Where do I begin? I feel like this is a life history. Actually many lives. It won’t be that boring. Or that long.

I cannot start with how Doug left this life as we know it. It’s strange how we, who are eternal spirit beings, think that everything revolves around this physical existence. So, Doug and Ken are in the next what? place? life? time? Heaven. I think space/time are irrelevant there, but I digress.

Many of you knew Doug … but who are his family?

Doug was born in 1984 when  Jenni and I, (Dave) were both 31 and Doug’s brother, Ken Phinney (Jenni’s maiden name) was 11 and a half.   I mention that because 12 years is a big difference in siblings, and because I was young and immature, there were “issues” in our blended family. (to say the least).

Jenni raised Ken on her own till I came along.

I wasn’t ready to be a dad;  no … I’ll say that I resented it.  I didn’t know how to express my love. Jenni often has said that after Doug was born, God used Doug to teach me how to love. I want to say that since I am writing this, the narrative may be slanted toward my experience; this is not to discount Jenni’s experiences with Ken and Doug, just that I am writing from my perspective.

Let me tell you a little story

When Doug was in Jenni’s womb, Jenni and I used to talk to Doug because a friend who is a midwife said that is a good way to bond with the baby. You know how you can hear sounds when you’re under water? We figured it is the same for babies.

So, we used to talk to Doug before he was born (as if he could understand). Maybe babies CAN understand! We said all kinds of things to him. We didn’t even know if he was a boy or a girl yet. But it became a regular thing that we used to say…

“Doug, it’s going to be really bright and cold in the operating room when you are born. But don’t be afraid. When you hear my voice you’ll know it’s alright. And the code words are: ‘Praise Jesus, you’re a beautiful baby.'”

(We were “super-christians” then.)

I don’t know how often we repeated that to him. The big day came. Jenni was trying to have a regular birth, but she is too small, so she had a caesarian section. I was there (and the doctor even said I could have a cassette tape recording going so I did).

When Doug was born I saw his head above the sheets draped over Jenni and I said, “Oh Jen, he’s beautiful. She said, “He’s a boy?” And I said, “I don’t know yet, I can’t see him (all).” But the doctor brought him out and they cut his umbilical cord, slapped him and he started wailing. I don’t know if he ever cried so hard. The nurses took him over to a table where they dried him off, measured him, and checked him out. He was crying really hard for a couple of minutes before the nurses brought him over to me to hold (beside Jenni).

When the nurses gave him to me (still crying) I held him and said “Praise Jesus, you’re a beautiful boy!” And I swear to God, Doug looked me in the eyes, stopped crying and smiled!

And we looked at each other for a couple of minutes at least and he didn’t peep, just looked at me and smiled. When the nurses took him from me (to go to the nursery and care for him) he started crying again.

That kind of summarizes our relationship.

Doug and I were closely bonded all our lives. I have been an asshole for much of my life. I know Doug has changed many of your lives. Doug changed my life too. Knowing him opened my heart to share love, to know love.

I said I was an asshole. Ken and Jen could certainly vouch for that! Ken was a normal 12 year old who kind of resented a new baby in the house. But Ken didn’t express his resentment to Doug, just me and his mom. A few years later God healed mine and Ken’s relationship. Ken and I became friends. I can tell you some really funny stories about Ken.

Doug really looked up to his brother Ken

What little boy wouldn’t think his big brother was pretty cool? When Doug was only 5, Jenni and I were at a friend’s house and Ken was baby-sitting Doug (and he always did a fine job). We got home Doug came running up to us and said, Ken let me swim across the Chattahoochee! (We thought, “Holy shit!”). We lived near the river and there was a really great swimming hole with a nice sandy beach, deep over to some rocks on the other side. Probably a good 30 feet across. Ken swam right beside Doug and coached him all the way across. Imagine Doug doing the dog-paddle. So, anyway, Doug really admired his brother Ken. That was a pretty cool experience.

