It’s Father’s Day.  This is the third Father’s Day without Shayna.  Her angel date is just a few days from now, precisely one week.  Our last Father’s Day together, we had steak. If I remember correctly, Kayla wasn’t here.  Little did I know that would be my last one with her.  Kayla was home last week, and we celebrated then.  We had steak and shrimp. Since I couldn’t think of anything better and I don’t want to go out for dinner, Tywana and I will repeat the menu today.

I remember my first Father’s Day with Kayla. It’s archived on video somewhere. I loved every single Father’s Day with them, and every single day that wasn’t Father’s Day. What’s Father’s Day when your babies have left the nest though?  This week my nephew Matthew stayed with us for four days.  It was great having a kid in the house again. He might object to being called a kid given that he’s 20.  But, since Shell’s three boys are like the sons I never had, he’ll always be a kid to me.  I didn’t want sons. I wanted two girls. I got two girls. So, they are my surrogate sons. We stayed up late watching movies, did some manly shopping together, ate waffles, and watched a lot of episodes of Elementary (the modern day Sherlocks Holmes TV series).  I taught him how to appreciate sipping bourbon.  He taught me about vaping. I got to play Dad for four days. It was awesome.

Tywana and I are doing mediumship training together with a friend of ours.  On Friday we had a session with her.  Surprisingly, she had us connect with a departed friend of hers and, after having her correct me on the gender, I was able to get the person’s age (late 20s), hair color, hair length, eye color, and personality.  I got the way he dressed and the fact that he was a smoker.  I saw him in a bar. He would often meet our tutor in a bar.  I saw a leather jacket.  He wore a leather jacket. Oddly, I still feel like I can’t do this mediumship thing. But, that was pretty amazing. My point for this blog is she had us bring Shayna through so we could know we can connect with her.  All three of us saw Shayna wearing the same thing, and we got the same message for us, validating that this was Shayna with us.  And since Tywana and I had just connected with our tutor’s friend, I guess the message was real, even though it’s the same message we usually get from her.  She is very proud of what we’ve done in the last three years, and she is still with us and supporting us.  It was a great visit with her.  I say visit even though I know she’s with me all the time. She’s right here, right now.

Today, I’m not sad. In spite of the fact the girls don’t need me the way they used to, I will choose gratitude.  Maybe there’s just a hint of melancholy.  I didn’t sleep well last night. There were too many worries running around in my head.  Today, I celebrate having survived three Father’s Days that I never thought I’d get through. I will remember the good times when my girls were here, and I will be grateful for them. Being a father was the most important thing in the world to me. It’s not a privilege I took for granted.  I will watch a little World Cup soccer and the U.S. Open even though Tiger’s days of making the cut are over, at least for now.  Ah, the glory days…

To all the Dad’s whose kids aren’t here physically anymore, I hope you have a day to reflect on the awesome joy we had, and have, of being fathers to these kids and feel the same gratitude I do that they chose us to teach and to love. I’m going to go on my walk now and have a talk with Shayna.

 

Why be afraid if I’m not alone
Though life is never easy the rest is unknown
Up to now for me it’s been hands against stone
Spent each and every moment
Searching for what to believe

Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
It’s shining on me
Coming out of the dark I know the love that saved me
You’re sharing with me

Starting again is part of the plan
And I’ll be so much stronger holding your hand
Step by step I’ll make it through I know I can
It may not make it easier but I have felt you
Near all the way

Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
And it’s shining on me (I see the light, I see the light)
See the light (I see the light)
Coming out of the dark I know the love that saved me
You’re sharing with me

Slowly, imperceptibly, I’ve seen the light coming. Like the sun at sunrise, it’s not a moment, it’s more of a process. Today is my third birthday since Shayna passed.  In just one month it’ll be three years.Somewhere along the way the darkness that seemed impenetrable and permanent has started to subside. My mood has started to shift. Today, I will spend a good part of the day in solitude. It’s graduation time. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Tywana is going to Lexington for her cousin Mike’s funeral. Today is Brianna’s graduation. Brianna is Shayna’s twin born from another mother (technically cousin), born four months after Shayna, the two of them were inseparable.This would be Shayna’s graduation year. My birth family will be at her graduation in Columbus. I’ll spend the day reflecting on the journey over the last 57 years.There was a time when being alone would have been depressing, but this is my choice; as is all of this. So, I’ll embrace it.

