Grief · wounded Mother

The Worst of the Worst day of my Life!

I remember driving to the Funeral home with Ron to see Ryan’s body just before his cremation.



Just the two of us, Ryan’s mom and dad. His parents. That’s all we were to anyone that day. As we entered a cold storage room, I remember thinking to myself,

“How could they be so insensitive to have let us spend our very last moments with our little boy in such an unfriendly, frigid environment?”  

death rose sammie-vasquez-490032-unsplash


All there was was a child-sized makeshift,  cardboard coffin. It stood solitary in the middle of a room. It was a stark reminder of how Ryan died in the car. Alone. Seeing the box screamed there would be no more talks, hugs, and laughter from our little Ry-Ry.

We both gasped and crumbled. I have to admit it was surreal and unbearable that our little boy’s body was inside a cardboard box.

We cried out to God,

What kind of love is this that you would rip him out of our hearts as if he’s better off with you?”  He’ll tell you himself, he’s better off with us.


 Some of you are wondering, “How much of him was left after the fire?”  Do you really think we opened that cheap container? All we could do was cry and say goodbye to the little boy in the box.  The only one more damaged than Ryan was me.

All is lost!

ryan’s mother

Grief · wounded Mother

The worst day of my life! (part 2)

It’s  Saturday afternoon and we’re driving Highway 83, along the Mexican border. We’ve just left Ryan’s first swimming meet and are heading for his soccer match 45 miles away.


car interior a-l-117960-unsplash.jpg

Suddenly, we hear an unrecognizable POP! It’s so loud! Our car begins to roll over and over. Then, we are trapped in our car, on fire.

confusion andrei-lazarev-671703-unsplash.jpg

Everything in me wants to get out of the fire. The other everything in me wants to get the kids out of the fire.

My maternal instincts are raging! So are my primal instincts.

It’s like an internal civil war: “Do I save my children, or do I save myself?”  


(So I’ll see you on Monday.)

Family · Grief · wounded Mother

The worst day of my life! (part 1)

Our SUV is rolling over and over and flames are beginning to eat through my passenger seat, searing my hamstrings. The final rollover lands us on my side. My door won’t open. Everything I touch is glass, gravel, and weeds on the shoulder of Highway 83.

car on fire andres-gerlotti-559487-unsplash

The fire ignited under me and is crawling toward my 7-year-old, Ryan, sitting behind me in the backseat.

Our happy family of four are trapped like POW’s. I can smell the skin on my legs burning. Then, I am numb. No, more like frozen. Gradually, my brain begins to thaw.

I open my eyes and every one of us is on fire!

My baby, Tyler, is!

My seven-year-old, Ryan, is!

My husband, Ron, is!

woman & cross keem-ibarra-560576-unsplash.jpg

And it feels like we’re all melting. Both children are trapped in their car seats. Can a person be on fire and frozen at the same time?

This is only the beginning of the worst days and years of my life.


(See you Thursday for part 2)

Encouragement · Faith · Grief


As yours, our hearts go out to those who suffered loss and injury as a result of the terror attack at the Manchester England Concert last night.  The horror for those parents and children who lost track of each other in the moments following the explosion is unimaginable.   But moments are translated to years of agony for those who received the terrible news – their loved one was severely injured or lost.

As you,  the Hirn family is praying for these families and those who have witnessed this event.  But we are also praying for our world which is suffering such senseless brutality at the hands of a few misdirected cowards.

Staying in your own backyard may seem easiest right about now.  But remember, the world is filled with far more people who love life and love others regardless of their faith or persuasion.  It is important to remember that we who love our families, our lives and the lives of others are in the majority.


great hirn shot gb copyWe are grateful for our safety when we visited England not long after another terror episode.   Be vigilant wherever you go.  But don’t let bullies dictate your movements.

Hirns GB copy

We love you each.  Dawn

Dear Dawn · Encouragement · Grief · Travel

The bright side

Dear Dawn,

 I applaud you for always looking on the bright side of life.  After what you have been through, I’m sure it might have been easier to let your grief rule the day.  But you and Ron chose to lead your other sons in joy.   Wondered how you handled the reminders of the Nazi horrors against the Jews in WWII.  Did you avoid the German Holocaust memorials and museums on your trip, or did you go through them?   Did your kids understand?  How did they handle it?

Dear Bright Side, Can you ever measure grief?  I always thought the word “Holocaust” meant mass extermination.  But the Greek Word holokaustos, actually means ‘burnt whole.” The knowledge that millions of lives were purposely ended is shattering.  Ron and I will never be able to run away from the visions of our own personal holocaust when fire took our seven-year old Ryan from us.

Auschwitz bunkers
Auschwitz bunkers

We cannot change the past anymore than Germany can change the horrors that happened in the streets and concentration camps throughout Europe in the 1930’s and 40’s.   But there are choices that have to be made:  When the past seems to hold a curse, look to the future. Ron and I intentionally chose to introduce our boys to the world and her history, not trying to water it down for our sons’ ears.   But we tried to look beyond the horrors in the remnants of Hiroshima Japan, Auschwitz Poland and other Nazi Concentration camps, and in huge numbers who were killed in the name of communism.

