One week ago today, I was in Bardstown, KY attending the Bourbon Festival when I got a notification on my phone. Helen started a Facebook Messenger group to tell us that our friend, Eric Middlebrook, had transitioned the day before. Eric passed unexpectedly, due to complications from surgery the week before that.

I was stunned. I didn’t tell Ty because I didn’t want to shock her while we were out in public. Eric and Pam are friends we had met at Nexus church. We attended together for years. We hadn’t seen Eric and Pam in a while. But, I keep in pretty close contact with Pam via Facebook. Their daughter Cydney also attended Nexus with us.

My heart immediately broke for Pam and for Cydney. Eric and Pam found each other later in life, after each had started families  with other spouses. They cherished each other. It was evident every time you saw them. Eric and Pam seemed to have been made for each other.

Eric is one of those guys about whom it is said: “He never meets a stranger.” Eric led a band of brothers he dubbed “The Good Time Dudes.” This group would go on adventures; hunting, fishing, motorcycling, whatever. Many of Eric’s friends were lifelong friends, from the time he was a child growing up not too far away in Hamilton, OH.

His funeral was held was in a park not far from us. The service was precisely as Eric would have had it. There was a formal portion of the service. But, the dress code was casual. The service was in a shelter in the park. We were invited to stick around after the service for festivities, as Eric would have had them.

I usually do not attend funerals that I don’t have an absolute responsibility to attend. I wanted to be there for Pam and Cydney. However, I knew Eric’s service would have more than enough people there to support them. I was not friends with many of Eric’s friends and felt my presence there might be a bit awkward. Tywana and I decided to go at least for the service to add our presence to what we knew would be a massive crowd there to honor Eric.

When we got there, the line to pay respects to Pam was long, as I expected it to be. The service was scheduled to start in a few minutes. Instead of taking the place of a family member or a closer friend in line, we made our way to a seat. In case I didn’t get the chance to speak to Pam before we left, I checked in on Facebook so she would at least know I had been there.

Several of Eric’s friends eulogized him during the service. No one could remember ever having a cross word with Eric. The stories were all about how much Eric loved every second of life and how he extracted every drop of joy life had to offer out of every second he was here.

The formal part of the service ended, and we were invited to stay for the festivities, as Eric would have had them. As Tywana and I were talking to Helen and her family, I smelled a cigar. Then, I noticed people were walking around with bourbon, in Glencairn glasses. This was certainly Eric’s service, done right! I was reminded of Lukas Graham’s “Funeral” which is to be played at my service.

Pam was available to talk. So, we made our way up to where she was. Having gone through the sudden loss of Shayna, I have some idea of what she’s feeling. There is shock. There is that unreal sensation when you leave the hospital without the person you took in. There is the rejection of this life you did not plan. Tywana and consoled Pam as much as possible. Pam had gotten my book on grief and told me she listened to it twice during the week. I am grateful it brought her some comfort. I assured her that Eric is still here and that I meant that literally. He is right here, right now.

I told Pam to give me a call in a few weeks after everyone has gone back to their routines. She said she wanted to. She wanted to know what to expect. She wanted to know about the signs. Then, she told us about signs she had already gotten from Eric in just these seven days. Goosebumps broke out all over my body as she relayed her story.

At Pam’s encouragement, I went inside to get a glass of bourbon to have in Eric’s honor. I mean, how could I not? I grabbed a cigar that one of Eric’s buddies had brought and Tywana and I mingled a bit. She pointed out that one of the guys there was wearing the same shirt I was wearing.

A few minutes later, one of Eric’s friends noticed I was wearing the same shirt as this young man, and he wanted us to pose for a picture. The shirt is a button-up floral print shirt.

I made my way over to where this young man was standing. We posed for the picture. I extended my hand, and we introduced ourselves. His name is Tyler. Then, someone told me that Tyler is Eric’s youngest son. I had never met Tyler.

The odd thing is that I struggled with deciding what to wear to the service. It was hot, the mid to upper 80s. So, I had to wear shorts. I typically dress to stand out. But, I wanted to be respectful and not wear something that would draw too much attention. The majority of the time, I grab something with barely a thought, put it on and go. I had another shirt on that Tywana said was fine. But, I thought it was too loud. I changed it and put on the floral print shirt.

 

Tyler and me. Obviously a man of impeccable taste.