As I see the dark lifting and the light approaching to what can I attribute this? Is it the old adage “Time heals all wounds.”? Certainly not.Time alone heals nothing. I think it’s the hard work I’ve put in and continue to put in.It’s the realization that Shayna has never left me. I feel her with me more and more. She’s been giving me this message to write for the last several days. She’s right over my shoulder as I type this and the tears flow while I listen to Gloria Estefan sing “Coming Out Of The Dark”.  I hear her cheering me on. I get her signs. She comes to me in dreams. She sends messages to me through mediums. Knowing she is still with me makes it bearable. I have felt her near all the way. It’s the knowing that this is all temporary. It’s an illusion. Where it counts we are still together. I have internalized this message. I study it.I meditate on it, daily.

Is it over? Has the grief passed? No. It’s a daily struggle. Jesus said “Take up your cross daily and follow me.”Daily. I wake up and the human part of me longs for comfort, longs for security, longs for the life I once had. The human part of me just wants to go Home. Anxiety still grips me.Depression still makes a guest appearance. But, I have to rise above that and look at it from my soul’s perspective which says it’s all going according to plan. I look at Shayna’s picture every morning as I come down the stairs, look at that sweet cheek, that beautiful smile, and I long for the day when I can kiss her cheeks again and hug her.But, I know that day is coming and I celebrate as I pass each milestone. I make my way down the stairs, lace up my shoes and set out.

Today is another milestone. I celebrate it. I’ve made it. No matter what happens from here on out, I have made it. I hereby declare victory. I take a moment to pat myself on my back. The dawn is breaking. Many of us Shining Light Parents dread these days, birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings. Not me. I look at it this way. I’m running a marathon and these days are mile markers. When you’re running a race and you pass a mile marker do you mourn the miles that are behind you? No. You say “Only a few more miles to go. One step at time.” And you keep moving. And, you know that you will cross that line and then you’ll party. Happy Birthday to me. 57 trips around the sun accomplished. I wonder what year 58 has in store.


One of my favorite lines from a hymn is from It Is Well With My Soul.  While a lot of the theology of that song doesn’t fit into my current worldview, the story behind it makes it more special to me now than ever.  I remember hearing it in church just a couple of weeks after Shayna passed and it brought me to my knees.

Horatio G. Spafford, after suffering a couple of other tragedies, lost his four daughters in a shipwreck. He wrote this song about accepting all of this, in the end. He was saying he had a deep abiding trust in the eventual goodness of this whole experience.  One of the last lines is “Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight…” has deep, deep meaning for me now. He wrote the line referencing the return of Jesus in the clouds.  I don’t wait for the rapture.  For me, it’s about the day I can embrace Shayna again.  Then my faith shall be made sight. This week, I saw a miracle.   My faith was made sight, just a little bit. I got a peek behind the veil.

Just three days ago, the force that is Brenda Bollman Baker drew her last breath, or so we thought. Brenda is a dear woman I met three times at various conferences on spirituality. Brenda and her friend Lynette started a Facebook group called Souls Awakening, a group that has grown to nearly 100 members now.  Souls Awakening is about developing spiritual gifts, developing souls, and developing mediumistic abilities.  They have regular meetings over the internet and the women in the group (there were only a couple of us men) have grown into family more like sisters than just friends.  Brenda and Lynette are so close that people started referring to them as Brenette.  A few weeks ago Brenda was given three to six months to live.  I saw her last about a month ago in Arizona where I got to give her one last hug.

We knew Brenda was going. This was not a surprise. Brenda planned for it and prepared us for it.  Brenda was an English teacher at one time and was a teacher of all of us right up until the end. Even though everyone in this group believes strongly in the afterlife, this is the real test of your faith, when one of your own makes their transition. Sure, we believe we’ll see them again in the sweet by and by. But, we have to go through this loss now.  And, while we believe, do we really know?  Well, I do now.

I spent my entire life growing up in the church where we supposedly believe in heaven. But, as much as people believe, no one’s in a hurry to get there.  We still have funerals that are largely dark and full of tears (I’m seeing a shift there to be fair).  The end of a human life is certainly not something we celebrate.  Brenda’s passing was however different from anything I’ve experienced.

