For the last 18-½ years I have built my life, my identity , my purpose for existing around being a father and a protector. I recall the moment I felt the mantle slip onto my shoulders. It wasn’t when Kayla was born, it was when I was strapping her car seat into the car for the first time. I was so nervous that I forgot the carrier went with the baby facing backwards, not forwards. The nurse gently reminded me and I thought “They’re sending this baby home with me? She’s my responsibility now?” I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I would give my very life for her if asked.
Last year, Kayla moved out to go to college. Almost exactly a year ago she graduated from high school. I knew our days as parents with our baby birds in the nest were coming to close. I tried to record a video to give to her. Well, I did record it. Five times. I finally made it through without breaking into fits of uncontrollable sobs. Ah, I was trying to remember the last time I cried before Shayna passed. That was it. When I was mourning Kayla moving out.
It was weird walking past Kayla’s room in the morning, knowing she wasn’t in there. It took me many months to adjust to it. Ty and I turned our focus to Shayna. “We have three more years with her.” We were looking forward to volleyball practices and games. We were even looking forward to the last three years of driving her to high school, even though knowing Shayna and knowing we now have a third car, it wouldn’t be long before she would want to drive herself. We had heard that parents shouldn’t make their entire lives about their kids, but we did so with abandon. However, we knew it was time to start transitioning, to start letting go, to start focusing on each other. Our baby bird had three more years before she was going to take off.
These are the things you tell yourself. These are the plans you make without a second thought that Death is going to interrupt your plan. Suddenly, we find ourselves thrust into the role of parents of an only (surviving) child. Kayla will never be an only child. The experience of growing up with Shayna, the memories, the love of a sister, she will always have those things, but we are a family of three now when it comes to going out to eat or going on vacation or even just eating dinner. We are still working out the seating arrangements at the dinner table. Shayna, of course, had to be between Ty and me. Kayla sat to Tywana’s right. These are the little things you don’t think about. Now that Shayna is gone, how do we arrange ourselves?
Most of our friends are in similar positions. We tend to associate with people around our kids’ ages. They’re getting their driver’s licenses. They have part time jobs. They have friends and activities. The reality is many nights, Ty and I found ourselves alone even before Shayna passed. She spent many weekend nights away at sleepovers and some during the week. When she came home she was usually exhausted from being up all night and would spend the next day in her room watching Netflix on her iPhone. She wasn’t as engaged in our activities. She often opted out of going shopping with us always asking “Where are you going? No. That sounds boring.”
I realize this new dynamic is one more challenge to overcome as we face the multitude of ways Shayna’s passing is impacting our lives. We are going to have to be intentional about reconnecting with friends. I am a hermit, but Ty needs social activity. She needs to leave the house. Our calendar was always full of the girls’ activities. It’s barren now.
Kayla will work for a few more weeks. So, she will be here some. We moved into this house 18 years ago when Kayla was 9 months old. We never imagined that we could fill it up, but two businesses, two girls and a lot of stuff later, we had it full to the brim. We are back down to just Kayla in her room and us in our room and soon it’ll be the two of us alone for the first time since we moved to Cincinnati. Uncharted waters ahead.