P. O. Box 1115
St. Peters, MO 63376

 

Jeff Ryan
October 3, 1974 ~ July 24, 1999

BPUSA – St. Louis

The following is a speech given at the
22nd Annual Candlelight Ceremony,
on December 6, 2005

Thank you for this honor to represent us, the surviving parents, siblings, and grandparents of the Bereaved Parents USA Organization.  It is a privilege to serve you in yet another manner.

In October, just a few months ago, I was trying to put down on paper what I knew in my heart to share with you this evening.  As I sat at Jeff’s grave on Erin’s birthday it occurred to me that we are warped.  Really, only a bereaved person would come to a cemetery to visit her son trying to find peace and quiet to write a speech about death on her living daughter’s birthday and think nothing of it.  I know I am not really warped. I just make different decisions than most regular people.  I make these choices because my life has been impacted by my son’s life and his death.

I am Jeff, Sarah, and Erin’s Mom.  I am still and always will be a parent of three children.  My husband and I brought Jeff into this world on October 3, 1974.  Jeff grew into a healthy and athletic young man.  He didn’t eat his Easter candy because it wasn’t healthy.  He didn’t drink soda for the same reason. The carb craze was just getting popular the summer he died and, of course, he embraced it.  Come summer, he played softball every Friday night.  He played partly because he was good and partly so he could socialize with everyone.  Jeff was the kind of guy who could sell ice to an Eskimo in winter and the Eskimo would thank him for the ice.  He was the kind of guy who would visit his best friend’s mom in a dream instead of me.  Which is exactly what he did.  While I was at the cemetery trying to write this speech, my friend called me to say she dreamed of Jeff the night before.  The dream itself wasn’t hugely amazing, but it did let me know that my son and your children are here with us this evening.

To tell you my story I must really go back two weeks and tell you about our family’s last  outing  together  before  Jeff  died.   We attended a close friend’s funeral.  This friend, Brian, was like a little brother to Jeff in many ways.  When Brian died my family went into a dazed thinking.  How could this happen?  He was so young! How will the family survive?  What can we possibly do to help?  Two weeks later, we had not even begun to answers these questions when Jeff died.  Then my family was faced with the same questions as Brian’s family.  Why him?  How did this happen?  What will we do now? The questions, the shock and the funeral arrangements were difficult but, Brian’s Mom and Dad somehow, unknowingly, showed us how to start this grief journey.

OK, back on track.   We received the call at 3:30 a.m. Most of us here have had the call or the visit by the men in uniform. Some have laid and tenderly held their child still believing and not expecting to have to let them go.  It really is never expected, even for those who have suffered that agonizing day-by-day long-term illness. Perhaps after your constant daily care giving, the loss is more profoundly felt. Is the sudden death devastation or long-term illness a harder or worse road to be on?  No, it is just different, the same pain, but different package.  We bear the same pain. It just comes wrapped differently. Our package began when Jeff’s friend called. There had been an accident. I asked, “What hospital? Where did they take him?”   We  were already  on  our  way.   He said, “No, they haven’t taken him yet. He is still in front of my house.” The confusion crept in. He explained that Jeff had been hit by a car in front of his house. What all swirls through our minds at that moment?  Minor? Major?  It couldn’t be!   The closest hospital was between our home and the accident sight. If we did not pass the ambulance in route, we would go to the accident scene.  We were able to get to the wreck scene before they took Jeff away. Bill and I parked, walking briskly and intensely past the police officers.  What I saw and what Bill saw were definitely different details.  He looked at the surrounding situation, details, positions, and vehicles.  I focused in on Jeff. We had two different perspectives. The grief journey is like that. We were involved in the same tragedy, but both of our reactions were unique to ourselves. We focused in on different aspects and had individual responses.  Our separate reactions demonstrate how distinctive each walk through this grief journey is.

It is a journey. We cannot go back. We sure don’t want to stay where we are; so the only option seems to be to move forward, to make a choice. Can I move forward?  Is it time?  Do I have the strength, desire, or ability?  It may not be time, yet.  Grief does not wear a watch and does not know a time schedule. It can be a dark and agonizing place. If our amount of love and loss is balanced by our suffering and pain we may be here a while.  But then I don’t have to tell you that. This is a journey that is not unfamiliar to you. It is a journey that can make us doubt our best abilities and qualities. I thought the one thing I could do right was raise great kids.  But my experience is that when one dies on you before their time, the questions flood in and can swallow us up. Am I ready to try to choose, leaving the despair and hopelessness behind?  Can I move forward without leaving Jeff behind? Jeff’s death, like your son or daughters, grandson or granddaughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew, ended his physical life. It does not have to end the relationship.  Some professionals may feel we must let these loved ones go.  For me and my journey I prefer to choose moving forward, bringing Jeff with me, like our surviving children, on this journey through the rest of my life.

