This is the Last picture taken of my Brother & I on December 27th, 1991.
When I was ten years old I had a brother. Shawn Ryan was born on June 14th, 1991 in Longview Washington. I still remember his smile awaiting me as I arrived home from Mrs. Holcomb’s fourth grade each afternoon. In December, for the holidays, we drove the then five hour trip to my Grandma’s in Ferndale. It was an amazing trip; we went to Whidbey Island and spent time at my Great Aunt Sharon’s condo with the extended family and cousins. Before we headed home on the night of the 27th, we made one last stop to see my Mom’s Cousin Michelle and her family. My Mom had a tough time waking Shawn as Michelle insisted we stay the night. But my Mom had to work in the morning and after an short visit, we reloaded our navy blue pinto and headed back home. I still look at the pictures from that trip, everyone was happy, smiling, laughing and completely clueless to the tragedy ahead.
When we arrived home just before midnight, Shawn hit a big baby milestone; he pulled himself up to stand in his crib for the first time. We shared our bedroom. When we were unloaded from the car, my Mom put us in our beds but we both were awoken. I remember yelling out to the living room & telling my mom Shawn was awake, I brought Shawn out to my Mom and her boyfriend as they sat on the couch. Then, another baby milestone; Shawn pulled himself to standing along the side of the coffee table. Then, all at once for the first time and the last time, Shawn began to move his little legs and walk along the coffee table on his own.
In the morning I awoke just after 5am, confused and in distress from the commotion. When I left my bedroom and walked into the living room I face my worst nightmare. I found my brother’s father and a neighbor doing Infant CPR to my precious Shawn on the coffee table. I was then instructed to go outside and wait for the paramedics to arrive. I was ten years old, barefoot in the leftover holiday slush and doing jumping jacks as the paramedics arrived. Being a child, I was quickly pushed to the side & left behind as the ambulance raced out of my sight. I sat for hours in a chair at a nearby family members apartment. I still remember Lori’s black Camero pulling up and I knew by her domineer that something was wrong. Lori drove me to the hospital and of course everything said to me is a blur.
When I arrived at the hospital I was escorted by two nuns to my Mother. I will never forget that image of how I found my Mother. My Mom was alone, in a cold empty white room hidden behind a hanging sheet. There she was, heartbroken, crying, and singing as she rocked my brother’s limp and pale body back and forth in a wooden rocking chair. He was gone. On December 28th, 1991 my brother Shawn died. And with him, a part of my Mother died too.
Shawn at 3 months
My brother was left surrounded by a box of pillows on my Mom’s queen sized bed. He crawled off the bed and got wedged between the mattress and a suitcase. He was found by his father, blue and he had suffocated. News paper clippings reported about our loss and our family came down from Whatcom County in a long recession of cars for the memorial and burial. I remember so much about that short time period that the gloom over shadows other parts of my childhood that I can’t remember at all.
The years following my brother’s death were dark, filled with abuse of all kinds; substance abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, you name it and it happened. Finally in 1994, my Mom was ready so She packed the two of us up and left Longview to moved home to Ferndale. We rarely, almost never spoke of Shawn in my family and still don’t. Those dark years are not mentioned. I spent my teen years filled with anger and rage from the whirlwind of darkness that had occurred in the previous years. I filled my time up with activities outside the home to avoid the sadness of my mother’s eyes. Few people knew of my brother because I didn’t know what to say. People always had such a shocked reaction to the truth and I didn’t like telling a lie. To this day many people think my brother died of SIDS and that is simply not true.
To this day, my Mom has never sought out therapy for her loss and rarely makes mention of it. She spent years avoiding babies, baby showers and baby sections at the department stores. After high school I sought out a therapist who helped me through the emotions I was trying to keep deep inside. I was able to come to a spot in life where I began to share my story with those close to me & truly opened up about my experiences. I got a tattoo of my brother’s name on my ankle as a constant reminder. I had thought that I had moved on, and put my loss and the darkness behind me and lived as if I had found complete closure for nearly a decade. Until that May night that I became a Mother.