Auschwitz urinals

The truth lies in the overwhelming courage it took for the survivors to continue forward in life and beauty.

Auschwitz furnaces

We walked through the ghostly concentration camps and war memorials as a family – but each of us were silently processing our thoughts.  With the museums, after consulting with the guides, we chose to censure the most graphic museum images for our 8 and 10 year old by scanning ahead and steering them away from the more gruesome images. But we felt Tyler, at 14, was old enough to handle the complete truth and he viewed freely. Those who remain alive today to tell the story were children then! At the end of the day we were each left with the same theme: Hope and courage.



The Germans have found a way to honor those taken, and find beauty and resolve shining through future generations.    Ron and I share our enthusiasm for life with our boys while still honoring the short but vibrant life of our firstborn, Ryan.

Holo.shot BPOur cameraman takes a shot most memorable to our family at the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’

I guess you never appreciate the light until you’ve seen how absolutely dark darkness can be.

Have a wonderful weekend!


Encouragement · Grief · Travel

My other car . . .

Vietna overnight cruise“My other car is a  . .  cruise ship” the bumper sticker on the car in front of me read.  Remembering our last cruise made me laugh out loud:

cruise ship Vietnam

It’s not about the car for me.  Never has been.  I was always more interested in where I would end up than how I would look getting there.

My other car is NOT a Lamborghini.  (But I still get a charge standing in front of one!)

lambo Dubai DawnIn Dubai, this is the norm rather than the exception.  For me, it’s the opposite!

Doesn’t matter what type, model, color or age you have; unless you use it to head yourself in the right direction you may stay in the showroom for the rest of your life. The way I see it, you use the vehicle you’ve got to get you to the places you want to go.  Good shoes for me are more important than fancy wheels.

1992 Ron/Dawn bought, travel 25 countries, 10 mthsYears ago, Ron and I rented a Westfalia in Germany  (remember Shaggy and Scooby-Doo’s Scooby-mobile?  Add a pop-up top and you’ve got it.)     We weren’t concerned about luxury camping.  We had found camping across Europe to be one of the cheapest ways to go, a great way to meet people and easy to find a space for the night.  There are no Walmarts in Germany, but almost everyone holds the Walmart Policy:  “Park here for the night!”

 The memories of how we got there flood my mind and bring great smiles: From airplanes headed to Saudi Arabia, to bamboo rafts headed down the river.

And once we got there we always ended up using exactly what God had given us:  Our brains and our feet.  Remember what Dr. Seuss said:  “You’ve got brains in you head, and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose. 


Great weekend!




Dear Dawn · Grief

Casting . . . .

Dear Dawn,

Three years ago, my husband and I also lost a child.  Those who try to comfort us always say “Time heals all wounds.”  But we are far from healed.  How long did it take you and Ron to get past the pain?    Still Waiting.

Dear Waiting,   I wish I could give you the magic hour that things will get better; but, there is no such thing as permanent healing from a loss of this dimension.

Once I had gotten past my anger with God for having taken my son away, I began gravitating toward Bible verses to lift me up.  But each reference was a temporary fix.  Then somebody mentioned the verse in 1 Peter 5: “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.”  I looked it up in the King James, and here is what it really says:

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.  Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7 

Wow. Casting is ongoing!   It was my job to continuously drop my load on God.  I could see from that verse my anguish would last a long time.  But more than that, I realized that my role in the whole thing was to never quit casting my cares upon God. 

So many people have said encouraging things to us, and Ron and I have each read so many books.  I just finished one of the best: A Grief Unveiled, by Gregory Floyd.  I urge you to order this book which has touched me so deeply.  From this I have learned:

-We will not diminish our son, Ryan,  by living our lives.  Neither will you.  We will honor our children,  our angels, by going on with as much joy as they gave us.

-Nobody can remove you from the pain of devastation,  but you.  It’s an ongoing process. You will have good days, bad days and great days. Keep casting.

-It is also our job to honor our children by remembering them to their brothers or sisters, and to each one who loved our child.  Encourage them to fill their life with joy and hope, using the gifts God has given them.

Kremlin/St. Basil’s Moscow, Russia

Keep living, keep loving, keep the memories of your child’s precious life alive.

And never quit casting!


Dear Dawn · Encouragement · Grief

What now?

Dear Dawn,

The unthinkable has happened in our family and I am questioning everything I am doing.  I find myself waking to another dreaded day thinking “What now?” How did you do it?  Just a note and a prayer, please.

Dear What now, There is nothing I can say to you that will fix things.  Just knowing there are people who love and support you is not ever enough. But don’t overlook the importance of their prayers and concern.

