Today is Christmas Day 2017. The holidays are hard for a lot of people, the older I get, the more people I know who dread these weeks as we close out the year.  Christmas is the hardest for me because Christmas was Shayna’s favorite.

My secret to getting through the holidays is to manage expectations.  Thinking that Christmas will ever be the same again is setting myself up for failure. The goal isn’t to make Christmas as magical as it once was.  It’s to make it as good as it can be and to get through it. This year I have given myself permission to do what’s healthy for me. I still enjoy buying for Kayla and Tywana, but Tywana’s handled all of Kayla’s shopping for this year. Tywana and I have agreed to not exchange presents (as we have done many years), but this year I’m sticking to it.  On Christmas Eve I bought one present, a spontaneous purchase for someone not expecting a present for me.  I went in with siblings on a gift for my mother. I’ll have to pick up something for Dad before I see him this coming weekend and something for my brother, whose name I drew in the exchange. That’s it for me for this year.

I get up around 7, my normal time. I get the prime rib into the sous vide so it can be done for our meal around four or five o’clock.  We have done Cornish game hens since Shayna was around five, but this year we’re changing it up.  I take my walk- seven miles. I think about cutting it short. But, why?  It’s just a day like any other day.  In seven miles I only see four cars. It’s bitter cold, but the sun breaks through a couple of times.  When I get back home, Kayla gets up and we prepare for gift opening.  The gifts are mainly clothes for Kayla from us. Tywana has bought a couple of things for me.  She unwraps the Kindle I ordered for her (that she knew about) and that’s that. I get my meditation in.  I notice there are almost twice as many people meditating on my app today as on an average day.  We watch a little TV and get ready for our new tradition of going to a movie on Christmas day.  We se The Shape Of Water, head home, and Tywana goes to pick up her mother.  Christmas dinner is the four of us now, until things change again.

After dinner, we watch a little more TV, taking advantage of Hulu that I just ordered to watch The Mindy Project and a couple of episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale.

All in all, it’s been a manageable day, even a good day.  One more Christmas down. That’s three.  I’m glad it’s over. I’m looking forward to New Year’s Eve on Sunday when we’ll close the books on 2017.

Today is the Winter Solstice.  The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight.  I always feel like I’m falling into a trough on the days leaving up to the winter solstice.  The solstice for me, marks the bottom. And the great thing about hitting bottom is there is only one way to go- up.  I am emotionally drained, I keep feeling for the bottom, but it’s not there yet.  I hope it comes soon.

About a week ago I reached out to my angels and guides. I put out a 911 call. I was listening to a podcast that reiterated the law of attraction, positive thinking stuff that they tell me works.  This person said that we don’t have to get positive.  Just get to neutral. Stop expecting bad things to happen because if we expect bad things, the universe is going to deliver bad things.  If we can just get to neutral, have a little faith (the faith of mustard seed came to mind), the universe will deliver. Ask, even with doubt, and wait for your guides, angels, universe, God, whatever to deliver.  OK.  That I can do. So I asked.  Give me a sign in the next three days.  it doesn’t have to be big. Just something unexpected. Something positive.  It could be as little as finding a dollar bill on the ground. An unexpected check in the mail. An uptick in the business. I’ll take anything. I’m not picky. Today, on day 911 of my journey, I’m still waiting for that response.

Three days came and went. Four, five and six did also. And, so far- nothing.  Patience I keep telling myself.  Keep doing the right things.  Keep putting things out there.  Keep pressing on and things will turn.  They have to turn.  Two days ago I was discussing the seasons of business with my friend. We talked about the biblical story of Joseph where he told the Egyptians they would have 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine.  They were to save up during those 7 years of plenty to have stores for when times were lean. This seems to be the way of life.  A podcast for online entrepreneurs referred to the period of winter any business inevitably goes through. As we all know from Game of Thrones, winter isn’t just three months. Winter can last for years. It’s a good thing I took the lesson of Joseph to heart and stored up during those good years.

As I rolled out of bed this morning, I just felt done. I’m tired.  I’m losing patience. But, I put on my gear and hit the road for my seven miles.  A mile or so into the walk, I started to feel a bit better.  I planned my day.  “What can I do today to make a difference?” is the question I ask every morning, then I set out to do that thing.  I go over my mental to do list.