Even before Brenda’s body took its last breath, she was already out visiting people.  She visited Suzanne Giesemann, a world-class medium, on the hiking trail before her body stopped breathing.  She visited Susanne Wilson, who she really didn’t know all that well in life. Brenda took her last breath, I believe it was 2 something PM Arizona time.

Just a few hours later, Brenda was dropping in on Susanne Wilson’s mediumship development class. Suzanne joined them on the meeting. She was scheduled to be with Brenda that night by Brenda’s death bed. Little did she know she’d be talking to Brenda that night, just not while Brenda was in the body. Suzanne and Susanne tag-teamed on a link with Brenda (now in spirit) and Brenda delivered messages to people telling them things she had agreed to tell before she left.  It’s not up to me to reveal the details, but for one woman, she told her “When I get there, I’m going to send you this particular message. When you get it, you are no longer allowed to doubt.”  That very message was delivered through Susanne Wilson that night.

But, Brenda was not done. She came through another medium in a totally separate event with another friend of mine. She delivered a secret message through another medium who is a member of Souls Awakening to a different member.  Brenda was fulfilling her promises all over the place. She was going to come back and tell us it was all real. Then, Brenda had the group arrange a special Friday night session where she would be the star. She told Suzanne that she would speak through her to the group.  I’m not really sure how to describe what I saw. I’ve seen Suzanne do readings. And, I’ve seen Suzanne channel her spirit guides Sanaya.  Suzanne described the state she was in as somewhere in between the expanded consciousness she’s in for readings and the deep meditation she goes into for channeling Sanaya. Suzanne channeled Brenda as Brenda described her crossing to us, what it’s like where she is, and was just herself in all her Brenda-ness.

It was just like having a conversation with Brenda as Suzanne took on her inflections, her mannerisms, and delivered humor that could only be from Brenda. If you knew Brenda, you recognized Brenda on Suzanne’s face and in her voice. Brenda was surprised that the crossing was so uneventful.  No tunnels or big bright lights.  She said “I just woke up!”. Her guess is that because of all of the preparation she had done and her knowing that she would wake up, she didn’t need all the bells and whistles. She said breathing is a lot easier (breathing problems plagued her those last few weeks). And, she is surprised to find that she still breathes.  She’s already met some of our kids and says she will continue to teach us from the other side.  She said she’s been told she will continue to develop while there, but she will keep her Brenda persona when she’s dealing with us so that we can continue to recognize her.

That’s one of the miracles I beheld this week. The other is the way this group of people is reacting to Brenda’s “death”.  When I said earlier Brenda’s body had taken its last breath, I inserted the word body because apparently Brenda is still breathing. I think I can safely speak for the group to say that while we expected to get a few signs from Brenda here and there, no one expected Brenda to be speaking directly to use a couple of days after her passing. She had Suzanne Giesemann taking dictation from her.  Everyone is on Cloud 9.  The energy in the meeting I was in last night, where Suzanne was channeling Brenda was almost overwhelming as everyone felt Brenda’s spirit and we knew, knew that she is still right here with us.  Brenda said she doesn’t like us calling it the Other Side because she’s not on the other side of anything and that makes it sound like there’s a barrier between us.  She said she’d have to work on another word for it.

Not to be Debbie Downer, but there is another side to this I have to address.  Brenda leaves behind people who are going to miss her physical presence tremendously. They will miss her voice, her hugs, her smile.  As much as the evidence Brenda has already given us gives up comfort, I have to acknowledge that Paul’s boast that death has no sting and the grave has no victory is certainly true in the long run, but it does sting a little right now.  Lynette and Brenda’s family will miss her. When we asked Brenda what we can do for her, she said really nothing. She appreciates and feels all the good thoughts and prayers. She just doesn’t need them. Brenda is good. But, keep her son, daughter-in-law and the other half of Brenette in your thoughts.

Brenda, I am so glad I got to meet you, even as briefly as it was, in the flesh. And, I feel honored and privileged to have been part of this miracle of your passing and coming back to us. I never thought I would see anything like it.

 

Today is Derby Day. The first Saturday in May. It’s also the fifth of May known by Americans, looking for an excuse to drink, as “Cinco De Mayo”.  Tywana and I are hosting our Derby Party for the ninth time in ten years only missing the year Kayla graduated high school.

