Today marks the end of an era. I got word yesterday afternoon that Uncle Ronnie had made his transition. For a couple of weeks, I knew the call would be coming.

Uncle Ronnie is one of those men who are larger, than life. He was a legend in his own lifetime. He could spin a tall tale and keep a room full of people hanging on his every word. The tale might be true, it might not be, didn’t matter.

Uncle Ronnie was there for me since I can remember. He was just 18 years older than me. So, unlike many of my aunts and uncles, I remember his youth. He lived in Cleveland, just a couple of hours by car from us. Grandbaby, his mother, lived with us for several years. So, I saw Uncle Ronnie a lot. He was a playboy in his youth. But, he married at what seemed to me like an advanced age (in his early 30s), and when his kids were born, that Ronnie was gone. He became a dedicated father, husband, and the ultimate family man.

Uncle Ronnie didn’t just take care of his immediate family. He was there for everyone. Last week the show This Is Us did an episode titled “There”. The theme was being there for the family. I could not help but think of Uncle Ronnie as I knew he was lying in his bed in Cleveland, making his transition back Home. I believe it was that night I had a dream about him or with him, I’m not sure which. I can’t recall the details. I just remember feeling his presence, his wisdom, his grace, his love. And, I got the impression he was passing the mantle. I woke up wondering if I had been in his dream or he had been in mine.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of miles Uncle Ronnie drove over the years. He was afraid to fly.  I don’t know how many times I heard his story of overhearing the mechanic working on engine trouble on a plane he was on grumbling “I hate to work on a plane in the rain.” and how he had gotten off of the flight and rented a car. It never got old. But, not flying didn’t stop him. Family reunion in California? No problem, give me a few days and I’ll drive there from Cleveland. Golf tournament in Florida? It’s only a 20-hour drive. Graduation in Texas? I’ll be there. Nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and nephews, didn’t matter. When Shayna passed, he was here, driving me back and forth to the funeral home to make the arrangements.

One of my earliest memories is of Uncle Ronnie. I don’t remember much before the age of 6 or 7. I must have been around that age. I know we were in the car. I was in the car with him often. I remember him telling me that everything we see and hear is stored in our brains. But, our brains only have so much capacity. If we run out of space before we die, we don’t have room to store anything else. So no more new memories. This way pre-dated hard drives in computers. And it was in the days when I took every word of every adult to be the gospel truth. So, I walked around for days or weeks closing my eyes so as to not waste any space in my brain. Finally, my parents corrected this for me. To be fair to Uncle Ronnie, he was only 24 or 25 at the time. He was probably just having some fun with me.

I was always told I looked like Uncle Ronnie, and I never minded. I was blessed to be born into two outstanding families, the Smiths, and the Englishes. While I’ve always hated my common name, Brian Smith, I’ve been proud of the Smith legacy. But, I was always jealous of my cousins who got the cool surname of English. I didn’t share Uncle Ronnie’s name, but the genetic commonality was undeniable. I was only 5’10” when I graduated from high school. I had the feeling I was supposed to be 6’2″, the same height as my Uncle Ronnie. I think I willed myself to grow those four inches in college. My grandmother had 10 children, each of them outstanding in their own ways. Today, only two are left on this side of Home.

The tears have been surprisingly sparse since hearing the news. Death is no longer the same for me.

I knew I would not see Uncle Ronnie again in the flesh. But, I was at peace with it. I knew he would not want to live in any diminished capacity. He would not want others to have to take care of him. He was a strong, proud, brave man. When I heard he was telling people in the hospital he just wanted to go home, I thought he meant Home. He was able to go home and pass in the family home he created for Aunt Melda, D’art and Myla. I’m glad he did not have to suffer long.

When I want to feel sad, I find myself feeling grateful, grateful I got almost 60 years of knowing Uncle Ronnie. I got to live with him and his family for a while when I first moved to Elyria. Over the years when he would introduce me as his nephew from Columbus to his friends, I felt a sense of pride to be associated with him. He was always the coolest guy in the room. Going golfing with him and his buddies and watching as this skinny coal miner’s son from West Virginia held his own with anybody, was gratifying. He was gracious and extremely articulate. I don’t think Uncle Ronnie paid for a round of golf in his life even though he played several times a week and all over the country. Everybody wanted to bet with him even though no one could beat him. He took their money every time. He didn’t take up the game until his 30s, extremely late in life for golf. But, he was a scratch golfer. I was certain he’d play on the Senior Tour.