It wasn’t until after I had left the service that I realized that one of the signs Pam had asked for had taken place there. I have many shirts I could have chosen to wear that day. The odds that Tyler and I would have the same shirt are pretty small. Conservatively, I chose from about twenty shirts. If Tyler chose from half that many, the odds we were wearing the same shirt were very slim.  The fact that we both have the shirt is an interesting coincidence. The fact that we both chose to wear it to Eric’s service, I don’t think was a coincidence. When things like this happen, the engineer in me kicks in and try to calculate the “p value”, the chance of the event happening randomly. I can’t say what the odds are of Tyler and me having the same shirt. But, if you multiply that by the odds of us both choosing it on that day, I think the odds are less than one in a thousand, easily Somewhere there is a picture. I hope Pam gets the picture.

Eric, we know you’re still here, and we know you’ll make your presence known. You’re too much of a force not to.

I don’t say it often enough, but I am very fortunate to have found a life partner like Tywana. We’ve been together over 30 years now, married 28 in a few weeks. We have had two beautiful children together. We created a home, homeschooled the girls, started a business, and are now transitioning into the next phase of our life. The company we started dedicated to the girls’ haircare needs is in uncomfortable flux over the last couple of years. We are both adjusting to being empty nesters. The business is not generating the income we need which causes significant stress on me. Over a year ago, after over two decades of not working outside of the home, Tywana took on a part-time job without any prompting from me other than always complaining about money. It was 12 hours a week at a meager wage, but enough to pay for little things for us here and there. About two weeks ago I was talking with my friend and advisor Jake, and he suggested that one of us pick up an outside job to get health insurance benefits. I can’t take on any more outside jobs as I have three or four posts, depending on how you count, now. I gingerly approached Tywana with the idea that maybe she could consider picking up a job with more hours.

She loved her current job. She was working with a group of only women. The job was “sensory panelist.” It consisted of tasting products for P&G. Because you can only taste so much at a time, 90% of the job was downtime. They were scheduled from 10 AM to 2 PM Tuesday through Thursday. A typical work day consisted of tasting a sample at 10, having break for an hour or two, taking another taste. Then, maybe a third taste at the end of the day. They rarely worked until 2. Oftentimes they just had to go in and fill out a survey or drop off a sample, and they’d be paid for the full four hours. Tywana made best friends with one of the women there and they’d get 6,000 or 8,000 steps in while they were at “work”. It’s a dream job. Asking her to leave that to take on more work was a stretch.

The next thing I knew she had put her resume on Monster.com. In fact, she did it without telling me. I didn’t realize until the next day when I heard her on the telephone speaking with a recruiter. She had three interviews lined up within two days. She went on the first interview and got the offer. 20 hours a week. But, the time is 7 AM to 11 AM. Tywana is not a morning person. To ask her to adjust to rising early again after so many years of being able to sleep in is a big ask. I entirely left it up to her. It would be three times the amount of money she was making in the other job. But, she’d have to work four hours a day and would no longer have a four day weekend every single weekend.  Tywana took the job and started three days ago. She’s gotten up without complaint every day. It’s full time for the first two weeks while she’s in training. So, she’s out from 8 AM to 5 PM for the first time since before Kayla was born 22 years ago.

Times have been tough since Shayna passed. Finances have been a struggle. We’re both adjusting to the quiet house. Tywana has been unbelievable. She’s taken up meditation. She’s jumped in to volunteer with Helping Parents Heal. She’s listening to the podcasts I listen to, reading the books I read. We’re talking about how our lives will look going forward, which is very different than they’ve been in recent years. We were happy with our girls at home and our thriving business. That’s over now. We have to plan for the next chapters. And, I’m delighted she’s sticking in there with me as we make these adjustments.

I’m not great at complimenting people. That’s an understatement. I suck at it.  Just ask Tywana. My family of origin shows our affection by firing zingers at each other. I’m good at smart ass remarks. I tried to break that cycle with the girls, telling them I love them every night.  Shayna would say “You don’t have to tell me you love me all the time.” But, I’m glad I did because I never wanted her to doubt how much I cherished her, even for one second.

