I’m going to pat myself on the back here. Not even two months ago a friend suggested I take a life coaching course. I had never spoken to her about life coaching. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. I took this as a sign of something I should do. Within a couple of weeks, three or four more people would bring it up- after I purchased the course. The course was about twenty-five hours of material. I set a goal of finishing it within the month, and I did. I started working on my website. And, last night I had my first paid client meeting.

I had given my new client an introductory half hour session to be sure that they knew what they were getting into. I gave them some homework that we went over in that first session. When they said they were ready to book a paid session, I nearly panicked. The free meeting wasn’t threatening. Taking money makes this for real though. I have to deliver. As the time for our appointment approached, I wondered what we’d talk about for the full hour we had booked. I think I’m a pretty decent conversationalist, but I’m not a natural born bullshitter. Besides, when I decided to do this, I  committed that I would never waste anyone’s time or money. If they’re not getting value out of our sessions, I’m not going to do it. I was over-the-moon happy when a couple of day after our first session, my client emailed me and told me they had begun exercising regularly again, prompted by our conversation.

Still, there was this niggling feeling in the back of my mind about doing this work. No one in my family has mentioned it, even though I’ve been posting it on my blog. In my family, no mention is equivalent to disapproval. If they support something, they might say it. If they don’t, they’ll just stay silent. Tywana has been very encouraging. Strangers have been encouraging. My mentoring group has been very encouraging. I’ve got to draw confidence from myself and ignore what others say or don’t say.

When the time came for our hour together, I was prepared to talk about the second homework assignment that I had given them. But, first I wanted to touch base with how things had gone since our last talk. My client is new in sales and is doing great in her new job. They were hoping for a promotion, and the promotion came through since our last session. However, there were going to be some issues with the transition into the new position. This is something I felt very comfortable helping with since I was a sales professional myself for over two decades, trained by IBM, Sun Microsystems, and others. I was able to offer advice that, if it pays off, will smooth the transition right out. We also came up with two backup plans. I felt like I had earned my hourly fee many times over and that feeling of having deserved my money several times over is what I hope to feel like after every client session. I didn’t feel like the imposter I felt like at the start of the hour. I felt very comfortable with what I was doing. Our conversation continued touching on a couple of other areas of their life, and we made plans to talk about some other things in later sessions. We barely touched on the program I had planned, and it was just as it should have been.

I was pumped up when I got off of the call. Maybe not Tiger Woods winning the Masters pumped up, but pretty pumped. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was doing what I’m meant to do in terms of earning money. I’ve heard it said that the ideal job is one that doesn’t feel like work. This doesn’t feel like work at all. Even preparing the materials and building the website are things I enjoy doing. All of those years in training, all of that experience, all of the grief, all of the hardships, are tools I can use to help others and I’m more than happy to do that. I’m ready to see where this goes.

It’s April 7th and spring has finally arrived in Ohio. Tywana’s out of the country on a cruise. So, I have a lot of solitude this weekend. This morning I’m up early out for my walk because I have a full agenda. The temperatures in the morning are above 50º, warm enough for me to go without a jacket. There are buds of leaves on the trees. The daffodils are in bloom. The birds are chirping and waking me up with the sun. And, it feels good.

I’ve always loved spring, maybe even more than summer.  I am definitely a summer kind of guy. But, there’s something magical about spring. The death in winter, in contrast to the new life of spring, makes spring all the more special. Seeing the Earth wake up after that sleep is a reminder that nothing truly dies. Living in Ohio and Kentucky all of my life, I’ve always experienced four seasons even though I have no love for winter. Fall only reminds me that winter is coming. So, I don’t particularly enjoy autumn. But, there’s an added bonus to spring now. The change of the seasons is a reminder that everything changes. There are times in the winter when it seems it will never end. There are gray days end on end. I find myself looking at the long-range forecast for an appearance of the sun. I search for that day when the temperature will finally climb above 32º and melt and snow. And, I often wonder if I can make it through.