I have decades of happy memories of Uncle Ronnie. I know he lived an outstanding life. He was 77 when he passed, well past the average lifespan of a Black man in America. I feel grateful when I think of his life and how he shared it with others. I am jealous he gets to see Shayna before I do. I think of the Homecoming that must be happening! I am overflowing with the joy Grandbaby and Grandaddy must feel to have him home. His baby brother, Uncle Michael is there along with six more of his siblings.

This day must come for all of us when either our passing or the passing of a loved one separates us, for a time. When some people depart, it’s the end of an era. My tears are for that ending. But, every ending is a new beginning. A goodbye here is a hello there. I can imagine the shouts of “Ronnie’s here!!!”

I’m sure Uncle Ronnie has everyone gathered around and is spinning a yarn.

I recently came across this video of Uncle Ronnie a few years ago telling one of his famous stories.

As he would say: “Enjoy!”


 

Uncle Ronnie and Shayna at Brandon’s Wedding

 

 

Christmas 2020 it’s the sixth Christmas since Shayna passed away in June of 2015. Over the years, I’ve learned not to anticipate Christmas as much as I used to-, whether I’m expecting it to be good or bad. Let’s just wait and see what the day brings is my new motto. Expectations lead to disappointment.

I’ve learned that every Christmas is different. Being a small child and getting excited about the toys I would get faded as I got older. The joy experienced vicariously through my girls waned, even before Shayna passed away. There was no more staying up all night putting their toys together and preparing the milk and cookies for Santa. They began sleeping in on Christmas morning.  Christmas evolved into a lazy day with a special breakfast and seeing a movie in the afternoon.

This year it’s Covid-19. We can’t even get together with our families. Last year we went to Nashville after Christmas and spent a few days hanging out. We thought it might become a new tradition. But, there’s no traveling this year.

Kayla is back with her boyfriend Gabe, who is in Cincinnati for an internship. He couldn’t travel to his home in Michigan because he’d have to quarantine for 14 days on his return. So, she and he spent Christmas Eve and the next two nights with us. It’s a different configuration than we used to have. Kayla has another friend, Darrenton, who would have had to spend Christmas alone for the same quarantine reasons since his family is also out-of-state. So, he joined us for Christmas dinner.

Kayla and I kept our 24-year tradition of getting a “Snow Baby” ornament. Christmas Eve, she, Gabe, and I went to the only place in town that still sells them and chose one.

I took my 7-mile hike even though the temperature had dipped drastically to about 15 degrees for Christmas. It was an eerily solitary walk. I think I saw a total of five cars on the road in an hour and forty minutes. The sky was utterly overcast, without even a hint of sun. But, it felt good to be up early and get my walk in before everyone else rose.

Christmas morning, we had our traditional breakfast of breakfast casserole, sweet rolls, and fruit salad. We also had mimosas for breakfast. We opened presents a little bit later on and watched a couple of movies. I  started watching Life of Brian which I jokingly call a Christmas movie because it’s about the birth of Jesus, and Brian is my namesake.

Of course, for dinner, we had to have deviled eggs; Shayna’s favorites. I made a prime rib, which I did sous vide style. Since we had extra guests, I wasn’t sure if there be enough food, so I also poached some shrimp in garlic and lemon and butter. I made cranberry salad; Kayla’s favorite and my favorite. And we roasted some vegetables. 

 

It was fun having Gabe and Darrenton here. They added some new energy to the experience. We watched movies again on Christmas night and turned in, the dreaded day behind me once again.

 

Tywana and I have decided not to give each other presents for Christmas anymore. We each get what we want when we want it. She usually ramps up her purchases around Christmas. This year she bought a spin bike, a cadence monitor for it, etc., etc.

 

While Kayla was opening her presents she opened a bottle of Eagle Rare meant for me. I was pleasantly surprised because it’s one of my favorite bourbons and I haven’t seen a bottle since exactly a year ago when I found three bottles in a store in Nashville. 

 

Here’s where the sign comes in. I don’t look for signs on big days because I don’t want to be disappointed. Somehow though it seems Shayna always comes through. I never know what it’s going to be. It could be an electrical glitch, a song playing on my iPhone, a cardinal, a coin, a chance encounter with a person, anything really. As I took my walk in the morning, I didn’t see much of anything. It was bitterly cold. Even the squirrels and the birds seemed to be in hiding.

