Through the Eyes of Mom
Phua Copyright (2005)
Phua Copyright (2005)
Matthew and Mom at Filoli Gardens
June 25, 2005
Ryan’s Ride finally will arrive in one more day.  What is Ryan’s Ride?  Ryan’s Ride to many is an activity to do with their children on a sunny day. For me, it is a day to see hundreds of children having a unique and fun experience and this opportunity is only possible as a result of the endless drive of this boy’s parents.  In hopes of honoring their boy so this boy can continue to mark his footprint on this earth despite his physical absence.  It is all for Ryan.

Today, Matthew and his friend Christian helped me with small tasks of Ryan’s Ride. They both wanted to participate knowing that they are doing it for Ryan.  They want to be champions and be the first to cross the finish on that day.  They reminded me what Ryan’s Ride is.  This annual event has been such a momentous event of my life.

June 27, 2005 – day after 2nd annual Ryan’s Ride
There is no way to describe that spirit of Ryan’s Ride because people have to be there to feel it.  I absorbed as many children champions (463 of them!) as I could and felt that the smile of each champion represents Ryan's spirit and our little boy's spirit was enormous on that day. 

Many know the ride was for a little boy who had died and children participants were giving back to the community. We collected $18,000 cash that day and so far raised about $75,000 in total for the event. About 40 children collected pledges while others' parents wrote checks.  But I think it is still important to instill charity giving on children. So we will continue to do that even though it is a lot of work.

It was a hectic morning from 4:45am to 10:20am. But as soon as the ride started, I stood by the start and watched each wave of kids pedaling through with such drive.  A seven-year old boy started, fell and scraped his finger.  His mom asked me for a bandage and he was ready to go on a 2nd wave with such determination.

So many parents were congratulating us for such a success but I had to remind them the Ride was a success because they took the time to bring their children there to participate….We cannot say enough thank-yous for all the participants and their families.

If you have not had the opportunity to make a donation to Ryan’s Fund, please donate now and help us reach our fundraising goal of $100,000. Also visit to see over a thousand photos of the ride.

I am still high....and I now know yesterday will carry me through.  The smiles on so many children remind me of Ryan's spirits and yesterday his spirit was enormous.

July 6, 2005
In anticipation of Ryan’s 2nd year anniversary, today has been extremely delicate to me.  The flashbacks of before and after 7/8/03 keeps replaying on my mind, realizing how different our lives has been in a flash.  How perfect and innocent our lives were then to be blessed with two miracle sons. 

The flashbacks of the night keep replaying.  Ryan’s little body standing vividly in my mind. His commending presence, contagious smile and goofiness…how I really feel that yearning for wanting him today.  At 2 years, we have accepted  his death.  The grief for the loss has become so private…very so.  Nobody can understand that deep cut unless they have lost a child.  And at 2 years, we do not want to impose on anyone.  So processing the deep cut becomes very personal.  I can only expose the rawest form of emotions when I am alone, with Ryan. 

Also, our body can only take so much pain.  Imagine someone is feeling a lot of physical pain, you administer the right amount of medication to tolerate the pain.  Grieving is no different.  Some days we keep ourselves extremely busy with “tasks” to numb ourselves (our medication)….Some day, we pause and feel the cut. The cut is in the heart….it will never go away so we just need to learn to live with that cut. 

Watching the fireworks is always bittersweet.  Matthew had a fever of 103 on 7/4/03 and John took Ryan to see the fireworks on his own. I always thought I could watch it the following year with Ryan but there really was no more July 4th for Ryan.  John would always remember the special father and son moment with Ryan two years ago, without knowing that was his last time with his son.  On this July 4th, we missed Ryan dearly but reminded ourselves to feel present in the moment of watching Matthew’s joy.  Matthew just brings us immense joy.  Again, it is the parallel lives that we live and we need to make the best of it.  It takes us enormous energy to be the normal citizens again.  Sometimes, it is acting and sometimes, it is not.

July 7, 2005
Today is a very difficult day. I went to work. Tried to focus and keep traveling back to 7/7/03….how I remembered  I was at work and returned home to see the boys at 5pm.  It was a very warm summer day and Ryan and Matthew were at the back yard playing with our nanny.  John came home shortly after and held Ryan watching “Uncle Lance” on the Tour de France.  Before I got Ryan to sleep, I felt his temple and thought he was warm….He had a temperature so I gave him some Tylenol….I checked on him every hour until 12:40….our lives changed forever. 

