CPR. No accident, no illness, no warning, no explanation. Just here one minute and gone the next. The surreality of it is beyond words. I don’t know if it makes it easier or more difficult.

The first few days I had no idea how I was going to survive this. In fact I did not want to survive it. I still don’t. But, survive I must. So, how have I done it? I’m a “whatever works” kind of person, the opposite of orthodox. Whatever gets you through the night. I am pragmatic. If it works, I’ll do it. I’m not advising any of my coping mechanisms for anyone other than me.

In no particular order, I have come up with several things that I have used. I’ll put them in alphabetical order.

Blogging/Writing- writing is therapeutic for me, but as much as writing having people read what I write in hopes it might help someone else.

Church- Ty and I switched churches shortly after Shayna’s death. We needed something more practical, something that could help us in the here and now.

Continuing Bond approach- Ty and I believe that Shayna is still here with us. We talk to her. We tell her we love her. We have reminders of her around the house.

– Drugs- prescription drugs and alcohol

– Exercise- walking, T25.

– Friends- walks, talks, instant messaging

– Grief counseling- one on one and groups

– Groups- Facebook NDE group, various parent support groups

– Letting go- lots of cleaning up, selling things, destroying things

– Meditation- learning about my mind. Learning to control my thoughts. Discovering my true self/nature.

– Mediums- I have had a few readings. This helps reinforce the idea of the continuing bond

– Prayer- talking to my higher power. Lots of asking for help.

– Studying/reading/Podcasts- lots and lots of reprogramming my mind to understand my nature, the nature of the world and the reality of the purpose of life.

Over the course of the next several days I will write more about each of these and how they have helped me get through this time to this point anyway.

The Thrill Is Gone

Most of the time I feel like one of the zombies on The Walking Dead. In a week it will be eight months since Shayna passed. People keep asking me how I’m doing, though not as much lately. The daily contacts have become semi-weekly, then weekly. The people who opened up and started sharing their feelings have slowly shut down going back to their old selves. People seek homeostasis. We seek a state of normalcy and even when we are shocked out of that, the only that causes real change by the way, we usually quickly go back to where we were. That’s nobody’s fault. That’s the way we are wired. That’s why it takes major tragedy or pain for many of us to ever truly make a major change.

Some things are such a shock to the system that we can never return back to where we were. If you tear an ACL, you can rehab the leg and get back to where you were before, maybe better. If lose a leg, well that leg is gone. You will never walk or run the same way again. You can put on a prosthetic and learn to use it. You can wear long pants to cover it up and the world might never know you’re walking on a prosthetic, but you know it. That’s where I am today. Learning to use this prosthetic, learning to walk, maybe even run one day. From where you sit, it may appear that I have two legs. I do not. I will not. Something is forever gone.

I’ve been hearing that the way to overcome anything in life is an attitude of gratitude. Want to be enlightened? Practice gratitude. Want to attract good things to yourself? Be grateful for what you already have. Want to be happy? Focus on the blessings you have been given. That’s all well and good. And as I hear it I really want to participate. In church this last week we did a gratitude practice. I have a lot to be grateful for. I have had the best life I could hope for. Ty and Kayla and Shayna made my life blissful. I am extremely grateful for that life. I’m grateful for the gratitude we had while we were having that life. We always knew how blessed we were. We didn’t take a moment for granted. We didn’t take each other for granted. That life, however is over. That life is like a photo album. I can pull it out and look back on it with fondness. This life, oh this life… I don’t even know what to say. I’ve said it before. It’s like living in a world with no color- black and white TV. The joie de vivre is gone or as B.B. King would say The Thrill Is Gone. There are times when things are “OK”. There are times when I forget what my world is really like now. There are times when, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking Shayna is just at school or at a friend’s house. Even after all these months, there are times when I half expect her to meet me at the top of the stairs and say “Surprise!” Then I tell myself “No. It really happened. Your life really sucks.” And I’m back.

I fill my days with tasks. That’s what keeps me moving forward. I wake up with a mental to-do list. I have a list of at least three or four things I need to accomplish to provide for Ty and Kayla. I’m trying to get the business streamlined to make it easier to run and more profitable. I’m working on de-cluttering. Working out and meditating are top priority. As long as I’m going to be here I don’t want to suffer any more than necessary. But, I’m seriously homesick. I’ve never felt quite right in this world. There has always been a sense of loneliness and separation. I’ve never understood the wars and the racism and the sexism and the back-biting and the greed. I had several years where I was pretty well settled in. Now, I see the world again for what it is and I’m ready to let it go.