When a sibling transitions, the child left behind has a particularly hard road. They see their parents devastated. The parents’ grief might make them feel like they aren’t enough to make the parents happy. In the case of Kayla and Shayna, best friends, I cannot imagine how Kayla must have felt when I made that phone call to her to tell her that her best friend, her biggest cheerleader, her soulmate had slipped away during the night. Kayla had to fly home on an emergency flight from South Carolina. I remember picking her up at the airport and the look on her face when our eyes met as she silently asked me “Did this happen?”. We stayed up late that night in the kitchen both trying to wrap our heads around this new life and I truly worried for her safety.

Fast forward three years. Kayla has blossomed into a young woman. She was 18 when Shayna passed. Kayla will be 22 in just a few weeks.  She has a boyfriend, Gabe, that she met shortly after Shayna crossed over. Kayla went right back to school a few weeks after that dreadful day. She later changed majors realizing that she wasn’t passionate about what she was pursuing.  In just a few weeks she’ll be finishing her last year of undergrad work.

I am so incredibly proud of Kayla’s strength in the face of this. To have gone back to school to continue her education, to carry on at all, is a monumental feat. I know it hasn’t been easy for her. Yet, she gets up every day and does what needs to be done.  I see phenomenal strength in her, and it’s growing all the time. She still has that connection with Shayna but I know she misses her “little duck” being here with her to share her life. I love that we can still talk about Shayna. I love that Kayla still comes to visit us because I worried whether she’d want to be here where she and Shayna grew up together mainly since we’ve sort of turned the first floor into a shrine for Shayna. I thought she might be creeped out by all the pictures and the mementos, but she’s been very accepting.

Kayla has always been a gentle soul. Her personality reminds me of my cousin Joan, sweet and patient. She’s excellent with children. She has taken her first job taking care of kids- a part-time au pair, and the kids love her. She’s become more adventuresome, drawing inspiration from Shayna. She’s become more assertive. I see her confidence growing. She has already done great things, and I know she will do amazing things going forward.

I have been blessed to have two amazing girls and a partner to bring them through and to help raise them. Shayna would always want me to say that she was my favorite. But, I honestly cannot say either of them is. We had different relationships. Shayna was the one I’d toss a football with or play video games with for hours. Kayla and I share a love for the same music, old movies, and having late night deep conversations. The picture for htis post is from the Evanescence/Lindsey Stirling concert a few weeks ago. Kayla wasn’t a huge fan of either band, but she wanted to go with me and we had an amazing night.  How many 57-year-old guys get to share a concert with their daughters?

Shayna has gone ahead where she guides us, ever part of our family. Kayla, Tywana, and I have to be here hands and feet here until we all meet again.

 

Today I get the news that a woman I met just over a year ago has been given three to six months to live. That’s the way we phrase it. “The doctor gave her three to six months.” Nope. Doctors don’t give us time to live. Doctors give us a prognosis, which can be right or wrong.  Anita Moorjani was given hours to live in 2006 when her body was riddled with cancer and she lay “dying” in a hospital.  In 2018, she’s cancer free.  So, there’s always a chance the doctors are wrong this time.

However, the doctors are often fairly right and we have to accept that our lovely sister may be saying good-bye soon. I met her last February, just over a year ago. I have seen her face-to-face only a couple of times, even though we remain connected via social media. She’s short in stature, but a giant in spirit; a force to be reckoned with. Just thinking about her brings a smile to your face. I met her as part of the Serving Spirit class I attended and she roped Tywana and I into a Facebook group, which I later found out is a mediumship development class.  We have become fdamily with these people. And, since our focus is always the continuation of life, we are more aware than most groups that we will not always be together in the flesh. Some of us have speculated about which of us will return Home first.  We are all of a “certain age”, knowing that the odds grow greater with each passing day that one of will return.

When I got the news, I thought “No, her light cannot be put out.  We can’t lose her.”  She’s a warrior in this fight to shift consciousness of the planet. She has brought so many us together. She has inspired us with her fight. Then I realized “No we cannot lose her.” Literally, we cannot.  When she makes her transition, her light will not go out. It will shine brighter than ever before. I know she will be more of a force over there than she is here and I know that she will continue to work with us and through us as we complete our missions and return Home, one by one.

Observing the responses of the group has been fascinating. Tears have been shed. Tears will be shed. But, the joy and the love of the group is palpable as our faith is put to the test. Joy and pain are inseparable on this plane.  We feel joy for her upcoming graduation and her reunion with her loved ones who have gone before.  We feel pain in anticipation of the temporary separation which can feel permanent as long as we’re on this side. She is and shall remain a shining star regardless of what happens to her body.