This change of season let me know I’ve hit another milestone. I’ve made it through another winter. The gray and cold can’t last forever. The times we look forward to that sometimes seem like they will never come, always eventually come. Time’s inexorable march goes on. If we hang in there, things will change.

As I walked this morning, I had to listen to George Benson’s “Everything Must Change” which was released in 1977. I was sixteen years old when I began listening to this song. Of course, I could not appreciate it at sixteen. Tywana, Kayla, and Shayna weren’t even possibilities to 16-year-old Brian. I was just learning to drive, I hadn’t even begun shaving. I had no idea that 42 years later I’d be listening to the song again, and how these lines would have so much deeper meaning now. I am the old, mysteries have unfolded and 42 more winters have turned to spring. This wounded heart is healing. As humans, we tend to resist change. We want to lock in and stay wher we are. Some will find this song melancholy. Not me, not anymore. Bring on more change.

The young become the old,
Mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged.
There are not many things
In life you can be sure of.
Except
Rain comes from the clouds,
And sun lights up the sky,
And hummingbirds do fly.
Winter turns to spring.
The wounded heart will heal.
Never much too soon
Everything must change

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the imposter experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

I’ve dealt with the imposter syndrome my entire life. It was only in the last twenty years or so that I learned there was a name for it and others feel it as well. It’s common. Maybe everyone has experienced it at some point. I think it hits perfectionists and high achievers more than others. It manifests as “The Voice”. The first time I can recall this was back in my early days of Christianity. I was told that God had created me defective and hated me for it. He wanted to torment me eternally. The only way to escape this fate was to love him and obey his every command. I pretended to love him. But, how are you supposed to love someone who only loves you for what someone else did (Jesus)? I was terrified of being exposed as an imposter for the next thirty-five years. The Voice told me I would be exposed soon.

Then, there was my career in sales. I’m naturally shy, or so I thought. I took up a career in sales to make more money and to force myself out of the shell I found myself in. I was good at it. I made the 100% club every year I was at IBM. I left IBM and made even more money. But, every time things turned for the worse, which they will in any long sales career, The Voice said: “Maybe I was never any good. I’ve been faking it. Now I’m being exposed for who I truly am.”

As an entrepreneur, I started my own company from nothing. It’s sustained our family for seventeen years now. We’ve gone from selling other people’s products to developing our own line, to (finally) landing our first distribution deal. Yet, I often feel like I really don’t know anything about running a business.

When people started suggesting I consider life coaching all I could think of was what a joke life coaching is. Life coaches are for wealthy people who have too much money and too little self-esteem. Then, I saw a couple of life coaches and realized the value they could have. A few sessions helped me tremendously. But, could Brian do this? My whole life I’ve felt drawn to the ministry. Pop, my paternal grandfather, was a pastor. His parents were pastors. It runs in my family. I didn’t have the traditional Christian beliefs to serve as a pastor in a church. That was out. When Tywana and I did pre-marital counseling at the Vineyard and I stood up in front of people about to get married teaching them the skills that would improve the odds for a successful marriage, I felt right at home, much more than I ever did in sales. That’s a form of life coaching and I loved doing that.

Can I charge people for what I do for friends for free? Isn’t being a life coach a bit like being a prostitute? You charge people for what you’d give away in a relationship. I gladly spend my time helping people. I’d do it for free, for anyone, anytime, anywhere. The problem is, in this world, you need money to live and no one’s giving away money for free. We have to charge for our time.

I started to reflect on much of my typical day. People call me for advice all the time. As an example, just yesterday, I spent over an hour on the telephone with one friend who was so pumped up they just needed someone to listen. I got in a few “Uh huh”s. But, it was really about them getting it all out.  Another friend sent what had to be over a hundred Facebook messages as I’m being a sounding board for her. A third friend and I had a long conversation when they needed some advice on something of a spiritual that had just happened that they didn’t understand. For her it was a brand new thing. After the years I’ve spent studying this, my expertise was valuable to her.  Hours of my day are spent helping people out, being a sounding board, giving advice, sometimes frankly Googling things they could Google themselves.