Ron and I still struggle with the loss of our seven-year-old son. Calendar days are often geared to him. . . today if he had lived, he would have been so old, he would have gone to his first prom, gotten that college acceptance letter, found his true love, etc.  That unavoidable agony is a process.

school ryan

Our life after Ryan was to hunker down in an environment that protected us and our surviving kids, one we controlled (during a loss, you feel utterly out-of-control) and manipulated ourselves with routine and predictability.

Life – such a precious gift — was slipping by so quickly.  Ron and I agreed to something drastic.  We hit the ‘reset button’ in the life of our family, and chose to radically embrace life by hitting the road to see the world.

It is an extreme choice, but it took us completely out of the rut of every day routine. When foreign traveling, you have to stop and think about every part of your daily life — where you eat, sleep, how you communicate, how to live within your budget, etc. By evaluating every part of your day, you reset your patterns.  Keeping Ryan close to our hearts by carrying his backpack, we began building new memories.

4 boys in shadow

My prayer for you is that you will be able to pull yourself up a day at a time.  When it comes time, hit the reset button.  Do it together!  Imperative!!

And let me know how you are doing.  Thanks for your letter.



“good grief”

Grief isn’t something you ‘go through and get over.’  It’s been seventeen years since we lost Ryan, and believe me, the process has been far from good.

7 yr old ryan

People spend thousands of dollars on therapy and grief counseling, and will probably continue to do so. If you are looking for ‘drive-thru therapy’ you will never find it. Grief is an ongoing process.   Google has helped us all save a bit of our money with some quick tips on ‘coping with grief and loss:’

  1. Face your feelings.
  2. Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way.
  3. Look after your physical health.
  4. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel.
  5. Don’t tell yourself how you should feel.
  6. Plan ahead for grief triggers.

Tuesday was Ryan’s birthday. I keep telling myself ‘time heals all wounds’ – stuff like that, knowing I am breaking Google’s Tip Number 5.   “Getting over it” is just not something I am prepared to do. Ever!   This is not a circumstance; it’s my child.  If you have lost someone you love, you understand.

baby ryan

But there is something to be said about Google Tip Number 6: “Plan ahead for grief ‘triggers’.”  October is always difficult for Ron and me, as we are drawn more closely to Ryan’s birth and death.  The same pain, confusion and unanswered questions play back in our heads.


We have worked through Tips 1 and 3- ‘facing our feelings and looking after our physical health.’  But we have found strength in Google Tip Number 2: “Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way,” which provides for us a landing place – a vision!   By reaching out to others who have been hurt by loss, we have found a small piece of purpose.

Having all suffered burns and spent time working with severely burned children, through burn camps, we have established the Ryan Shines Burn Foundation that reaches out to help the families of other burn victims as they try to get past their physical and mental pain.  We have visited with those around the world who have faced horrendous loss and with tender encouragement we have shown them our scars, our personal physical reminder of healing.

ryan laughing

“Good Grief” sums up Charlie Brown’s attention to life’s details. Otherwise it defines an ongoing process.   Our memories of you, Ryan, grow even more dear as the years pass by.

sweet ryan




Dear Weakness, let’s break up!

I don’t know who decided to refer to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as 9/11.  But I get it.  That day changed everything for our nation.  We face airports, travel, neighbors, unidentified parcels, and each other differently than we did September 10, 2001.

And we especially wondered how families of those who were in the towers, first responders and those who had loved ones in the airplanes turned missiles, had the courage and strength to move forward.  Shortly after that tragedy, Ron and I lost our son Ryan in a tragic accident.  I’ll never forget that terrible day, as the date we completely lost our strength and courage.  I was certain I wouldn’t and couldn’t make it through.

But in the time that has passed I have looked back to give credit for my strength:  it is certainly the unfailing love of my husband, the support  of my family and friends, and the gift of my sons.  But the source of my strength is God. God is in control, which was a hard fact to swallow when my Ryan was taken.  But God has and is mending this family. And He certainly understood how it felt to lose a son.

Like 9/11, we lost our Ryan in the ashes, our tower of innocence and life, our purpose for living. But out of the ashes came our faith, building a solid family with the addition of Ryan’s brothers who are our hope for the future.

The World does not have the answers to everything. When Ryan died,  I was confronted with what happens on the other side, after this life on earth. There had to be more to this life than what we experience on earth. Is Ryan in heaven? If there is a heaven and he’s there, I need to believe,  or I won’t see him again. And when I was confronted with this human experience, this death of a loved one, I knew there would come a day when I met God.  What would I say to Him? The day before Ryan died, he had asked his teacher specifically what happens when you die?   He knew he was going to be with the Lord. Jesus has prepared a way into eternity for me too. But what to do for the rest of my life was hard for me to see.

I may never understand the ‘why’ of it.  But I do understand, now more than ever, I’m in a position of being testament to God’s work. I was spared in the fire to tell a story of sorrow, faith, hope and restoration.   And I will do that for others.  And in the meantime I want to know how to to make Jesus real for me today, not in a religious way but a relational way.  I want to open the door to have a relationship with Jesus, as I explore my faith.

After all, He’s the keeper of my Treasure!