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.

I forgot to include this on day one. We get home from the hospital after having been given the shock of our lives. My parents and brother have driven in from two hours away and are helping us cope. There is a voicemail on the phone. I check it. It’s LifeChoice with a “time sensitive” message. Anything is better than thinking about what we’ve just been told and it is time sensitive, so I call back. The voicemail greeting tells me this is an organ donation organization. They tell me they would like permission to harvest Shayna’s corneas. “What? You’re calling me now? Do you know how little I care about anything else in the world right now?” “But wait, this is the time to call. This is time sensitive. Shayna’s corneas could save someone’s sight. I quickly wonder what Shayna would do then I quickly get the answer. Of course. We will donate. The questions they ask are interminable. Medical history, drug use, etc. etc. Did she have any adult children? NO! She was 15. Finally, we finish and I hang up. Shayna will help someone else.

I wake often.  Maybe I’m awake more than I’m asleep. The first thought is always “Did it really happen?  Is she really gone?” I mean Shayna was healthy and athletic and 15. She went to bed Tuesday night and didn’t wake up yesterday morning.

Then open my eyes and realize it wasn’t a dream. Next comes the random crushing thought.  “She’s all alone.”  “The coroner has desecrated her body.  “I’ll never tell her good night again.” “How long can I remember her voice?” I am racked with pain. It’s not physical pain.  It hurts much worse.  It’s crushing pain right down to my soul abdomen clinches like someone has punched me in the stomach. The tears flow. The sobs convulse my body. I think “What did I do wrong? How did I not protect my baby girl right down the hall in my own house?” She and her mother were on a trip last week. They just got back on Saturday. While they were gone I worried. When they got back, when the plane landed, I breathed a sigh of relief. Ah, baby bird back safely in the nest. The last thing I would have ever thought Tuesday night was that I wouldn’t see her Wednesday morning.

I gather Ty and Kayla into my arms.  Yesterday I committed to Ty that I would be here for her through this I tell them “It’s the three of us now on this  earthly plane. Shayna will always be a part of our family, but she has gone ahead. We have to stick together, closer than ever if possible. Sometimes one of us will be weak and the others will bear that person up.  We will go through the this together.” 

I write on Facebook “Thank you everyone. I will not be able to address you individually today. But I love each and every one of you.

Shayna Elayne means Beautiful Light and she filled our hearts with light and love for 15-½ years. She was drop dead gorgeous, smart, athletic, generous and fun. Every day was a new adventure for her. Every day was something new to be explored. Yesterday a whole new world opened up to her. I wish I could see it with her.

Pray for Kayla. Pray for wisdom for me to help her and Tywana.”


Yesterday morning I was sitting at my desk, doing my normal Facebook thing. I had just been out for a 4.5 mile walk. My wife had been working out and had gone to the basement to begin her day’s work. Shayna was supposed to come down and help her, but Shayna had overslept. Ty texted her and Shayna did not respond. When Ty went to wake her she didn’t respond. When Ty opened the door, she found our beautiful, healthy, athletic, smart, respectful, funky, spunky baby girl not breathing. We refused to accept the possibility she could be dead. In fact that didn’t enter my mind. I know not breathing is pretty serious, but dead? No. She was 15. She was healthy. She had been through every cardiac test there is for a minor condition the doctor told us she would live a long, healthy athletic life with.

We called for the paramedics. It took what seemed like an hour for them to get here. Meanwhile I did CPR, just like they show on TV. I got her out of her bed. I put her on the floor (hard surface). I began breaths, I began compressions. My neighbor, a nurse came over and started to help. Breathe Shayna I screamed at the top of my lungs. I called her name over and over hoping she could hear me from, what I think I subconsciouly knew was The Gulf. When the paramedics arrived, I let them take over. Surely they could revive her. That’s what they do. And she was so young, so vital. 15 year old girls don’t die in their beds. The night before we were lying on the couch watching TV together as she stroked the bald spots on my leg that fascinated her. I had told her “Good night, I love you” through the bathroom door as she prepared for bed. Ty had gone to her door, hugged her, kissed her and done the same. She was FINE.

