Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The Kindergarten Community

Matthew started kindergarten last week. Matthew and I are both anxious to meet others and build relationships and start our new community.

Today, I volunteered to help set up a back to school gathering for the teachers. I went to a mom's house as the party is held there. The PTA president introduced me and told the woman who was hosting the event that I am Ryan's Mom. She took me into her boys' room and told me how Ryan's Ride is a big part of their summer. I think she has a fourth grader and 2nd grader. She showed me the medals, race numbers hung on the bulletin boards in the boys' room right above their beds.

Her older boy wrote essay about his summer and talked about Ryan's Ride when he started his school. He learned more about the ride by checking our website...I was so touched by her gesture. It is heartwarming to see her boys' room...

In a weird way, even Ryan is not here, he is part of the community....

Thursday, August 31, 2006

First day of Kindergarten

We woke up and got Matthew ready for school. We made a big sign “My first day of Kindergarten” and Matthew held the sign and took a picture. Matthew was a little nervous lining up with the other children in his class. The moment he went into his classroom, he was excited. He followed the other children to take a book and sat on the ground to read. When the teacher told the children to say goodbye to us, Matthew waved goodbye at me. He asked for a hug and we left. I was so proud of my little boy who often has had a hard time separating he has grown up in front of me today. I cannot be any more proud. I know Matthew will be so eager to learn and to make friends. If he runs into conflict, he will articulate his feelings and works it out or if not, he will ask for help….. I came home to an empty house and wonder what should I do now? Is that how most of the mothers who do not work full time feel?

Today, kindergarten was all about Matthew. There were 2 Ryan’s in his class. But our Ryan died at such a young age that I could not have imagined him coming to kindergarten with his brother. We were both in the moments of watching Matthew reaching this milestone.

I picked up Matthew at noon and he told me excitedly that he made 2 friends today. A boy kicked Matthew twice but Matthew said, “Stop doing that. It hurts when you kick me.” And the boy stopped.

Kindergarten is an adjustment for the child and for the parents. Matthew flew with such strength into the sky today and I was the proud mama bird who let him go and knowing he will be fine…… Our responsibility as parents will be to continue to provide the tools he will need to survive in a 5-year old world….

As for John, John said he had so much anxiety this past week leading up to this day. Today is a day of reflecting for him. He remembered he went to kindergarten, turned 6 and his mother died a few days after. The next year, he went to a different school to start first grade. He remembered vividly bringing home a form where he was supposed to put down his mother and father’s name. At 6, he asked who was his mother? He didn’t know which name to put down.

Our childhood modes our adulthood. As for John, his childhood trained him to achieve everything on his own without the normal parental support. He didn’t have a mother who gave him words of encouragement. At times, he said he could not understand why Matthew may get frustrated at a task. But I tried to remind him that Matthew has more tools than we do to accomplish in life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The eve before kindergarten

It is 4:30am in the morning, a few hours before Matthew’s first day of kindergarten. He woke me up. Normally, he would crawl into our bed and slept until the morning, but not this week. I decided to be strict. I have been wondering why first day of kindergarten is emotionally for so many. I told Matthew that it is going to be a big day and he needs his energy for his first day of kindergarten. Matthew nodded and told me that he loves me and to give him lots of kisses and hugs before I left.

I am awake now and it feels like the night before my wedding day. It is not a normal day… there is so much anticipation. I welled up in tears in bed and realized that Kindergarten is about “letting go”. Tonight, I feel as a mom, I am the shore and Matthew is a ship. My ship which has anchor to be ashore so much during these past 5.5 yrs will sail away. I know he will be making longer trips (away from the shore) as time goes. To be a good mother, I have to learn to let go.

Kindergarten is about receiving a set of official responsibilities. Matthew’s responsibilities are to learn to be in school on time, to learn and to get along with other children. He learns to take care of himself in my physical absence. Perhaps it is this newfound responsibility that makes kindergarten such a milestone.

Will I feel bittersweet because Ryan is not going to kindergarten? I feel Ryan has sailed away from us. Tonight, I am anticipating Matthew to sail away too. However, I know Matthew will come back ashore from time to time throughout his life. Perhaps in the midst of celebrating a milestone, each parent learns to grieve for the “loss”. In our case, that loss magnifies as a result of our ultimate loss of Ryan. This is another reminder of how I am living in the moment with my life. I look at John sleeping peacefully next to me and know that only John will be the “boy” who will be next to me in my lifetime. Our children grow up…..the essence of life, assuming we all live a long life.

I think I am ready for tomorrow….finally….

