The good news is I don’t wake up to some terrifying thought.

The bad news is I didn’t wake up.

I didn’t sleep at all.  Yesterday wore me out so much I could not fall asleep.  Today will be tough.

I have to finish the arrangements for Shayna Celebration of Life tomorrow.  It is not a funeral and we don’t mean this just as some euphemism.  But, there is work to be done.  The program has to be created.  The video has to be finished. The video… I started it on Monday, but it’s so painful to work on. I have to do it. I select the pictures.  I select the music from Shayna’s music library, but my brother helps finish it up.  He has started the programs.  I finish that up. We are sharing the load.  Family is good. 

I stumble through the day. My family sends me back to bed but I cannot sleep during daylight hours. I call my doctor and get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication.  A good friend messages me “What can I do for you Brian?”  “Nothing Chuck.  I’m bone tired, but there is nothing anyone can do. I’m going to get into grief counseling as soon as I can get it scheduled.”.  Chucks says “Can I make some calls for you?”  He takes that off my plate.  Makes the calls, talks to some counselors, sends me an email with his findings and calls to discuss.  Friends are good.

Sometime during the day every day I find Ty and Kayla and we together reaffirm our commitment to each other and to coming through this.  I’ve never prayed with them, but we are sending affirming thoughts into the universe now. 

The pain is almost unbearable, but it is not going to overtake us.  We can feel the love, the support, the prayers and the deeds. When it’s too much for us, family and friends are taking over.

This is something you should think about before you die. Do your family this courtesy. But,my ou don’t expect to have to discuss their preference with your children.

It might seem burial is the better option. No horrible images of your loved one’s body going up in flames. However, there are pros and cons to each option.

Burial- if you want a place to visit your loved one, burial gives you that. You can picture him peacefully resting in the box beneath the ground. The funeral industry will sell you waterproof vaults so they can stay nice and dry. However, no matter what, they are not preserved. The moment someone dies, after their spirit has departed the body, the body is of no more use and the body starts to decay. Embalming retards this process, but the body will decay eventually.

Cremation- cremation is an acceptance that the body is not going to stay around forever in spite of your efforts. Cremation gives you options like spreading your loved one’s remains at a favorite place, putting them in an urn, even making them into jewelry or art. But, no matter which of these you choose, you are only taking the remains of what remains after your loved one is consumed and symbolically keeping them with you.

We opted for cremation. We agonized over what Shayna would prefer, but we couldn’t really know. We were scared to discuss it with Kayla and didn’t for a few days. Once again, our girls surprised us. Shayna had discussed it with Kayla and had said she wanted to be cremated and placed at the base of a tree. She loved nature while she was here.

We will remember Shayna always. Our mementos will be thumbprint pendants for Ty and Kayla and probably a thumbprint ring for me. We were going to get a glass orb with a few of her ashes in it. Kayla though it was creepy even though only we would have known what it was. We agreed to buy our own glass object for Shayna. The particular molecules don’t matter.

We were all stardust at one time and to dust we will all return. While we are here, we borrow matter to make our bodies, but even while we live our bodies are constantly absorbing and excreting matter. We are not the same now as we were yesterday. Don’t cling to the body after death. It is an empty shell.

Woke up sobbing as usual today. A cry first thing in the morning is the new normal. This time it was the realization that Shayna would become a “memory”. I don’ t want her to be a memory. Healing feels like letting her go. I can’t let go. I need to hold onto this pain to honor her. I need to hold onto this pain to keep her close. The pain, in an odd way is a comfort to me. It means she isn’t gone.

These next days are going to be especially tough. I should be planning her graduation (in three years) and I am planning the celebration of her life- the final celebration of her life. I want to get it right.

First we meet with the Bereavement Coordinator at the church. We will use the chapel there for her services. Pro-tip- do any and all services on the same day. You do not want to have to be up for meeting and greeting people two days in a row. We have decided on a one hour family visitation, a two hour public visitation and a one hour celebration. And it will be a celebration. We planned every detail the way we thought Shayna would like it. I, of course bawled like a baby several times as each phase of this process drives the reality home even deeper.

