I’ve always loved the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

The problem is I can never quite remember the words and I haven’t really internalized it. I need something much simpler. What I have come up with is this. I ask myself “What can I do NOW?”. When I’m faced with a problem I freak out until it’s fixed. I get this uneasy nagging feeling in the back of my mind that won’t go away until the problem is solved. I alternate between thinking about the past; what I could have done or should have done to prevent it, and the future; what can I do tomorrow to fix it or how bad will it get? Given the amount of effort it takes to just get through grief, I don’t have the mental energy to spend on this nonsense right now. So, it’s more important than ever I just focus on “What I do NOW?” This is the question I ask myself over and over as much as necessary. Not what can I do in the past- the answer to that is always nothing. Not what can I do in the future- because I can’t act in the future either. I can only act NOW.

An example, last night around 10:30 PM the phone rings. The phone ringing at 10:30 is never good news. It happens to be Kayla. She is out getting food and the car has just stopped at an intersection. It’s completely dead. I immediately go back in time to all of the issues I had with the car this past fall. It was in and out of the shop three times. Finally I took it to the dealer and I had a new alternator put in it. The battery was pretty much brand new. It should have been good to go I think. What else could have done? I’m focused in the past. I snap myself back to the present. Kayla is OK. Probably a little scared, but she’s OK. I need to be grateful for that. So, I ask, What can I do NOW? We instruct her to call the insurance company and ask for a tow. We start looking for auto repair shops in Toledo (thank God for the Internet). The police come and help Kayla push the car into a parking lot. She’s with her boyfriend, so they leave the two of them there. We find the Lexus dealer in Toledo and give Kayla instructions to have the car towed there. Tywana and I sit.

What can I do NOW? The idea of driving to Toledo comes to mind. That’s silly. It’s a three hour drive. Nope I cant’ be there for her. She’s 19 and she lives three hours away. So, I set that aside. We’ve done all we can do for now, so we go back to watching television and wait for Kayla to call us to tell us the tow truck has arrived. Now my mind turns to Kayla’s stress level. She’s dealing with enough. She has finals next week. She’s supposed to drive home on Wednesday. I know she’s going to be stressed about this. The last thing she needs is more stress in her life right now. I start to stress about her stressing. Then, I think of Tywana. She’s supposed to run in the Flying Pig in the morning. She really needs her sleep. She does not function well without it. She’s already supposed to be up three hours earlier than normal for her. How is she going to function? She’ll never be able to sleep until she knows Kayla is safe. So, I stress out over Kayla stressing out and I’m worried that Tywana’s not going to get enough sleep and knowing she’s already counting the hours till morning. Wait a minute. I catch myself. Me stressing over Kayla stressing doesn’t help Kayla. Me worrying about Tywana’s sleep doesn’t help Tywana. Stop it! What can I do NOW? Worrying isn’t doing. Stressing isn’t doing. I set both aside and go back to watching television.

The tow truck is supposed to take nearly an hour to arrive. We’re not happy about that. My thoughts now turn to the future. What is wrong with this car? Should we just trade it in and get another car for Kayla? Will the service department be open on Saturday? How much will it cost to fix it? If it’s the alternator (which I just had replaced), will the dealership here cover the cost? If we have to buy a new car, that’s lot of money. We just laid out tens of thousands for new product inventory. We just bought a car for Tywana two weeks ago. This wasn’t in the plan. I’m way ahead of myself. First, get out of the past. The money spent is gone. There’s no need to rehash that. Second, if we do have to buy another car (which I don’t know), we just do. And I won’t know until Monday at the earliest, three days away. I’m not going to torture myself between now and then.

11 o’clock rolls around. Time for bed. We both know we’re not going to sleep until we know Kayla is back at her dorm. We turn in and read. 11:30 rolls around. No word from Kayla yet. We call the towing company. The guy says he’s just arriving but he doesn’t see Kayla. We call Kayla. The address the insurance company gave him was 5400 W. Central Avenue. On a three way call with Kayla we figure out she’s at 3400 W. Central Avenue. We get some landmarks around her and pass them to the towing company. Finally, they arrive, Kayla texts us and we know she’s on the way back to her dorm. She texts us again when she gets to the dorm. Ahh…she’s safe. We can sleep. We turn off the lights and are drifting off to sleep when the phone rings again. It’s Kayla. She’s left her wallet in the car. OK…. What can I do NOW (from where I am)? Nothing. Kayla, you’ll just have to get by until we can talk to the dealer tomorrow. Good night. Lights out and I sleep like a baby. Tomorrow, I’ll figure out what I can do then.

