Today is Kayla’s 20th Birthday. It’s two days before Thanksgiving. Some college students are already home for the break. Kayla isn’t coming home until tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it’s because she wants to spend her birthday with her boyfriend, Gabe.

I’m second fiddle in her life now. We haven’t see her as much this year as in the previous two years in school. When she has come home, it’s been to get her hair done. That’s OK. This is the natural order. This is the way you’re supposed to “lose” your children. They grow up. They move away. They get boyfriends. They’d rather be with their friends than with you. They get their own interests and they stop coming home as much. Kayla has a year long lease on her apartment in Toledo. She says she is going to get a job there this summer. I have been avoiding thinking about that. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

As I was coming down the stairs this morning, saying good morning to Shayna, like I do every day I heard her saying back to me “I’ll never leave you, Daddy.” That reminded me of when Kayla became a teenager and started the moodiness that comes with that age. Shayna wrote up a contract promising us she would never become a typical teenager and signed it. It hangs on the whiteboard in the basement. She was right. She didn’t become a typical teenager even though she will be forever 15 to us.

I dreamt of Shayna last night. She and Kayla and I were at the mall. We were just leaving and were on the sidewalk outside of the store. Shayna was about 7 or 8 with the chubby face she had at one time. She was wearing the glasses she wore before she got contacts. She was acting like typical Shayna not paying attention to where she was going. There was a duck or something moving through the parking lot that had fascinated her. As she walked I was scared she was going to step off of the curb into traffic. I could see her getting hit by a car and killed. I just knew that was how she died. Then, I remembered that that wasn’t how she had died and that she was already dead. And, I woke up.

We’ll get to see Kayla a little this Thanksgiving. We’ll head to Kentucky for Thanksgiving Day. Then, we’re off to Columbus on Saturday and she’ll leave from there back to Toledo on Sunday. I’m working on things to be grateful for. I know it won’t be long until she decides to spend Thanksgiving somewhere else. So, I’m grateful for any time with her now.

26 years ago today was a beautiful late fall day, at least in Lexington, KY.  26 years ago today Tywana and I pledged our love for each other in front of family and friends until “death do us part”.

At the time I had no idea how long that would be.  I always had this feeling I wouldn’t live to be an old man. I meant the vow for life, but had no idea of knowing what life would bring. At the time I had no desire for children. We hadn’t really discussed children. It wasn’t until three years into our marriage that we even considered children.  It would be another three years before we decided to have them.  Then, three more years later and we had Shayna.

We had the normal ups and downs of a couple up until the time the girls joined us. The girls were blessings like we couldn’t even have imagined.  Years of family vacations, afternoon trips to Costco and homeschooling would follow. Then, Kayla made the decision to go to public school.  Shayna would follow.  Shayna started being diagnosed first with rheumatoid arthritis, then with a very mild and very manageable heart condition.  Then, five months before our 25 anniversary, Shayna was suddenly gone. We had talked about going to Hawaii for our 25th. Shayna thought she should go with us.  After Shayna’s passing, all talk of going to Hawaii went away.  We endured that milestone, our first anniversary in 15 years without Shayna being there to celebrate with us.  The first of the milestones marking new experiences without Shayna.

Today it’s been another year.  People are congratulating us on having made it another year and wishing us many more. Who knows?  We think we know what life has in store for us. We make our plans, but they can change in the blink of an eye.  For today, I’m grateful for the times we have had and the one thing I know for certain about the future, that time cannot separate us forever.  We will all be together again.

The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band

Today is the day of Uncle Jack’s memorial service.  It’s being held in Columbus, OH, at Brentnell as our family calls it.   The rest of the world knows it, Church of Christ of Apostolic Faith.  To me, it’the church that Pop built.

As we get closer to the church I get that feeling that you only get when you visit a place from your childhood that you haven’t seen in decades. It’s approximately 40 years since I’ve been back to this place.  Pop (my father’s father) built this place. It’s a large church, but even more than that, all these decades later, Pop’s legacy continues.  My parents attend a church pastored by a man who never met Pop, but who knows his legend. My father’s twin attends another church- same story.  Uncle Jack has lived in Atlanta for over 20 years and his pastor also knows of Pop’s legacy.  The story of Pop has spread across the country in Pentecostal circles.

As we come into the church, I look all the way across the sanctuary and I spot someone who looks a lot like my Uncle Ronnie. It’s a family funeral, so there are relatives here.  But, Uncle Ronnie isn’t related to my Uncle Jack.  Uncle Jack is my father’s brother.  Uncle Ronnie is my mother’s brother.  And, he lives two hours away.  Next to Uncle Ronnie, I see what looks like Uncle June, my mother’s other surviving brother.  And, my Aunt Lil, my mother’s sister, is also here.  My parents’ families over the years have grown very close to each other, becoming almost like one family.  During the service, I sit next to Uncle Ronnie.  There was a service for Uncle Jack in Atlanta.  Uncle Ronnie is 73 years old. He drives everywhere he goes.  Cleveland to Atlanta is about an 11-hour drive, but Uncle Ronnie was going to go if my parents were going.  That’s how committed to family Uncle Ronnie is. As I sit next to him, I’m reminded again of how special this man is.

The service is to be “short and simple”. This is according to the typewritten detailed instructions left by Uncle Jack.  If you consider short and simple and hour and a half, it is.  How do you do proper honor to a man who lived 95 years and touched so many including more than half a dozen children and three wives over the course of his life?  His pastor from Atlanta came to Columbus to preach his memorial service.  Gotta make it worth the trip.

