The Gravity Of Time- Grief Milestones
That’s how long it’s been since my life changed forever. June 24th, 2015 was the day that my daughter Shayna Elayne left this Earthly plane. Today is December 14th, 2020. This article is to share some of my grief milestones passed along the way.
Waking Up to Day 2000
This morning I woke up, and thought about how things have changed since June 24th, 2015.
I got up, and I looked at my blog that I started amazingly the day after Shayna passed. Something told me to document this journey similar to what C.S. Lewis did in his book “A Grief Observed”. I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just had to. Then, just a week later, I made the blog public.
As I read those early entries, the whole first-week A.S. (time is now measured as before Shayna’s passing and after) came flooding back.
I woke up on what I thought was an ordinary day. As usual, took a three or four mile walk. I came back and sat down to work in my office. Then, I heard Tywana call to me, saying something was wrong. I remembered the feeling that my wife and I had when we found Shayna in her bedroom that morning. She wasn’t cold yet. She couldn’t be dead. My mind could not accept reality. I recalled the feeling of total disbelief, the sense of shock, crying out to God, screaming her name, thinking I could somehow shout loud enough to be heard across the Void and call her back to me.
The memories of falling to my knees before getting into the police car came back. I remembered my neighbor coming over and asking if everything was all right and me not even being able to form the words to answer her. The police officer who gave me a ride to the hospital as my wife rode in the ambulance with Shayna, him offering to pray and me not even having a prayer to offer.
I called my parents and asked them to pray. I remember Dad saying that once you lost a child things were never the same. “Why did he say that?” I thought. “I haven’t lost a child.” Shayna will be OK. She has to be OK.
I knew Shayna had not taken a breath in an impossibly long time. Yet, I clung to the idea that she would be all right. This could not happen to us. We sat in the waiting room with friends who showed up to support us. Then, the chaplain came in. This was bad. I didn’t want to see the chaplain. I wanted to hear a doctor tell me she had started breathing and wanted to see us. The chaplain wanted to pray. I could not stop him. He prayed for God’s will to be done. I countered his prayer. “To hell with God’s will, just give me my daughter back.”
The Realization Of The End
When the doctor finally came in and told us that they had pronounced Shayna dead, I immediately had the thought that that’s it my life is over. My life will never be the same, but I immediately followed that with the thought that I had to take care of my wife and my other daughter Kayla. That whatever happened, the three of us had to stay together. I knew I had to be there for them. I held Tywana and committed to her that I would be there for her; not having any idea what that would look like.
Walking out of the hospital that day, the parallel to the day that Shayna was born 15-½ years earlier struck me. We walked into Good Samaritan Hospital in January 2020 empty-handed and walked out with Shayna. We walked into West Chester Hospital on that fateful day hoping to walk out with Shayna, and we walked out, leaving her body there. That walk to my brother’s car was the hardest walk I’ve ever taken.
Here I sit 5.48 years later. Forty-eight thousand hours later, 2,000 days later. I never had any idea that I would still be here. In those early days after her passing, whenever anyone said anything to me about the future, if it was more than a week in the future, I’d get angry because I could not even imagine living a week without my daughter being on this planet When people talked about years I’d tell them I had no plan to be here in years.
What’s Changed- What’s The Same
I’ll be 60 in May, which seems like an old man, and I can’t believe I’m still here. What has happened in the course of that 2,000 days is nothing short of a miracle. As I look back, I see the milestones marked along my path of grief.
Some things are still the same. We’re still running our business, Treasured Locks. We still live in the same house. Kayla went back to school right away. She got her undergrad degree and will finish her Masters in a few months.
Something had to change. After Shayna passed, I realized very quickly that I had to do something about how I lived my life. I could not just accept where I was. I didn’t want to live. My only motivation for staying here was Tywana and Kayla. That was enough short term. But I knew that I could not just stay here and survive, that I had to somehow seek healing even though healing seemed impossible. I didn’t even want to heal. My belief was that to honor Shayna I should be miserable for the rest of my life. I wanted people to say that after she passed, Brian was never the same. That would be a fitting way to show how much she meant to me.