Six weeks ago I took the plunge. Five people had told me I should do this, including three people who are already life coaches. I purchased a life coaching course. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I was going to educate myself. I set a goal to have the course completed in a month. I completed it a week before my self-imposed deadline. Then, it was time to work on the website. I decided to build it myself. It’s not nearly complete. But, one of my friends saw what I was doing and asked about my new business venture. She wanted to hire me. Then I felt it again. Imposter syndrome. The Voice started. “Who are you kidding? You’ll never get this website finished. You can’t build a website on your own. What do you know about advising other people? You took a course now you’re an expert on life? What will we talk about? Will she find any value in our conversation? You should just stop this now before you embarrass yourself. You know people will think you’ve gone off the deep end completely” I thought about calling her and telling her “Nevermind. I’m not doing this.”  Besides, I wasn’t ready. The Voice started whispering excuses “The website’s not nearly finished.” But, the purpose of the website is to let people know who I am so they’ll hire me. It doesn’t need to be ready. “But, my scheduling system, I haven’t even started on it. How will we schedule the appointment?” We schedule it the old fashioned way. Pick a date and time and put it on the calendar. “But, I haven’t organized all the materials from the course. I want to re-write all of the material and put it online so my clients can fill it out on their computers.” The answer to that was to just send her what I had. The next client can get the re-written, automated stuff. I told myself to stop making excuses. Everything is good enough now. We can continue to work on perfecting it.

I pressed forward. I told that inner critic to shut up. If I set my mind to this, I can do it. I’ve been doing it for free most of my life. There’s nothing wrong with charging. I spent two or three hours yesterday helping other people out. This is time that  I’m not working on my own business. I have to make money. There is nothing wrong with exchanging time for money, as long as the person paying the money finds value in it.

As the time for our appointment approached yesterday evening, the nerves came back again. The Voice, starting to give in said: “At least I’m not charging her for the first session. If she hates it, she can make up an excuse and we’ll just pretend it never happened.”

When we got on the call, it started coming naturally to me. I scheduled a 30-minute initial consultation to get a feel for what she was seeking in a life coach and for me to explain to her what I think I can provide.  40 minutes into the call, I started to wrap it up. I did a very soft close. “Should you choose to work with me, these will be our next steps… Just take some time and think about it and let me know.” She said she definitely wants to go forward and would contact me in the next week or so.

After the call was over, I felt fantastic. And, I was proud of myself. Six weeks after setting the intention, I had completed the course, started the website, and taken my first appointment. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m equipped to do. I’ll continue education to learn more techniques. But, it’s really about communication skills, empathy, and life experience I think. I have all of that. I can help people and I can make at least some money along the way. The Voice telling me I’m an imposter will have to just shut up for a while.

One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.

 

I’m sorry, Albert. Brilliance in one area doesn’t equate to brilliance in all areas of life. Setting only lofty, long term goals without a step-by-step plan to get there is a recipe for disaster. You’ll end up frustrated on a daily basis. Worse yet, you might simply give up because you feel like you do nothing but fail.

My philosophy is taken from the movie “What About Bob?”  If you’ve known me for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me say it “Baby steps.”  Life is all about baby steps. Set short term, achievable goals that are strategic and lead to mid-term goals. Those mid-term goals will eventually get you to the lofty heights Einstein was talking about.

A football team doesn’t try to take the entire field on every down. Touchdowns are normally achieved by a series of first downs. Woody Hayes, the venerated Ohio State University football coach, loved to say “three yards and a cloud of dust”. The offense has a strategic plan, taking what the defense gives, and eventually, they score touchdowns.

Today marks several milestones for our family. Kayla has her biggest job interview to date. She graduates in a few weeks. She’s been admitted to grad school. The interview is for a job in counseling this summer, her first professional job. These achievements are a result of years of getting up and getting done the tasks before her for that day. I’m incredibly proud of her for continuing on despite setbacks and hardships.