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Post 3rd Annual Ryan's Ride

Dear 2006 Ryan’s Ride Parents:
Our 3rd Annual Ryan Phua Memorial Kids’ Ride, part of the 20th Annual Burlingame Criterium was a huge splash. We had 609 energetic children champions at the event and collected over $16,000 on that day. Through individual pledges and corporate sponsorships, we have so far raised over $52,000 this year and a cumulative amount of $180,000 since the inception of Ryan’s Ride three years ago. Thank you for bringing your children to be part of Ryan’s Ride.
Many children had gotten into the spirit of raising pledges. It was extremely rewarding to see children with “shaky” handwriting summarizing their pledges on their pledge forms. The winner for each category is announced on our website. In addition, professional photographs are available for purchase. For more info, visit

We have created a slideshow that captures the spirit of this year’s Ryan’s Ride. We hope you have a moment to watch it:

As we anticipate Ryan’s 3rd anniversary on July 8th, I personally hope the success of Ryan’s Ride will give our family strength to acknowledge Ryan’s life purpose despite his physical absence. This time is always trying and bittersweet. Thank you again for honoring our little boy’s short life through Ryan’s Ride. I know Ryan feels like a champion watching the smiles of our 609 junior champs…..The parents’ love to their little boy never fades…..

Thursday, June 1, 2006

3rd Annual Ryan's Ride Request

As Ryan’s 3rd year anniversary is approaching on July 8th, we are putting much of our energy in planning the 3rd annual Ryan’s Ride in his memory. Ryan’s Ride will be on Sunday, June 25.

Life does not always give us a choice so we learn to continue to enrich the one life we have. Life is a gift because in a moment’s time, it can evaporate.

What I am about to write is my opportunity to share with you my journey openly. My voice is honest. Three years have flown by. We have adjusted to our new journey and make the best of it. John had concluded with his support group and believed that he is now used to navigate solo. As for me, I couldn’t let go of the support. The third year in grief it seems like I have less courage. I now found every excuse not to visit Ryan’s resting place. I just couldn’t stand in front of the spot because Ryan lives inside our family everyday. He has become parts that lies within us….our breathe, our experience. I really want to protect myself by preventing myself to visit that “emotional” state – the ground zero. But yet we still find the need to travel there as this is truly where Ryan resides. When we park our emotions there, we feel pain because it hurts not to have Ryan with us no matter how long it has been. At times, I am puzzled why the courage and strength that I had in the first 2 years have depreciated. But I realized that it is my protective mechanism for survival…and to stay what we considered “normal” in society.

John has offered to purchase the “marker” on his own. That purchase will reinforce the finality of our son’s death, I assume.

Matthew is now almost five and a half. He is articulate, delightful, sensitive and expressive. He is finishing up preschool and will attend kindergarten in the fall. He loves numbers, socializing with friends, riding his bike and being silly. Matthew and John have developed an amazing bond. Matthew knows that there are many things that Dad can do more than Mom. They are pals on the weekend. I feel lucky for Matthew to have John as a father. As for me, I feel my “calm” when I know I am spending my life with John.

Ryan is very much interwoven in Matthew’s life. He brought up Ryan on his own terms so much more this year than in the past. He shares with others that he has a brother. Sometimes, he will say Ryan is his younger brother because he is only two and a half and Matthew is five. He will get up each morning spinning on his new 2 wheels set on a stationary to get ready for Ryan’s Ride.

Bill, a dear friend for the 2nd year in a row, designed the art illustration for Ryan’s Ride and incorporated Matthew in the artwork and Ryan’s shadow riding behind Matthew. His illustration solidifies and reminds me the purpose of Ryan's Ride. John and I are in awe that he could design from his heart and he is able to unlock our heartfelt emotions through his art. It is powerful as if he can speak on our behalf. What a gift of friendship. No words are enough to express our gratitude to Bill.

Our other pillars for Ryan’s Ride who volunteer year after year in an intense mode include Julie for public relation and Ivania for graphic design. On the day of the event, we hope to recruit 200 volunteers, many of whom have been so committed to help us honor Ryan. We thank you sincerely.

As we are starting our fundraising in full launch, we hope you can support us in celebrating Ryan’s life by making a donation to Ryan’s Fund at the Lance Armstrong Foundation to support cancer programs in the Bay Area. Through Ryan’s legacy, we hope the funds we raised will help many families in many big and small ways. We hope you can help to make a difference by joining us to make an impact.

Checks should be made payable to:

LAF/Ryan Phua Memorial Fund
205 De Anza Blvd, #135
San Mateo, CA 94402

For those whose children will participate in the upcoming Ryan’s Ride, we look forward to having them join Ryan’s Peloton.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Feeling Vulnerable

I feel like I am more unsure of the world right now. I want to have some control of the destiny of our lives but no matter how hard I try, I seem to fail. I want to make choices but on numerous occasions the choices are made for me. I asked John, “Why do I need to keep challenging myself that way? Should I know my limits?”

John said, “If you never challenge yourself, you will never know what you can achieve. You always want to push your limits but potentially when you push, you are bound to see potential disappointment. Or in other words, if you never try you will never know what it could be, but there is always a risk of failure when you try." With each failure, the feel of let-down magnifies and the root is Ryan’s death.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Life of a Bereaved

Life…everyone has a different level of difficulty in how they venture their life journey. One person may get pregnant by accident in her late 40’s while another is trying her many rounds of IVF cycles hoping to have her own first child. Some people try so hard to accomplish what they want in life and fail while others don’t try as hard and they are presented with the same opportunities without even appreciating it. Someone’s life is so blissful while others are presented by challenges one after another.