I ALWAYS knew only two people could ever have a baby that would heal my Mom; her baby sister- my Aunt Nicole and her baby- myself. When I became pregnant I knew I was going to have a boy. I knew it was time for my Mom to have closure and begun to heal. I knew it going to be hard on her but I also knew that she would NEVER turn her back on me. I knew my Mom would be there for every second I wanted her too. I knew it was going to be tough on us, but I did it. My Mother was with me and Tyler through the entire labor and delivery of Issac. She NEVER left my side and sat in a chair at the end of the bed and watched as I delivered her first grandchild. It was emotional and once they declared him healthy, my Mom left the room to go weep.
I knew that My Mom came unsure of if she could stay in the delivery room the entire day. My Mom came unsure of how she would react and questioning if she would be able to hold Issac and love him the way she should. But without a blink of an eye, after Tyler & I each had our time with our new son, I handed Issac to my Mom as she took a deep breath and a tear slide down her check. She smiled like I hadn’t seen in years and instantly she was at peace.
The First time my Mother held my Son.
My Mom holding Issac at 1 month old.
I knew how much the birth of my children would impact my mother, but I could have never been prepared for the impact it would have on me. There is not one thing in my ENTIRE LIFE that has shaped the type of Mother I am more than the death of my brother Shawn. The MINUTE we found out I was pregnant; we gave away our coffee table. And no matter how smart I am, every time my children are at a house with a coffee table I am extremely tense while they are in the same room as I have flash backs. I have at times found myself lying completely alert in the middle of the dark quiet night watching lil chests move up and down for hours, sleeping with my hand on top them in such a perfect position that I can feel their tiny beating hearts. EVERY time one of my babies reached that “pull themselves to stand” milestone I went days without sleep in fear of the worst. I can name each and every person each of my kids has ever been left with, no day cares, no strangers and until our anniversary last month, no nights away from their parents. I have had an abundance of friends and family members tell me it is okay to leave your kids and it is necessary for your marriage. That is all great for you but I get highly freaked out & stressed when I am way from my kids. One morning my Mom went to work and never saw my brother alive again.
As a Mother I have to wonder how my Mom went on. I can’t imagine how the loss of a child could affect anyone. I have to trust my Mom when she doesn’t trust herself. I have to trust myself when I second guess my own decisions. AND; I have to breathe. Because I can’t let the past define me, only guide me to a brighter, stronger future. I am one lucky girl though. Tyler is amazing. He is beyond understanding of why I am the way I am and when I find myself freaked out or demanding about something to do with our children; he NEVER ASKS why or for any explanations because he understands it is what I need to feel at ease and that somewhere inside me I believe it is what is best. Tyler trusts me, even when I don’t trust myself. Tyler reassures me that my children will be okay when we leave them and he holds me tight when I need it.
I have spent the past three years living with PTSD in regards to my brother’s death. Becoming a Mother has changed me forever, as it should. However, becoming a Mother has also forced me to face my biggest fears. When Josephine was in the NICU I went straight in to “fly or die” mode & unfortunately I didn’t fully come out of that until after her first birthday. It became my daily struggle to love her without becoming overly attached in complete fear of my worst nightmare. I tried to force myself to breast feed when she clearly was not interested in hope of a magical fix. We bought a boat load of supplements but even those just took the edge out of my day. I snapped on those closest to me and let people outside my personal circle see me at my worst. I half-assed my last quarter of school, even dropping a class to try and ease my anxiety level but nothing worked. Until that magical December day that Josie turned One. Something about her no longer being a baby & becoming a toddler has put me at ease. I have days that are bad and days that are good but for the most part my anxiety has reached an all time low since I became a Mother. I learned a long time ago how to hide behind my smile & carry-on as if I’m numb to the pain. But now I realize that I do what I do and I do it for a reason; because one day they can be gone. One day you can kiss your child’s head and say “see you later”, but there will be no later. One day everyone will be gone.