How do we make sense of that….today I felt the enormous mother to child love. I feel my intense love to my little boy and I yearned for that and I couldn’t have it.  I worked and cried hoping nobody will catch me.  It is such a private moment.  This year, I didn’t do any email blast asking for support, reminding people tomorrow is Ryan’s 2nd anniversary.  It is just another day to the rest of the world and is such a life changing day for our family.  I survived the day with a lump in my throat the whole day recalling the sequence of events that had happened on “that” day. 

Dear John,
I am sitting at work looking at the Mother’s Day card you wrote to me….

“As I see Matthew grow, the love grows with our family and love for you.  Matthew flourishes under your tender loving care.  And my love for you becomes deep with gratefulness that I am with you for Matthew.”

My letter to John, “As I am going through this tender week of having flashbacks of what happened the week in 2003…those vivid memories kept pouring in and for someone who claimed that they don’t have a memory bank…those memories are so strong.

Reading your card reminds me how blessed I am to spend my lifetime with you. How blessed Matthew is to have your “tender loving care” and how he flourishes into a boy and a young man eventually.  Matthew is so lucky and so am I. 

You are always there so patiently….taking in all the stress of mine, of others….I need to learn to be kind to you and the only way I can do that is to step back, absorb and feel….to remember to feel the immense love that I have for you …and John that love is very powerful and keep growing in the 13 years of our marriage. I can be negative to many challenges that have placed upon us but always feel so grateful for the love and admiration that I have of you. 

We are all learning to balance…work, Matthew, wife, Ryan’s Ride, families….I try hard to balance and feel good about the roles but at times, it is demanding.  You are so patient with me. Thank you.  I miss Ryan everyday but tremendously this week….I just hope we can all see him in his hair pointing upward….in that green sleeve t-shirt and sweats that he wore on 7/7/03…when we see him, as XXXX  said, at the end of the tunnel….someday…. Ryan has given us many gifts…amongst which is the gift of remembering how much love our family has…and how much my love is to you and to Matthew.”

July 8, 2005 – Ryan’s 2nd Anniversary
By John
Anticipation of our 2nd anniversary (in memory of Ryan Phua 12/15/00 to 7/8/03):
It is almost you can feel it in the family the days leading up to the 8th.   If a person from the outside looked in carefully one could sense that something was astray and out of sync.
Everyone felt the anticipation of what happened on the day and unfortunately that day will be marked for our physical life as a reminder of something we love so dearly in this world moved on.  We still have his memories and our hearts will always feel his presence. It is a pain that is just below the surface.  Ironically it keeps us "feeling" every moment of life.  It is tender and can open up in a moments notice.   We learn to protect it and shield it so that we can continue to live.  I know Ryan wants us to live and live this life to the fullest.  He wouldn't have it any other way.   With himor without him.    Matthew needs us to live that way too.   All together remembering every special moment the family is able to enjoy that simple laugh, the giggle, the little battles, the new things one experiences living in this world.   It is by living this world fully that we begin to never regret that we didn't live at all.

We went up to the mountains and it was healing to be at a place where one could feel that there are things bigger than you that nature is all connected.  The ocean, the mountains, the sky, the stars, the ground.    On this trip we visited the Empire mining site and I didn't know that this was the same folks that owned Filoli Garden down by our house.

Anyway, Mr. Bourne (the owner of the mining company) had this motto he lived by (being an Irishman).... "Fight, Love, Live".   - Filoli....      I found that fitting over the weekend.  

The "fight", we fight, we struggle with many things that we face in our journey.   We come upon these challenges that sometimes are insurmountable and unbeatable without any resolution or resolve, but yet with the belief in the human spirit we found the "strength and courage" to have hope to find our own reasons to fight for our life and the life we want to live. 