As the paramedics worked, I cried. I fell to my knees. I pounded the floor. I screamed.I grabbed Ty. We fell to our knees. I don’t pray in the traidtional way but I begged God to bring her back to me. I didn’t let it enter my mind that she hadn’t taken a breath for so long now, I kept expecting to hear them say “Mr. Smith- she’s OK now, but we’re going to take her to the hospital to make sure.”. No. They worked on her for what seemed like hours and finally they said “We’re going to take her to the hospital now.” I rode with the police officer in his cruiser. Ty went with her in the ambulance. “Oh God, how could you do this?” The officer asked if I wanted to pray. I told him I couldn’t. He prayed for us. Off we went. I called my Dad. His prayers would be effective. “Dad, Shayna’s not breathing. We’re on the way to the hospital, pray for us.” I screamed. I cried. He said something about the loss of a child. I reject his words “Dad, we haven’t lost a child.” No, don’t speak that and make it true.

Finally we arrived at the hospital. They took her into a room to work on her. Ty and I held each other tight. What do we do? We’ve been at the hospital many times with Shayna, but NEVER for an emergency. The poor child endured so many procedures in her short life, but for arthritis, sports injuries and a non-life threatening heart condition that had been corrected a couple of years ago. There was no indication, none that this even MIGHT happen. The hospital said they were sending the Chaplain. “Why do we need the Chaplain?” I thought. Yeah, not breathing is serious, but we’re at the hospital now. They’ll fix her. It’ll be OK. They’ll have to figure out what went wrong, we might have to stay a few days, but we will walk out of here with Shayna.

Finally the doctor came out. She started that speech. It was the same one you hear on TV. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Shayna was without oxygen for a long time. We worked on her and we did everything we can do.” You know if everything is all right, the first thing they do is reassure you. When they start telling what they have DONE, it’s over. I screamed. I turned my back to her. No, don’t tell me this. No. You did everything? Did you shock her? “No.” she said “Her heart had no electrical activity. Shocking her would not do anything.” The best doctors in the country had failed my little girl and now she was gone. I was in shock.

What do we do? How do we process this? How do we tell people? How will I tell Kayla, my 18 year old who is 600 miles away on vacation with our good friends and some girls she grew up with? How do I tell her over the phone, her best friend, her baby sister, suddenly died at 15, while on our watch?

My parents arrived. They live two hours away, but the moment they heard they went into parent mode. They called my brother who drove them down.

Meanwhile, good friends of Ty’s had arrived. They prayed with us. They cried with us. They were there when we got the word. They supported us. They told us of finding their son, the same way, in bed- gone. But he was an adult. This was our baby.

Now I had to tell Kayla. How do you tell someone whose best friend and sister who was healthy when she left her was no longer with us? We have an old dog- Zoe. I figured it best to just be direct. We called our friends that she was with and prepared them to help her when we broke it to her. “Kayla, I have some very bad news. We found Shayna this morning and she was not breathing. We took her to the hospital. They worked on her for over an hour, but there was nothing they could do. I’m sorry sweetie, Shayna’s dead.” Kayla just said “What?” I repeated it. “What?” I said “Shayna’s dead baby. I’m sorry.” “What?” Finally, she couldn’t reject it anymore. She screamed. In the short time span of a few minutes, I had lost one daughter and had to break the news that would change another’s life forever.

We stumbled out of the hospital with my parents and my brother. We had left the hospital from having taken Shayna many times, but through all of her trials, everything was done outpatient. From the time she left the hospital with us at three days old, we had never left her behind. That was a hard walk.

The rest of the day is a blur. Ty and I hadn’t showered since our workouts and we smelled. We got in the shower together and washed each others’ bodies. We held each other. We looked at each other. WE kept asking “Is this real? What happened? Did we do something wrong? Is this real? How do we go on? Is this real?”

We live in a very close neighborhood. We have know many of our neighbors for 18 years. Word spread quickly. People started coming by with food. “No go away. Shayna’s not gone. Stop acting like she’s gone. The hospital will call soon and say it was a mistake.” But, I knew that wasn’t true because the coroner had already picked up her body.

Our friends jumped into action to get Kayla home. One of the friends with her, a friend since first grade, would cut her vacation four days short and fly back with Kayla so she wouldn’t have to travel alone. Her flight didn’t arrive until 2 AM. Kayla likes to process things alone. She is an introvert. When I tried talking to her about what happened and how we would get through this, she said she wasn’t ready to talk yet. I called ahead to my wife to tell her “Let’s let Kayla not talk about this tonight. We’ll just talk about her trip.”

My mother spent the night with us. We were just all in shock. I didn’t want Kayla to be alone, so I asked her to sleep with us that night. She sometimes doesn’t sleep well and if she needed ANYTHING during the night, I wanted her to be close so she wouldn’t hesitate to wake me.