Early Grief Group
I remember going to a grief group early on, and a mother was there and her daughter had passed about 10 years prior. This woman was angry and bitter, and I believe she went to the gravesite at least once a week. She talked about how unfair it was for her daughter to have passed so early and how she was miserable and would always be miserable.
I realized she was making everybody in the room miserable. You know we can learn from everyone we come across. I learned from that woman that day. Her bitterness and anger taught me something. I learned I didn’t want to be that person. Something different had to happen. This was a major grief milestone for me, the realization that I didn’t truly want to be miserable forever.
So, I started reaching out to people and someone recommended to me that I reach out to a guy named Mark Ireland. I had never heard of Mark Ireland but he wrote a couple of books about the passing of his son Brandon. Mark started a group called Helping Parents Heal along with Elizabeth Boisson. So I wrote an email to a stranger, which is so unlike me to write to a perfect stranger. Mark wrote back and sent me copies of both of his books which I read and which were helpful.
Finding A New Normal
The following May, we planned a vacation for the three of us: Tywana, Kayla, and me. The girls loved going to the beach, and Kayla decided we would go to the opposite instead of going to the beach this time. We decided to go to the desert in Phoenix, Arizona. I had spoken to Elizabeth Boisson at this point. But I had no idea she lived near Phoenix. Elizabeth happened to be just a few minutes from where we were staying. So we met Elizabeth for breakfast. Long story short, a little while after that, we decided to start a chapter of helping parents heal in Cincinnati, Ohio. That eventually turned into the Helping Parents Heal online Group, which I helped run for several years, growing to around 6,000 people. This was another grief milestone passed.
The Next Steps
Meanwhile, in 2019, I took mentorship from a business coach to try to improve Treasured Locks. This was George Kao, a guy I had heard on Suzanne Giesemann’s podcast. Suzanne is a world-class medium and someone I consider a friend. I figured if she was using this guy, he must be good.
A friend sent me a message saying she had run across a life coaching course she thought I’d be interested in. This was strange because I had never mentioned becoming a life coach to her. But, since she’s intuitive, I trusted her intuition and took the course. I thought it could help with my work with Helping Parents Heal. Then, it dawned on me. The mentorship course I was taking wasn’t for Treasured Locks. I was supposed to launch a new business. In April 2019, almost four years after Shayna passed, I started developing the web page and wrote a short book on Grief.
I wanted to create something short and easy to digest from the perspective of someone who had first-hand experience with child loss. My goal was to share my raw emotions and what had worked for me up to that point. I took everything I knew, and I wrote one big Google Doc and created this book and put it. A couple of months later, I started the podcast.
As I write this, it’s a year and a half after I started the podcast and wrote the book. The podcast is approaching 50,000 downloads. I’ve got nearly two thousand subscribers on YouTube. A couple of videos have gone somewhat viral with over 20,000 views.
I am teaching classes. As kind of a sidetrack, I’ve developed a course on racism. I taught a class with Robin Landsong this weekend. It’s the second time we have offered it- a new way to look at grief and death, along with Robin doing singing medicine for the participants. I’ve done classes with Dr. Terry Daniel. We are finishing one up this coming Sunday. I have spoken at the Afterlife Conference, and the Helping Parents Heal Conference. I have hosted a grief panel for the International Association of Near Death Studies.
My coaching and grief guidance work continues to grow. It’s extremely gratifying when a parent or any other griever tells me my work has helped them.
Finding Other Parents
It seems like recently, I’ve been coming across a lot of parents who are early in their grief, and I’m talking about weeks or maybe sometimes a couple of months. I’m grateful that I can remember what those early days/weeks/months were like to relate to what they are going through. It’s nothing short of hell on Earth. I wrote about that in my blog in the early days.