Tonight we drive over to Lakota West for the first time (for me anyway) since Shayna passed. Tywana and I are presenting the first annual scholarship award in Shayna’s name at the Senior Academic Award night.. It’s surreal as it was almost exactly a year ago that we made this drive with Shayna for the Freshman Awards and learned that Shayna was 16th in her class. I still remember her asking to go out for ice cream with her friend when it was over. Wow, how things change in a year.  

Olivia, who is Shayna’s friend who had the idea for the scholarship and Lisa, her mother, are there to present with us.  Shayna’s friends are some really special kids.

Tywana wrote a short speech she is going to deliver as part of the presentation. We’ve been to five of these awards nights now. This is our sixth. We went to four with Kayla and one with Shayna (two if you count her 8th grade awards). We know how they can drag on.  There are 26 scholarships to be presented and we’re about 20th on the list of presenters.  Unfortunately, not everyone decided to keep it short and sweet. So, we sit for about 45 minutes before it’s our turn to take the podium.  Tywana does a great job of getting the words out, getting to the last line before the tears overtake her. 

I’m really glad Olivia had this idea and that Lisa followed through on it.  It’s good to give something back to the school.  Our girls were only in the Lakota schools for a few years since we homeschooled them most of the time, but the Lakota students and staff were always great to both of them.

“Time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course, but whereas the fish is at home in the water, we are clearly not home in time – because we belong to eternity. Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here.” ~ Neal A. Maxwell

I can’t believe a friend posted this quote today because I’ve been thinking about writing about time for a while now.  I think I’m a pretty smart guy, but the older I get the less I understand some things and one of the most basic things in this existence is time.  Ironically, it’s the one thing that has me the most baffled and it’s only getting worse.

Physicists like Einstein have been telling us for a long time that time is relative, not absolute.  The faster you move the slower time is.  If you could travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) time would stand still. I’ve seen videos trying to explain this phenomenon showing if we could move in certain directions relative to Earth we could slow down or speed up time.   Then, I heard “before” the Big Bang, there was no time. Time “started” when the Big Bang happened. I use quotation marks because it’s wrong to say “before” the Big Bang as there is no “before” if there is no time, but time is so baked into our language, there’s no way around using it. As if that’s not bad enough, now they’re telling us time doesn’t even really exist. Time is an illusion, a construct of the human brain, a way of us organizing events, but it’s not real.  Well, it sure seems real to me.  And I cannot wrap my brain around “non-time”.  I keep running across the concept of time as I study the after life and the more I read about it, the more confused I become.  I just don’t get it.

The other thing that strikes me about time is it always seems to be our enemy. It’s never moving at the pace we want it to.  When we were kids the months of January and February (after the holidays and before summer break) seemed like they went on forever, but the three months of June, July and August, summer break, flew by.  Christmas only being every 365 days seemed like an eternity away the day after it had passed.

When I was young, I couldn’t wait to be older, to be an adult, to be on my own.  Then, when I had kids, I wanted to slow time down to keep the girls young forever.  If I could I’d freeze time at around the ages of 4 for Shayna and 7 for Kayla and just live like Ground Hog Day (the movie) in an endless loop of those years.  After Shayna’s passing, time cannot go fast enough for me.  Time is all that stands between me and her now and every single day, every single second that passes I move closer to where I want to be.

A podcast I listened to this morning and posted here and on my Facebook prompted me to think about this question again.  It’s bugged me since I was a little kid.  If the Bible is true and we are sons of God, spiritual beings having a human experience, if we are more than a cosmic accident, biological robots that arose from the sea and will return to the dust, why is it so hard to understand what we truly are?  Why have we forgotten? Why does it seem so many of us are so lost, looking for meaning or even worse given up on the fact there is any meaning?

