When we first lost the boys, I spoke more often about the effects that their deaths had on Walker, Natalie, and Ry, but as time has gone by I've chosen to speak more from my own personal experience rather than to hone in on theirs. It's not my place to tell their individual stories. It's the reason you will hear me say "I" so often (that, and I probably have a slightly unhealthy level of independence since my divorce eleven years ago. I find myself needing to apologize more times than I should, "Sorry, babe - I mean WE." 😅). I do my best to write about our family from my perspective, but today I am going to dip my toe a little into Ry's world in the hope that it might help someone out there.
Two weeks ago, we welcomed into the world a tiny little blessing. Deacon's best friend from high school, Jake and his wife Nicole (another of Deke's good friends), had their first child. They named him Jameson Deacon. Now, if you have never lost a child then I cannot explain to you the level of emotion that it brings to have someone love your son enough to give their baby his name. It is - without question - the greatest gift that anyone has ever given me. (BTW... if someone else out there wants to use his name, please feel free - oh, what joy it brings this momma!).
That same week, another family had to say goodbye to their baby boy. Devastating isn't a big enough word. Out of respect for their privacy, I must leave the rest of this story untold, but just know to wrap them in love as they enter these raging waters.
You are probably wondering what all of this has to do with Ryder. It doesn't really matter how it came to be that the subjects collide. Just know that they do. Think of it as synchronicity. Regardless of the "how", both of these events brought Ryder front and center in my mind.
The day that Ry was born was the day that I watched Deacon evolve into the kind of big brother that you would write about in storybooks. He was fifteen years old and fell instantly in love with all 8 pounds and 2 ounces of baby coos and cuddles. Having Ryder in his life changed him. I think it even made him a better big brother for Garrett and Walker and also prepared him to be the big brother that Nat would need when she joined our family about a year and a half later.
Ryder and Deacon only had five years together. Garrett, too, and of course they loved one another immensely. There was just something really special between Deacon and Ry. They would each light up when the other entered the room and they never left each other's side once one found the other. It was a special bond. The truly heartbreaking thing about it is that Ry doesn't really remember much of the time that they spent together. He holds onto snapshots in time and he talks about the boys constantly. He "knows" but he doesn't actually remember. When the boys died, in some ways it froze time for the five year old little him, in other ways there are black holes that have stolen his memories. He is still reeling from the trauma of it all.
Ryder was recently diagnosed with PTSD and various forms of grief. It's been five years and he is now ten years old. The worst struggles he should have faced in life by this age are whether or not he plays baseball this season, or suffering through mom's "one new food per month rule" where he agrees to try a new, interesting dish at least once a month. However, Ry has faced the darkest of places and, oftentimes, he still finds himself at the threshold of its abyss. It doesn't matter what he's doing or where he is when it happens, once a trigger has been tripped he immediately enters Fight or Flight Mode. It's not always easy to remember that this defense mechanism wears many faces and, as parents, if we aren't careful we might not always recognize it. The next time that your grieving little person has a freak-out moment or snaps at you or gets frustrated at the smallest thing, stop and ask yourself "why?". Take a moment before yelling across the house even though you've already told them five hundred times to do something. Of course, sometimes, they need the parent that doesn't budge. However, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, they need the parent that recognizes when they need an extra tender touch.
I'm sharing this today because Grief doesn't stop at us - the adults. She isn't choosy, no matter how much we parents try to shield our babies because we want to keep them as safe and pain free as possible. What we might forget, or maybe not even realize, is that children need Grief just as much as we grown-ups do. Grief gives them the permission to feel all the feelings. We have to let her do her job and we have to let them face her. But, let us be sure to also be there with that tender touch - the hug and tenderness that can be found in the middle of a meltdown - that lets them know we're there with them.
I am grateful for Grief. For all of her teachings and for all of the pain that she brings to the surface, she is filled to the brim with love. Ry is in therapy and it is helping him. That's all we can do, really - be there for one another. Take care of our littles and give them the tools they need to survive this crazy, messy, devastating, beautiful life. Losing the boys took a large part from each member of our family and we are all still figuring out how to put our pieces into some semblance of order.
These three make me believe it's possible. Each and every day.