Thursday, December 4, 2008

6th Annual Angel Ryan Project

Dear Friends & Families,
Hope you are well. The holidays are approaching. This year I have been feeling guilty that I have not been reaching out to many of you. I have been in a cocoon. After all, the normal daily routines and hectic schedule keep me busy mentally each day. Living in the moment allows me to be present of the joy or current challenges.

Time passes. Knowing Ryan feels so long ago for me. He is always in my heart but as the years pass he feels more distance to me….after all, I have lost the opportunity of getting to know him as a boy or as my son for the last five and a half years. I only can remember how he was as a toddler. I can only hold on to the limited memories of my son. Instead of growing with Ryan, there are the “wonderings”. Wonder how he would be as a 2nd grader, how well he would have enjoyed soccer, basketball, baseball, etc, etc. Wonder if he and Matthew would have intense sibling rivalries.

A teenage girl wrote this to another eight-year old girl who lost her 10 year old brother to cancer. “Remember what I told you before that sometimes, if you listen hard enough, you’ll be able to hear your brother whispering to you, and if you whisper back, he can hear you too. And when he can he’ll visit you in your dreams :) Just like if he was right there with you.” Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Ryan has not been in my dreams for years and he does not whisper to me….but yet… I know he is my son and will always be….

Matthew will turn 8 on December 15th. Matthew is growing up so fast and his baby face is turning into a matured looking boy. He enjoys school, loves Star Wars, Legos and playing with friends. Matthew is the pillar on reminding us why we are so blessed to still be parents. He keeps us smiling and keeps us living. The other night, he told me that he has many friends but Ryan is still his best friend. Matthew learns of Ryan through the memories we share with him…

John ended his start up venture in the spring and now has the opportunity in spending more time with Matthew. When life gets challenging, it is easy to get into a downward spiral and we have to stay positive not to let that spiral to take us down. John is now spending this time, exploring creatively. After all, life can be a lot of worse. We count our blessings by having each other as a family and good health. A 11 year boy right before his death said, “I feel the saddest when people just give up.” We all know too well that we cannot give up but to conquer and make a lesson and meaning out of our life experience.

It is time again for us to ask for your support for the 6th Annual Angel Ryan Project. As the state of the economy is in such turmoil, we all have to be selective in our charity givings. If we can give, we need to continue to do so as those who are in needs appreciate our help even more now.

Matthew and I will deliver the gifts to the Mid Peninsula Boys & Girls Club on Tuesday afternoon, 12/16th. If your children are interested in helping with the delivery, please join us. I hope we can count on you to celebrate Ryan’s life with us by donating a gift or 2. The value of each gift is about $15 and the club will mail you a tax receipt. You can deliver the unwrapped gifts to my house or send me a check so Matthew and I will go shopping for you on Dec. 11th. The Club is an after school program for low-income families so gifts will be most appropriate for children between 7 to 14 years old age. They often lack gifts for the older children.

Recently, I attended a seminar on “Raising Self Disciplined and Confident Kids”. Dr. Robert Brooks, the speaker encouraged us to ask ourselves these 2 questions. (1) What charity activity have we been involved in as a family? (2) Does our children see us helping others or a charity? Through your continued support to our family and the Angel Ryan Project & Ryan’s Ride, we are able to show Matthew empathy towards others in addition to honoring Ryan. No words can express our gratitude to you.

May you find peace and joy during the holidays and let’s also remember to count our blessings.

With peace and joy,

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

5th year Ryan's Anniversary

July 8, 2008 (5th year Anniversary)
I woke up on the morning of the 7th and just felt emotional. Monday…5 yrs ago…. Our family life changed. For someone who is quite forgetful, the sequence of events that happened on the Monday of the July 7th five years ago lived very vividly on my mind. I cried a little in the morning then went to work. Five years later I know I can handle this day “better”. But to my surprise, it is just not like any other normal day. I felt more tense and emotional.

I kept myself busy watching TV. Then when I turned off the TV, it was 12:40am…. I immediately wanted to check on Matthew to make sure he was breathing. That was the time I checked on Ryan five years ago. No matter how well I have learned to navigate, today is just a day I cannot treat like the rest of the year. I will take a day off and go to the cemetery with John and the family. In the afternoon, John and I will spend a quiet moment hiking somewhere. Connecting with nature is healing to us. I cannot believe it has been five years that we lost our little boy. His brother is growing so rapidly in front of our eyes and we savor each presence with him….