 

Tywana hands me another box. I remind her that I didn’t buy anything for her and I open it. It’s a bottle of Blanton’s single barrel bourbon.

 

Let me explain why this is so amazing. A few weeks ago I discovered a Facebook group that has the sole purpose of posting what they’re selling at Buffalo Trace that day. Buffalo Trace is a distillery in Frankfort Kentucky a couple hours from where we live. The products are highly sought-after. Many of them you just can’t buy as in you cannot find them. In the gift shop each day they sell some of their hard to find products. But, it’s random. You never know what they are going to have. So every day someone posts what they have for the day so you can make the trip and have a shot at getting it. I just discovered this group about a month ago. I told Tywana one day when they had Blanton’s I was going to get in the car and drive down. I’ve never had bottle of Blanton’s. When I lived in Lexington over 20 years ago, it was readily available but more than I wanted to spend on a bottle of bourbon. The last couple of years I’ve had my eye out for it but never saw it on the shelf. 

 

I told Ty about the group and she asked why I didn’t have her brother get a bottle for me. He only lives about 20 minutes away from Frankfort and could get it pretty easily. I knew it would be a mad rush before Christmas to get a bottle. So, I decided to wait until after Christmas to make the trip. 

 

So, here I am looking at this bottle of bourbon I’ve been wanting for years and just found out a few weeks ago I might have the chance to get. I take it out of the box and look at the details. Each bottle is bottled from a single barrel. So, the warehouse and even the shelf the barrel was on is printed on the bottle. What’s also on the bottle is the “dump date”. 

 

The dump date is the day the barrel is dumped to be bottled. Some people spend a lot of time looking for specific dump dates- their birthday, an anniversary, things like that. As I look at the dump date, it hits me. It was bottled 11-3. November 3rd, the day of our anniversary. Even more, it was dumped 11-3-2020, the very day of our 30th wedding anniversary. There’s my sign!

 

Christmas Day is over. Kayla and her boyfriend stay. We have nachos for dinner on Saturday and watch the Disney/Pixar movie Soul. It’s that weird limbo week between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is usually off of work. But, since no one can go anywhere due to Covid, Kayla isn’t taking off of work. Ty’s not working right now. So, I figure on Monday I’ll just get back to the grind.

 

Soul is a fantastic movie about the Journey of the soul. I love the fact that there are no religious overtones to it at all. It matter-of-factly presents how a is formed, how it progresses, and about a life’s purpose. There is a great deal in there about the astral plane and being in your zone. They touch on soul guides. The animation is out of this world. After that, because I got in Disney+ to get Soul Kayla noticed that Inside Out was available. Inside Out came out just a couple of weeks after Shayna passed away.  Tywana and I saw it at the theaters.  We saw it just to get out of the house. But, it was too soon. I just sat in the dark and cried the whole time because I could not get my mind off of Shayna. I felt like I didn’t get much out of the movie. Then, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again over these last five years because it reminded me too much of that time right after Shayna transitioned. 

Kayla said she wanted to watch it. So, I sucked it up, put on my big boy pants, and watched.  I’m glad I did. Inside Out is about no emotions and how emotional development works. It’s extremely deep like all Pixar movies- ostensibly for children but touching being human on a level that is surprising.

Monday, January 4th, Kayla went back to her place. She put away her Snow Babies. I have to admit I’m a little sad that Christmas is over. We couldn’t go to the theater. So, we brought the theater to us. We had fantastic meals. I got my first ever bottle of Blanton’s bottled on the day of my 30th anniversary.

New Year’s Day has now come and gone. We did a four-hour Zoom with our neighbors. Every year for the past 23 years we’ve spent New Year’s Eve with the same couples. First, it was having our children do sleepovers in the living room while we rang in the New Year. This year, because of Covid, we thought we’d miss out. But, we decided to see what it was like to get together over Zoom. We started at 9:30. Finally, around 1:30 AM we all decided to sign off. While we couldn’t be together physically, our spirits were together and we rang out 2020 and rang in 2021 with joy in our hearts.

2,000 days

48,000 hours

5.479 years

That’s how long it’s been since my life changed forever. June 24th, 2015 was the day that my daughter Shayna Elayne left this Earthly plane.  Today is December 14th, 2020

This morning I woke up and thought about how things have changed since June 24th, 2015.

