It was a couple of days after we got the news. I hadn’t really fully processed the full magnitude of the situation up until that night for some reason. I got home from work. Late as usual. I jumped in the shower and then went into my room and closed the door. I sat on the edge of my bed and then the tears came. My parents were sleeping in the next room so I made sure to muffle the sound so I wouldn’t wake them. But that night, in the safety of my room, behind closed doors, making sure no one could hear me, I wept.
His name was Ryan. My sister and I (who is two years younger than me) were childhood friends with him since we were about eleven and nine years old. He lived around the corner and down the street from us with his younger sister and mother. As we got older and I found my own small circle of friends as I went into high school, my sister grew closer with them at the time more than I did.
By the time I was 20 I had moved away, gotten myself pregnant and shotgun married all within 6 months. I didn’t return back to my hometown until a decade later. Being away for ten years, for better or worse, I wasn’t privy to all of the goings on back home. Somewhere in there, my sister and Ryan’s friendship got a lot closer. And by closer I mean she got pregnant. The cool thing was that my sister and I were pregnant at the same time. Her with her oldest, my nephew Ben, and myself with my youngest son Ethan. Both are seventeen years old now, only my nephew is just a couple of months older.
Just a few weeks ago we had gotten word that Ryan had gone missing. It had been a couple of days already and still no word. What made matters more concerning is that he had left his keys and wallet behind at the place he was staying. Two things that most people would make sure to take with them anytime they left the house. That wasn’t the case this time.
As I was getting ready to leave for my second job, my mom knocked on my door. I was on the phone at the time so I opened the door and motioned for her to be quiet. Once I was off the phone I came out of my bedroom and walked down the hall.
“They found him,” my mom said.
I felt a sense of relief. They found him, I thought. Thank God.
“Where did they find him?” I asked.
“In the woods…he hung himself.”
I stood in the living room letting the weight of those words hang very heavy in the air. It was a mixture of denial and disbelief. Then anger, which gave way to the only response I could muster at the moment.
“What the f@#!*?!”
He had hung himself, using a belt, in an area of the woods that he would frequently visit. They found him on the ground, the branch had broken under the weight of his body, after the fact.
I asked if anyone had told Ben yet. My nephew had just lost his father and this kind of news needed to be dealt with with extreme sensitivity. I wanted to be there for that moment but I was on my way to work, literally walking out the door. I felt I couldn’t call in on such short notice. I should have called.
My boss very graciously let me go home early under the circumstances. On my way home I phoned my parents to ask how the conversation had gone. Ben had taken the news unexpectedly “well”, given the situation. He remained calm and quiet. It hadn’t really hit him yet. I knew it would only be a matter of time. My father, who was very close to Ryan and was a spiritual father to him was the one that needed comforting the most in that moment. Dad took it hard.
That evening I drove straight from work to my sisters house where the whole family had gathered. We sat around, talked, shared stories and laughed. We needed to laugh. I hugged my nephew and tried to let him know that he’s gonna be okay. Even though I knew there was nothing that I really could say in that moment to make any of it better.
A couple of nights later was when I found myself at the edge of my bed crying, The reality of it had begun to hit me. Ben, my nephew, didn’t have his biological father any more. He had just started to build a great relationship with him a few short years earlier. This would be a long emotional road that I and our entire family would walk with him. I remember thinking to myself, he must have been so scared. So weighed down with the burdens of this world.
It wasn’t until later on when they found his note that he had left to his mother. In it he wrote that he couldn’t make sense of this world in his mind anymore. And the way the world was right now, it didn’t seem like it was getting any better. That he didn’t want to be a burden to his family any longer because of his addictions and recovery. (He had been clean for 6 years!) He loved his mother and thanked her for everything she had done for him. Reassuring her that this was his choice and that she should move on with her life. That it was time to let him go. She had read the entire note at his celebration of life ceremony we had for him and everyone, myself included, started to weep. The weight of Ryan’s last words were so heavy. To hear that he thought of himself as a burden was heartbreaking. As a mother myself of two boys, all I could think about was not being able to see my own children.
After the ceremony, we all met at one of Ryan’s favourite places. The Whirlpool at the Niagara Gorge. We all started down the long wooden staircase to the bottom while his sister played Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin on her portable speaker she had brought. When we got to the bottom we all took some flowers to send off with Ryan’s ashes. I took my shoes and socks off and waded into the river to join the others. Ryan’s pastor joined us in the river for some prayer as we gathered around a grieving mother, releasing her son back out to his final resting place. The same place where just a few short years ago he had stood to get baptized in a severe thunderstorm. The same place where he had sought freedom from his past, from his addictions and wanted so badly to be made clean and to start over. And he was made clean. In that moment.