Next, it was off to meet the pastor who would officiate. He is a close personal friend that we have know most of Shayna’s life. We wanted someone who knew Shayna to do this. Bill is no longer an acting pastor, but he agreed to officiate. If I thought I could have done it without bursting into uncontrollable sobbing , I would have done it myself. Bill wanted to get a sketch of Shayna’s life beyond what he knows. I had typed up a little something. Six pages of single spaced 10 point type. Yeah, the girl only lived 15 years here, but she packed a lot in. Bill said “Do you want me to use this or take from it?” I realized no one wanted to listen to everything I had written, but to truly know Shayna, you have to know her whole story. I gave him permission to use excerpts. More tears there.

Then it was back home to work on the video for the ceremony. We have over 2,000 pictures of Shayna. We love to look through old photos of all the great times we have had. I took 200 or so and set about to choose the music. My family is deeply religious and I knew their expectations would hymns. But this was Shayna’s celebration and we were going to play Shayna’s music. Normally, I enjoy putting these together for birthdays and graduation. This time was torture. While I enjoyed looking through the years again as I got into the last two or three years now I knew her time was short.

Last meeting of the day, back at the funeral home. This was supposed to be easy dropping off stuff for The display of Shayna’s body. But, wait. What’s this? They tell me I have to sign the form to give permission to cremate her. The form has several places to initial and a place for a final signature. It was like signing a mortgage in form, but it felt like they should have just handed me a match and some gasoline and asked me to burn her. When I was done, I was spent. I slammed the pen to the table, out my head down and cried.

I composed myself long enough to walk out the door and cried again.

This was the worst day yet.

Shayna Elayne Smith is her name. Shayna is Hebrew for Beautiful.  Elayne means light. Shayna was named Beautiful Light and that is precisely what she was while on Earth.  Shayna was given to us on January 13, 2000 and taken from us suddenly on June 24, 2015.  She passed peacefully in her sleep in her bed, but it was not supposed to happen. She went to bed a happy, healthy 15 year old girl looking forward to her sophomore year of high school and her second season of her the second sport she was mastering, volleyball, and she did not wake up.

My wife Ty and her sister Kayla and I are completely and utterly devastated by the loss of the light of our lives. Shayna was the spice in our family.  She was the baby and she loved it. Shayna was an accomplished athlete having gone to volleyball nationals and two basketball nationals. She was a gifted student, number 15 in a class of about 550. She was everyone’s best friend. She was drop dead gorgeous and she was fun and spunky.  In spite of her talents and her quiet confidence, she was quick with a smile and a joke and she was humble. She cared deeply for animals. She had decided she was going to attend my alma mater to become a veterinarian. She was going to go with her favorite cousin who is the same age.  She had big plans. All taken from us in a heartbeat. 

Shayna accomplished so much in her 15-½ years on this Earth. She accomplished more than most who live two, three, four or five times that long.  At her celebration, which we had just a couple of days before I began this blog, there were well over 500 people- former teachers, coaches, people who had never met Shayna but had heard about her, coaches she never had the opportunity to play for but looked forward to having her on their teams.  The outpouring of love and support was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed and it is a testament to a life well lived.

This blog is for me to process my grief. When I’m upset I write.  It’s totally self-indulgent. This time I write in an effort to hold onto my sanity. I write in search of hope. I write to release some of this grief and pain that keeps filling me up. If I don’t release it, I will explode.  It comes out in tears, it comes out in words.  I
will share the ups (if there any) and the downs with no filters.   I will be singing the praises of Shayna for the rest of my days.  I will mourn her loss until I take my last breath and am reunited with her. 

But, in the meantime, Shayna wants me to press on and press on is what I will do.   Ty and Kayla need me.  I still have a family to protect and nurture. I write this to honor my little girl who taught me so much. We cherished her, told her how proud we were of her, and told her we loved her daily.  But, my appreciation for the way she took life on went even higher as I looked back at the sum total of what she did in such a short time.