What I have come to realize is that man has known what he was for a very long time. Religions taught us who we are.  Yes, religions, plural. Across many cultures around the world, similar “myths” have arisen to explain the inexplicable. These “myths” give our lives meaning, purpose and transcendence. They call us to be better people here and now and they give us hope for the future. But, somewhere along the way we got too big for our britches.  We abandoned these silly stories made up just to make the night a little less dark and a little less full of terrors. We became big boys and girls and faced the truth. Science could tell us all we needed to know.  And, so off we went boldly going where mankind had never gone before.  We abandoned a huge part of our culture, the foundation of our culture and tried to start anew.

As I have been trying to synthesize all of the information I have been gathering over the last 50 years or so, including my religious background, I’m seeing a pattern. Science seems to be coming full circle around back to the things religion told us a long time ago.  Science is starting to understand consciousness doesn’t arise from the material, but consciousness is the source of the material.  Science is finally exploring what happens to us after we die beyond the fact that our bodies simply decay.  And today I heard a scientist/philosopher even propose that maybe there is some merit in those old myths.  It’ll be fascinating to watch if there is a cultural shift based on this and possibly even a return to those old myths to see what deep truths they might actually hold.

Tonight Ty and I have a night out. We’re going to a comedy club.  It’s Wednesday, but we’re empty nesters, we do what we want.  There are no school nights anymore.  

We’re not going to see a comedian though. We’re going to see a medium- Cindy Kaza.  I’ve never heard of her. I wonder if she’ll be any good. I have no doubt, none, that mediumship is real.  I do know there are a lot of people who aren’t very good and probably a lot of people who are fakes. I’m skeptical and critical at the same time. And you don’t go to see a medium in a stage presentation to get a reading. When there are 500 people in the audience and the medium can get to 10-12 your odds of getting a reading are pretty low. Plus you’re only going to get 5 minutes- maybe and maybe you don’t want some personal stuff revealed in front of a room full of strangers. You go to prove to yourself that this stuff is real, that your loved one is still alive and is still herself and still cares about your and your life. Frankly, the messages are all pretty much the same. “I’m OK. I’m more than OK.  I’m great. I love you. I forgive you. I’m still watching over you.”  Any anger, any pain, any sickness- it’s gone. They don’t hold grudges. They don’t need to forgive you.  You don’t need to go to a medium for that.  

I wonder what this woman will be like.  She walks on stage. She looks pretty normal. She warms up the crowd with some humor. She gives us the ground rules. Generally she will get a message from a spirit and she’ll get a general vicinity in the room within the range of a table or two of people. She will start with generalities and work to more specifics.  I’m looking for signs of cold reading because this is a classic technique.  You can look at a middle aged person and guess their parents are on the other side.  You can be pretty sure a grandparent is.  You can tell by the way a person is dressed and their demeanor quite a bit about them.  I don’t see any of this with her BTW.

The entire performance is about 90 minutes. I didn’t count, but I think she probably gave about 10-12 readings in the hour or so of reading she did after the opening and before the closing Q&A session.  If she’s not real then she paid a lot of people to do some really good faking. She would have to find people in each city she goes to and plant them in her audiences. She only does one show  in each city.  That would be quite an undertaking. Or she could have a crew that travels with her- also a pretty big undertaking.  Plus I observed these people in the audience.  None of them were alone. They were generally in pretty big groups. As she was reading one person I was observing the expressions of the people around that person as they nodded in the affirmative to evidence she would give and cry along with the person giving the reading.  The other possibility would be to research the people coming to the show. That’s virtually impossible and probably more difficult than paying stand-ins.