Love:  without "love" we cannot survive.  Just like when we were watching the blacksmith making Matthew a spoon out of cold dark steel.  It had no life, no shape, no presence.    He needed fire to give shape to this steel. No fire can be a fire with out 3 things, oxygen, fuel and heat. Without any one of these it does not exist.    So just like life without "love, Life can not exist.    Love is the core of what makes us continue to have hope in life and to know that we can change things with love.  Love can heal. Love from friends like you and from all that know and remember Ryan and our family.    It is our fuel. 

And to "Live"....  To live, can mean so much.  To live doesn't mean just waking up and doing our jobs, having a family, playing with our children, riding a bike or many number of things we do...   To live is to live in a way we know we can make a difference with our lives to "give".   Give each day the best attitude, give your best in your job, give your best in riding your bike, give your best to your children by being present in mind and soul when you are with them,  by giving to your family....

I came across a quote that I think often "You only have what you give.  By spending yourself you become rich".  Through Ryan's Ride we were able to feel Ryan's gift.  His gift was to give to others the joy and memories that they can have with each other and to give hope to those that face challenges in life.

August 6, 2005
We went to Paris and London for 10 days to watch the Tour De France, Lance’s last.  Matthew was an excellent traveler.  With vacation and being so far away from home, I was able to leave some sadness at home and really enjoyed our vacation as a family of three.  Sometimes, I wonder if it is easier to move away after a tragedy.  In a foreign land, however, there is no support of friends and the memories can be erased more easily? 

Matthew was a delight.  He said his favorite part of the trip was watching the Tour, visiting Effiel Tower and riding on merry-go-rounds. 

We were so happy and relaxed and found certain moments in awe that our lives are tainted with Ryan’s death.  This is part of our lives.  We are living in the moments for Matthew and ourselves. 

We visited Paris and London 10 days after Ryan’s death. We visited many of the same places and didn’t find ourselves be affected.  We were traveling in such a fog 2 years ago and were amazed with how we manage to take an international trip after the death of our son.  We were properly just operating mechanically.

August 17, 2005
Our summer days have been filled with fun. I planned out our events for the week in advance.  Matthew has been learning to swim.  He is diving, taking breaths, etc.  What a long way he has come.  He is so comfortable in the water.  I remembered how we brought Ryan and Matthew for swim lessons.  I would hold Matthew and he would cry so loud in the pool for 15 minutes. I wanted to give the parents earplugs.  Ryan on the other hand was a natural.  At the end of the session, Ryan graduated from the class while Matthew had to repeat the class.  A few months before Ryan’s death, Ryan was at the pool swimming on his own with the teacher.  I remembered I wrote a letter to the swim teacher telling her of Ryan’s death…thinking he had made an impression on her….never heard from her. 

We visited a gold mine in Auburn at Ryan’s 2nd year anniversary.  Matthew saw a deep tunnel when the miners were looking for gold.  Matthew asked if Ryan was underneath inside the tunnel since he was “underground”.  I have to explain his body is underground at the cemetery, not just any underground…..He has been telling me that his favorite friend is Ryan. 

Tonight I feel emotional….I cannot write down what caused the chaos but I feel it tonight.  All I can share is…the world continues to turn in the “normal” speed, but our “new” normal is adapting to fit into our “old” normal or your “regular” normal.  People do not understand that such an adaptation is so difficult.  All I can remind myself is….we are not alone….it happens all around us….a 15 yr old died of a heart attack in Burlingame while playing basketball; Dana Reeves has lung cancer; Peter Jennings evaporated within a few months.  That is real life.  We have a positive attitude but have gained the wisdom of knowing what real life experience really is (the loss of innocence).

I want to tell the world…some may question why the new normal is so difficult.  I want to tell these folks, “I have a level of wisdom that many cannot relate.  It is powerful but dark.” 

I am just balling.  I just need a good cry.  I have been up for Matthew and for all those around me, trying to be so normal.  You know what, I didn’t even have the courage to go to the cemetery because facing the piece of lawn represents the pure fact that my little boy has died.

September 14, 2005
I have been trying to fight for injustice thinking if I try hard enough justice will be served.  Sometimes, I fight and I win and at others, I don’t. I feel powerless but feel good that in principle I did what I can to put up to fight. It takes courage to speak up and acknowledge to others that their actions are insensitive.  Ultimately, I feel hurt and that pain is so dark because no one will understand.  They think I magnify the situation when in fact the situation is magnified by the loss of Ryan.  I screamed and cried, “If Ryan is here, I won’t be dealing with these kind of issues.”  Again, reintegrating to the old normal is difficult and people don’t understand why it is difficult. 

