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

 

 

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!