It was 2:30am and I turned off the light just now and tried to go to sleep… I burst into tears… At 2am five years ago, my little boy was pronounced dead. I saw his little body on the hospital bed, not moving. I remember John told me to touch him. I was in shock. What had happened? Friends were there….and we had to call John’s parents in the East Coast and my sister in Hong Kong. I wanted answers but I couldn’t get any…. I kept writing. I did an email blast and asked for help…give me tools so I could deal with this. Help poured in and resources came. Many were in ground zero with us…

As each year has passed, fewer people remember this anniversary and it is expected as we personally also managed to navigate more effectively and become more private in our own grief. I have learned that the world continues…the world does not change for me just because of my own tragedy. It is our outlook to this world that changed. We are placed in an ocean and we have to learn to surf in the water or else we would sink, simple as that. Eventually, we realized that we became better surfers.

Then I started playing the role of supporting newly bereaved parents. It gave me a whole new perspective as watching them was like watching my old reflection. I knew all too well how they felt one month, 6 months out, 2 years out. As time goes, I also realized that people are tired of seeing me mourn and I am tired of seeing myself mourn so grief all becomes much more internal and I share it only to those who are truly there to listen. But of course, on major days such as today, there is just no easy way out. In addition, being a supporter also gave me perspectives of knowing how much energy my friends had to exert in supporting us.

The journey continues. Sometime, I wonder what do other people think when they see me as a mother with a big grin on her face…the mother who lost a son but she is smiling often…am I there to prove that the loss of a child is so easy to survive because I am smiling so big each day…Only if people know that at times obstacles also magnify our vulnerabilities.

No matter what, we all owe it to ourselves to live authentically. It is important to keep it real. Life is no fairy tale. It includes all facets of emotional elements - joy, sadness, challenged, pain. Life is not always a beautiful picture as someone who always wants to paint it. You have to go deep down to the well to feel that lowest, the pain in order to also see the beauty in life.

I now know all too well that I have to count my blessings, be in the presence as much as possible and still appreciate life. Ryan and Matthew, one son in some far away place and one son here on earth with me. I love you both.

5th Annual Ryan Phua Memorial Kids' Ride Recap

July 4, 2008 (5th Annual Ryan Phua Memorial Kids’ Ride)
Ryan’s Ride came and went. (Our 5th time around). On the day of the event, I woke up at before dawn; looked at little Matthew sleeping soundly then reminded myself that Ryan’s Ride is here because my son died. I welled up in tears and pulled myself together and got ready for the day knowing that it would be a beautiful day.

Closed to 700 children showed up with their families. Last year, we rushed though putting the kids on the course because we were concerned about time and we finished the ride in record time. I felt so bad that something we planned so hard was done in a rush. So this year, I told the volunteers to stage the kids and please don’t rush through the whole process. It was beautiful as I watched and cheered each wave of kids pedaling down the road. I saw the smiles in many of them and I smiled. The smiles of these children truly brought me joy and were just priceless.

This year’s highlights: Our adorable 9-month niece Alana arrived from Hong Kong to participate in the Ride. I broke the rule and just wanted her to be a part of the personal family event. So we loaded her up in Ryan & Matthew’s Radio Flyer wagon and let her on the course too.

Then I met Lisa who is starting a branch of The Little Gym in Millbrae. Lisa’s generosity was just unbelievable to me. She offered her 2 full time employees to me to help me with the planning of Ryan’s Ride for two months.

Then there was Ines, whose determination and volunteer spirit truly shows me the meaning of kindness. She worked diligently to get lunches for our volunteers donated and offered to volunteer her time at the event along with her two sons.

Then of course, there were our friends who would be there year after year to help at Ryan’s Ride. (Daniela, Luca, Nadia, Ivania, Julie W, Doug, Junko, Yin Ping, Ron K., Ron S., Tiffany and her family, Cece, Shawna, Misa, Carmen, Carrie and her family, Michael, Mireille, Sarah, Donna & Hoa, Kelly, Lori, Joanna and her colleagues) I find this quote very appropriate: “A faithful friend is the medicine of life.” Thank you for being part of this journey with us. We truly are stronger as individuals because of your support.