We believe this little girl (if I can call a 5′10″ girl little) ran her course on Earth and finished fast, the same way she did everything else in life. She ran on ahead of us and we are saddened that she left us here to finish without her.  But, a few days after her death, an image came to me. 

We were walking the path of life together, as a family. We did everything together.  We were holding hands. Shayna broke ranks and ran ahead. Shayna was always onto the next thing. We miss her, but our choices are to sit down here on the path and cry or to keep moving forward. Sitting down won’t bring us any closer to her. We have to keep moving forward and we will. 

One day we will be reunited.  Every day for the rest of my life, I will look forward to that day.

The small amounts of sleep I get are such sweet relief from this world. I wish I could just sleep until it’s time to join her again.  As painful as just functioning with every thought focused on her is, I think the worst part is the waking up. 

Each day we begin life anew when we open our eyes.  Some Buddhists call this reincarnation. Thoughts of Shayna fill every empty moment of my stream of consciousness.  I’m not getting into a deep sleep anyway, so she is always right there or just under the surface. So when I wake up, the first thing I think about is her and how I am beginning life again without her.  Fresh agony Couple that with waking up multiple times during the night and, oh, it’s just so much. Sleeping is an escape, but sleeping means waking, which means starting once again without her.

Last night was a bit better. The pain was there this morning, but I didn’t sob, at least not right away. I laid in bed a few minutes.  Then, I had the simple thought “I’ll never hear her ringtone again.” Each of my girls had their own ringtone and hers was “Sweet Love” . When I would hear that, my heart would quicken because I knew when I answered I’d hear “Hey Daddy” in that sweet voice. It sent me over the edge.  More sobbing. Damn! Didn’t make it out of bed today without crying.

Today is my brother’s birthday. I call and wish him happy birthday. Someone should be happy.

Every morning when I wake up it’s a terrifying realization. “What is happening with her body now?” though I know intellectually she left it long ago.I go over all the things we will never do again. I count all the ways I will miss her.

Today though there is something new. Satan whispers in my ear as I emerge from my fitful sleep. “What did I do wrong?” “How could she die under my roof? I was only a few feet away.” “Should I have taken her to another cardiologist? Should I have pushed hers harder?”  “Did I do something wrong with her weekly shot?” “How could I let this happen? I failed to protect her”  I’m her Daddy.  I’m supposed to be there for her. I let her down and now we’re all suffering because of it.

Recently someone told me that we don’t go to Hell when we die, this is Hell. You were right.

I am in Hell.

I wake up today to more tears. A good cry every morning before getting out of bed is the new normal.

My friends and family are rallying around me in unbelievable ways. Food has been brought to the house. Everyone asks what she can do. Gestures are made. Offers to do anything and everything I need. The support couldn’t be better, but no one can crawl into the abyss with us. Ty and Kayla and I pull each other closer-physically and spiritually. Nothing will separate us. Nothing will separate us from Shayna. We commit to speaking of her often, telling Shayna stories. Teasing. We are in hell, but we don’t plan to stay here.

A friend mentions my posts on Facebook might be too intense for some. I give my friends the opportunity to opt out. Just unsubscribe for a while because this is going to be one big pity party for as far as my eye can see. But, my friends reject that notion, some violently. They want to crawl into the pit with me. They say if I’m in hell, they will pull up a chair. I am crushed, but I feel the love. Often the love of people I have never met.

A man I’ve know only on Facebook volunteers to come in from 500 miles away to officiate if I like. I am deeply touched.

This is what I posted on Facebook

“I made a post that must not have been clear. I have NO intention of giving up this source of healing. I gave some the opportunity to opt out. And I still make that offer.

The love I have been receiving is, I would say overwhelming, but I am thirstily and selfishly drinking it in. Many of the messages send me into sobbing fits, but sobbing is good now.