Yesterday, I got the final-final purchase order for the distribution deal I have been working on for Treasured Locks. I started working on this deal nearly a year ago. There were many roadblocks along the way. Back to the football analogy for a moment, there were many times we were sacked. There were a couple of fourth and longs. There were requirements I thought we couldn’t possibly meet. Last fall, I gave up. I told them we could not do the deal. But, we recovered that fumble and continued the drive. Next week, we will finally ship our first order. Even this first order is just another beginning.

Two days ago I started construction on my Grief 2 Growth website. Six months ago I began saying affirmations that I intended to lead to new business opportunities. I didn’t know what those opportunities might be. I created these affirmations to lay the groundwork. Through a series of events, the vision started to come into focus. About a month ago someone suggested I take a life coaching class. It was about 20 hours of material that I needed to try to somehow fit in with the daily operations of Treasured Locks, volunteering on three different projects, and my part-time consulting work. It was a lot to ask of myself. The instructor likes to say “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I set a goal to finish the course by the day of Shayna’s Shamrock Shuffle, the second weekend in March. To achieve that goal, I broke the course down into chunks and tried to get in a couple of hours every day. After I’d finish my session working on the course, I’d look at how many hours I had left, divide it by the number of days remaining to my deadline and set a new goal for how many hours I had to do each day. I finished it the Friday before the race. I wanted to start on the website on the first day of Spring. To get there, I needed to choose a platform and learn about it. This required doing some research and finding a consultant to work with. All of these were short term goals, some that took less than a minute. But, they led to the mid-term goal of making that launch date. Wednesday was the first day of Spring and that was the day I bought the template for my site and began construction.

“Einstein was wrong” is a catchy headline. I have a confession to make. He wasn’t totally wrong. We can reach for the stars. We should bring out our highest potentials. We are capable of things that many of us don’t dare dream of. We will never achieve these goals without doing the hard work it takes to get there, a lot of it is not glamorous. There are times when we will feel like we are running in place. There will be times when we will suffer setbacks. Make a plan. Know there will be adjustments. Make course corrections. And, never give up. You’ll get to where you want to go or at least to where you were meant to be.

The official race title is the Shamrock Shuffle. But, for my family, it’s the day we get together to memorialize Shayna.  For us, it’s Shayna’s Shining Stars Walk. During the gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. we all think about Shayna. Some of us talk about her. Some of us avoid talking about her. This day is all about Shayna. Just as she would have it. Before Shayna passed we were somewhat associated with the Shamrock Shuffle, a 5K and 10K for charity. One year her Girl Scout troop did a project at the event and they asked me to be the photographer. But, since she has crossed over, we have used the event to raise money for her scholarship fund. Our neighbors, family, and friends contribute and over forty participate.

Tywana’s whole family, with the exception of her brother Eric, tries to make it into town for the race. Kayla comes down from Toledo for the weekend. From my side, only my brother Brent’s family comes- he, his wife and his four children. Last year, my cousin planned a party for our fathers the day of the race. This year, another cousin’s wedding was in Dallas on the same day. I’ve chosen to be here for Shayna’s Day instead of attending these events. This year, for the first time, Tywana’s sister and her family can’t make it. My brother has gone to Dallas for the wedding. Normally, we have a house full of people sleeping over on the eve of the race. This year it’s just Kayla and her boyfriend spending the night.

We have the traditional pasta party at our house the night before the race. Kayla is working late. So, she doesn’t get in until around 10 PM.

In spite of the no shows, we have 42 people on the team this year. Race day weather is iffy, as is the tradition. It’s Ohio, in March. At race time it’ about 35º without a hint of sunshine. There’s a light breeze. At least it’s not raining. Before the race we meet several members of the team at the clock tower for a photo. There aren’t enough at the house to get the traditional photo on the steps. Four of the Shayna Six, as a few of Shayna’s friends call themselves now, show up in their purple Smith t-shirts. Four years after her passing and a year after their graduation and they still show for her.