I got up, and I looked at my blog that I started amazingly the day after Shayna passed. Something told me to document this journey similar to what C.S. Lewis did in his book “A Grief Observed”. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just had to. Then, just a week later, I made the blog public.

This post gets filed under several categories- milestones because it’s 2,000 days since Shayna passed, signs because I got a sign today, and podcast for the obvious reason.

First the sign. Today has been 2,000 days since Shayna passed. My YouTube channel has been creeping up on 2,000 subscribers for a while. Today, the channel hit exactly 2,000 subscribers.

 

2000 days

48000 hours

5.479 years

That’s how long it’s been since my life changed forever. June 24th, 2015 was the day that my daughter Shayna Elayne left this Earthly plane. Today is December 14th, 2020

This morning I woke up, and thought about how things have changed since June 24th, 2015.

I got up, and I looked at my blog that I started amazingly the day after Shayna passed. Something told me to document this journey similar to what C.S. Lewis did in his book “A Grief Observed”. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just had to. Then, just a week later, I made the blog public.

As I read those early entries, the whole first week A.S. (time is now measured as before Shayna’s passing and after) came flooding back.

I woke up on what I thought was an ordinary day. I took a 3 or 4-mile walk. I came back and sat down to work in my office. Then, I heard Tywana call to me saying something was wrong. I remembered the feeling that my wife and I had when we found Shayna in her bedroom that morning. She wasn’t cold yet. She couldn’t be dead. My mind could simply not accept reality. I recalled the feeling of total disbelief, the feeling of shock, crying out to God, screaming her name thinking I could somehow shout loud enough to be heard across the Void and call her back to me.

The memories of falling to my knees before getting into the police car came back. I remembered my neighbor coming over and asking if everything was all right and me not even being able to form the words to answer her. The police officer who gave me a ride to the hospital as my wife rode in the ambulance with Shayna, him offering to pray and me not even having a prayer to offer.

I called my parents and asked them to pray. I remember Dad saying that once you lost a child things were never the same. “Why did he say that?” I thought. “I haven’t lost a child.” Shayna will be OK. She has to be OK.

I knew Shayna had not taken a breah in an impossibly long time. Yet, I clung to the idea that she would be all right. This could not happen to us. We sat in the waiting room with friends who showed up to support us. Then, the chaplain came in. I knew this was bad. I didn’t want to see the chaplain. I wanted to hear a doctor tell me she had started breathing and wanted to see us.The chaplain wanted to pray. I could not stop him. He prayed for God’s will to be done. I countered his prayer. “To hell with God’s will, just give me my daughter back.”
When the doctor finally came in and told us that they have pronounced Shayna dead I immediately had the thought that that’s it my life is over. My life will never be the same but immediately followed by the thought that I had to take care of my wife and my other daughter Kayla. That whatever happened, the three of us had to stay together. I knew I had to be there for them. I held Tywana and committed to her that I would be there for her; not having any idea what that would look like.

Walking out of the hospital that day the parallel to the day that Shayna was born 15-½ years earlier struck me. We walked into Good Samaritan Hospital in January 2020 empty-handed and walked out with Shayna. We walked into West Chester Hospital on that fateful day hoping to walk out with Shayna and we walked out leaving her body there.That walk to my brother’s car was the hardest walk I’ve ever taken.

Here I sit 5.48 years later. 48,000 hours later, 2000 days later. I never had any idea that I would still be here. In those early days after her passing whenever anyone said anything to me about the future if it was more than a week in the future, I’d get angry because I could not even imagine living a week without my daughter being on this planet When people talked about years I’d tell them I had no plan to be here in years.

I’ll be 60 in May which to me seems like an old man and I can’t believe I’m still here. What has happened in the course of that 2000 days nothing short of a miracle.

Some things are still the same. We’re still running our business, Treasured Locks. We still live in the same house. Kayla went back to school right away. She got her undergrad degree and will finish her Masters in a few months.