Ken joined the Navy when he got out of high school in 1990. One of the high points of Doug’s and my life is when we got to sail on the Navy ship with Ken for 5 days. Doug was 8. We flew on Delta out to Bermuda and met the fleet there. Doug and I (and a bunch of other guys) got on a boat (like a tug) and went out to the ship. Doug was all over that ship. It was really cool! They showed off the performance of the ship, a frigate, the USS Carr FFG52 (FFG = fast frigate #52). They fired the big guns, and I think you could go water-skiing behind that ship. It was fast! Doug saw places on that ship Ken didn’t know were there. Ken actually had is surfboard on the ship with him. He had found a storage place where it would fit and his C.O. said he could bring it on board. Ken went surfing in the Red Sea, in the Mediterranean, in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Ken really loved surfing.

Doug went to a private (Christian) day school in Cleveland, GA and then to two other Christian schools until the ninth grade when he went to North Hall High School in Gainesville, GA. Doug did reasonably well in school, but just like me, he didn’t like to do homework and did just well enough to get by. He played on various teams at the local rec. department, (baseball, basketball, some tennis) but he wasn’t as athletic as his brother. Doug took piano lessons for a while, but we hated to “force” him to practice… so it kind of stopped. The last time Doug took piano lessons was in the eighth grade. Doug was talented in music and played the piano well. I could never get my hands to cooperate with each other like that. Well, I say that, then I realize that I’m typing okay. Not fast touch typing, but still I use both hands.

Anyway, when Ken got out of the Navy (in 1994) we were happy that he lived with us for a while (in the log house) in Cleveland. Doug lived there for 13 years; me 15. Ken had a few different jobs and was thinking about going to N. GA Tech or go back into the Navy to be a S.E.A.L. IN 1996 Ken had a job as a river guide on the Chattahoochee. He paddled his kayak while the customers paddled their canoes. Ken said he was as happy as a bee in a field of flowers. He loved kayaking. When he wasn’t kayaking for work he’d go paddling for fun. He competed a little and could do moves in that kayak that experts hadn’t seen done before. Had he lived, Ken probably would have gone on to try for the Olympics. He was really that good.

One day (June 13, 1996) Ken and 3 of his best friends went to section 4 of the Chattooga river near Clayton, GA. Section 4 is very dangerous. Ken wasn’t in his kayak at the time, but he slipped into the water and was sucked under and drowned immediately. Neither his friends nor his family ever saw him again. That night, Ken’s friends chose to do an extremely brave thing and come to our house to give us the awful news. His body was recovered (in pieces) over the next few days.

Grief work sucks

This dramatically changed our family forever. Our lives as we had known them ended, and everything became different. Losing a loved one suddenly without the chance to say goodbye is hard to take. (At this point let me encourage you to check out my commentary concerning a book by Robin Cook on another page here).

Jenni, Doug and I sought help from trained grief counselors, friends and the church. This entire experience also changed our views about religion. We love God, we don’t care for religion now. Doug was 12 when Ken died. Going into one’s teen years is hard enough without losing a big brother like Ken. In the 5 years between when Ken died and Doug died, I think Doug experienced depression more and more.

Doug was naturally a people-person like Ken was. Doug really liked being with people. He liked having fun with people, joking and having stimulating conversation. So, Doug had his ups and downs.

One web page we looked at (after Doug died) said that a sudden loss can stimulate one to become manic-depressive. Experts aren’t sure, but suspect that manic-depressive disorder may be genetic.

Doug really knew how to love people

I told you about my first time experiencing Doug’s love. Many of Doug’s friends have shared with us how Doug impacted their lives. Doug often told me and his Mom that he wished we could see how he was at school, with is friends. That he was different than at home. I wish we could have seen that side of him more. We knew he liked to cut-up, play jokes, say funny things.

I’m so glad that Doug knew it was okay to be his own person. Being “real” is far better than trying to fit in with the crowd or a clique.

Jenni grew up in upstate N.Y. on a farm near the Canadian border. I grew up in West VA and moved to Atlanta when I was 13. Those statistics don’t mean anything. What is really meaningful is letting love connect you with another person’s spirit. I could bore you with stories of me carrying newspapers in a small town, or of Jenni selling vegetables at her dad’s roadside stand. I could tell you how I studied yoga from an Indian guru, or that Jenni was a Catholic turned Jehovah’s Witness. All kinds of stuff.

But as we grow enough in our spirit, we realize that each of us is one spark of the same flame, that essentially we are one with God because He created us. Then we can share that life, that love with others. And sharing that love is what heals.

