Many of you already know that we lost our youngest brother Ryan in the beginning of December 2016. He died in his sleep 4 years after a devastating car accident. His eulogy is at the end of this post, included here to give you a peak into the life of our very amazing sibling. His death was unexpected and has devastated us.
We got through the busy-ness of the wake and the funeral. We pulled together and survived the holidays. We told stories and hugged and loved each other, as we always do.
But then what? What happens when it is time to get back to work, back to reality, to just keep going while you know that everything is not going to be ok. Nothing will ever be the same again.
These are not rhetorical questions and these questions are not posed to evoke pity. They are actual questions as we seek a path through grief to a new reality in which are hearts are glued back together badly…a nursery school project with rough edges and uneven lines.
What I know for sure is that you cannot bypass grief if you are ever going to recover. I have seen this in my own life with other losses and with personal training and life coaching clients. One must go through grief to get to the other side.
Life will look normal. It will feel normal sometimes; some days better than others. But just below the surface, grief waits and will burst through the thin scar tissue without warning. Sobs erupt from deep within the caves of our subconscious. A song, a memory, a photo, or nothing at all can bring this on. And then it passes again. You can get back to work. Resume your conversation. Let the painful lava of sadness settle back into the crevices of your soul. This is the price of having loved with your whole heart, and it is a price I pay willingly.
I do believe in hope and love. I will miss my brother with every cell of my being for the rest of my life. But I will also move forward as best I can. I will belly laugh. I will love. I will dance with abandon. I will remember and tell stories about this very pure soul whom we have lost. I will write and meditate and take care of myself. I’ll surround myself with people whom I love and who love me back. I will not feel guilty when I am having fun, and he cannot be here with us any longer. I will also carry on his message of standing up for the disabled and those who really need our empathy and compassion.
Grief is not a place to stay, and I know that we will all keep moving forward and laughing. It is what Ryan would want for us. We will try to bring awareness to traumatic brain injuries and hope to move research along so that other families will not have to go through this. More on that as the plan solidifies. But in the meantime, this is where we are. We do not have to rush through it, nor is that possible.
If you know someone going through a similar loss, I know that there is the desire to say that all will be well or that everything will be ok again soon. Sometimes, it is not going to be ok. You can just tell the person who is grieving, “I am here.” Hold their sadness with them without trying to change it. Let them know you are thinking about them. This helps more than you could ever imagine.
I like to bring messages of hope and humor. I’m not sure that I will succeed in this post, but sometimes you just need to know where you are so that you can know where to go next. We are here, missing Ryan, loving each other, and believing in a brighter day, confident in the knowledge that we loved him well. Wishing all of you truth, love, humor, and opportunities to belly laugh until your cheeks hurt.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am Colleen Walsh, Ryan’s favorite sister. When I called him or he called me, which was often, our greeting was, “hello Rye Bread.” “Hello, favorite sister.” Some might point out that I am his only sister, but Walshes don’t like to wreck a good story with the facts.
As I sat down to write this, it seemed that there are not words that are perfect enough to convey the sunshine, humor, wit and creativity that was Ryan, and that a song would have been a more appropriate way to celebrate him. If Ryan was here, he would say “a song would be great, but You’re not going to sing it, right?” With a few exceptions, Walshes shouldn’t sing.
This is the church where Ryan was baptized and received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation. It is appropriate that this is where he is coming home, though far too early.
When Ryan was a baby and toddler, people would stop me while pushing his stroller because he was a golden child, so ridiculously cute. But, he was so adorable and sweet that we didn’t mind how the world stopped to pay attention to him. Normally that would have started a sibling brawl, but not with Ryan.
At the age of 4, Ryan was establishing his musical preferences. When I was 4, I was a big fan of Sesame Street’s top hits. His favorite song was Back in Black by ACDC. All my siblings and I made a weekly trek down Mamaroneck Avenue to our piano teacher, Mrs. Ross. There was no sidewalk and in the winter, we were straddling between snow banks and 18 wheelers. Ryan was the only one who truly learned music there. From the piano, he went on to teach himself keyboards, guitar, bass and countless other standard instruments, including ones that he and Evelynne created. One of those, the Negbox, was then requested for display by Trinity College in Dublin.
When Ryan was 4, we went to Italy to ski. Ryan made his first turns on the Italian alps, but since he was so little, he also had a babysitter there because that would have been a long day of skiing on such little legs. The babysitter was from England and she took him to meet some of her British friends one day. When we asked him later how his day was, he answered, “it was great! I walked to England!”
When Ryan was in high school….and by the way, Ryan went to Stepinac which is right there for high school and Our Lady of Sorrows right over there for grammar school…he could often be found in Port Chester, scanning record stores for old classics and cool punk bands. He had a band before anyone had a band. In college, he was hauling heavy equipment to gigs and playing all over Boston.
After college, he found ways to continue to perform around the world while also having “real” jobs at Mailboxes Etc. and the Jacob Javits Center and finally Freeman Company (which, from the way that his email looked to me, I thought was FreeMANco for the longest time until I heard Ryan say it out loud). We laughed so hard at my mistake.
Ryan started traveling to Europe and South America to play gigs with the Glenn Branca Ensemble and with Neg-Fi, the band that he and Evelynne created. Ryan taught himself Spanish, Serbian…he could speak with authority about Macedonia, Croatia, Chile, Uruguay… He made friends wherever he went and always had a place to stay, anywhere in the world, because people were so happy to have him around. During one trip to South America, he was deported. There were buses that broke down and constant conundrums, none of which slowed Ryan down…they made for a better story and he embraced it.