Some of the reading she gave:

A woman who was shot. She saw two bullets. She saw a man who was dead also. The woman was pregnant, early along. Cindy thought it was probably a murder suicide. The name Brenda or Bren.  This was  very specific set of evidence and no one in the room claimed it for a very long time. I’m thinking “She must be wrong because surely anyone involved in this would recognize it right away.”  Finally a woman reluctantly raised her hand. She had been a police officer for several years. She worked a case where a woman was shot by her boyfriend.  The woman was pregnant.  Cindy said she saw something with blood or blood evidence or fingerprints, something about contaminating the crime scene. The officer acknowledged, she had been holding the murder victim when she died and she was covered in blood. Cindy guessed that the officer had comforted the woman and said the woman was there to thank her for being there as she took her last breath (I have heard this is common in stage performances where emergency responders are present). BTW, the man who did the shooting was named Brendan.  But, as far as the officer knew he wasn’t dead- he could be though.  She no longer has contact with him.

Another reading she did. A woman named June was coming through. June grew up on a farm. Cindy saw her gathering eggs. This was also very specific. Cindy got that she was a grandmother.  Again, the room was awkwardly quiet for a pretty long time. Finally a woman raised her hand. Yes, her mother June had grown up on a farm and had gathered eggs. But, it was her mother, not her grandmother. The woman though had a grandmother in spirit who had been very close to her.  Cindy said “I’m seeing roses, lots and lots of roses.”  The woman said yes her grandmother had had tons of rose bushes. Cindy said when the grandmother died, they transferred a rose bush. Yes, the woman acknowledged.  The grandmother and mother were together in spirit and had come to say hi.

Cindy said she was getting a guy who had both a heart condition and diabetes. Diabetes had not killed him, but he didn’t take care of himself as well as he could have or should have.  She got the name Brandon and the name Greg.  A woman raised her hand.  The man was her father. She had a son named Brandon.  The grandfather was there to tell her he was watching over her son. He said to be concerned about him falling in the the wrong people.  The woman looked confused and said her son was a good kid and very selective about his friends. There was no problem there.  Cindy asked who Greg was. Greg was her daughter’s boyfriend.  The grandfather said he was keeping his eye on Greg. But, he was only joking. He had been very protective in life and was still watching over him. Cindy said “I don’t want to press your son falling in with the wrong people. I don’t want to plant something that’s not there, but I keep getting this. It’s not about drugs or violence. It’s about money. Tell him to be careful with his money.”  Then, the mother said “He’s been talking to a financial planner.”

There were several more.  All of them were simply amazing.   One a guy who had overdosed on heroin. She knew it was an accident, not suicide, that he had bought from a new dealer, that the drug had been laced with something else, that he had had a fight with his mother and his mother thought it might be suicide. One was a guy who had actually committed suicide. One was a guy who had been attacked from behind. He was running with the wrong crowd and had been carrying expecting to be hit, but he was caught off guard and robbed and murdered. In every single case, the details were verified by the people in the audience. These were not general things you could guess.  Even in a room of 500 people how many people are going to know someone who was robbed and murdered, someone who was pregnant when she was shot, someone who not only cheated on his wife, but she burned all of his stuff in revenge?  And, after she threw these things out, she gave details about the people details that sometimes the people in the room were not sure about.

The evening ended with a Q&A.  Someone asked about Prince. “Is Prince OK?” Well, duh. Someone asked if Cindy could bring through anyone she wanted.  Now here was a perfect opportunity to really try to impress people and bring through Prince, but she did not. She did guess as to the cause of his death, but offered no evidence and didn’t claim to have talked to Prince himself.  

One question, at the end was “What do they do all day over there?”  Cindy said she doesn’t know, but from the reports they are dancing (one couple came through, the parents of a group of siblings sitting at a table and she got “Waltzing Matilda”  turns out the father used to play that tune), they are drinking (one guy said he still drinks whiskey) and just generally having a good time,  But, she said she thinks we can’t really comprehend what they are doing with our brains and our perspective which put me in mind of this verse.  

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

She closed with an acknowledgement of God and said that if we came expecting a message to be grateful for those who did get messages. There wasn’t enough time for everyone to get a message, but everyone could leave knowing that the messages they heard were real and our loved ones are still and always just a thought away.

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Today as I’m driving around running errands and listening to the 80s on Sirius an old REO Speedwagon song comes on- In My Dreams.  It reminds me of the dream I had last night.  