As the time for the race draws near, we line up for the start. I put in my earphones and get ready for the start. There are 2,300 people here. But, I walk alone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. When I do the race, I commune with Shayna. The runners sprint way out ahead of me. The people socializing during the race are behind me. I speed walk in the middle of the pack, thinking of my girl, grateful that forty friends, family, and neighbors spend their money and take their time to help us remember her even four years after her leaving her body.  I take each step bringing me one step closer to the finish line and think of it as one day closer in my journey back to Shayna. I wish she could be here. But, then it dawns on me if she were here, we wouldn’t be here. I’d still trade all of this to have her back though. She’d be a freshman at my alma mater, OSU.

After the race, we head home and have breakfast. I make waffles for the crew. Everyone leaves early leaving just Kayla, her boyfriend, Tywana and me.

We watch a movie and it’s time for bed. Kayla goes to let the dogs out the front door and comes back and asks “Do hummingbirds come out at night?” I tell her I don’t know since if they did we couldn’t see them. I’ve never seen one at night. She then says that she saw a hummingbird hovering on the front porch as she let the dogs out. This is early March in Ohio.  Hummingbirds are rare here, even in the spring and summer. They migrate South during the winter. There is no doubt it’s still winter. There should be no hummingbirds here. I haven’t seen a hummingbird since at least September. I’ve never seen one at night.

This morning, I take my seven-mile walk. I spot first a female cardinal, then a few minutes later a male cardinal. They both cross directly in front of my path. Several minutes later I look up and I see a heron high overhead. I see herons very rarely here. I think I’ve seen four in over twenty years, all within the last several months. Shayna sends birds to us as signs often. A hummingbird in March, two cardinals, a heron all in less than twenty-four hours. Thanks, Shayna! I hope you like what we did for your walk this time.

This is a heron.

I have a tendency to minimize the good things and emphasize the bad. Losses I remember. Victories, I take in stride. I am turning that around. It’s mid-February, we are already a month and a half in. I am acknowledging several beginnings this year. Tywana’s got a new job. Kayla will be graduating in a few weeks. My car loan is paid off in June. I am educating myself in preparation for some new business ventures.

Last year, I decided I was going to publish a book. I gathered up some materials that I had written for Treasured Locks and put them into a Kindle book. I researched how to create and publish on the Kindle platform and I put it out there. A couple of days ago, Amazon sent my 1099 for the royalties. It was $16.32.

I could look at this and say $16.32 won’t even buy me a meal out. When I think about the hours I put into putting the book together, making the cover, learning the Amazon platform, it comes out to pennies an hour. Or, I could look at this and say “I am a published author.” I have my first book out and I’ve gotten paid. This is a stepping stone to my next book and my next book. The fact that I made any royalties at all on a book I spent absolutely nothing to promote, swimming in the sea of what seems to be billions of books on Amazon, is pretty cool.

The goal for this year is to publish at least one more book. And, then another, and another.

It was called positive thinking decades ago. Now it’s called visualization or manifestation. Many teach that we can manifest whatever we want in our lives, wealth, health, fame, it’s all limitless. Life is but a dream and if we can become lucid in the dream, we set. Oprah has said it for years. It’s worked for her. It could work for any of us. We can all be Oprah, if we just believe.

Who wouldn’t want to believe in us living in a magical world where thinking the right thoughts makes it all easy? Who wouldn’t want life to be an endless series of accomplishments? I don’t want setbacks. I don’t want challenges. I want life on my terms. If manifestation works, teach me how to do it.

I look around. All around me people are facing challenges. As I type this, I know three people going through life-threatening challenges. Did they not think the right things? I watched a documentary a few days ago “Heal.” A friend in one of my spiritual communities recommended it. It’s about how we can heal ourselves, and there are examples of some miraculous healings. I couldn’t help but notice that one of the women featured in the film was a vegan, mostly raw, organic yoga freak. Yet, she got stage 4 cancer. Through various healing modalities (maybe) she beat the disease. But, if she was so careful with her temple before and so spiritual, why did she get sick in the first place? I think of Anita Moorjani who says it was her fear of getting sick, her obsession with perfect health that caused her cancer. What are we to do to ensure health and wealth?