Something had to change. After Shayna passed I realized very quickly that I had to do something about how I lived my life. I could not just accept where I was. I didn’t want to live. My only motivation for staying here was Tywana and Kayla. That was enough short term. But I knew that I could not just stay here and survive, that I had to somehow seek healing even though healing seemed impossible. I didn’t even want to heal. I thought that to honor Shayna that I should be miserable for the rest of my life. I wanted people to say that after she passed Brian was never the same. I thought that would be a fitting way to show how much she meant to me. I remember going to a grief group and early on and a mother was there and her daughter had passed about 10 years prior. This woman was angry and bitter and I believe she went to the gravesite at least once a week. She talked about how unfair it was her daughter at passing how she was miserable and always be miserable and I realize she was making everybody in the room miserable. You know we can learn from everyone we come across. I learned from that woman that day. Her bitterness and anger taught me something. I learned I didn’t want to be that person. Something different had to happen. So, I started reaching out to people and someone recommended to me that I reach out to a guy named Mark Ireland. I had never heard of Mark Ireland but he wrote a couple of books about the passing of his son Brandon. Mark started a group called Helping parents heal along with Elizabeth Boisson. So I wrote an email to a stranger which is so unlike me to write to a perfect stranger. Mark wrote back and sent me copies of both of his books which I read and which were helpful.

The next May, we planned a vacation for the three of us, Tywana, Kayla, and me. The girls loved going to the beach and Kayla decided instead of going to the beach this time, we would go to the opposite. We decided to go to the desert to Phoenix, Arizona. I had spoken to Elizabeth Boisson at this point. But, I had no idea she lived near Phoenix. Elizabeth happened to be just a few minutes away from where we were staying. So we met Elizabeth for breakfast. Long story short, a little while after that, we decided to start a chapter of helping parents heal in Cincinnati Ohio. That eventually turned into the Helping Parents Heal online Group, which I helped to run for several years growing it up to around 6,000 people.

Meanwhile, in 2019, I took mentorship from a business coach to try to improve Treasured Locks. This was George Kao, a guy I had heard on Suzanne Giesemann’s podcast. Suzanne is a world-class medium and someone I consider a friend. I figured if she was using this guy, he must be good.

A friend sent me a message saying she had run across a life coaching course she thought I’d be interested in. This was strange because I had never mentioned becoming a life coach to her. But, since she’s an intuitive, I trusted her intuition and took the course. I thought it could help with my work with Helping Parents Heal. Then, it dawned on me. The mentorship course I was taking wasn’t for Treasured Locks. I was supposed to launch a new business. In April 2019, almost four years after Shayna passed, I started developing the web page and wrote a short book on Grief.

I wanted to create something short and easy to digest from the perspective of someone who had first-hand experience with child loss. I wanted to share the raw emotions I had felt and what had worked for me up to that point. I took everything I knew and I wrote one big Google Doc and created this book and put it. A couple of months later, I started the podcast.

As I write this, it’s a year and a half or so after I started the podcast and wrote the book. The podcast is approaching 50,000 downloads. I’ve got nearly two thousand subscribers on YouTube. A couple of videos have gone somewhat viral with over 20,000 views.

I am teaching classes. As kind of a sidetrack, I’ve developed a course on racism. I taught a class with Robin landsong this weekend. It’s the second time we have offered it- a new way to look at grief and death along with Robin doing singing medicine for the participants. I’ve done classes with Dr. Terry Daniel. We are finishing one up this coming Sunday. I have spoken at the Afterlife Conference and the Helping Parents Heal Conference. I have hosted a grief panel for the International Association of Near Death Studies.

My coaching and grief guidance work continues to grow. It’s extremely gratifying when a parent or any other griever tells me that my work has helped them.

It seems like recently I’ve been coming across a lot of parents who are early in their grief, and I’m talking about weeks or maybe sometimes a couple of months. I’m grateful that I can remember what those early days/weeks/months were like so that I can relate to what they are going through. It’s nothing short of hell on Earth. I wrote about that in my blog in the early days.

Last week I was teaching the class “10 Life-changing Lessons From Heaven” a book and course about wisdom from near death experiences. The group was all women who have children in spirit. Most of the women there were just a few months in, and I want to address those people.

When I first started this journey, I had no idea that I could ever make it and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever be happy again. I remember looking at people like Elizabeth Boisson and others who had been on this journey longer than I had and thinking I’ll never be that what they are. Frankly, I didn’t even aspire to be what they were. They were joyful and doing fulfilling work. That would never be me.

I talked with a mother just a few days ago who was broken, and I mean totally broken. She had faith in God. She had been through other losses in her life, deaths other than the death of her daughter. But there’s something different about when it’s your kid, and she had lost her faith in God, her faith in the Bible, her confidence in herself. Without that foundation of God and the Bible she didn’t know who she was anymore.

