But when it came down to it, I ducked. I knew I would take that bullet, but when it comes down to it our instinct is to save ourselves. That’s very hard for me to admit because I don’t want to be like that.
I fully expected not to leave the fire without my babies in my arms. If I’m not responsible for my children, who is?
When you think about it, Life is a series of choices. And the choices are ours. Yours may not be as dramatic as mine but you have to admit every day and every night we are bombarded with choices.
It’s why some of us can’t sleep.
There are things that happen to us in life that are not our choice. Like Ryan dying in the fire, or somebody ‘gets’ cancer. They didn’t choose it.
But that’s when we learn the deepest truth about choices. It doesn’t matter nearly enough what happens to us as what we do with ‘what happens to us.’
A Mother’s number one job is Not to ”secure your own mask before securing the mask of your child.”
Job numero uno is to take a round from a rifle for your kid. Like it or not, Moms, we are their saviors. As I’ve said before, I wanted to save my seven-and-a-half son, Ryan, from the fire. Not only did I not save him, I never got to him. I ran.
Ryan burned to death.
No mother could fail more completely. And I will never get over it however old I get. I hear what you’re saying:
‘‘It was an accident, Dawn.”’
“You did the best you could, Dawn.”
”Ryan is better off, Dawn.”
“Imagine all the future problems God protected Ryan from, Dawn!”
Is that all you got? Fuggedaboutit! There is nothing you can say that I haven’t heard already. And this tragedy cannot be understood unless you are a member of a very small sorority of mothers whose young child died violently. (It’s the Sorority nobody rushes!)
It has taken me seventeen years (6,205 nights) to say what I’ve said to you today. What have I learned?
If I have to choose my favorite of the ‘7 things I learned from my son,” (previous post) it would be the first one, “Appreciate Life.” Or, another way to say it is ‘living an attitude of Gratitude.’
When Ryan died, I came to a real crossroads in my way of understanding life. The first road I traveled was: “the accident as highway robbery.” There was nothing ‘right’ about it. It was wrong, wrong, wrong. Ryan was stolen from us.
Quite a few years later, I stumbled onto the second road. It was a whole new way of understanding loss. The fact that we had one day with Ryan was a gift because the truth is we didn’t deserve even a day with Ryan.
You get what I’m saying? That every day we spent with him was a little miracle for our family. Think about it, we had 2567 days with him.
How can that be wrong?
To look at something this horrendous thru the lense of gratitude is life-changing. It would have been easier to be cynical (nothing ever really works out the way you want it) but I am not.
Here’s an idea: why don’t you put on your gratitude glasses and look at your life? It can change the way you see the worst of the worst.
There’s no way in Hell that I would have considered doing the mommy job of preparing the funeral for my baby boy. Not physically, not mentally, not emotionally, not psychologically, not spiritually, not nothingly. It’ll take everything I’ve got to sit thru it.
Ryan’s funeral could have been the ‘worst of the worst nights of my life.’
But Ron saved the day. He got his heartbroken self up in front of everyone, and told them the “7 things I learned from my Son.” Let me tell you some of what he said that afternoon.
“When my son, Ryan, came along, I prided myself on teaching him the alphabet and soccer and flattered myself that I was a good teacher, but as I look back I now see that I was actually still learning and that I was still learning more important lessons than I was teaching.
Lesson 1- Appreciate Life
Lesson 2- Smiles are Infectious
Lesson 3- Explore your world
Lesson 4- Don’t take yourself too seriously
Lesson 5- Don’t confuse intelligence with experience
Lesson 6- Charity means giving when it hurts
Lesson 7- …and the greatest of these is Love.”
That, my friends, should tell you the kind of son we enjoyed in Ryan.
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?”
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.
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.
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!
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.
Even when I was a little girl, I didn’t play “House.” I didn’t dream about being somebody’s Mommy. Carrying a baby gets in the way of climbing trees, and my goal was a tree a day. I climbed in the daytime and read under the covers at night.
I didn’t play with girls and I didn’t chase boys. No dolls, no football, which left me up a tree (literally), but I liked the company I was keeping. I liked being by myself.
So this isn’t going to be the usual story about a girlie-girl raised by her parents. If anybody raised me I raised me.
The ‘best day of my life’ might have been the day I discovered I liked myself as I was, and that I could do for myself. In other words, I was born a person in my own right. That was one fine day when I figured that out.
the ‘best day of my life’ might have been when I left home at nineteen, rode the bus to Port Authority in the City of New York. Imagine, a teenager moving to Manhattan and becoming a Playboy bunny.
By now you’ve noticed that I cannot be categorized, or corraled.
All I knew was that a Playboy bunny wasn’t like any other girl, so I qualified. BTW, if there was a way to set up a bunny reunion tonight, you could go all around the room, asking the other girls about me:
They won’t remember me, or,
I wasn’t like anyone else wearing a tail.
The single ‘best day of my life’ was when my first child was born when I became Ryans Mommy!
(Okay… Next time we meet: “The worst day of my life!”)