Check out photos at and this slideshow created by Daniela Degrassi Photography.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Matthew lost his front teeth

Matthew lost one front tooth (Jan 25th), ate a churro and shifted the tooth to the middle. Then lost the other front tooth in a pillow fight with a friend (Jan 30th).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Matthew's Emotions

Our usual night….reading in bed…but tonight is not that usual. Matthew wanted to watch the Ryan’s Ride video. So I suggested that we look at some photos at our family website at We saw photos of Ryan & Matthew from 0 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, etc. Matthew enjoyed looking at them…then he made a series of comments with his teary eyes:
“I miss Ryan. I want to jump into the computer to be with him. Then you and Daddy jump into the computer to be with him too.”
“Today at recess, I cried a little because I miss my brother.”
“See, you are creating a legacy for Ryan so you have to continue to do Ryan’s Ride. I will help you and daddy will help you.”
“I wish Ryan will come back.”
“He died in his sleep (as he now understood what I said in the video). Did he throw up? How did you find him die?”

I told him the best I could. I told him that it is okay to cry. He acknowledged that I have told him awhile ago that it was okay to cry.

I looked at him and wondered how could my little boy be so emotionally sensitive? Four and a half years later, I am just taking his lead in talking about Ryan’s death… I now question…he is now seven years old and is maturing. All I can do is to be as honest as I can and also keep telling him that I love him. I am afraid…that there will be a part of him that lives with sadness. I don’t want to see his tears in missing Ryan but I assume all this is normal for him?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Another Birthday

Happy New Year. Today is also my birthday. We just came back from Tahoe after a week of pure ski and fun. Spending time alone as a family of 3 was intimate and necessary. We tried to make the best of it and John was a wonderful husband and father as always engaging with Matthew in the absence of a play pal. John envisioned many friends to enjoy our cabin but when none of our friends could join us for a big portion of our stay, he told me that the intimacy for our family was valuable. John just made the best of a situation. He was right. The intimacy was nice. We were truly relaxed without guests and our friends came to stay two nights during the last portion of our trip to wrap up Matthew’s excitement for the trip.

Last night, I was in a cleaning spree and organized a drawer where I stored Ryan’s memories. There were a few letters that were written by other moms about their memories of Ryan (and Matthew). I shared them with Matthew and tears just rolled down. Matthew said he wished he had Pokemon power to bring Ryan back to life. He said he had some tears at the corner of his eyes too and kept hugging me to comfort me. I rarely shed tears in front of him any more. But last night was a moment to visit the sadness with Matthew. He was so emphatic and understood. I told him that sometimes I just needed to cry to feel better and he nodded and gave me another comforting hug.

This morning, John and Matthew delivered breakfast in bed, with yellow tulips and cards. It is delightful to hear Matthew bursting the little pieces of secrets on how they were going to celebrate my birthday with me. He was so eager to know it was my birthday.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

5th Annual Angel Ryan Project Recap

With your kind and generous support, we collected toys and delivered them in ten days! On December 12th, Matthew and I along with our Angel Ryan helpers delivered 261 toys and gift cards and 118 books to the Mid Peninsula Boys & Girls Club. Watching the 4 to 7 years old unloading the gifts eagerly from my van brought tears to my eyes. I am so touched that through the giving spirits of these little ones, Ryan’s spirit was celebrated.

I want to thank my dear friend, Carolyn, formerly a teacher to shop with me for the 3rd year at Barnes & Noble and we purchased closed to $1,000 worth of books for the children. I want to thank those of you who personally delivered many thoughtful toys to my house and wrote checks to meet our tight deadline for our shopping spree. Thank you also to the mommies who encouraged their little ones to join us for the gift delivery.

Matthew and I shopped at Toys R Us and Target for a couple of hours. This year, at seven years old, Matthew truly understands the spirit of giving. He patiently selected toys for the boys and girls and took this responsibility seriously. I then finished my shopping alone at the Lego Store and Michael’s. In the late night shopping craze, I felt so fulfilled shopping for a cause.

During the delivery, Matthew and his little helpers took a quick tour at the Club and were introduced to the children there. Matthew told me afterwards that while taking a group photo, two boys tapped his shoulder and told Matthew, “You are awesome!”.

Matthew, John and I cannot express enough gratitude for your support to our family during these past years. I find this quote very appropriate: “A faithful friend is the medicine of life. By The Apocrypha”. We value each of your friendship and know that our lives are richer because of your friendship.
May all of us continue to be present in our living and feel the life that is given to us. Sending you peace for 2008 and the years to come.