Last week, I was teaching the class “10 Life-changing Lessons From Heaven” a book and course about wisdom from near death experiences. The group was all women who have children in spirit. Most of the women there were just a few months in, and I want to address those people.
When I first started this journey, I had no idea that I could ever make it, and I certainly didn’t think I’d ever be happy again. I remember looking at people like Elizabeth Boisson and others who had been on this journey longer than I had and thinking I’ll never be what they are. Frankly, I didn’t even aspire to be what they were. They were joyful and doing fulfilling work. That would never be me.
The Value Of Despair
I talked with a mother just a few days ago who was broken, and I mean totally broken. She had faith in God. She had been through other losses in her life, deaths other than her daughter’s death. But there’s something different about when it’s your kid, and she had lost her faith in God, her faith in the Bible, her confidence in herself. Without that foundation of God and the Bible, she didn’t know who she was anymore.
I had just listened to a podcast about the value of despair. It’s the point most, if not all, of the saints have reached. It’s known as the Dark Night of the Soul. Even Jesus experienced this in the Garden of Gethsemane as he sweated blood, tormented by the thought of what lay ahead of him, and as he hung there bleeding on the cross, crying out, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”
As I spoke with her, my heart went out to her. But, I saw a saint in the making. I saw someone who had gotten to the point where she was broken wide open, an empty vessel ready to receive. The cracks are the places where the light gets in. She was seeking, asking questions, reaching out for a new view because circumstances ripped her old understanding away.
I was listening to a wisdom book a few days ago. One of the things it said was if you’re climbing a mountain and you feel like giving up, it’s okay to give up. Just keep moving your feet.
Keep Moving Your Feet
This gem resonated with me because I heard it while listening to the book while taking my morning walk. I’ve walked every morning for the past several years, returning to before Shayna’s transition. After she transitioned, I turned that walk into a walking meditation. I would imagine that each step was a day. As I left my house, each step brought me closer to the step that would bring me back home. Each day brought me one day closer to the day when I would arrive at Home and see Shayna again. A friend I met on Facebook, Carolyn Clapper, not knowing this, messaged me on Facebook one day, saying Shayna had dropped in on her and told her that I was walking trying to catch up with Shayna. That was 100% true. I’m not on step 2,000 on my round-trip journey from Home back to Home.
Climbing a mountain or taking a walk, the analogy is the same. I don’t always feel like taking my walk. Many mornings, when I first leave the house, I don’t think I’ll be able to do the seven miles. But, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t matter what I feel; I will eventually get to my destination. If I set my sights on the next milestone, I will get there eventually.
In those early days, I didn’t think healing was possible. I didn’t even want to heal. But I kept taking the steps anyway. Even if you’re like I was and say there’s no way I’m going to heal , just keep doing the things it takes to heal. Have faith that you will eventually reach the next grief milestone.
To this day, I sometimes don’t feel like I’ll make it. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t long to be Home, NOW. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and my first thought is, “I’m tired. Why do I have to do this again?”
I then do my gratitude practice. First, I think of three things I’m grateful for, even if it’s as simple as having a nice warm bed. I think of what I need to do today, just today. And I get up and do it. Doing that enough times has led me to here, 2,000 days later.
The milestones that we go through are opportunities to stop and take stock. Life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward. I thought my life ended that day in the hospital in June 2015. But, our stories never end. It was the end of a chapter. But one chapter closes, and another opens. We think of death as the end of the book. But, even death is just the end of another chapter. Death is the chapter at the horizon that we can’t see beyond. But, trust me, one thing I’ve learned in the past 2,000 days is it’s not the end of the book.
Where Are You?
What about you? Where are you on your journey? As I record this, it’s also the close of the weirdest year in the memory of everyone I know; 2020 is drawing to a close. I think we’ll all look back at the year 2020 as one of our grief milestones.
We typically take the New Year to reflect on where we are and where we want to be. Take some time to reflect on the journey that got you to this point. If you’re going through hell, keep going. And remember what one man can do, another man can do. If I can do this, anyone can.