Five years ago almost to the day, Kayla graduated from high school. I was heartbroken. My baby would be leaving the nest for the first time, moving three hours away and calling the University of Toledo her home for the next four years. For 17-1/2 years, she had been under my roof, my first born, my pride and joy. I couldn’t imagine life without seeing her every day.
We had no idea what the coming years would bring. I thought Shayna would be here for another four years. Then, she’d be off to OSU, my alma mater. Instead, a few weeks after Kayla finished her freshman year, Shayna crossed into paradise on June 24, 2015. Kayla was on vacation with friends in South Carolina. She had not seen her sister, her best friend in over a week because Shayna was away at a volleyball tournament for a week and Kayla left for her vacation the day before Shayna came home.
That night, when I met Kayla getting off of the plane, I could see the look in her eyes “Please tell me this isn’t true.” I so badly wanted to tell her it was a cruel hoax, a bad nightmare that we’d all wake up from. But, I couldn’t. All I could do was hold her and tell her that it would all somehow be all right. I could only tell her that I’d be here for her as I always had from the day she came into my life. We would find a way to make it through, together.
When we talked that night in the kitchen, I feared for Kayla’s very life. I didn’t know if she would be able to survive the loss of her twin flame, her soulmate. I certainly didn’t know if I’d ever see her smile again, ever have joy in her life. I doubted my survival. But, I didn’t care about me. I was old. I was ready to go at any time. Kayla was 18 years with her whole life ahead of her. She had to go on. I would do everything in my power to make that happen.
Kayla didn’t have the benefit I had (or so I thought) of knowing that we can never die. We hadn’t talked much about spirituality since she told me she was an atheist a few years earlier. Rather than try to “convert” her back, I tried to lead by example. Had I done enough to prepare her for this moment? Would she think Shayna had vanished?
We offered Kayla the option to stay at home for a year or at least a semester. But, she went right back to school in the fall. Maybe because of Shayna’s passing, she realized that her biology major with the goal of becoming a Physician’s Assistant wasn’t bringing her joy. She changed her major and added a minor. She met a young man who has been a rock for her. Gabe is now her boyfriend of over three years. Gabe never met Shayna. But, he’s been there for Kayla, helping her. Shayna approves.
Four years later, here we are. Kayla has not only survived; she has thrived. She has taken the blow and come back stronger than ever.
As I sat in meditation on graduation morning, I was prompted to open my eyes. It was 5 AM. There was only a little moonlight lighting the birch tree outside. As I watched the leaves blow with the breeze, I wondered “What happened to the green?”. I looked down at my shirt, a bright yellow t-shirt. It was a shade of gray. I looked at my shorts. I knew they were a bright shade of blue. But, in this light, they were only another shade of gray. As I looked around the room, I thought “Nothing has any color.” What had changed? Did the things around me not have color simply because I couldn’t see it? I thought about walking into this room if it were pitch dark and the only sense I had was my vision. Would the objects still exist even though all I could see was blackness?
Then, I thought of Shayna. It seems like she’s not here. I can’t see her with my eyes because she doesn’t reflect light the way our bodies do. I can’t hear her voice because her vocal cords don’t move the air to create sound vibrations the way our voices do. I can’t feel her with her hands because my fingers don’t meet the resistance of her skin and cause electrical impulses to course through my nerves to my brain, saying I’m touching her skin. But, because I can’t perceive her with my limited senses doesn’t mean she’s not there any more than when there’s not enough light to trigger my optic nerves the objects around me don’t have color. I immediately knew Shayna was right there. I knew she had been with me and would be.
We made the drive to Toledo and met my parents, uncle, and sister. We didn’t get to see Kayla before the ceremony, but we saw her and texted with her. In her gown, it was apparent my baby had grown into a beautiful young woman; even more beautiful inside than out. When it was her turn to walk across the stage, I watched her walk proudly and confidently to receive her diploma in front of thousands of people, on camera. And, knowing her the way I do and sharing the same sense of stage fright, I was doubly proud of the glowing smile on her face. It’s not easy for us to be the center of attention. I used to tell Kayla “fake it until you make it.” I don’t know if she was faking it or not. But, she was doing it!
When Katie Holmes, the featured speaker, talked about how each of the students had faced hardships, I thought, “You have no idea.” as my thoughts immediately went to Kayla and how she has overcome. I could not possibly be more proud of the woman she is.
After the ceremony, we took Kayla and Gabe out to lunch, then back to her apartment to pick up a few items that we’d be bringing home for her. She’ll be starting her first job post graduation in just a few days. She’ll move back in for the summer, then off to the University of Cincinnati to work on her masters.
Last night as Tywana and I got into bed she said to me “We did it.” I know what she meant. We were both petrified with fear the day they gave us that little bundle to bring home and said “Good luck.” Neither of us knew what kind of parents we’d be. We only knew that we’d do our best to be there for every step of the way, willing to lay down our lives for her if necessary. But, I had to say to Tywana, we didn’t do it, Kayla did. We were only there to support her.
I say this to Kayla. You might feel as though you’re alone in the world now. I know you’ve been calling yourself a “baby adult”. I love that phrase. It shows your maturity. As you’ve made the transition from high school to an 18-year-old, then to a 21-year-old, you recognized that you didn’t suddenly become totally independent. I love our relationship. Maybe now that you have that diploma, you feel you’re a “real” adult, alone in this world, on your own. I make this commitment to you. You will never be alone. Anything I can do for you while I am here, I will do. And, when the day comes in the future that I am no longer in this form, remember this. I will never leave you, even for a second. I am with you always. When I’m in the next form, I will be with you even more. Shayna and I will be there, paving your way. You will never be on your own. And, I’m ecstatic that you know this, sweet pea.