Just about a year ago I met a woman at a conference in Florida.  I remember sitting with Tywana as we waited for the first session to start and seeing two women sitting in the lobby. We ended up sharing a table with them for part of the session and got to know them pretty well by the time the weekend was over.  Typically, when you go to a conference and meet people they’re in and out of your life in a few hours.  Who knew then the path our lives would take going forward?

Tracy was there almost a year to the day after the passing of her son Aymen.  Tracy is a doting mother, Aymen is her first born and her only boy. Their connection is so strong that Aymen’s passing nearly took Tracy with him.  She was hanging on by a thread.  Through a series of synchronicities, Tracy had met both Suzanne Giesemann and Mark Pitstick who were leading the training.  Through a different series of synchronicities, we had met Mark and had begun following Suzanne’s work.

Aymen, through Suzanne had given Tracy incontrovertible evidence that not only had his consciousness survived the death of his body, he was still very involved in Tracy’s life. Aymen told her she would be leading parents one day. Tracy was so bereft, this didn’t seem possible.  But, the work had already begun. Tracy had been recruited to work on the SoulPhone staff and was familiar with Helping Parents Heal. Tywana and I were affiliated leaders for HPH. By the end of the weekend, I had been recruited to work on the SoulPhone.  What we didn’t know at the time was that in a few months, Tywana and I would be working with Tracy (and Beth) as leaders for a new online chapter of Helping Parents Heal.

In the past year I’ve gotten to know Tracy pretty well.  Seven months after the Florida conference, we ended up at the Afterlife Research and Education Institute conference in Scottsdale, AZ.  Tracy and Beth were both there. Tywana connected with those two and five others to form Soul Sisters 8 and I think they have talked every day since then- four months ago.

Most of involved with HPH believe in soul planning now. We don’t think our kids transitions were accidents, or punishments.  They were planned with a larger purpose. And, for us leaders anyway, that purpose was at least in part to give us a big shove on our spiritual journey.  I’ve seen phenomenal changes in Tywana over the last two and a half years, more than in the previous 27 years combined. I’ve seen Tracy grow in strength, courage, and confidence.  It’s stil not easy. One of the good things about hanging with parents who have gone through this is we can be honest.  It sucks.  Sometimes it sucks a little less. But, it always sucks.  Yet, we go on.

Just a couple of days ago Tracy did a a radio interview on We Don’t Die radio.  Here’s a link:  Tracy Soussi- We Don’t Die Episode 227  As I listened to Tracy speak, it’s hard to believe it is the same woman I met last February.

Tracy is just one example of us Shining Light Parents who are on this most difficult, but perhaps most fulfilling (still to be determined) path. Tracy, Tywana, Beth and I running HPH Online have reached thousands (we have about 2,500 members) of parents, hopefully creating ripples that will echo into eternity.

I’m getting to that point in my life where death is becoming a common place thing. It’s not so much my generation as it is my parent’s generation.  People our family has known since before I was born, who I remember being my age or younger are making their transitions into the next life.  My parents are losing friends on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago I heard that Jean Burse was in the hospital diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eventually, I found out it was very serious. I never heard the word terminal though. This past Sunday, she made her transition. I found out on Facebook. I then found out she had “been given” 15 months to live, but it turned out to be not even that many weeks. She went fast.

Jean was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She was one of my mother’s oldest friends. We attended church together when I was a boy.  She was always there to encourage me- always telling me how smart I was or how kind or how handsome.  I was a shy insecure kid. I’m not sure if she knew that and that’s why she was always so supportive, but it made a real difference. She’s one of the few people outside of immediate family who has been in my life since I can remember.  She never let me forget the knee socks and shorts my mother used to make me wear to church.   In her 70s, she was on Facebook and we became Facebook friends.  I left the religion of my youth, so I was a little nervous as to how she’d react to the new Brian, but she was always still cheering me on- never critical.  On the occasions where I’d make the trip back home to Columbus and see her (often at funerals), she’d always have a word of encouragement for me.  When my Aunt Betty passed, just a few months after Shayna and Ty and I were inconsolable at the funeral, Tall Jean, as she was known, put her arms around both of us and held us.

Being part of Helping Parents Heal, getting to a certain age, death is becoming more common place to me. I’m grateful for the understanding I have now that it’s a natural part of life, that it’s not final, and that those who have gone before us are the lucky ones.

