January 13th, 2019- One thousand two hundred and ninety-nine days since Shayna’s “heavenly birthday.” Three weeks after Christmas, we finally had Tywana’s family in for the weekend to wrap up the Christmas celebration of 2018.
This winter has been wet, gray, and somewhat cold, but nothing like the bitter cold of January 2000, the year Shayna came into our lives. January 13th of that year was bitterly cold. I remember coming home from the hospital and putting out the stork sign in snow and ice and with a bitter wind blowing. As if on cue, yesterday, we got our first snow of the season. There are about six inches of snow on the ground. It’s a gray, snowy Sunday morning.
Tywana is starting her new job tomorrow. Today she is flying to Tuscon. As I type this, she sits in the airport in Covington, KY. Her sister, Shell. and her boys are in the car on the way back to West Virginia. Kayla and her boyfriend will be packing up soon and driving back to Toledo to begin her final semester in school there. I will be alone on Shayna’s birthday and for the week.
Yesterday, we had Costco pizza and chocolate cake. These were Shayna’s favorites. We did a Yankee gift swap with Tywana’s family. All of the nephews (there are only boys on Ty’s side of the family) are “men” now. Wesley, the youngest is 6’5″ and will be 21 this June. Tywana’s mother came over. She is so confused now that she asked several times whose house this is. She still recognizes all of her children, but she has trouble recognizing some of her grandchildren. As the time drew close to take her back to Cottingham, her retirement home, about five minutes away, she said she could get back herself. We asked her how she proposed to do this since she has no car, cannot walk without assistance, and can barely walk with assistance. She said she got herself here; she can get herself back. Curious, we asked how she thought she got here and where she thought she was. She thought she was at Cottingham. She prays daily to go “home” alternatively referring to Springfield, where she lived her entire life until the age of 77, and home to heaven where she can be free of pain, free of the confusion of dementia, and with her beloved husband, Felton. Who can blame her?
This morning, when I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the time 07:07 on my clock. I immediately thought about Shayna’s birthday. As is my practice upon waking, I listed three things to be grateful for today. It’s getting easier to come up with the three. Today, one of the things that came to me was that Shayna’s exit was easy. Increasingly, I believe in soul planning and exit points. When we first discovered Shayna’s heart issue, it was after we had found out about her rheumatoid arthritis. Shayna’s blood RA factors were incredibly high when we discovered that she had RA. We had to take her to occupational therapy. They told us about various devices she could use to make things easier for her. They taught her different ways to tie her shoes and fit her with prosthetic devices for her shoes. I envisioned a life of Shayna having gnarled hands and living in pain. The doctor prescribed powerful medications; which kept her arthritis under control. We were blessed. She suffered no side effects from these drugs that compromised her immune system and came with lists of possible side effects that included cancer and death. But, I didn’t feel blessed. My health child was now on medication that she might have to be on for life. I fought every day to simply be grateful for that day and try not to think about the suffering she might endure if the drugs stopped working or if the side effects came. Every week when I had to give that injection, and every week when I had to count out those seven poisonous pills to take to her as she slept (she had to take them on an empty stomach several hours before eating), I couldn’t decide if I was helping her or poisoning her.
The heart condition Shayna had was supposed to be no more than a minor annoyance. Yet, she had two procedures, had to wear a monitor for a month, and eventually whatever was going in her heart took her life. She was seeing a cardiologist. Shayna tore her ACL and had to have surgery and recover from that. Her last few years were tough for a little girl. I wondered when she would get a break and life would return to “normal”.
So, where is the gratitude in this? Shayna didn’t have to deal with the possible ravages of arthritis had the drugs stopped working. She didn’t have to deal with the side effects of decades on drugs that were so hard on her immune system and liver. She was able to play basketball and volleyball, at a highly competitive level, right up until the day she slipped over to the Other Side. I am grateful for what Shayna, and I, didn’t have to go through. In those days I would wonder, if I left before Shayna (which was the plan), who would take care of her should things go badly with her health.
Of course, I would prefer to have Shayna here with me. The celebrations without her are heartbreaking. Every Christmas, every birthday, every New Year’s sucks. I have shed many, many tears thinking about what we are missing without Shayna being here. Thanksgiving, Kayla’s birthday, Christmas, and Shayna’s birthday all come in less than a two-month span. But, the life of these celebrations with Shayna is a fantasy. Had Shayna not taken the exit point she took her health, like everyone else’s, was not guaranteed. I can say this out loud now. Our healthy baby girl was not healthy when she left, as much as I was in denial about it. I wanted to call her healthy and I did. Maybe she took that exit to spare all of us a life that would have been painful. God only knows what life lay ahead of us had she stayed.
I am beyond grateful for the 15 years I had with Shayna as my daughter here. What a blessing she was and continues to be. Shayna was a force of nature from the moment she was born (I’m sure before). That first night in the hospital, her cry was so strong, forceful, and seemingly purposeful, the nurses told us that we were going to have our hands full with this one. And we did. Shayna always knew what she wanted and went after it with dogged determination. When she was two or three, I said I hoped she would use her power for good, not for evil. And she did. Shayna lived her time here to the full. She inspired those around her. She lifted them. She led by example. Today, I see the ripples of her life continuing to spread. I feel her with me and am learning to feel that more and more. Last night, Tywana said to me that January is almost half over, remarking on how fast time goes. Yes. Time does go fast. And, I’m grateful for that. Every day that passes is one day less standing between my baby and me. Happy 19th Birthday, baby. Thanks for being mine.