The last several years have been full of challenges for me. Every time the phone rings, I wonder what will go wrong next. When Tywana yells my name from the other end of the house, my PTSD kicks in. I’m immediately back to June 24, 2015 when she yelled at me from Shayna’s room. The world was OK one second, the next second everything had changed forever. When Kayla texts, I hold my breath until I hear “I’m OK”. These life-changing moments, these times when life turns on a dime, why do they seem to be “negative”? The phone doesn’t ring in the middle of the night with an announcement that you’ve won the lottery. Things don’t fix themselves. The washing machine breaks. The mechanic calls and says the car needs a new transmission. Entropy seems to reign.

I’ve been working on affirmations, positive thinking, manifestation all of that stuff. My friend who is trying to help me will tell me things like this blog post will block the flow. If I don’t manifest these things, it’s my fault. I just didn’t believe enough. Just believe more and it’ll all be unicorns and lollipops.

I’m running in a thousand different directions right now and I’m mentally exhausted. I’ve got to focus. Just yesterday, I was writing something to my business coach telling him that I’m de-emphasizing Treasured Locks. Tywana’s got a full time job. I’m working a couple of part-time jobs. Maybe Treasured Locks will fade into the sunset. I put thousands of dollars into it last year that didn’t move the needle at all. It’s been a grind for at least five years. So, instead of pushing on that, I’m pushing on other things. Then, I opened an email about an opportunity for Treasured Locks I’ve been pursuing for nearly a year. I have emailed, made calls, sent samples, filled out paper work, filled out paper work again, sent samples again, created presentations, and sent more emails pursuing this opportunity. About four months ago I gave up and emailed them thanking them for their consideration but saying I couldn’t jump through any more hoops. They said maybe we could work together without doing all the things they had previously demanded. (In sales, this is called the “take away” close, but that wasn’t my intention.)

The emailed I opened yesterday said we are in the final stages of consideration and that I could get an affirmative answer. They just need to approve the final paperwork I submitted and look over the proposal I put together a couple of weeks ago. As I type this, I’m listening to a new artist for me. I’ve never heard the album before and the song that is on at this moment is “(Don’t Get Your) Hopes Up.” I hope that’s not a sign. I’m not taking it as a sign.

So, what do I do at this moment? I’d like to manifest this deal. It could be the biggest thing to happen to our company in the seventeen years of its existence. I’ve hardly dared dream of what it could mean. Only in the last couple of weeks have I began to visualize how it could change things for the better.

I’ve asked my friends to visualize for me. As the man said to Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief.” I’ve got faith the size of a mustard seed. I’m holding onto a sliver of hope. As my friend Irene closes her podcast “To be continued”.

Cynics ask for “proof” of an afterlife. Anyone who has spent any amount of time doing serious research knows there is an abundance of evidence. There is certainly enough evidence to meet the legal hurdle of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you have probably heard me talk about the “SoulPhone”. I am on the Board of the SoulPhone Foundation and I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gary Schwartz, a pioneer (the pioneer?) in physically connecting with our loved ones in spirit. Gary has scientifically tested mediums “proving” that mediumship is real. He is working on technology that would allow us to communicate with our loved ones directly, not relying on the medium to relay the message.


In this interview, Dr. Schwartz is speaking with Suzanne Giesemann, who I would call a friend since meeting her several times and Shayna dropping in on her often. Suzanne features Shayna in one of her presentations.


There is an abundance of evidence that we are more than these bodies, that we pre-date them and we will most certainly survive the death of the body. Dr. Schwartz is on the verge of providing undeniable proof. As he likes to say, this is like the first flight of the Wright Brothers. The SoulPhone isn’t ready for prime time. That first flight of an aircraft covered just 12 seconds and 120′. But, it proved flight was possible and today, we take air travel as a given.

Once public demonstrations of the SoulPhone are happening, in a few months, we will have as close to “proof” as anything I can think of.

Click to listen to the episode

January 13th, 2019- One thousand two hundred and ninety-nine days since Shayna’s “heavenly birthday.” Three weeks after Christmas, we finally had Tywana’s family in for the weekend to wrap up the Christmas celebration of 2018.