That’s the thing about the redemptive love of Jesus. No matter what your past or your present may look like, there is always hope for your future. He wipes the slate clean. Every day is a brand new day. Another chance. I have watched the video of Ryan’s baptism and it is a very powerful moment. He was so excited about the new path he was taking. He was so full of hope and joy. And even through the most recent years when life got tough again, he always knew who he was in Jesus. He never lost that. He knew he was a child of God. He knew he needed Him more than anything.
In the last few weeks of his life, Ryan had started a Facebook page, dedicated to bringing awareness and solutions to the homeless and addiction issues that we face here in the area. It was something he was very passionate about. He knew what his struggles were and he wanted to help others as well as educate people who perhaps didn’t know about how serious the problem was. I believe he had a real calling on his life to do this, but unfortunately the ugliness of this world grew too much for him to continue on. And that makes me absolutely furious.
I am angry that this world can be such an ugly place to live.
I am angry that someone as precious as Ryan, and many others like him see themselves as a burden rather than a solution. Their stories matter and can inspire and encourage others who are going through the same thing! We NEED their voices to be heard!
I am angry at how people mistreat each other so terribly.
I am angry that so many seem to spend their time arguing over politics and man made religion or over small, petty crap rather than getting off their computers and phones and actually attempting to go out and be apart of the solution!
So, what IS the solution?
That’s a pretty big question to an even bigger problem. This world is too complicated for a “one size fits all” type of answer. And while so many things, especially these days, seem to be out of our control and too overwhelming, that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to try, each in our own little pocket of the world.
Ryan’s death hasn’t been my first experience with addiction. For as long as I can remember I’ve been around that world in some form or another. My parents and their closest friends through the years have been involved in helping people in need since I was an embryo. The majority has been addicts (of all sorts), homelessness (to the point where I had to give up my bed so someone else could have a place to sleep…but that’s a whole other story in itself), hookers, single mothers or anyone in need basically. In some form or fashion I’ve grown up around reaching out into the community. So this world is nothing new to me and it’s something that I have grown passionate about over the years in my own rite, helping and joining forces with others when I can.
The most recent venture has been this last year. Starting back in November of 2020, myself along with family members and close friends (or anyone who wants to sincerely help) have been going out once a month (sometimes twice) to give back to our community. Life is always difficult out on the streets but this past year and a half has made things even more so. People need to feel that they’re loved and cared for more than ever before. I’ve even brought my guitar out a couple of times which was nice to be able to do since live music has been shut down lately. We’re quite a rag tag bunch but that’s one of the things that I love about it. A group of diverse people with one common goal. When there is unity and purpose, that’s when things get accomplished.
It isn’t something that I’ve talked about publicly because I never wanted it to come across as bragging or people thinking that I’m posting it or talking about it because I want pats on the back or that i’m just doing it for the attention. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I felt compelled to share since losing Ryan the way that we did because he would have been right along side of us. He would have been serving others. He would have listened to peoples stories as they cried about what they are going through. He would have been able to get down to their level and truly understand and empathize with them. He could have reached them in a way that others rarely could. He would have been a powerful voice.
Now that he’s gone, his legacy, his voice and his calling still continues. Serving beside my seventeen year old nephew, Ryan’s son, Benjamin. He’s the spitting image of his father. Not just in his looks, but in the way that he is able to reach people. Watching him not only meet peoples practical needs in serving food but also their spiritual, emotional needs as well. Sitting down on one of the benches in conversation with a stranger. Giving someone encouragement that’s going through a hard time. Giving someone a hug and telling them God loves them. He’s grown mature beyond his seventeen years already. Still showing up to serve others while recently losing his father is such a powerful thing to see.
Turning Pain Into Purpose! It’s something I’ve said many times over the last few years. Having gone through my own kind of pain, I can tell you that one of the best things you can do as part of your healing process when you’re going through heartbreak is rolling up your sleeves and serving others. It takes the focus off of yourself, while at the same time allowing that pain to be used for a greater purpose. This way, the pain that you go through isn’t in vain. Someone out there is counting on you to really get this!
Your purpose is bigger than the pain you’re experiencing.
Your purpose is bigger than the depression or anxiety that seems to weigh you down.
Your purpose is bigger than your addiction. (Whatever that may be)
Your purpose is bigger than anything you might have lost.
Your purpose is bigger than any injustice that you may have experienced.
Your purpose is bigger than all the wild nights that you live for on the weekends.
Your purpose is bigger than any of the temporary pleasures that this world has to offer.
Your purpose is bigger than the ugliness of this world.
If you want to talk about “solutions”, then let’s start with this:
Turn Your Pain Into Your Purpose
-Step Into It
-Walk In It
-Show Up For It
-Tell Your Story
-Stand With Others With The Same Mission