As I continue on this journey, I notice that our ‘normal’ is different than before.  Barbara Johnson, a popular inspirational author, has said, “Normal is only a setting on the dryer.”  Normal for us now has become changing the red, white and blue summer patriotic flowers on Jeff’s grave to fall harvest colors. Gold and oranges went on for Jeff’s birthday. Oh, Birthdays! Jeff’s 25th birthday was just about two months after his death. I remember Bill, my husband saying “Doesn’t someone make a balloon that doesn’t say ‘Happy Birthday!.” It was anything but happy. You know the agony. . Jeff should be the oldest of our three children. He was our only son. You know the losses that go along with losing your only son.  He will always be twenty-four. That midnight on Sarah’s twenty fifth birthday what a ton of bricks hit. I expected to be happy, happy that she survived her twenty fourth year, thinking, Yeah! “We made it through!” But instead of relief, Shwshh!  I felt what I call being lambasted.  Some call it a grief spasm. Are words needed in this group to describe the slap in our face, take my breath away reaction that we get overcome by?  I can only imagine how she felt. Sarah had become our oldest child. That was not how it was suppose to be!

That’s not how it is supposed to be. I feel that losing my son was like my body being mutilated.  It still needs much care and attention to heal.  I never thought grief work would be this exhausting.   This concept of grief work was first told to me by Jim’s mom.  She so gently stepped back into her pain and rawness to introduce me to BPUSA. She said, “go to where the help is.” BPUSA was a critical source of help for us. Help for what? Perhaps to learn how to handle the flaring fits of anger often unleashed on unsuspecting victims caught in the line of fire. I’d love to say that after six years it is all behind us now. Far too many of you know the real truth.  However, having you know this helps. It shows that we are not alone. We find buddies to help us through these exhausting times.  The buddy system is not only good when swimming and hiking, but also grieving.  It seems to help that we are not alone. Having a buddy is especially good during the times when we tend to isolate ourselves.  

Choices.  Our lives are filled with choices. So is death. The morning outside the hospital after Jeff’s death Sean, Jeff’s friend had on this shirt.  This message got down deep in my heart.  Life is important choices.  Some of the most minor choices leave the most impacting results on the strangers and loved ones left behind. Jeff’s death certificate states his death was an alcohol related death.  It was his last legal document. I wish he had made different choices.  We did not choose Jeff’s death.  We did have the choice and the option of donating his organs.  We do have the choice of saying thank you to the many families around the BP tables and others who have walked on this journey with us or before us and showed us how to do it.  We do have the choice of letting go and letting God help us through it.  We do have a choice of how we will respond to what Jeff wrote his senor year in high school. I found this ina school notebook during a very hard time.  I desperately needed to know his life meant something and that Jeff could still make a difference even though he was no longer physically here. I hope you choose to let Jeffrey William Ryan impact your life today, for we don’t know where we will be tomorrow. 

Jeff wrote,

“Do any of you have time to really sit down and look at things closely anymore?

I know personally it seems as if everything is flying by so quickly. You seniors can probably relate especially well. Remember when you were little and your mind wasn’t so cluttered. You had time to think about things.  Well, the other night I was sitting in my room and one of the things I started thinking about was death. I know it’s not one of the most pleasant subjects to think about, but it is sure a popular one. Think about the news at night. What is the major topic? It’s death whether it be murder, accidental or natural. Death is something that links everyone in this room together, not only because it is a natural phenomenon that occurs at  the end  of each person’s life,  but it is also something everyone has to deal with during life. How many of you have ever had to deal with a loss of a loved one? Personally I had to deal with the loss of my Grandma and my Great Grandma last year.  It really makes you think!  Different things like; is there really a place you go after you die?  If so are you eternally at peace?  Do you start a new life? Here’s one, what if someone made up the idea of Heaven to set everyone at ease. Sure just think if there was no hope what kind of place would this be to live in?  On the other hand, what about Hell?  What if Hell was a made up place, just to scare people into being good?  Now, I don’t want anyone to get mad at me. I know everyone has their own beliefs and I’m not saying those were mine. I’m just giving all of you the opportunity to take some time and think.” 
Jeff Ryan (Lutheran North High School 1993) 

So now the choice is yours.  Do you take time to remember your child fondly?  Do you take time to let someone help you along this journey?  Do you take time to help others on their own journeys?  What you choose to take time for is your own decision.  I choose to be patient with myself and others.  I choose to use my time to share my story.  I choose to remember with love all our children.

 

 

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