Friday, July 10, 2009

My Tuesday Playgroup

Hi my Tuesday Playgroup (as how I always describe you all)....

It is 1am and I am trying to catch up after a long day at work... I just saw this email and the photos... I burst into tears because I am just so touched.... that you took the time to do this.... I so needed this...

We went to Yosemite for 3 days...majestic and grand with nature and it was a good way to spend the 8th that way with Matthew and the 3 grandparents and John. I biked and hiked and tried to in my darkest secret imagining how tall and how Ryan would have looked today at 8.5 yrs. old but I just couldn't imagine it...

John and the grandparents went to Ryan's resting place before our trip. I just couldn't go... as much as you and everyone think I am so courageous, etc... i just gave myself every excuse not to go to his resting place. I just didn't want to go because I do not have the courage to stand in front of the grave and strip down my emotions.

Six years and I am supposed to deal with it better but dealing better means I find a way to protect my feelings and not let myself to feel that deep painful wounds.

It was just wonderful to see you at the Ride, year after year whenever you can... despite in your biased opinion that it is a fun event.... John and I planned this event with such intensity and we appreciate seeing familiar faces there. Unfortunately, many folks who are new in our lives or in Matthew's lives will not understand the significance of this Ride as they have never personally met Ryan.

So... I looked at the photos....then I thought, why did the kids have blue and green balloons...then I scrolled down and then it sank in... I just didn't expect that. Thank you.... with love.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thank you for being there for Ryan's Ride

We had 667 children crossed the finish….all happy and smiling... with a few tears, of course. We heard stories on and on from children which I want to share with you all.

• “Mom, I came in 3rd but I passed many people”

• “My legs were so tired after the first lap because I started out in the back of the group and I pedaled so fast to move to the front.”

• “I came in first and I got a medal!”

• Then it was moments like a father pinning up a race number for the daughter; a parent watching the adult race with their son. It was truly a moment where families were engaging with one another.

• It was a celebration for a 5 year old to finish the whole lap on her training wheels for the first time as last year she only rode on the 200 meter dash. She was not the last one as the clown was following behind her. She struggled but was cheered by the audience as she rode toward the finish.

• An avid cyclist was beamed with joy as he saw his 8 year old being the first to cross the finish. It was a “Like Father, Like Son” moment. . It was a moment for this father to share the joy with his son of racing on a bike. The son has not stopped talking about training more so he is ready for next year’s Ryan’s Ride.

• Then, Matthew, our son and Ryan’s twin brother told me that this was his best Ryan’s Ride ever. He thought he strategically rode his best as he was coached by Jim Ochowicz while he was on riding. Jim was a two-time Olympic cyclist who also coached Lance Armstrong.

So much intensity went into the planning of the ride but at the end watching the smiles of these children champions is just priceless.

With the help of 225 volunteers, we created a safe, fun and memorable experience that these children will be remembered by for years to come.

Monday, June 15, 2009

6th Annual Ryan's Ride

We are in full mode planning Ryan’s Ride, six times around. The 6th annual Ryan’s Ride is around the corner again, on Sunday, June 28, 2009.

Matthew is now a happy and social 2nd grader. He enjoys playing with friends, riding his bike, hanging out with dad and has grown fond of whatever sports he is in for that season…lacrosse, baseball and soccer. The other night he was asking me if Ryan was alive whether they would be in the same class. So I told him that they would properly be separated because public schools generally separate twins. So Matthew said they would properly play together at recess and they would get along very well as brothers and would not fight like other siblings. Wondering the what-ifs is always a reminder that our family dynamic is not a norm. Ryan, Matthew’s brother and our son weaves into our family differently than like most families but he continues to be very present in our daily lives.

Six times around, I wonder if the children riders are still going to be excited about this ride. Would the parents be willing to bring their children to the ride on an early Sunday morning? Would the volunteers be willing to help out again year after year? How many first time families participating have never learned about the reason for Ryan’s Ride? I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about the planning of the event. At times, I feel the hard work is so worth it to see the excitement of hundreds of children champions. At other times, I remind myself sadly that the Ride exists because my son died.

Ryan’s Ride is the representation of a love that a mom and dad have for the child they have lost. And through that love, it has become a community event from the wonderful commitment of dedicated volunteers, and businesses, friends and family who continue to give their time on top of their everyday responsibilities. The success of the event represents Ryan’s spirit. To many, it is just another activity to do. To us, it is so very personal. Matthew’s answer to a homework assignment: What do you think makes a good community? His answer: “Things that make a good community is by helping each other, being nice to each other and sharing.” Perhaps Ryan’s Ride gives many of us the opportunity to do just that.

This year, due to the economic downturn, we have lost a couple of significant sponsorships this year. Our goal is to raise $50,000 this year. So far, we have close to $19,000 of corporate sponsorship. We hope to raise $10,000 from pledges and we hope to bridge the remaining difference through donations from friends and families. Your donations to the Lance Armstrong Foundation have resulted in providing support, information and services to cancer survivors. Through your support, Ryan’s legacy lives on providing wonderful memories for families and their kids with the simple joys we all have of riding a bike. We are also touched by the stories we hear of other children’s own stories of riding in honor or memory of a loved one who are and have faced life challenges.

Every dollar counts. Please help what you can.

We hope to see your children pedal along with Matthew at Ryan’s Ride, 6th time around on Sunday, June 28th. Thank you again for your continued support….it truly means so much to our family.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Seasons Change People Change

Our friends are like different parts on a wheelchair I am sitting in… I am on the wheelchair because I felt handicapped since Ryan's death. The wheelchair helps to keep me moving since my handicap.... But the wheelchair's parts are falling off... I am not used to losing those wheelchair parts.

Eventually, this handicapped person needs to tell herself, do not count on anyone but yourself to learn to walk again. Seasons change, people change. Ultimately, it is what is internal to keep one strong. It really has to come from within, not to rely on other sources....

You go through the darkest time with someone but eventually, they feel their ministry is complete and their life moves on. They are no longer on the same page as you. It is yet another deep sense of loss. I just have to remind myself that this is how life is. Season change, people change. Just accept that.

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.