I had just listened to a podcast about the value of despair. It’s the point most, if not all, of the saints have reached. It’s known as the Dark Night of the Soul. Even Jesus experienced this in the Garden of Gethsemane as he sweated blood tormented by the thought of what laid ahead of him and as he hanged there bleeding on the cross crying out “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”

As I spoke with her, my heart went out to her. But, I saw a saint in the making. I saw someone who had gotten to the point where she was broken wide open, an empty vessel ready to receive. The cracks are the places where the light gets in. She was seeking, asking questions, reaching out for a new view because circumstances ripped her old understanding away.

I was listening to a wisdom book a few days ago. One of the things it said was if you’re climbing a mountain and you feel like giving up; it’s okay to give up. Just keep moving your feet.

This gem resonated with me because I heard it listening to the book while taking my morning walk. I’ve walked every morning for the past several years, going back to before Shayna’s transition. After she transitioned, I turned that walk into a walking meditation. I would imagine that each step was a day. As I left my house, each step brought me closer to the step that would bring me back home. Each day brought me one day closer to the day when I would arrive at Home and see Shayna again. A friend I met on Facebook, Carolyn Clapper, not knowing this, messaged me on Facebook one day saying Shayna had dropped in on her and told her that I was walking trying to catch up with Shayna. That was 100% true. I’m not on step 2,000 on my round trip journey from Home back to Home.

Climbing a mountain or taking a walk, the analogy is the same. I don’t always feel like taking my walk. Many mornings when I first leave the house, I don’t think I’ll be able to do the seven miles. But, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t matter what I feel, I will eventually get to my destination.

In those early days, I didn’t think healing was possible. I didn’t even want to heal. But, I kept taking the steps anyway. Even if you’re like I was and say there’s no way I’m going to possibly heal, just keep doing the things it takes to heal.

To this day I have times I don’t feel like I’ll make it. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t long to be Home, NOW. There are times I wake up in the morning my first thought is, “I’m tired. Why do I have to do this again?”

I then do my gratitude practice. I think of three things I’m grateful for, even if it’s as simple as having a nice warm bed. I think of what I need to do today, just today. And, I get up and do it. Doing that enough times has led me to here, 2,000 days later.

The milestones that we go through are opportunities to stop and take stock. Life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. I thought my life ended that day in the hospital in June 2015. But, our stories never end. It was the end of a chapter. But one chapter closes, and another opens. We think of death as the end of the book. But, even death is just the end of another chapter. Death is the chapter at the horizon that we can’t see beyond. But, trust me, one thing I’ve learned for sure in the past 2,000 days is it’s not the end of the book.

What about you. Where are you on your journey? As I record this, it’s also the close of the weirdest year in the memory of everyone I know; 2020 is drawing to a close. We typically take this time, the New Year, to reflect on where we are and where we want to be. Take some time to reflect on the journey that got you to this point. If you’re going through hell, keep going. And remember what one man can do, another man can do. If I can do this, anyone can.

Captain’s Log Stardate 1827.

Video entry

 

 

Our 14-year-old lab mix began slowing down a few months ago. I knew the day that we would have to say goodbye was coming soon. I could not bring myself to let her go. She was no longer able to go up and down the steps to the deck. Her legs would give out on her, and she would collapse to the floor.

On Tuesday, we took her to the vet to see if there was anything we could do to help her. What we were told is what we knew. She was a 60 pound (down to 53 pounds due to muscle loss), almost 15-year-old dog. Her body was preparing to go home. The gray hair, cataracts, the hearing loss all told the tale that I turned a blind eye to. The seizures were what finally woke me up to the reality that the day I had feared was approaching fast.

By Thursday Zoe was so bad I knew it was only a matter of a few days. I happened to have scheduled a reading with a medium in training. We planned it a few weeks ago. Thursday was an incredibly stressful day for me. Zoe spent the entire day in her room. She couldn’t get up to get out of it. Normally, she would spend the day in my office or Tywana’s office. I avoided walking by her door knowing she’d look up at me with eyes that seemed to say, “How much longer are we going to do this, Daddy?”