Thank you my friends. You have my deepest gratitude. I am truly blessed.”

Yesterday I worked on her obituary. Once again, I realized just how special this girl was. My heart swelled with pride as I recalled her accomplishments, as I thought about how many friends she had, as I thought about how she touched each person in such a special way. But, then it was quickly crushed as I realized that her time to touch people was over and I was writing the final words about my baby.

Another day. I wake up to a glimmer of hope it’s a nightmare. It was just a glimmer of hope today less than yesterday, then it’s gone.

Another 1,000 tears

I had no idea there were so many ways to cry.

Racking sobs of absolute devastation
Weeping from deep sadness
Tears of anger
Tears of frustration
Screams of anguish
Tears of opportunities lost
Tears of remorse
Fits of rage
Spasms of agony
… more weeping of resignation to my fate

My God… How many more tears?

We walk around the house occasionally having to go to her room. We laundry, find her clothes still in there from the trip last week.  How could she be gone before her laundry has even been done? We placer her clothes in her drawers the way she liked them. More tears. In the back of my mind I hope she is just visiting a friend and will be home soon.  After all, Shayna was always gone at a sleepover or she was sleeping in.  Often she was in her room on her iPhone watching Netflix, except this time she is not in her room.  Not on her iPhone.  Not at a sleepover. She has left us. The house is full of people, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts. Everyone but my precious baby. She would love the laughter as we tell Shayna stories. She would love the sweets. My God I love her.

Now, the anger starts. Every noise is irritating. How can you talk about anything other than Shayna. You should be as fixated on her as I am. Don’t you miss her?

The coroner calls.  There is nothing conclusive. There was fluid in her lungs (Kayla later tells me that means that it was unlikely that CPR could have saved her- Kayla is a lifeguard).  The fluid usually indicated possible cardiac event or drug overdose. Toxicology will take 6-8 weeks. Sweet, happy Shayna- we know she wasn’t taking drugs. She told Ty just a few weeks ago she was happy with where she had gotten her life.  She was looking forward to starting volleyball camp this year healthy for the first time in years. 

Cardiac event?  We took Shayna to the cardiologist several times since she started having rapid heartbeats a couple of years ago. We did everything they suggested AND MORE. She had two heart procedures. They told us that while they hadn’t completely eliminated the arrythmia, it was not life threatening and she was cleared for all activity. She would simply have to visit the doctor every two years for a checkup. A checkup that was scheduled in a few weeks.

The guilt starts. Did the pneumonia she had a few weeks ago kill her?  No.  She had taken antibiotics- two rounds. It was completely gone weeks ago. She had played a tournament in Florida the week before.  No complaints.  No coughing. No shortness of breath. 

Was it her heart? We got a clean bill on that.  Should I have have pressed him harder?  She did have occasional arrhythmia, but people with WPW often have many episodes a day and life normal life spans. Shayna had short episodes 3-10 seconds every few weeks.

Today we visit the funeral home. I drag myself out of the car, each step weighted down like I’m wearing lead boots.  

The funeral director is a lovely young lady. She is polite, understanding and compassionate. She walks us through the process, the process none of us ever wants to go through, especially with a child.  She greets us and seats us around a table.  Another moment of the reality of the situation.  I’m sitting in a funeral home discussing arrangements for my baby.  My God. NO!

After several questions we get around to “How would you like to handle her body? Have you thought about burial or cremation.” Are you kidding me? She was 15.

“No we haven’t thought about burial or cremation. She was 15.”

“Well, you have plenty of time to think about it. We can embalm her and you can your time.”

Oh great.  I don’t have to think about putting her in a box in the ground or burning her yet. Thanks for that small favor. But, I haven’t even accepted the fact she is really dead and you want me to give you permission to embalm her. This is agonizing. We make a few decisions. She will be embalmed. We will think about cremation. All hope of resurrection is gone. All hope of this all being a mistake. We are making final arrangements for our precious baby.

Now I am truly in Hell.