Sharing that love is what heals

Doug wrote a poem, entitled “Family of Friends” (see the poetry page). If you knew Doug, then you probably knew his love. I’m sure there are acquaintances who didn’t really get to KNOW him. But most of Doug’s friends had an experience of sincere love… the kind of love that God is. The scripture says that God is Love. Our true nature, our spirit is love.

Up above I wrote, “…who are his family?”

You are Doug’s family as we are all God’s children. We all have the same spirit of love in us. I can’t say why some (like terrorists) do horrible things. I still maintain that God gave us life and that His life is Love. Love is our essence. And crap happens. So let the good times roll. My Uncle David says that we are all neck-deep in an emotional shit-storm, so don’t make waves. And he says, “Let the good times roll.” We can’t get out of this place alive (that is our physical body) so let’s make the best of it while we are here.

How to make the best of it?

Have fun, love people, care for those that are sad or hurting and let them know you care. Be silly and help people laugh. Make music or listen to music. Appreciate the beauty of this creation. Help others to see the same beauty. Play. Say weird, funny, harmless shit. Do funny things. Eat popcorn, watch movies, watch birds, smell flowers, sleep, read, talk to people. Communication is a wonderful thing, but even if two people speak the same language, it’s still a 50/50 shot that they will be able to really communicate.

It is a cosmic joke, I think, that one aspect of this physical world is that it is so friggin’ hard to really communicate. I think it is a cosmic joke because we are ALL really one spirit (in God). So, in Him, we don’t need to communicate with each other because (in His Spirit) we have His understanding. We ultimately know it all anyway. But (down) here on this physical plane it is really hard to communicate. Why would God set it up that way? One web page I looked at a few days ago researching bi-polar disorder had an interesting article by a guy who is bi-polar. This guy wrote (tongue-in-cheek) that God is bi-polar. He’s got a great sense of humor. I mean, I can pick up my cell phone and call my Uncle in southern France and it works great. You can read this on your computer, that I typed on my computer, and this physical world seemingly tries to enhance communication, but then crap happens.

Did you ever see the movie “Lethal Weapon 4”? Do you know the scene when Joe Pesci’s character is going on and on about how the “cell phone companies are just fucking with us !” ? It’s funny. It’s true about communication. We’re ALL in an emotional shit-storm. So don’t make waves, and let the good times roll. That’s why I named my company “Sailing The Blues, Inc.” because we are all sailing the blues, letting the winds of life blow and trying to enjoy the show.

“What would Marvin the Martian say?”

Laugh at yourself when you do something stupid. I do all the time. And have the balls (‘scuse me… fortitude) to love someone as is they may get run over tomorrow and now is the last chance on this earth they will have to feel genuine caring from another human. I think my favorite bible verse is, “Laughter works in the heart like good medicine.”

A good friend of Doug’s told me that one time they were very upset, crying and wanted to die. Doug held his friend’s hand, gave them a tissue, and said that he didn’t want them to die. Doug even tried to make his friend laugh by saying it was bad karma (to want to die) and besides, “What would Marvin the Martian say?”

It’s okay to say crazy stuff when it is supported by caring love. That’s why my Uncle David says, “Don’t make waves” and “Let the good times roll.”

If you feel depressed at times, let someone know. Talk to someone, or send me an email. I feel depressed at times too.

Doug taught his Granma a lesson

Doug said some very witty things. You know how each generation has their own styles. In my day it was bell-bottoms and hippie beads. Today people wear long shorts with the waist down around their butt, or face jewelry… whatever. And other folks think it is weird.

Doug was with his Granma one day and she was complaining about the appearance of someone walking by. Doug said something that my Mom will never forget. He said, “Granma, don’t look at the clothes, look at the person.” How profound.

One of Doug’s favorite books was “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handey (as seen on Saturday Night Live).

A couple of Doug’s favorite thoughts from the book are:

“It’s too bad that whole families have to be torn apart by something as simple as wild dogs.”

… and another …
“The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.”

Thank you for reading my ramblings, and being interested in our family. Maybe you can share with me other things Doug has said that were profound. I send you my love.

Dave Lyle