In my dream, I was holding Shayna. We were horizontal laying on the bed and I was kissing her cheeks. She was about 3-4 years old.  I looked up and Kayla was standing there. Kayla looked at me and somehow I realized she couldn’t see Shayna and to her it looked like I had my arms wrapped around empty air. At that moment I woke up.

There was a time some time ago when every sunrise meant a sunny day, oh a sunny day

But now when the morning light shines in
It only disturbs the dreamland where I lay, oh where I lay
I used to thank the lord when I’d wake
For life and love and the golden sky above me
But now I pray the stars will go on shinin’, you see in my dreams you love me
Daybreak is a joyful time
Just listen to the songbird harmonies, oh the harmonies
But I wish the dawn would never come
I wish there was silence in the trees, oh the trees
If only I could stay asleep, at least I could pretend you’re thinkin’ of me
‘Cause nighttime is the one time I am happy, you see in my dreams

[Chorus:]
We climb and climb and at the top we fly
Let the world go on below us, we are lost in time
And I don’t know really what it means
All I know is that you love me, in my dreams

[Solo]

I keep hopin’ one day I’ll awaken, and somehow she’ll be lying by my side
And as I wonder if the dawn is really breakin’
She touches me and suddenly I’m alive

We’ve all heard of PTSD.  After Shayna’s passing I only wondered in what form and how badly it would impact our family.  I thought PTSD had to be inevitable. I can’t imagine too much that’s more traumatic than discovering your 15 year old in bed, not breathing. 10 months later I can still barely type the words let alone say them. I’d heard so much about PTSD that I thought there was no alternative.

Well, I found out there is another thing besides PTSD.  We hear all the time about the negative things trauma can do to us, how it can debilitate us.  It doesn’t have to be that way though. There is PTG- Post Traumatic Growth. Yes, that’s a thing.  You can Google it.  It’s been studied.  It’s been documented.  Trauma can actually have a positive impact on us.  Not only do people bounce back to where they were before which is described as resilience, some people actually grow even exponentially beyond where they were before the trauma.  People find new purpose in life, people strengthen certain relationships (and prune others), people lose their fear because they’ve faced the worst and they’re still standing.  People become less afraid to take risks.  They value relationships more.   And PTG can make you more resilient for when that next trauma comes around because the saying “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” is true.  While there are a ton of negative effects of PTSD, there are just as many positive effects of PTG.

This is not to say that PTG eliminates suffering or that we should seek traumatic events so that we’ll grow. This is a difficult and painful process and trauma can actually break people. I do not recommend it. I don’t know the percentages of people who end up with PTSD versus PTG or just somewhere in the middle.  It seems there are factors that predispose people to one or the other. If you’re in a good place where the trauma hits you, solid emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually you have a better chance of growing through the experience. If you’re unprepared, then you have a better chance of ending up with PTSD.  So, it’s always a good to try to stay as healthy as possible for when that (inevitable) trauma comes along.  

Here’s the question I always ask about anything I learn. “So what?” Nothing means anything unless there’s an answer to that question.  Knowing PTG exists isn’t a reason to go out and seek trauma. It doesn’t mean we say to someone who just suffered a tragic loss “Boy, aren’t you lucky for this growth opportunity?”- not unless you want a punch in the face.  But, simply knowing that PTG is a thing can give people a better chance to experience it.  Knowing that PTG is a thing can help us find some purpose in the suffering. Knowing that PTG is a thing gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow even if today totally sucks.

No matter what the traumas we suffer, they’re, all temporary. Yes, even death.  Shayna’s death separated us, temporarily, but my death will bring us back together.  Knowing that, internalizing that, living that gives me a greater chance of growing from this in the time between now and when everything is made right.  In the meantime I have to work with this trauma.  I can let it break me or I can let it make me stronger.   

‘Til Death Do Us Part

For whatever reason or reasons, most relationships in my life have been temporary. From time to time I think about it and it bothers me a little. I went to seven different schools before I graduated high school. I don’t have any friends from childhood, none from college, in fact only one from before I was married. I have a few friends from years ago who live close enough to get together with, but we don’t do it. When we bump into each other we pay lip service to getting together, but we don’t make it happen.