We’ve got this Derby Party routine down. Basically, Tywana handles all the food except the burgoo and the pulled meat. I decide to switch it up and do pork this year instead of beef. I rise at my normal time and instead of going for my walk, I get the burgoo on and the pork in the InstantPot.  A couple of hours is what it takes to get everything chopped, sautéed, simmered and into the respective pots for the long slow cook that will go on until 5:30 when the guests start to arrive.  I’ve got enough time to get the grass cut, showered and to make a quick trip to Jungle Jim’s to pick up a case of the IPA I found there last night. I only bought a six pack, but I tasted it and liked it.

Tywana tells me that one of our guests can’t make it. They’ve been here every year since we started the parties.  He’s got a lingering medical issue and got the order this morning to go on bed rest. Another couple texts their regrets.  He’s dealing with what has become a chronic issue and can’t make it this year.  Man, getting old sucks.

It’s two o’clock and I haven’t seen Kayla yet today.  We all went to bed around midnight.  Tywana, her sister and her sister’s friend are out at the grocery store. My PTSD kicks in.  What if Kayla’s dead? Shayna slept in, or so we thought, and when we finally went to check her, she was gone.  What if the same thing has happened to Kayla?  I think of how my life would be.  A feeling of panic sweeps over me. I want to go to her room and wake her up. But, that’s silly.  She’s either alive or she’s not, checking won’t make any difference. I resist the temptation, watch a television program, and clean the fish tank. Tywana gets home and I hear someone say “Kayla’s up.”  Crisis avoided.  The party can proceed.

It’s almost time for the guests to arrive. Tywana’s in her hat and dress, the women typically dress up for the party.  The men, not so much. I’ve worn Hawaiian shirts before. I like to be colorful. Not one to follow tradition, I decide this year to wear my dashiki, black shorts and my purple Chuck Taylors.  In honor of Shayna I also wear my amethyst bracelet. Maybe a dashiki will be my new tradition. The guests start arriving, I pour myself a shot of Jim Beam’s Bonded and the party is underway.

I’m on the deck when I hear the sound of bugle coming from inside the house.  Mark’s here.  Mark lives a street over from us. We’ve known their family for I guess around 20 years now.  His daughter is like my daughter, same age as Kayla. But, Mark is a bit “different”.  Great guy. I love him to death. But, Mark is… a Trump supporter. Yep. I have friends who are Trump supporters.  Mark walks out onto the deck where I’m engaged in conversation with some people and I see he is wearing a giant black sombrero. He’s celebrating Cinco De Mayo. The “irony” (I’m being nice here) is not lost on me.  Here is a Trump supporter celebrating a (fake) Mexican holiday.  I tell Mark he can stay but the sombrero has to go. Sadly, he thinks I’m joking and the sombrero stays too.

Kayla finds me and tells me someone has left a plate of pulled pork on the ottoman. Everyone has gone outside to take pictures and Stevie seizes the opportunity, as Stevie will do. Stevie has learned to ask me for what she wants. She will look in the direction of what she wants, look back at me and vocalize.  It’s not barking, it’s not whining.  If you know Stevie, you know what I’m talking about. Stevie literally thinks she is talking. She has decided she wants pie. She’s over at the counter where the pies are and asking me for some. “Uh, no Stevie and you weren’t supposed to have the pulled pork either.”

The race goes off, the party continues. One of the guests who normally stays until the end gets light headed and she and her husband have to leave. Another says her back is hurting and she and her husband leave. Two other guests, who are normally late night people up with us, aren’t drinking and they leave early because they’ve signed up for the Flying Pig half marathon tomorrow and have to be up at the crack of dawn.  By 9:30 all the old and sick people that we have become are gone. Everyone has gone home.  Tywana’s sister has thrown her hip out walking up the stairs. And, she’s bemoaning the fact she left her antacid back in West Virginia and her stomach is killing her.  She’s off to bed at 10:30. Tywana and I have everything cleaned up by 11 and I think we are actually in bed before midnight. What just happened?  Kayla jokes next year we’ll have to start serving food at 4:00. Maybe not next year, but soon.  These people just can’t hang anymore.

