By Guest Blogger, Scott West
It’s Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be jolly’. Really? It’s a tough time of the year for many people for many reasons. But it’s a time of joy and remembrance.
For my family, it’s equally tough. Our lives changed forever on November 20, 2004. Our family as we knew it was shattered after a knock at the door and the news that our nineteen-year-old son Ryan had died in an automobile accident. Life would never be the same… and it still isn’t.
Thanksgiving was a few days later – Ryan’s favorite holiday. He’d ask the classic question to his mom: ‘Who’s coming?’ She always responded to that with laughter and a smile, and Anna’s answer “Who do you think is coming? The same people that come every year.” His birthday was two weeks later, and then came Christmas. It wasn’t a day of grieving; for the Wests – it was a season of heartbreak. Christmas Morning was replaced by Christmas Mourning.
Each year we are deluged and comforted with phone calls, cards, emails, and texts remembering each of these days, and remembering Ryan.
Face it, we have joined a fraternity of new friends and extended family who have suffered the cruelest of losses. A parent losing a child; Our daughter Jenna and other children who have lost a parent or a sibling. Imagine Children. It’s not a group we chose to be part of, but it’s a group of people sharing a passion and search for survival, and remembrance of our loved ones.
I remember our first Christmas family gathering and dinner. And after saying grace at the table, we’d offer a toast and prayer for those in our family who were no longer here. It was too difficult and heartbreaking to even say Ryan’s name. It was too painful to even think about him being gone. But it also may have been the last time I didn’t say his name.
Every once in a while, especially in the early years, someone would ask me how my kids were or “how’s your son.” I’d share the news that he had passed away and get choked up. The person inquiring would apologize and be lost for words on what to say next. They’d apologize to me for getting me upset. I’d smile, wave my hand, and say to them “don’t worry about it – “I cry all the time”. But then I would thank them for asking about Ryan, and for speaking his name.
As time passed, and we talked more and more about him, we talked about his life and not only his death. I shared a thought that eventually, the REALLY BAD DAYS had begun to be further and further apart. It was an epiphany that allowed me to share more and more, and most importantly, from within my heart. And talk about Ryan more and more.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak publicly about Ryan in scholarship presentations and in personal development programs that focus on hopes, dreams, and desires, and ultimately, the fragility of life. I’m not sure I ever thought about it, but I truly recognized how lucky I was that I’d had Ryan in my life for nineteen incredible years.
Speaking about Ryan brings me peace. Remembering Ryan brings me comfort. And having Ryan still in my life brings me the recognition that my love for him will never go away. I once shared that my greatest fear was that ‘my son would be forgotten.’ Talking about him has assured me that he never will be.
It was hard to survive missing him, but it was impossible to survive without remembering him. We’d always loved Christmas, because it’s a day to remember – Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Mothers, and Fathers. Watching March of the Wooden Soldiers with Ryan and Jenna hiding from the Bogeymen and cheering for the Wooden Soldiers. Going My Way and Miracle on 34th Street, with beautiful messages of giving and love. And ultimately ending up in tears. Good tears. Happy Tears. Wonderful tears. They’re not overrated. They’re not a sign of anything other than caring. Life HAS become easier. We often ask ourselves the magical question ‘When did it become easier?’ Not all that sure when but somehow it did.
We’ve just finished putting up our Christmas Tree. Ornaments collected and saved over a lifetime of our family together. Trips to Disney, summer at the Outer Banks, Yankee games and Giants games. Pre-school ornaments created by our children and placed carefully by my wife Anna in their own special places. And she gets to smile… and remember. The final touch is the placement of a Christmas Angel at the top of the tree holding a photo of Ryan. It’s not a memorial- it’s our reminder that he’s with us always.
We all grieve differently. Anna, Jenna, and I once had an article written about our family titled “After Perfect Days – Imperfect Struggles.” We all suffered in our own way, but loved each other and Ryan equally. And we all did our best to comfort and love each other and remember Ryan.
Christmas Mourning has been replaced by the return of Christmas Remembering. Visions of our loving seven-year-old son at the top of the stairs, waiting for his adoring little sister, announcing “Jenna!! Santa’s been here. FOR SURE!!” Revisiting the same memories that took me to my knees and brought me to tears, now leave me smiling and often roaring with laughter. Ryan hasn’t left me, and will never truly leave me. He’s just waiting to see me again.
– Scott West
Post Script – I’m eternally grateful to the Honorable Senator Tom Kean who introduced us to Imagine. Being in touch with and involved with Imagine is a gift that we were given. Being able to remember Ryan forever at the Imagine home helps complete us and make us whole.