Hurricane Katrina…we all question whether disastrous assistance will be sent more rapidly if it happens in an exclusive wealthy neighborhood, There is no doubt in my mind it would.  That is injustice.

September 14, 2005
It has been 14 months since we started our grief support group.  For the longest time, I found it very resourceful by only absorbing what other bereaved parents’ experience.  Sharing my own experience was more like an obligation to share with others.  What is powerful behind the closed doors are these bereaved parents can echo how I feel.  They can speak on my behalf.  Behind the close doors is really my reality, no pretense and I am allow to express so freely and others can relate.  It is a safe haven, a new normalcy. 

As grief becomes a solitude, support groups give bereaved the opportunity to talk about their child and their hidden authentic world which becomes hard to share in the “regular” society.  After all, it seems unfair to bring a common person into that dark, intense world. 

Two years have gone by since Ryan’s death and I am too afraid to think that it is time to end the support group.  I am not ready.  I no longer cried hysterically but I cried.  It is one of the few times I let my emotions down and feel authentically.  At the end of the session, my emotions were cleansed and I am drained.  But I know it is healthy to flush out all the negative energy that is so hidden underneath layers of blankets.  At the grief support group, I remove each layer of blanket and expose my emotions. 

October 15, 2005
I woke up at 2 in the morning wide awake.  Yesterday, we went to the memorial service of our neighbor of 13 years.  He was 82 years old (the same age as my father who passed away 7 years ago).  His wife passed away early this year.  I look at his life….  A loving and compassionate man who often reached out to others.  But I never knew until after Ryan’s death that he lost 2 sons during their adult years.  Memorial service is a time of reflection… an opportunity to reflect on how I live my life.  I sat there balling as another neighbor shared her story of how this man has supported her for 35 years as her neighbor and that friendship will be missed.  I then relate to an anticipating loss John and I will have. Our neighbors for 4 years will be relocating out of the Bay Area.  Sid and Lesley, since Ryan’s death have the courage to reach out to us and be involved in our lives. Their 4 yr old daughter Emily played with Matthew a few times a week….She is the void when my house gets quiet.  Not until they announced their departure do I realize the gift of a great neighbor.  A good neighbor is someone whom you can count on easily for support, someone who see more often than your family members and friends, someone whom you form a deep friendship with without even noticing until they move away.

As John summarized:  “Life has changes as we know and nothing is permanent.  Whenever we there are new changes we feel it even more because our life completely changed and when there is loss, we miss what could have been.    This is life.. we need to look what can still be.. .balance is the key...”

I also want to share this poem shared by my 82 year old neighbor’s family which best described  their parents’ lives and I hope to have the power to mirror that in my own life:

Compassion by Steinar Almelid

With humbleness, may I face everyone with compassion
With devotion to enlightened life may I abide in true compassion
So that others may know their true Heart,
may I have the wisdom and True Knowledge to bring out the best in everyone
With compassion for this world with all and everyone in it,
may I fight in every way for a better world, for the generations to come
Accepting any hardship for myself, may I abide in the Energy of the Universe, the source of wisdom and compassion
Empowered, may I have true compassion in sharing the wisdom of life and death with others, by being present meditation, of any shape or form of everyday life
May this branch of love be of benefit

October 24, 2005
Matthew is turning 5 in December.  He now brings up Ryan on his own terms.  He would say he missed Ryan and wish he would be here to be his brother again.  Matthew said he is now the older brother because he is almost 5 and Ryan is only 2.  However, we are noticing that Matthew’s memories of Ryan fade away.  His memories are now replaced by the photos and what we shared with him.  I asked him if he remembers  how Ryan and he played.  He said no. 

A while back I was wondering if I should bring him to the support group so he can meet other children who have lost a sibling. Now I do not think it is a good idea. After all, wouldn’t it be stressful for him to share with the group memories that he does not have when others remember their siblings? 

Matthew’s psychiatrist already told us that 2 years ago…that Matthew’s memories of his first 4 yrs would slowly fade away once he turns 4. She is right.