This winter has been wet, gray, and somewhat cold, but nothing like the bitter cold of January 2000, the year Shayna came into our lives. January 13th of that year was bitterly cold. I remember coming home from the hospital and putting out the stork sign in snow and ice and with a bitter wind blowing. As if on cue, yesterday, we got our first snow of the season. There are about six inches of snow on the ground. It’s a gray, snowy Sunday morning.

Tywana is starting her new job tomorrow. Today she is flying to Tuscon. As I type this, she sits in the airport in Covington, KY. Her sister, Shell. and her boys are in the car on the way back to West Virginia. Kayla and her boyfriend will be packing up soon and driving back to Toledo to begin her final semester in school there. I will be alone on Shayna’s birthday and for the week.

Yesterday, we had Costco pizza and chocolate cake. These were Shayna’s favorites. We did a Yankee gift swap with Tywana’s family. All of the nephews (there are only boys on Ty’s side of the family) are “men” now. Wesley, the youngest is 6’5″ and will be 21 this June. Tywana’s mother came over. She is so confused now that she asked several times whose house this is. She still recognizes all of her children, but she has trouble recognizing some of her grandchildren. As the time drew close to take her back to Cottingham, her retirement home, about five minutes away, she said she could get back herself. We asked her how she proposed to do this since she has no car, cannot walk without assistance, and can barely walk with assistance. She said she got herself here; she can get herself back. Curious, we asked how she thought she got here and where she thought she was. She thought she was at Cottingham. She prays daily to go “home” alternatively referring to Springfield, where she lived her entire life until the age of 77, and home to heaven where she can be free of pain, free of the confusion of dementia, and with her beloved husband, Felton. Who can blame her?

This morning, when I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the time 07:07 on my clock. I immediately thought about Shayna’s birthday. As is my practice upon waking, I listed three things to be grateful for today. It’s getting easier to come up with the three. Today, one of the things that came to me was that Shayna’s exit was easy. Increasingly, I believe in soul planning and exit points. When we first discovered Shayna’s heart issue, it was after we had found out about her rheumatoid arthritis. Shayna’s blood RA factors were incredibly high when we discovered that she had RA. We had to take her to occupational therapy. They told us about various devices she could use to make things easier for her. They taught her different ways to tie her shoes and fit her with prosthetic devices for her shoes. I envisioned a life of Shayna having gnarled hands and living in pain. The doctor prescribed powerful medications; which kept her arthritis under control. We were blessed. She suffered no side effects from these drugs that compromised her immune system and came with lists of possible side effects that included cancer and death. But, I didn’t feel blessed. My health child was now on medication that she might have to be on for life. I fought every day to simply be grateful for that day and try not to think about the suffering she might endure if the drugs stopped working or if the side effects came. Every week when I had to give that injection, and every week when I had to count out those seven poisonous pills to take to her as she slept (she had to take them on an empty stomach several hours before eating), I couldn’t decide if I was helping her or poisoning her.

The heart condition Shayna had was supposed to be no more than a minor annoyance. Yet, she had two procedures, had to wear a monitor for a month, and eventually whatever was going in her heart took her life. She was seeing a cardiologist. Shayna tore her ACL and had to have surgery and recover from that. Her last few years were tough for a little girl. I wondered when she would get a break and life would return to “normal”.

So, where is the gratitude in this? Shayna didn’t have to deal with the possible ravages of arthritis had the drugs stopped working. She didn’t have to deal with the side effects of decades on drugs that were so hard on her immune system and liver. She was able to play basketball and volleyball, at a highly competitive level, right up until the day she slipped over to the Other Side. I am grateful for what Shayna, and I, didn’t have to go through. In those days I would wonder, if I left before Shayna (which was the plan), who would take care of her should things go badly with her health.

