[vc_row][vc_column][vc_images_carousel images=”202,203,204,205,206,207,208,209,210,211,212,213,214,215,216,217,218,219,220,221,222,223,224,225,226,227,228,229,230,231,232,233,234,235,236,237,238,239,240,241,242,243,244,245,246,247,248,249,250,251,252,253,254,255,256,257,258,259,260,261,262,263,264,265,266,267,268,269,270,271,272,273,274,275,276,277,278,279,280,281,282,283,284,285,286,287,288,289,290,291,292,293,294,295″ img_size=”full” speed=”2000″ slides_per_view=”5″ autoplay=”yes” hide_pagination_control=”yes” hide_prev_next_buttons=”yes” wrap=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]By Farren Sheehan Smith
What was it like to be part of Ryan’s family? I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, trying to think about how to talk about him without trying to reduce his life to a single page of 12 point type. That I loved him is the easy answer- but relationships, like people, are more complex than that.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”60″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]At three years apart, I don’t have any memories before Ryan. I remember him coming home from the hospital, filling me with a mixture of adoration and envy (for all the attention he received). I remember climbing into his crib to sleep beside his little body, and later, him crawling next to me and curling back to back. For some reason he never liked to sleep alone- and I must admit this may have something to do with me telling him that his room was haunted. But he was a sweet child, painfully shy but easy to love. I remember reading to him and making him play horses and Barbies with me- the older sister’s prerogative. He watched my horse shows (and later did some riding himself), and when he began to find himself through his BMX racing- I went and cheered him on.
We grew up with both parents and grandparents in the same house, so we were never on our own- but we spent time like many children playing outside, catching tadpoles (which I would name after characters in Greek mythology, and he would call Spot or Toady), and running with our dog, Rodie. Everyone liked Ryan, and he had a much easier time making friends than I did. Although we were very different- we were bound together. When I was bullied, he cried. This is not to say we didn’t fight quite often- there were plenty of bruises (from frogging each other), scratch marks, and bloody noses as well as hours of whining and complaints that “he was looking at me!”
Our biggest difference was our outlook- I dreamed of moving away- Paris, Ireland, L.A.- anywhere to be on my own; Ryan was content. I once asked him how he could stand to stay in Pflugerville- didn’t he want to move on see the world and have adventures (I had little patience for anyone not sharing my viewpoint); he replied that he was happy here and he could not imagine a better place than home with his family.
I went to college and overnight, Ryan became a man. He was the responsible one. While I was explaining yet another dent in my car, or my credit card bill, he was working for the family business, marrying his high-school sweetheart, buying a house! I floundered with direction in my life, and he plowed on with this grown up life I felt I could never match. He would roll his eyes at my behavior as if he were the older brother. When I eventually went to law school, I think he was proud of me. Ryan and Lisa visited me in New Orleans and I noticed the new traits emerging with his maturity. He was so tall and handsome, I think all my friends had crushes on him. I also noticed in every crowd- he was the funniest, the coolest, the one everyone wanted to be friends with. As a child and young adult, I took myself much too seriously, and did not have much of a sense of humor. Now, I found myself emulating my little brother, with, the way he could tell the stupidest kid joke, and leave everyone laughing. He taught me to laugh at myself, to let go and to enjoy. But there were things he could do that I never could. Honestly, I think he was one of the smartest people I ever met. Not only did he have an amazing memory, but he could put things together- a fact from the paper a year ago, along with something he heard the day before to come up with a unique and usually correct solution.
Everything seemed so good then. I met and became engaged to my husband (a friend of his then wife, Lisa), he threw the engagement. He was a groomsman, she was the maid of honor. However, there was foreshadowing of things to come. As my life swung up, his began to falter. His marriage to Lisa dissolved (although they remained the best of friends until the day he died), and this is when I think the specter of bi-polar disorder began to drift into his life. Although I tried to support his decisions, I could not understand them. Confused by his behavior, we began to withdraw from each other. Although he was Godfather to both of my children, he could no longer be as close to me. I think his struggle with addiction began to obsess him, and my life improved, he felt lessened.