Those who are bereaved….when they are faced with another loss in their lives while heading back to be a “normal” citizen, the loss magnifies and intensifies and the most inner vulnerability becomes so exposed. The wound re-opens and becomes deep. Others do not understand the intensity of that loss other than those bereaved. It takes so much energy to be part of the normal society yet the true real normalcy would be behind the close doors of a support group for those who are bereaved. It is a hard concept to grasp unless someone walks through that path. After all, if you have never been taught this foreign language, how can you communicate in that language?

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Grief Burst

I have not felt the need to write for a while but today I want to capture a moment of this journey. We were in the support group and as the new year arrived, John and I decided that it is the right moment to close out of this support group so we can allow others on the wait list to join.

As the meeting started and as I shared Ryan’s story and our lives with an incoming new parent, my feelings exploded. I couldn’t control my extreme sadness as I described my journey through the loss of Ryan. It was like a volcano erupting. John after two and half years felt he had allowed his grief to reach the deepest pit that now he could come out of the pit and perform like a normal citizen. He was like a walking dead for two years and now out of that pit.

As for me, he said I had been grieving by keeping myself busy with projects, I did not reach that pit as deep as he did or was I ever in the pit? When I was least expecting it, that “burst” surfaced out from that pit uncontrollably. I didn’t know I had it in me. It is just a reminder that I need to stay with the group to process those emotions that I have managed to cover with layers of blankets.

As I was telling the story, I realized I started losing memories of the details. I would be the first to admit that I am someone who is born with a weak memory bank.

But I told John that I still have vivid memories of my touch with Ryan….the many nights when he was ill and he couldn’t sleep. I would let him lay his head on my shoulder. I would pace around the room and humming this one lullaby that I don’t even know the name of. I would feel his hair sticking up because he was too warm. I would feel his little chubby hands which fingers would be so straightened as he stretched himself. I would feel those chubby flat little feet. I remember the size of his little body. I remember how proud I felt to be his mother….a little boy who had enormous confidence and layback attitude. I remember how calm and peaceful I was whenever I was alone with him during the nights. I remember telling myself how handsome of a man he would grow up to be despite having a less attractive baby face than Matthew. I was ready to tell the world…here is my handsome and confident son. I knew he would grow up to have that internal confidence that other teens may lack. I just believed Ryan was born with that confidence. No matter how forgetful I can be, perhaps a mother will never forget her son….

Friday, January 6, 2006

My Birthday

Christmas and the holidays came and gone. We went to Washington DC to spend Thanksgiving with John’s family. Our traditions were to bring the boys back for xmas but we couldn’t so we chose what we thought was a gentler holiday to give Matthew an opportunity to spend with a large extended family. In the Asian culture or at least in that gathering, we just pretended we were fine when asked. Nobody really tried to ask you how we really were or how we were coping. It is just not in the culture. So even though we had not seen these relatives in 2.5 years, everyone just focused on Matthew without any mention of Ryan as if he never existed. So it was extremely difficult for us to put on a face that we never could have been happier. All in all, we saw the joy of Matthew and it was very special for him to spend time with so many people. After all, that is what the holidays are about. Now we have done our first, I know we can do future holiday gatherings.

We went to Hong Kong to spend Christmas with my sister and brother in law. We kept ourselves busy by shopping and spending money. Being in a foreign land made us cope with the holidays easier. We all focused on Matthew and he brought all the adults so much joy. He reminded us what living is.

Today is my 41st birthday. John was in Vegas this week and returned late. I got a phone call from the radiologist after doing a mammogram at the beginning of the week. They asked me to do another ultrasound as they want to do a follow up on the mammogram. For a moment, I felt vulnerable. What other challenges can be presented to John and I? John was more nervous than I was. John has reinvented himself so differently. The year when I first met John, he received a birthday card from his fraternity brother. The card showed a boy sitting on the sidewalk fishing in a puddle and he caught a fish. That was John’s attitude. Now, he said our hope is to return to some kind of normalcy after our tragic loss of Ryan. We are so just sensitive to our environments.

As for me, I was afraid….my mind travels….I feel a sense of responsibility to Matthew. I need to be well and alive to care for my child. That is my priority. As much as I am not supposed to worry until I have to, I will still travel to that dark moment.

While in the office, I heard a CD played from my co-worker’s office. It was a CD that I was playing a lot right after Ryan’s death. In the CD was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star sang in Hawaiian style. My co-worker never had played any music from her office let alone this CD of the 3.5 years that I had consulted there.

At the end of the day, I often wondered if Ryan was trying to send me signs to remind me that it is not as important to reflect on the past but to be in the present and the future. He is trying to teach me about how I should live my life. On his 2nd anniversary while we were driving to Auburn for a getaway, a mother called me to ask me when and if I was going to have a Ryan’s Ride in San Francisco because her children asked about the event often. I just have to believe that it was a sign from Ryan to give me strength.

I kept my birthday low key. I worked and came home to my loving child who spent all night long wishing me a happy birthday and telling me he loves me. How can I not count my blessings? That is the best gift of all on my very special day.