I had a test medium reading scheduled for Thursday afternoon. I thought about canceling because I wondered how my energy would be. I had arranged this meeting weeks ago when I had no idea Zoe would be this sick. The reading opened with Andy saying to me, “I saw you before we got on the Zoom. You were in a room, with falling red hearts. They are all shades of red.” She continued, “I see in your aura an almost heartache. This is a heartache that isn’t here yet. But, you know it’s coming. You are going to have a conversation about it.” I broke down in tears. She told me, “The spirit world is at the ready. This is the greatest gift you can give. I see fur hugs all around you. Fur hugs.”

Friday, I had to carry Zoe out of the house to do her bathroom stuff. She collapsed, trying to get back into the house. I heard a voice say to Tywana, “It’s time.” The voice was mine.

We made arrangements to take Zoe in the following morning. We had a full day of moving Kayla, my 22-year-old daughter, into her new house. Zoe took precedence though. We didn’t want her to suffer one day longer than necessary.

Zoe made a peaceful, quick transition. After we left the vet’s office, Kayla told us that she saw Shayna in the corner of the room, waiting to greet Zoe. I had told Shayna that morning that she better be there to greet Zoe. I was elated to hear this from Kayla.

I spent the rest of the day at Kayla’s house assembling her IKEA furniture. It had been an exhausting day, physically and emotionally. I nearly quit and opted to finish on Sunday. But, I wanted to get it done and finished up. When I got home, I saw a Facebook notice that Cyrus Kirkpatrick was hosting an event with Susanne Wilson on Sunday. Since I got the furniture done on Saturday, I penciled it in on my calendar. I’d attend if I were up to it. I had been trying to reach Susanne to tell her about my book because she had encouraged me to write it several times. Also, in my first real medium reading, three years ago, she told me I would be working with Victor Zammit. I was in the Friday Afterlife Report this very week. I wanted to give her the validation of her reading.

Sunday rolled around, and I connected to the Zoom. I quickly told Susanne about my book and the Afterlife Report. She and Cyrus did their interview, and it was time for questions and answers. Usually, I would hang back and let others ask questions. And, I already knew the answer to my question. I just had to hear her say it. I asked, “Susanne, I had to put my dog to sleep yesterday. I’ve heard that when people cross over their pets are there to greet them. Have you ever heard that when a pet crosses over, their human is there to greet them?” She assured me this happens. Then, she paused, and a quizzical look came over her face. She asked if I saw Zoe’s soul as it left her body because she was being told that I experienced her crossing. I had prayed for a shared crossing experience. I hoped to see Zoe and possibly Shayna taking her Home. I didn’t get it directly. But, at one point, I felt like Zoe’s soul passed through me. Susanne described it as a not going up but going through, a “whoosh.” A “whoosh” is precisely what I felt. I wish I could say I experienced it as joy as Zoe’s soul was released. I experienced it as pain, as I knew my baby was gone.

Susanne said she saw Shayna with braids rubbing her braids across Zoe as Zoe lay on her lap. Then, she said, “Shayna says she was in the corner of the room.” This stunned me. Shayna in the corner was exactly the way Kayla had described it.

The synchronicities were not quite over. On Monday, Tywana told me about a podcast interview with Gretchen Bickert. Gretchen was on Lisa Jones’ show “Exploring Death”. What Tywana didn’t know is that Gretchen was in a grief class I taught with Terri Daniel last year. Gretchen is a pet grief expert. So, Gretchen and I know each other. The podcast was released just a few weeks earlier, on Tywana’s birthday. Tywana and I listened to the podcast. I was amazed and comforted by Gretchen’s stories about her dog, Ernie. Lisa mentioned that Gretchen might be looking for stories about dogs’ crossings. I thought about emailing her. But my week got busy.

Then, I saw that Gretchen was going to be a guest on AREI’s Global Gathering on Sunday, eight days after we put Zoe to sleep. This meeting would be the time to share my story with her directly. I called into the meeting and was able to have a conversation with Gretchen.

It’s been nine days since Zoe crossed. The grief comes in waves, as grief does. The gratitude does as well. I am joyous when I think of Zoe’s loyalty and love. I give thanks for 14 years of excellent health. Even during all of the pain, I am glad that I am open to see how the universe continues to support me. I am conscious that as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we should keep our eyes up so that we can see that we never walk alone. The timing of the reading with Andy was no coincidence. I easily could have canceled. The timing of the meeting with Susanne added to this. Gretchen’s appearance on Lisa Jones’ show and the AREI makes the magic undeniable. And the message of validation of Shayna being there in the room brings me great comfort by letting me know for sure my two girls are together!