Stevie’s on the couch, asleep.  Normally, when I say time for bed, she pops right up. But, she’s lethargic. She stretches, looks zonked, but makes it outside for the last bathroom trip of the night and makes it upstairs.   It’s been a long day for Stevie. She and Zoe love parties, but they disrupt their sleep patterns.  She’ll sleep well tonight.

When I rise on Sunday, I go into the bathroom and Zoe greets me as always. I look in on Stevie in her kennel. She’s curled up in the back, eyes still closed. The PTSD kicks in again. “Did she eat too much pulled pork?  It has onions in it.  What if she’s dead? She hasn’t vomited. There’s no blood. There’s no diarrhea. She’s probably OK. I should wake her up. What good will it do to wake her up?  Maybe I should have taken her to the vet last night.” All of this goes through my head in less time than it takes to type it out. But, I set it aside. I can’t do anything about it now. Might as well go for my walk.  I take my walk, wondering what time Tywana will get up and wondering if I’ll get a call or a text telling me Stevie didn’t make it. But, when I get home, Stevie greets me at the door.  Another crisis avoided.

Sunday morning, a Facebook memory pops up of the 2013 Derby.  It’s the women in their hats. I blow up the picture to see who is in it.  “She doesn’t come anymore.” “Wow, she’s aged.”.  I think of how Shayna was still around then, probably over at Lexi’s house or maybe here.  I don’t remember. The thing about annual traditions is they can lull you into a false sense that nothing has changed. Derby Party is Derby Party. But, every Derby Party is different from the last Derby Party.  We’re all getting older.  Some of won’t be here for next year’s for one reason or another.  Everything changes. We all grow old. Carpe diem.

It is said a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. When I started this journey on June 24, 2015, I had no idea where or how far it would take me.  One day seemed like too many to live without Shayna. 1,000 was unthinkable.  When people even mentioned a month into the future, I would drop my head.  “I can’t even think about that.” I would say.

Yet, here I am, sitting in my office, 1,000 days later.  What has transpired in those 1,000 days? What’s the same? What’s different?

Kayla is back in school. She went right back at the end of that summer, just a few weeks after Shayna’s passing. She’s completed her sophomore year.  Possibly inspired by Shayna, she changed majors from biology for pre-med to psychology with a minor in Spanish with the goal of working with children. She’s been to Spain.  This is the year, when she was 21 and Shayna is 18 that she wanted to take Shayna to New York.  In spite of having her dreams of a life with her sister shattered, Kayla is thriving as she finishes up her fourth year of college. I could not be more proud of her.

Tywana and I continue to work on the business.  It’s still a struggle, but we keep at it. She has taken a part time job, 12 hours a week to get her out of the house. The house is way too quiet and with no girls to run to basketball, girl scouts, swim team, volleyball, violin, etc. we need to find reasons to get out.  Tywana has become a meditator, has changed her reading habits, has become a student of life and the afterlife.  I’ve seen strength, wisdom, and patience blossom in her.

We’ve met incredible people in the last 1,000 days.  I have met hundreds of people I would not otherwise have met.  Some I’ve known only a year, like Tracy and Beth, but it seems like I’ve known them forever.  We joined Helping Parents Heal, started and mothballed a local group, then started an online Facebook group that has grown to 2,800 members in well less than a year.  Tywana and I co-lead the group along with Tracy and Beth. We have had nationally sought after speakers address our group (and have more in the pipeline).  I have met celebrities in this field I would never have met otherwise.  I have led an online course.  We host meetings several times a month serving parents whose children have transitioned. I’m on staff on the SoulPhone, a project to bring electronic communication across the veil. I’m working on two other projects that aren’t public yet.  One will be announced in a few weeks and will have the mission of changing people’s perception about the world we live in.  Two of these ventures are volunteer positions.  The other, we hope, will generate revenue and give me the opportunity to work in the field I really would like to work in.

1,000 days later we know that Shayna is still with us and that we will see her again once we make our transition. We’ve had incredible signs from her, synchronicities, medium readings, etc. We have immersed ourselves in this new paradigm reading, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, etc.  We have been to two afterlife conferences with the first annual Helping Parents Heal conference on the calendar for just a few short weeks from now.