Uncle Jack was a prolific and gifted writer, just like his father, Pop.  He was an educator.  Uncle Jack loved language. He was a quiet man in person, but his writing and his life example spoke quite loudly.   My cousin Steve tells a story of how much Uncle Walter (Uncle Jack’s brother) and Uncle Jack impacted his life and how that impact has impacted Steve’s life.  As I sit and listen to the stories of my family, knowing the people Pop touched, Uncle Jack touched, my father, my mother, my Uncle Ronnie, my heart is bursting with pride.  Along with that pride comes the responsibility to try to live up to the standard that they have set before me.

As the service nears the end, I’ve made it through without bursting into tears.  I’ve tried to remain focused on this being about Uncle Jack and not thinking about Shayna as I’m prone to do during funerals now crying tears for my loss of her rather than the person we are there to honor. The service closes with a slideshow of Uncle Jack through the years.  I watch as the pictures recount 90+ years in a matter of a couple of minutes, watching Uncle Jack blossom from a toddler into a handsome teenager, into a dashing young man, then watching as Time takes away all of that vigor until he finally got to the point where his body was ready to be done and his soul was ready to go home. Uncle Jack was fortunate enough to transition exactly the way he wanted, on his terms, surrounded by his loving family.  We should all be so fortunate.

I manage to hold it together right up until the end. The slideshow ends with a video of Uncle Jack, at the age of 89, talking directly to the camera, dispersing wisdom and giving encouragement- vintage Uncle Jack.  One wild thing about this video is I dreamt this morning that I received an email from Uncle Jack, posthumously, with a video attachment telling me that he was ready to go, had gone on his own terms and had arrived safely at his destination.  I had no idea there would be a video of him at the service. I haven’t laid eyes on Uncle Jack in years as he stopped traveling from Atlanta. But, Uncle Jack was on the internet- learning how to use the technology in his 80s and getting onto Facebook in his 90s. If there was a way to communicate, Uncle Jack was going to learn how to use it.  I tear up at the end of the video.

After the service, there is a meal in the dining hall of the church.  My cousin approaches me and we talk about business. He’s a mile-a-minute guy full of ideas. He’s giving me advice and encouragement on the business, which I greatly, greatly appreciate and could use. We are struggling right now, going through a transition that has me overwhelmed. Between that and dealing with Shayna’s transition, my heart is heavy and it’s hard to not show it, especially at family gatherings where I am reminded of who is missing from my family.  My cousin looks at me and observes that my heart seems heavy.  I tell him “Yes, my heart is heavy.”  I’m not about bringing it up, but if someone asks I have to be honest.  He encourages me to keep my eye on where I am going, not where I am. Great advice.  He’s going to help me with marketing the business.  And we are going to try to get the family to start cooperating with our considerable talents, helping each other out. This is a fantastic idea.  I’m looking forward to it.

This is the thing though, where I am going is great. But, when I get where I’m going where my problem with losing Shayna is solved, you guys won’t be there.  LOL The business might turn around.  But, I won’t be 100% ever in this life again.

I guess that since we are talking about business he thinks my countenance is due to the stresses of the business.  I inform him that my heart is heavy because I’m missing Shayna. These family gatherings were tough for me before.  Funerals would give me panic attacks because, unlike most people, I’ve always been keenly aware of my mortality.  I’ve never been one to whistle past a graveyard without thinking that one day I will be there.  At funerals, I always think that one day that will be me in the box or my parents or a sibling.  I’m grateful I haven’t had to deal with the loss of one of them yet. But these thoughts would give me panic attacks in the past.  Now, they do not.  During the service, one of the speakers talks about Pop making the comment about having one foot in heaven and one foot here, later in life.  Uncle Jack got to that point later in his life.  I guess I’m ahead of the curve. I’m there at 55.

Uncle Jack endured to 95.  I hope to God, I don’t have to go that long. But, I know Uncle Jack and Mom & Pop and Granddaddy and Grandbaby and a whole host of other uncles and aunts are there waiting for me, but encouraging me to do what I need to do while I am still here.  Keep on running that race and pass the torch only when it’s time.

Damn.  I guess that’s what I gotta do.

Today we are going to Columbus for the memorial service for my Uncle Jack who passed a couple of weeks ago at the age of 95.  Last night I dreamt I was out for my walk and spotted an unattended FedEx delivery truck (the 18 wheeler variety).  I decided instead of walking I would take a joy ride in the truck. I finished up my joy ride and left the truck for the authorities to find later. As I was walking back into the neighborhood, the school bus driver I see every morning pulled in behind me driving the FedEx truck.  Problem solved. They’d never know I had taken it.

I walked back up the street and up the hill to my house and went in.  Tywana was in the bathroom getting dressed.  She hadn’t noticed I was gone longer than usual. Good.  All clear on my little caper.  As I was leaving the bathroom, I got a notification on my phone of an incoming email. It was from Uncle Jack. “Strange” I thought.  “Uncle Jack is dead.  How could he be sending an email to me?”  Uncle Jack was technically savvy for a 95 year old guy.  He was on Facebook up until a couple of years ago. So, I thought, he must have figured out a way to schedule an email.  The email had a video attached to it. Uncle Jack was narrating as the video showed him getting into a bathtub.  He said that he was fine right up until the end.  He had not suffered. He said that he even drew a bath and gave himself a bath the day he had “made the trip.”  He knew the memorial service was this evening.  His message was that he had arrived where he was going, that all was well, and that he wanted everyone to have a good time at the memorial because he was having a good time and would see us all soon enough.