I made it to the solstice.  Winter will not and cannot last forever.   I’m sitting here at my desk.  Now, to get to that to do list and make it happen.

Why Do We Grieve Death?

Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.

Mark Twain

Within the last three weeks I have had two friends suffer tragic losses.  My good friend of nearly two decades (whom I’ve only met face-to-face once) had his wife transition suddenly just as they were planning their retirement and their golden years.  Another friend that I’ve known less time has a son who suddenly transitioned at just 27 years of age. As a Shining Light Parent and someone who has taken on the role of helping people through these things, these things can be overwhelming. In the past several days I’ve been focused on helping these two friends with this early, devastating part of the grief journey.

My belief is that Shining Light Parents, parents whose children have gone on before us, are people who have planned these roles and we plan them for the greater good of all.  It’s a tough assignment. We can easily become overwhelmed.  Just a few days ago, one of the people in one of my groups said she couldn’t take all of the sadness anymore, said she’d be praying for us, and basically seemed to be checking out of life.  We all jumped into action taking this as the announcement of a suicide. We found loved ones, contacted the police, etc.  Gratefully, she came back and said that we had misunderstood. She wasn’t leaving her body, she was just leaving the group. All of the posts about all of the grief were overwhelming her.  Dealing with her grief and seeing all of the sadness around her was too much. She had to  pull away.

As light workers, we have to guard against burning out. We cannot take on all of the burdens of the world. Even Jesus, my role model, took time away. He would sneak off to pray, meditate, fast, whatever.  I have left groups that do nothing but suck my energy. There is nothing I can do to help there.  To even try would be to tear myself down.  For me to continue to help others, I have to first of al take care of myself.  As much as I want to help everyone there are times that I have to scroll past a post without making a comment, without trying to help.  And, that’s OK, because I’m not alone in this work.  When I scroll past that post, someone else will jump in.

There is a story I love about a boy who comes upon a beach where thousands of starfish are stranded. One by one, he begins picking them up and placing them back in the ocean.  Someone, older and wiser presumably, approaches the boy and tells him that he’s wasting his time.  He can’t make a difference. He can’t possibly save all of the starfish. The boy looks up into the man’s eyes and says “I can’t make a difference for all of them, but I can make a difference for this one.”  This is a reminder to me to not be overwhelmed by the big picture and to focus on what I can do to never walk away from a big problem because I can’t solve the whole thing.  Further than that, what I like to picture is not the boy alone on the beach, but hundreds or thousands coming up alongside the boy, each helping one starfish at a time.  In this way, no one is overwhelmed and no one is left alone.  Many light workers’ hands make light work.

Recently, I had a reading with a medium who delivered a common message that Shayna is watching over Kayla and that Kayla has great things in her future. She also mentioned that while purple is Shayna’s favorite color, Kayla is more of a pink kinda girl.

A couple of days after that, Kayla was at the library studying for finals. The library was crowded and she could barely find a seat. When she did find a seat, this note was there in an envelope addressed to “whoever finds it”.  The message echoes what a random stranger told Kayla in the bathroom on her birthday.  It sounds just like something Shayna would say. And, it’s written in… pink.

When our loved ones cross over, they almost always send back messages.  Animals behaving strangely, electronics glitching, lights flickering off and on, songs on the radio, all kinds of synchronicities have been attributed to signs from those who have gone on before us. But, I think the favorite sign of everyone is a dream visit.  We long for those times when we can see and even hold them again.

Last week a friend of mine had an amazing dream visit from her son that she shared with our group.  I have to admit I felt a twinge of jealousy. I’ve had a few dreams with Shayna in them, some quite vivid. Usually when I realize that it’s Shayna I wake up almost immediately. A few times I’ve been able to hug or or have her sit on my lap. In spite of this, I’ve gotten no really super great visits where she shares a secret with me or tells me everything is OK and she’s fine where she is.  Why do some people get dream visits and I don’t?