I don’t know that I can say I’ve healed in the last 1,000 days.  I can say I’ve grown. I don’t know if the pain has lessened, but the capacity to handle the pain has increased.  And, when I don’t think I can make another year or month or day, I remember that I thought the same thing on June 25, 2015 when I opened my eyes to this new world and the beginning of this new journey.

Will it be another 1,000 days? Will it be 10,000 days?  I am not in a position to say.  What I do know is it won’t be forever.  That brings me peace. I also know that what once seemed to be impossible has now been accomplished.  1,000 days.

The Shamrock Shuffle for Shayna is over for the third year.  Several times over the weekend, and at the race, people would come up to me and comment on how strong Tywana and I are. People said they could not do what we are doing.  “I can’t imagine losing a child.”  I’m not sure how to respond to this. I know people mean it as a compliment, but I don’t feel particularly strong.  I’m hanging on by a thread. Every day I count as one less day I have to endure. It’s day 999, tomorrow is 1,000 days.  It’s torture not knowing how many days there are left. Instead of counting up, I wish I could count down. Running this race is like running a race where the finish line is an unknown distance away.  How am I supposed to pace myself when I don’t know if it a 100 meter dash or a marathon?

Last week I heard someone say they lied to their kid because they told them that “If anything ever happens to you, I won’t be able to live.” They felt guilty because they “lied”.  Their kid “died” and they’re still here. Nope.  You didn’t lie.  Many parents feel that way, but you know what?  You do live.  You don’t really have much choice.  Other people are depending on you. You made a commitment. So, you get up, you get dressed, you eat, you bathe, and you do it all again.  You even sometimes pretend to be happy and people call you strong.

The Shamrock Shuffle, held on or around St. Patrick’s Day has become a primary fundraiser for Shayna’s scholarship fund. This is the third year we have participated in the event as a charity. Shayna’s Girl Scout troop participated one year where they ran part of the event as part of an award they were working on.

Our families have stepped up big time to participate in the event. It’s not a race, or even a day, it’s a weekend. We have a pasta party the night before. This year we had about 20 people at the pasta party. Tywana’s sister, her husband, and her three boys spend the night. This year they came in on Friday. Between them, a fiancé, Kayla, and Gabe (Kayla’s boyfriend) we had 11 people spend the night on Friday. That number went up by one on Saturday when our nephew Wesley drove in from college to join the party.

Race day was predicted to be iffy precipitation, snow, sleet, rain, or some God-awful mix. Thursday and Friday were beautiful. Sunday was predicted to be sunny and warmer. Fortunately, by the time we have to leave the house for the race, the forecast has been changed and the rain won’t be coming until long after the race is over.

Tywana I love having the family in. For me, the house is so quiet with both girls gone now. Whenever we have company staying overnight, it reminds me of the days when I was a kid and my aunts and uncles would come to town. There are people sleeping all over the house. Some on futons, on four different couches. But, it’s a great time, never too crowded, never too loud. And, just like when I was a kid, I hate it when it’s time for everyone to go home. It seems since Shayna’s passing especially that we value this time together. We have always appreciated it, always had a great family bond. But, with the kids growing up, the times are become more scarce and more precious.

We bundle up for the race since it’s about 30º and overcast. The kids run it. Some of us fast walk it. And, some of us have a leisurely stroll. After it’s over, we take the family over to the high school, across the street, to see the memorial the volleyball team had put in for Shayna, Victorian and Lauren. All three girls memorialized for as long as the school is there. Tywana tells the family the story of how the memorial came to be. I’m so proud of my girl Shayna for making such an impact in a school she only attended for two years (never even making it to main campus high school) and with the varsity volleyball coach even though she was only ever on the freshman team. Shayna didn’t have the opportunity to become world famous. But, my philosophy has always been to bloom where you are planted. That girl sure did, in a way that still amazes me almost three years later.

Sunday morning comes and it’s time for goodbyes. Wesley heads out early to get back to study. Shell, Rod, and the boys get into their two cars to make the drive back to West Virginia. Kayla and Gabe hit the road for Toledo. It’s the two of us again.

I know Shayna enjoys this weekend as much as we do. Probably more. She loves the banner we had made with her picture and name. She loves us telling stories about her. She loves the way she still brings the Shayna Six (her friends who decided to name their group after her after she passed) together. They wore Shayna Shining Stars T-shirts and did the race together. Tywana and I knew from Day 1 that Shayna would have a big impact on the world. We never dreamed it would be in the way it has been.