Blah blah blah. To get to the very heart of it…Ryan was brilliant enough to teach himself to play instruments and to speak other languages. But, that doesn’t even get close to the heart of who Ryan was.
So yes, he was brilliant. But he was also funny, witty, kind…he would do anything to help anyone. He was open to expanding minds all the time. Mine was expanded by going to the far-flung land of Brooklyn to watch he and Evelynne perform. Sometimes there were artists from Germany or Chile playing with them. I was lucky enough to go a few times…they often started at times that would be past my bedtime, but I so loved Ryan that staying up late occasionally was worth it.
Interacting with Ryan was a joy…whether on Facebook exchanging smack talk or stories…his comebacks came with lightning speed, leaving you laughing so hard your cheeks would hurt. Two years ago, Ryan lived with us for a few months. When I told the boys that he was moving in, they all answered awesome!! How long can he stay? Never a burden, always making wherever he was all the better for being there.
When the accident happened, I was furious. Ryan almost immediately forgave the driver in his heart. Rather than playing gigs all over the world, Ryan was going to physical therapy and brain therapy and having spinal surgeries. He tried to still play music. He and I researched what types of devices could act as guitar straps without putting any pressure on his neck. The bigger problem was that he could no longer feel his fingertips. He tried a million different ways to continue to play music. Finally, he faced the fact that he could not play, either for himself or for others. Undaunted, Ryan started promoting OTHER musicians around the world…from Brooklyn to Berlin to South America. He produced an international compilation album. I was lucky enough to attend an event that Ryan produced at the Silent Barn with artists from around the world…music that I never would have been exposed to if it wasn’t for my little brother. We all hope he is rocking out in heaven right now.
Ryan never saw an obstacle…he saw ways to solve problems. He would help anyone. Are you a one-eyed homeless cat? Ryan will help you. A budding musician with passion and talent? Ryan is your man. Are you a union worker at the Jacob Javits Center? Ryan will make sure you are respected and he will expect in return that you get the job done on time. Are you an executive at Mercedes? You will get the same respect as the union worker. Ryan could walk comfortably amongst paupers and kings, and they all loved him.
Did I mention that Ryan was funny? He could imitate voices from any movie, repeat line by line classic movies. Poetry, history, and politics…in a way, as I had mentioned, that would make your face hurt from laughing so hard. Even when he just rode in the car with the boys and I to a family gathering, that became so much fun that we looked forward to our time in traffic.
During one car ride, Ryan had taken my iPhone and told Siri to call me Rocket Mama. Siri agreed. So, my phone would say things like “Rocket Mama, I didn’t catch that.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that all my emails then went to my clients from Rocket Mama. A good laugh was had by all. On these car rides, he also showed us that Siri could do more than just give directions…he would say “Siri tell me a story” repeatedly to get every ridiculous variation. Never a dull moment.
When I told the boys that I was giving the eulogy today, they said “remember to talk about his optimism.” And that is true. Even though he knew he was never going to recover physically from the accident, he never gave up. He kept fighting to be as strong as possible, as independent as possible against all odds. He gave hope to all he met, and strangers became friends quickly. He was still creating bucket lists of things he wanted to do, places he wanted to visit.
We need to talk about sports. My brother Bill is a Yankee fan. My brother Kevin is a Mets fan. And so, Ryan decided he needed his own baseball team. He chose the Toronto Blue Jays, naturally, and as a small child studied the sports statistics every morning in the newspaper and could quote them back to you with amazing accuracy. He was also an avid hockey fan…or more specifically he was an avid Rangers fan. He knew the names and stats for all present and past players and cheered them on at games and on tv as often as possible with great passion.
We also need to talk about food. Ryan was a principled vegetarian. From him I learned the difference between animal rennet and microbial rennet, and I would make sure to buy the cheese with microbial rennet when he was coming over. Ryan loved pizza. He made his own, which was delicious, and he also ordered pizzas that were so interesting, his local pizza places would start offering some of his favorites as regulars on their menu. In Brooklyn, on cold rainy days, you might have seen Ryan buying a slice for the cop on the corner or for the homeless man in the doorway. No one was invisible to Ryan. He knew the owners of all the Guatemalan, Indian, and Thai restaurants and they greeted him by name. He also did not share his dessert. Don’t go near his dessert with a fork or you might lose a hand.
Ryan was also extremely practical. His casket is rented as he will be cremated and he would have loved that. Economical and environmentally sound. Yes, perfect.
While it impossible to imagine saying good-bye, I would be remiss if I did not talk about my parents and brothers and my cousins…our whole enormous family, who will all miss him. He loved it…being one of 40 cousins is something that unless you have seen it in action is difficult to conceive. As much fun as it is to be part of that contingent, even more magical was the relationship and bond between my brothers and me. It was seamless and perfect and we sometimes even talked about how lucky we were. We knew what we had and we appreciated it. Ryan gave love easily and he knew that he was loved fiercely in return. His heart was open to everyone, especially those who needed him most.
If Ryan had a mission statement, it would be something like: Be kind to animals. Be kind to people. Be kind to the planet. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to be authentic. Have fun. And if there is an adventure you want to have, do it now.
We’ll miss you always, baby brother.