I was listening to a medium last week give her theory and it makes a lot of sense to me.  First, our loved ones have different skills there just like they did here. Some can do dream visits. Others maybe not so much. They might have to send us signs in other ways (and Shayna clearly does).  We should not demand specific signs. We have to be open to what they can do.  The other thing I found more intriguing though is that maybe we have dream visits that we just don’t remember.  According to many, we astral travel every night or just about every night. We meet with angels and guides. We even meet with departed loved ones.  Rarely do we remember these travels.  Maybe there’s a reason for this.  If we are visiting with our loved ones and we are feeling the bliss of heaven, some of us would not want to return if we could remember. The forgetting is a protection that allows us to stay connected to this world.  This would explain my longing to go to sleep every night. I so look forward to that deep, dark, dreamless sleep that I fall into most nights. It would also explain that sense when I wake up of “Damn, I’m back here again.”  I think this might also be why not everyone who has an experience where they are clinically dead and come back remembers having an NDE.  My guess is most or all do, but either by choice or by design many do not have the memory of the other side because it would be too hard to adjust to being back here

This morning, as I rise to face another day of darkness and cold (early December in Ohio), as I am discouraged by the futility of my efforts and feeling sorry for myself, I spot a Facebook status update from my friend Geo saying “Lost My Life Today”.  I’m thinking “The Steelers won.  It can’t be that. (Geo is a huge Steelers fan)  Maybe he lost his job.  Maybe his dog died.”.  I scroll through the comments to see what the deal is, then I see it. “…my wife passed away unexpectedly today.”  The words hit me like a ton of bricks.  Memories of June 24, 2015 come flooding back and the tears flow as I feel Geo’s pain.

I study death, every day.  Literally every day I think about death, meditate on death, read about death, console with those who have lost loved ones.  I sometimes wonder if I’ve become jaded or will become jaded. Will I forget the real human impact death has? i know death is an illusion. i know death, for the person experiencing it, is a transition much like birth.  Better than birth. It’s waking up from a dream. It’s graduation. It’s moving on.  I look forward to death.  I met Geo’s wife once, many years ago- 16 or 17 I suppose.  I did not know her well. I’m happy for Bonnie. But, then my thoughts turn to Geo and it’s like a punch to the gut.  Admittedly, I am somewhat relieved I do still feel the very real pain that death causes to those of us left behind.  I’m not jaded yet.  I can still empathize with the “living” left to pick up the pieces after our loved ones Rise Up.

“…passed away unexpectedly”. We add that word unexpectedly for emphasis.  Death is bad enough, but unexpected death. That’s really bad. Why should death be unexpected though?  Death is the one thing that is guaranteed to every one who is born. The circumstances are not known. The timing is not known,  But, death should always be expected.  As much as we try to remain cognizant of the fragility of life, of the precariousness, we are often caught off guard. We get caught up in the flow and we forget; until we are reminded.  I can feel Geo’s pain.  I know of his love for Bonnie and their commitment to each other. I know how much having her present in his life means.  I am heartbroken for him.

I met Geo I guess it was around 2001.  I was just coming out of fundamentalist Christianity and discovering the inescapable love of God (as Thomas Talbott put it).  I think I met Geo on AOL. I’m not even sure. Geo, Steve, Cliff and I started corresponding and they invited me to a small conference in Podunk, Indiana (I don’t even remember the city) where we talked about “universalism”, a new term for me.  In spite of the fact that Geo is a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan, we remained friends and somehow found each other when Facebook came into existence.

I don’t know what happened to cause Bonnie’s transition.  Like everyone else, I guess I am curious.  She was born in 1959, just two years before me. I know she was just two years older than I am.  I can feel the gaping hole this will leave in Geo’s life. So, I cry for Geo.  We connect on Messenger. The family is arriving. Geo will be surrounded by friends and family. I let him know I will be here for him when the people go away in a few weeks, as they will do; when people go back to their “normal” and Geo is left to process the days without Bonnie’s physical presence.  But, Geo and I are both grateful for the knowledge we’ve learned together over the years.  He tells me that he could not have survived this had he remained “Christian”.  On this we agree.  The knowledge makes the unbearable at least bearable.

I give Geo my phone number. I tell him to save it for the upcoming weeks after everyone is gone.   I head out fo my seven miles. I walk in silence for half an hour thinking of Geo, praying for Geo.  Thinking of Bonnie, now Risen. The song Rise Up comes to mind.  I don’t own the song.  I don’t even know who sings it. I just keep hearing that one line.  But I want to hear it so I go to iTunes and buy it.  The lyrics, in part, are:

You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains

And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousands times again
For you
For you
For you
For you