Of course, I would prefer to have Shayna here with me. The celebrations without her are heartbreaking. Every Christmas, every birthday, every New Year’s sucks. I have shed many, many tears thinking about what we are missing without Shayna being here. Thanksgiving, Kayla’s birthday, Christmas, and Shayna’s birthday all come in less than a two-month span. But, the life of these celebrations with Shayna is a fantasy. Had Shayna not taken the exit point she took her health, like everyone else’s, was not guaranteed. I can say this out loud now. Our healthy baby girl was not healthy when she left, as much as I was in denial about it. I wanted to call her healthy and I did. Maybe she took that exit to spare all of us a life that would have been painful. God only knows what life lay ahead of us had she stayed.

I am beyond grateful for the 15 years I had with Shayna as my daughter here. What a blessing she was and continues to be. Shayna was a force of nature from the moment she was born (I’m sure before). That first night in the hospital, her cry was so strong, forceful, and seemingly purposeful, the nurses told us that we were going to have our hands full with this one. And we did. Shayna always knew what she wanted and went after it with dogged determination. When she was two or three, I said I hoped she would use her power for good, not for evil. And she did. Shayna lived her time here to the full. She inspired those around her. She lifted them. She led by example. Today, I see the ripples of her life continuing to spread. I feel her with me and am learning to feel that more and more. Last night, Tywana said to me that January is almost half over, remarking on how fast time goes. Yes. Time does go fast. And, I’m grateful for that. Every day that passes is one day less standing between my baby and me. Happy 19th Birthday, baby. Thanks for being mine.

Today is the last day of the year. In our culture, we make certain days more significant than others. We set expectations for these 24 hour periods like they are special. In reality, each of them is exactly like any other day of the year. Ironically, what they have in common is that they are each unique.  Yet, we place expectations on them depending on where they fall on the calendar. Yet, Christmas is supposed to be like this.  New Year’s is supposed to be like that.

I saw so many parents talking about how much they dreaded Christmas that it triggered me to look at Christmas differently this year. I had that same dread. I purposely lowered expectations, not allowing myself to be disappointed because this Christmas wouldn’t be like Christmases in the past. And, to my pleasant surprise, it worked. Christmas was not so bad. It was actually somewhat pleasant because I took it for what it was, a day to hang out with Kayla and Tywana and enjoy our time together. Four days later, I had the Christmas celebration with the parents. Again, I reset my expectations, and I got through it with minimal pain and discomfort.

For many of us parents, New Year’s Day is even worse than Christmas. New Years is a time of beginnings. Society tells us we are supposed to look forward to the upcoming year. If we are still connected to our child in the past, we will feel that we are putting another year of distance between them and us. Starting another year without our child is a milestone we don’t want to pass. We want to hold onto the past. It makes it impossible to look forward with any desire for the future. If our child stopped existing on the day their body died, it’s as if we left them there and we are continuing forward. Each year they get farther and farther behind, in our rearview mirror.  Living my life looking back has been hell. I’m choosing another way. 

Therefore, I’m going to choose to look at this end of the year differently. I’m celebrating the close of 2018. 2018 has been a rough year. But, I endured. It’s been three and a half years since Shayna passed. That’s a lot of distance. I woke up this morning and congratulated myself on my journey. My God, three and a half years ago I could not anticipate getting up the next day, let alone surviving for one thousand two hundred and eighty-six days. To have made it this far is an accomplishment. When I raise that glass of champagne at midnight, I will gladly leave 2018 in the past. Good riddance.

Shayna walks with me. I didn’t leave her in 2015. Every day I know this more and more because I actively work to reinforce this truth, via my meditations, my reading, my studying, on my walks. The world tells me that my child died. I know that she simply made the transition I will make sooner than I did. She sits right here beside me on the other side of a thin veil. I refuse to leave Shayna behind in June of 2015. As time passes rather than look backward and see her fading into my past, I carry her with me, and I chooses to look forward. I long for the day when we are reunited. I rehearse that day in my meditations, meeting with her and other passed loved ones in a place in my mind. And, every day that passes brings me one day closer to her.

Adios 2018. Bring on 2019. I ‘m going to do everything I can in the coming year to fulfill my mission and to make Shayna proud of me.