When we get married we say “’Til death do us part”, but I couldn’t even make that work. My first marriage ended in divorce. This one I’m confident will end in the death thing though. I have wished friendships would be like this, Til death do us part, but they haven’t been for me.

My birth family is not close in the sense of talking often or in depth. My brothers and sister and rarely talk and it’s usually about pretty fluffy stuff. Those relationships I will have until I die, but they’re not especially close.

As a result of this, I think maybe as a form of compensation I can let go of people pretty easily. Hardly anyone has been in my life for the long haul. In my experience, people come and people go.

When Shayna and Kayla entered my life though, I thought I had those forever relationships I craved. Those were supposed to be my forever relationships. Their deaths would never separate us. I was supposed to be able to count on them until my demise. The girls had already planned which would take care of Tywana and which would take care of me in our old age. I didn’t think I’d be here to hold Shayna to taking care of me. I didn’t think it’d be the other way around.

There is no real point to this. It’s just what’s on my mind this morning, as this morning I wake up thinking about Shayna like I do every morning. I’ve thought about these other relationships and I’ve even tried working on them in the past. It seems for most people life just gets in the way of relationships no matter the intentions. Tywana is much better at them than I am and she only has a couple of friends from college and none left from the town she grew up in where she was with the same kids from kindergarten to graduation.

I will do my best to make sure Tywana and I are together for the duration. Kayla and I have a great bond. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter and friend. And, Shayna despite her not being physically here will be in my heart until death brings us back together.

I think one thing parents who lose a child must have in common is, in addition to missing just their presence on a daily basis, we have to deal with the lost potential. When a  parent looks at a child, we see not only what she is now but what she will become. When she leaves her body still a child that all seems to go away with her. We feel cheated. Mothers look forward to their daughters’ weddings. Sisters look forward to having her be the aunt of your own child.  Fathers look forward to watching her graduate and grow into a young woman and be successful. And with Shayna the sky was the limit. Shayna was smart, beautiful, talented in science, art and in expressing herself through her writing.  She was well liked and looked up by her peers. Shayna had a quick wit with a tongue that could cut you (but oh so kindly), but she was also empathetic and loved to help people She had a big heart- always ready to volunteer and help out. Shayna was my Buckeye, born in Ohio- like me. And Shayna wanted to continue the family tradition by going to Ohio State. She was 16th in her class of over 600. She was a teacher’s favorite. Shayna was a leader on both her volleyball and basketball teams, loved by her coaches. So much potential.  Vast. 

So, the last few ten months have been a series of recognizing “This isn’t going to happen.  That’s not going to happen.”  Just over and over it hits you just how much life changes in an instant.  June 24th of last year started out as a normal day. By noon, my life would never be the same again.  However, as I make this paradigm shift I have been working on, I am internalizing the fact that Shayna has not left us. We can’t detect her as easily as we could.  But, both literally and figuratively Shayna is still with us. This week we will award the first scholarship in her name. Shayna’s money went to help with Victoria’s House, so a bit of Shayna will live on there. Several of Shayna’s friends have told us how Shayna is still inspiring them (and some of them she is visiting in dreams).  Shayna continues to push Ty and me forward as we want to make sure she is remembered and her legacy is honored. Shayna was a better writer than I am and I feel a lot of my ideas for writing come from Shayna as she continues to guide me on the path I need to follow.

I think I posted about this at the time, but it’s worth repeating now, these many months later. Not long after Shayna’s transition I was talking to a friend who was giving me some spiritual guidance at the time. We were talking about Shayna’s potential and I was questioning why God would take one of his best players off the field.  If we’re here to help the planet.  If advanced souls like Shayna are here to lead and to serve and to help why take someone with so much potential off the field.  What my friend said to me was profound. A little context, he’s Belgian.  He said “I don’t know much about baseball, but you know how when a player is playing in the minor leagues and he’s doing really well.  Sometimes he gets called up to the majors.”  At the time I really didn’t want to hear that.  Now, I’m a little better able to accept it.  Shayna is still doing her thing, she’s just not doing it in the body right now. We are a team working together and I need to be here for now.  Her potential wasn’t squandered.  In fact, maybe it was actually expanded.