There were times when out of the blue he would call and we would talk for hours- philosophy, foreign films, politics, religion- subjects he know and cared about- but that no one associated with him. For those of you who did not know- he loved the movie “Empire of the Sun,” did not think it mattered which party was in power, and wanted desperately to believe in a kind and loving God, but had a hard time reconciling it with the struggles in his life. He loved his dog Ranger, and wanted more than anything to connect with a real soul mate- a reason to be here. He tried again and again- how many times did I talk to the girl of the month about how the night they met “they stayed up until dawn talking about everything.” I always suppressed the urge to say “He ALWAYS does that- it does not mean you are the one.” I really wished he had found the right person. I don’t know if it would have made a difference- but I would have liked for him to have been happy with someone.
As much as I loved my brother- I could not understand his addiction. I am not an addict, and it was hard to understand why he could not just STOP! It was devastating to see my parents after one of his episodes. My frustration turned to anger at what I perceived to be selfishness and weakness. I did not understand what a battle sobriety can be for an addict, and I did not understand how the bi-polar disorder intensified this. Only my Mother, with her ceaseless search to “cure” her son really had a grasp on what he contended with on a daily basis. Only she had a glimpse of the future.
I moved back from Boston in 2004, and that summer was of the times I was closest to Ryan in our adulthood. I began to work out of an office where our family business is, and we saw each other every day. He finally got to know my children, and I think he was even a little overwhelmed at how my then three year old daughter adored him. My son christened him Uncle Rhino (which he pronounced Uncle Wino- Ryan said “How did he know!”- he could laugh at everything). My daughter and Lisa’s daughter Lauren followed him everywhere. Ryan obligingly played “Monster” with them and taught them how to pass gas for a laugh.
The New Year brought a return of the darkness and despair that marked his depression. His demons became more difficult to overcome. He sought help, but was given only medications, none of which could cure the illness in his soul. It was so difficult to watch him make a series of disastrous personal decisions which I think contributed to his final act.
The medical community and mental health system utterly failed him. Compare these two situations- during this past year, I was placed on Accutane- a medication to cure acne. In order to receive the prescription, I had to have two negative pregnancy tests, read a 26 or so page booklet (initialing each page and signing the last one), and have a blood screening. Then each month I was required to have additional blood work, pregnancy tests and a doctor’s appointment. This is because the medicine causes birth defects, and anti-abortionists fear it was cause more abortions. All this care is federally mandated to protect a person not yet conceived. Ryan, on the other hand was granted a thirty minute visit once a month which- he told me- basically consisted of “How are you doing- here is some more medication.” No one regulated how the seven medications he was taking interacted. No one in the medical community knew that by the week before his death- Ryan was hearing voices. A potential person is given more consideration than a living breathing wonderful man already here.
Even though the year was a series of dramas and problems for Ryan- I was unprepared for his death and shattered by the manner in which it occurred. I will not describe that day except to say that just as in a b-grade movie where everyone shouts “No- it can’t be true” with the screaming and the crying- well it all happened- and it was more horrible than you can imaging unless you have been through it as well.
I feel no anger at Ryan for his decision- I think in some way he thought things would be better for us without him here. He thought the pain of his problems was worse than the pain of losing him. He was wrong. I miss him so much it still takes my breath at times.
I do resent that my life has been irrevocably changed. My sense of peace is gone. I no longer feel invulnerable to the blows of life. I know horrible things happen suddenly, without reason and to everyone. I worry more for my children, my parents, the world. But at the same time I hear the hourglass running in the background, and I know life is short and must be lived in the now. I wish I had my son’s faith. I wish I knew where he was.
I believe Ryan is at peace now- quiet, resting without pain.
I believe Ryan is now one with the Creator- mixed back into the primordial soup from which all things come.
I believe Ryan has been reborn into a new life with fresh chances free from his addiction and allowed to reach his soul’s potential.
I believe Ryan is now a star- watching over my family- guiding us- comforting us and making sure meaningful songs play on the radio- sending us signs.
I believe Ryan is an angel- tooting in time with the choir (as long as the robe is made by Prada).
I believe all of these and none of them. I just know that he is gone and I miss him terribly. I do not like being an only child. I would say I am a better person for having known him- but I cannot imagine an alternative- he was my brother- a part of me.
I tell my son all the Ryan stories I can think of- if you have any, please send them to us so we can keep his memory alive.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]