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“You taught me what really matters in life—making life better for those you care about and love.”

By Robert Mehnert

We all face life-changing moments—that big promotion, marriage, divorce, the birth of a child. These moments change us in many large and small ways—some we realize and some we don't. They impact our relationships with family, friends, and work colleagues.

My most challenging moment came one year ago today—the loss of my special-needs son, Ryan.

No doubt this loss has changed me—just like his life changed me. All of us will know others going through these moments; how we support them at work defines us as managers. I have had incredible support along the way and I've written about that here a couple of times now but I can't undersell just how much knowing that I had the support of my "work family" has helped me navigate this path I am traveling.

Most I write, read a day or two later, and delete—an electronic way of letting these thoughts go.

The other thing I am doing is writing letters to Ryan—in a way it is my therapy. I have probably written a hundred of these letters this year. Most I write, read a day or two later, and delete—an electronic way of letting these thoughts go. A few I have shared just because it felt right to share them. I'm sharing this one today as a way of detailing/explaining this journey.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of it!

__________

Dear Ryan,

Well, it’s officially now been a year since you left us—physically anyway. One year without being able to hold your hand, hear your giggle, and watch you dance as you listen to your favorite songs. It’s really odd; it feels like this year has flown by but it’s also been the longest and hardest year of my life. So many long nights where sleep just won’t come—like tonight. So many times I hear a laugh and think it is you—only to catch myself as I turn and look towards that laugh knowing that it can’t be you. Such a shattering, empty feeling.

Tears still come easily and sometimes out of nowhere. But those moments pass a little more quickly and are usually followed by smiles. In this year I’ve learned that there is no word in the English language to explain how deeply I miss you. I can say I yearn for you—but it doesn’t fully capture what I feel. There are plenty of other words I could use—ache, hunger, long, thirst, crave, and, since you were a Texan, hanker. None of them seem even close to what I feel. Not sure why I let this lack of a word frustrate me, but it does.

I don’t want you to think that this past year has only been about sadness and tears. You have been honored in so many wonderful ways by so many great people. Some beautiful and lasting tributes. Folks have shared stories about you too. Stories of moments they had with you that I had never heard. I guess I never really knew just how many people’s lives you touched in your journey. You were well loved—and not just by me, Mom, Kyle, and Aimee.

I don’t want you to think that this past year has only been about sadness and tears. You have been honored in so many wonderful ways by so many great people.

We were so lucky to have you in our family! It’s true that, for some reason, God decided to present you with many unique challenges—both physically and intellectually. Those challenges seemed so unfair at times, but you fought through them all like a champ and—I don’t know if this explains what I’m thinking—you simply lived. You worked hard to be happy, to live a complete and full life. To bring smiles and laughter into your world—and you were so good at it!

There is no doubt that having you in my life changed me—and for the better. Simply put, you made me a better man. You taught me what really matters in life—making life better for those you care about and love. I’ve tried to keep that in mind this past year—some days that is easier than others. Sometimes when I am helping others the only thing on my mind is how much I wish it was you I was helping. I know that sounds selfish but it is what I feel.

You still come to me in dreams every now and then. The other night you were sitting at the table with your grandfather, eating chocolate cake for breakfast. You were both so happy but then your grandmother came in and scolded your grandfather for letting you eat cake for breakfast! You broke out into one of your famous belly laughs because he was in trouble! I was in the room but none of you saw me—at least no one responded when I talked. It was a sad and comforting dream all at the same time and I did get to hear that laugh if only in a dream!

Now we move on to whatever comes next. We’ve survived all the “firsts”—Father’s Day (I still have not opened your card to me from last year), Mother’s Day, Christmas, your birthday (by far the hardest day for me), and a whole host of other days and events with special memories. We know we face more days that will feel incomplete, where missing your presence will dominate the day and where knowing my love for you will never fade. Honestly, that is pretty much how this whole year has been.

Wish you were here . . . 

Grief & Loss Loss of child
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