 

As I sit and reflect on the weekend and on my life now, I would give it all up in an instant to have Shayna back. People are talking about next year’s walk and wanting to participate. God only knows where we’ll all be in a year. But, if we’re here, we’ll do it again. Any excuse to get together, celebrate family, and remember Shayna is a good excuse.

Shayna was born 18 years ago today on a bitterly cold day in January 2000. In a way it seems like a lifetime ago, and in a way, it was.  It’s 14º as I roll out of bed this morning.  It was 50º two days ago. The roads are a mixture of black ice, regular ice, snow, and slush, but I have to get out for a walk today.  It’s Shayna’s birthday and we connect while I’m walking.  I’ll risk taking a spill on the ice to have that time with her.  At least the sun is shining.  I listen to some music, think about my Shayna and shed some frozen tears.

I get in my 7 miles and head for home. Tywana’s up and making pancakes for breakfast in honor of Shayna.  We’re going out for pizza tonight since that was Shayna’s favorite dinner.

Five of Shayna’s friends want to come over to the house to celebrate her birthday with us.  Taylor, Amanda, Truc, Caroline, and Olivia all come over. These are the friends Shayna made during her just two years at Lakota schools. The fact that these girls even remember Shayna is impressive. The fact that they continue to honor her and us by coming to our house on her angelversary dates and her birthdays amazes me.  They bring presents. Truc brings an ice cream cake. They sit around the kitchen tables sharing stories of their time with Shayna and telling us about their plans for colleges.  I assume this will be the last birthday we celebrate like this as next year they’ll all be scattered to various colleges.  As they make their plans, I wish each of them a long, prosperous healthy life and I am grateful for the circle of friends Shayna had and that she continues to be an influence in their lives.

Tywana, Kayla, and I head out for pizza, but Pies & Pints has nearly an hour wait.  So, we head over to Bar Del Mar for burgers instead.  Shayna would approve of a cheeseburger.

Why should today be any different than any of the other 934 days since Shayna crossed over? Why do I torture myself more on the angelversaries and birthdays?  Today, i reflect on the fact that she’d be 18. I hear her telling me “I’m an adult now, Daddy.”  I think about her plans to go to OSU and be a veterinarian.  Would those have changed by now?  Would she still be my sweet baby girl or would she have turned surly and distant?  There is no way of knowing.  I’ve been doing counseling the last several weeks where the counselor has been using a lot of techniques that have me envision things that happened, like her passing, in a different way. He also took me through an exercise where I was to envision something that would have made her passing less shocking. We work out that if I had gotten a terminal diagnosis, it wouldn’t have been shocking. So, he has me run the tape back in my mind to two years before.  I get the diagnosis.  Now I know. Now her death isn’t shocking. So, he asks me “How does that feel?”  “No better.” I tell him.  The problem is now over the last two years of her time here I’m constantly thinking about her possibly dying. I’m mourning her before she’s gone.  We don’t let her play volleyball. She probably doesn’t even go to public school.  She doesn’t live her life full out the way she did until the absolute very end.  We modify the scenario.  Instead fo two years, I get the diagnosis two days before.  “Is this better?” he asks.  To appease him, I say “Oh yeah. That’s better.”  The truth is no scenario plays out any better. I tell him about one of my favorite movies “The Butterfly Effect”.  In the movie, a guy finds out he has the ability to go back in time and he does so to try to prevent a tragedy. Each time he prevents the tragedy, an unintended consequence comes up.  Shayna had a pretty severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. She was on medications that were very powerful and had potentially devastating side effects. She was in remission. But, there were never any guarantees the medications would continue to work or that side effects wouldn’t kick in.  Even when I try to imagine Shayna still here with us, at 18, I wonder what her life would be like now and what it would be like going forward.  There were no guarantees it would have gone the way I wanted it to go.

I recall a reading I had with Susanne Wilson the year after Shayna passed. She told me that Shayna had a 16th birthday party on the Other Side.  I imagine as we are celebrating her here, she’s celebrating with her Pops and her other relatives over there.   I know she’s looking in on us.  As much as this sucks, and it sucks big time, I trust that it’s for the best and I hold onto the knowledge that it cannot and will not last forever.  Nothing can keep us separated.  Happy Birthday, baby.