I imagine Jean at Home now. I hope she’s not too disappointed in me since maybe she can see the real me now, even hear my thoughts (that’s a scary prospect). I never want to become jaded to the very real pain that death causes, the separation, the heartache, but I have to say I’m a little jealous of Jean for having completed her race.  She’s crossed the finish line.  Maybe she’s still cheering me on from over there.

As I’m about to head out of the door for my morning walk, my phone rings. It’s my brother. I slept in today so it’s nearly 8:30. But, when I get a call from my brother at 8:30 in the morning on a Saturday I know this is not good news. I let it go to voicemail, finish lacing up my shoes and call him back as I take the first few steps into my walk. I might as well be out moving when I hear whatever it is he has to tell me.

I hear him say Mom called this morning.  My first thought is something has happened with my father. But, it’s not Dad.  It’s my cousin Richard.  Richard was taken to the hospital and left his body last night. This is surprising and sad, but not shocking.  Richard hasn’t been well.  Mom has been telling me how his appearance has changed over the recent weeks.  He’s barely been able to walk he’s been so tired. He’s been weak and lethargic. Richard is 13 years my senior, 69.  Since he was young Richard has struggled with mental issues, bipolar disorder I think.  He’s been in and out of mental hospitals for decades. He would swing from exuberant where he would spend money like water and talk a mile a minutes to times when he would barely talk at all. Mostly he was quiet and shy in groups of people which is nearly always when I saw him, at a family gathering. So, my impression of Richard is one where he barely spoke a word. I regret not getting to know him better. Even though we grew up in the same city and I was close with his younger sister who was closer to my age, when I would have sleepovers at their house I barely saw Richard. Richard was great with dogs. When I think of him, I think of the many dogs he owned over the years. I suspect he was more comfortable with them than with people.

Richard always lived with my Aunt Lil. When he was younger, I thought of it as her taking care of him. As he grew older, it was him being there for her. Her other kids got married, moved away, and had their own kids. But, Richard was dedicated to Aunt LIl.  As she aged into her 70s, 80s, and 90s and began having health challenges, Richard was the one that everyone counted on being there to take care of her.  Finally, in the last few months, everyone admitted that even Richard couldn’t handle it anymore and just a few weeks ago, Aunt Lil moved into assisted living. Shockingly, to me anyway, she likes it there and says if she had known how it would be she would have gone earlier. This, she says after years of resistance. My understanding however is Richard did not handle it well. I suspect her departure from their house gave him permission to end his struggles here.

This time of year is difficult for people who are bipolar. The waning light, I believe triggers their brain chemistry to be more off balance than normal.  As Aunt Lil has been doing well in her new surroundings, Richard was struggling.  The family, my mother, his brothers and sister, grew concerned and did all they could do, even convincing him to accept help that he would normally accept and even making a doctor’s appointment for him.  He was taken to the hospital just a few days before he passed, but he left on his own accord, refusing treatment. Nothing could be done.  No one could have done any more for him.  My belief is Richard was just done. Tired.  Ready to go Home.  With his mission of caring for Aunt Lil complete, I think he was ready to go.

As I continue my walk, I cry many tears for my family, for his surviving brothers and sister, Butch, Malcolm, and Michelle.  I cry for the pain I know this will cause Aunt Lil.  She has already had one child transition before her. But, I rejoiced for Richard.  As one who believes in soul planning, I admire someone like Richard who would come here and take on the challenges he took on. In spite of his illness he had a career as an educator.  He was always there for his mother.  My uncle, his father, passed many years ago. Richard stepped up when that happened. He was a good brother to his sisters and his brothers.

I don’t hear spirits talking to me, but as I walk, I get the impression that Richard is saying to me that he, after all of these years in this body, he is finally free of the fog that had clouded his brain. I imagine him as he stepped out of his body into his new life. I see him being greeted by Joan, his sister, one of the sweetest souls who has ever graced this Earth and I am filled with joy thinking of their reunion.  I imagine after such a challenging life, he’ll be in a rest and rehab facility or just taking a well deserved nap for a while.

I saw a post on Facebook saying that another one was “gone”.  Well, yes and no. Richard has stepped out of his body.  For us with this limited perspective, he is “gone”. But, from his perspective, he’s still right here. He has only gone where we will all go.  He’s finished his mission sooner than we have finished ours. Job well done, cuz.