It’s been three days, just about 72 hours since I was at the vet’s office seeing Zoe off for her transition back Home. This grief is a whole new kind of grief for me. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t faced a lot of grief in my life that wasn’t the expected kind, like the passing of a grandparent, or my father-in-law who had dementia for several years. He was like a father to me. 

The grief that is still freshest in my mind and the most prominent in my heart is from Shayna’s passing four years ago. One might be tempted to think all grief is the same; au contraire. Grief is as unique as the individuals who experience it. And, I am learning, it is also as unique as the relationship with the one who passes.

When Felton, my father-in-law passed after those years of dementia, it was like a release for him. He hadn’t been the man he was for years before he passed. His body was barely a shell of the man I remembered. Dementia had taken his wit and his intellect, or at least his ability to express them. He got to the point where he was non-verbal before he passed. Releasing him to be was not difficult. Watching him live in a state I knew he would have detested was the agonizing part. I grieved the loss of Felton long before his physical body finally released him.

On the other hand, Shayna passed suddenly. There was no chance to say goodbye; literally. I told her goodnight the night before, and those were my last words to her. I was in shock. Four years plus and am still in shock. There was zero anticipation. That’s the kind of grief that takes your breath away, and you feel like you will never breathe again.

With Zoe, it’s somewhere in between the two. With Zoe, I experienced some anticipatory grief. She was almost fifteen years old. But, she was in good enough shape up until two weeks of her passing that I could remain largely in denial. I could not completely deny that she was nearing the end of what a dog’s body can endure. I could still look at her and see the puppy in her eyes; even eyes clouded by cataracts. I denied her hearing loss. Her inability to get up and down the steps, I passed that off as just a touch of arthritis. I bought glucosamine tablets for her only two weeks before she passed hoping they would fix her problems which were most likely neurological, not arthritis.

In the last couple of weeks, her decline was so rapid that I could not deny it any longer. Two weeks ago yesterday I cried myself to sleep knowing the end was near. But, I had nearly two weeks to come to grips with what I knew was coming. I was able to say goodbye. I saw enough of a decline that I knew it was time for her to go. I thought I was ready.

Yesterday, as I took my morning walk, I walked in silence spending time alone with my grief evaluating it. In these past 72 hours, I’ve alternatively felt like I am doing OK. I’ve even thought, “Maybe it’s over.” I’ve rationalized this. “Zoe was old. Dogs don’t live that long. You knew when you got her this day would come.” So, since I’ve intellectualized it, I shouldn’t have to deal with the emotion.

Then a few minutes later, I’ll cry out in agony when I realize that such an essential part of my life is over. The grief comes in waves, just as it did with Shayna. Somehow it’s different though.

You might think, “Of course it’s different. Shayna is a human, and Zoe is a dog.” While that is very true and I would not say that my feelings for the two are the same, my love for Zoe is pure and unconditional, just as hers for me. The affection for a dog is real love, and with genuine love comes genuine grief. With Shayna, I mourned not only the loss of Shayna but of all her potential. Shayna was supposed to get her driver’s license, graduate high school, go to college, get married. Missing all of that, even four years later, compounds the grief of the loss of her being here.

Zoe wasn’t going to go anywhere. Her only job in life was to accept our love and return it to us. Giving and receiving love is something she did a stellar job of for her entire life with us. I knew that Zoe would be with me the rest of her days no matter how long or short that time was. With Zoe, there is no missing her potential. She did everything she came here to do. The only thing is I would have liked longer with her. Other than that, I have no complaints.

Someone sent a comic to me yesterday with a fourteen-year-old dog, coincidentally enough, tell his owner it was time for him to leave. The owner said he wasn’t ready. As I talked to Zoe in my head this morning, I told her that I wasn’t prepared. I heard her say, “You wouldn’t be ready if I had lived to twenty. I was fourteen. What did you expect?” She was right. I had no reply. 

Another difference is that when Shayna passed, people reached out to us. Neighbors came over and brought casseroles. We got sympathy cards. When a pet passes, people are sympathetic. But, the support isn’t the same. We’re expected to get over it on our own and quickly.

Here I am on another grief journey. I am the guy who wrote the book on grief. It’s not that I thought I had learned everything there is to know. I am learning even more. I am learning yet another kind of grief. I am exploring it. I wonder how it will change me. Earth school continues. I guess this is the next class.