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.

Thanksgiving is over. Kayla just had her 21st birthday, was here for a short visit and is back in Toledo on the home stretch of the first semester of her fourth year.  The sun is rising late and setting early, when we see it at all. These are the dark days I dread every year.

To add to this, these are the holidays, a mixed bag.  My favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving. There’s no financial pressure. There’s no trying to pick the perfect gift.  It hasn’t been tainted with commercialism. It’s all about spending time with family.  What could be better than that? But, now we’re at the time of our lives when there are gaps at the table.  We pretty much know when family gathers in a large group, one or more of us won’t be here next year. We think it might be Aunt Lil who is over 90.  We don’t suspect it will be Richard, her 69 year old son.  We certainly never think it’ll be our 15 year old Shayna. But, each year, as we gather and give thanks for one more trip around the sun together, we hold that pain of those who are not with us anymore.

I’ve been trying to cultivate this “attitude of gratitude” they tell me is the key to life, the law of attraction, manifesting what I want in life. But, when I hear people say to be grateful for life, I struggle.  Being grateful when you’re going through hell doesn’t come easily or naturally. All the platitudes in the world don’t help with that. At Richard’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, the pastor said we should give thanks for God getting us up this morning, for our hearts beating, for drawing breath. OK… yeah. Well, what is the alternative? If you believe we are only our bodies; sure, we should be grateful that we’re not worm food for one more day. But, we’re not that. When we leave our bodies we’re more alive than we ever were here.  You know who’s grateful right now?  Richard is grateful.  He’s Home. Being grateful for another day of struggling on this planet is difficult. I need something more specific.

Kayla came home a few days before Thanksgiving. She brought her boyfriend, Gabe. I so look forward to Kayla coming home and to getting to spend time catching up with her. We text while she’s in school, but it’s not the same. Gabe came to spend her birthday with her and she went out with her friends the night of her birthday.  Thanksgiving night, my sister-in-law, her husband, and her three boys came to spend a couple of nights.  So, I really didn’t get to spend much quality time one-on-one with Kayla over the break.  Thanksgiving day we went to Columbus to spend time with my family.  It’s tough for me to be around them since Shayna passed.  My brother’s daughter is only a couple of months younger than Shayna.  They were like twins, always together at family outings, always up to some “nonsense” (as Kayla would say).  Seeing Briana without Shayna is tough.  I got through the day, taking a few breaks every once in a while to spend some time with Shayna and tell her that I missed her physical presence.

I can’t force gratitude and I can’t pretend I’m happy about everything in my life. It’s a struggle being here without Shayna.  The business is in a transitional phase that is taking a toll on my mental health.  This life is hard. But, I did find things to be genuinely grateful for.  Kayla is 21 and still enjoys spending time with Tywana and me. It’s not easy for her to be in this house without Shayna. But, she does it for us.  She had dinner with one of her childhood friends her last night here, but she came home early to spend time with Tywana and me, alone and we watched the movie we had wanted to watch.

I reflected on Tywana and Kayla and how they have changed since Shayna’s passing. My first thought was how much they have grown since then. Kayla has gotten stronger and more assertive. She’s enjoying life more with more of a carpe diem attitude.  She’s changed her major into some that is more in line with her passions.  Tywana has expanded her horizons, taken a whole new look at life. She’s meditating, practicing energy healing. She’s dedicated to helping other people. But, I realized this was wrong.  They haven’t changed since Shayna’s passing. What has happened is Shayna’s passing has presented an opportunity for them to reveal what was there all along. That strength, that passion, that drive was always there.  What has changed is the expression of it is more full.

I am grateful for the time I get to spend with them.  I am grateful for the abilities I have to overcome the challenges of the business. I am grateful for an amazing family to spend time with.  Our house was full for a couple of days. We love having that energy here, even if it’s only for a couple of days at a time now.

Thanksgiving 2017 is in the books.  Christmas is around the corner. Helping Parents Heal is full of parents who are struggling with a first or second holiday season with their children on the other side.  I am grateful for having made it through two and being in a position in this third season to help others make it through theirs.