Ryan Maddux-Lawrence…Happy Birthday Ryan…31! Happy Birthday Turning Point…1!

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It has been quite a while since my last post, in fact, I don’t even remember what the last post was about or when I published it. So much has changed and yet so much has remained the same.  The changes have included our move from Seattle, Washington to Bagdad, Kentucky.  Yes, you have read that right….Bagdad (minus the “h”).  I still can’t believe I live in a city named Bagdad….life is so ironic.  

Not only do we live in a city named Bagdad, we once again live out in the country….a farm this time, with a massive barn, cats, dogs, horses and the promise of a new lab puppy and maybe some chickens, cows and goats.  There are days I feel as if I am in paradise and then there are others when I wonder what on earth I am doing here.  I love the quiet, the sense of peace, the smell of fresh cut fields, watching the horses frolic in the pasture and the barn kittens as they navigate the expansive barn beams and fence lines.  

We loved our property on Lovell Road in Rome, GA  …. I had the same sense of peace and serenity there and for me there was no better place to be than at home surrounded by family and friends.  I remember the first time Ryan saw Lovell Road….he just looked at me and Randy and said, “This place is a dump!”  And he was right…it has been badly neglected for years but Randy and I both felt a “calling” to bring the house and property back to life.  We spent five years breathing new life into that property….painting, tearing walls down, putting walls up, stripping wallpaper, hanging wallpaper, fencing, mowing, planting, building our beloved guest cottage “The Perch,” and raising our family of four boys and our one little girl.  

Now we find ourselves in a similar situation….having bought a dump with acreage, this time in Bagdad, KY.  True to form, however, it hasn’t taken us long to turn this “sows ear” into a “silk purse.”  The transformation of the farm we have dubbed “Beyond Bagdad Farms” has been remarkable.  Once again, we have done an immense amount of work ourselves in order to save money and put our unmistakable original twist on the place….it has been fun, frustrating, exhausting, exasperating and fulfilling.  I have thought of Ryan so many times as I have been working on the farm….I can just see his smile and his head shaking back and forth and saying something like, “Mom, what on earth are you doing?”  Maybe I am trying to recapture some of what was left behind when we sold Lovell Road in 2004.  

When I think of all the changes that have occurred since our move from Lovell Road in 2004, it blows my mind:

2004-2006 Moved to McKinney, TX:  We actually moved twice in McKinney and each house had renovations done, so keep that in mind.  

2006-2008 Moved back to Rome, GA:  We actually moved twice in Rome too, first to Margo Trail and then to Outpost Trail in a home we built.  We decided to move back to Rome because Ryan was getting out of the Marines and was also moving back to Rome….I couldn’t wait to be close to my granddaughter…..Mia and Bella time, it just wasn’t going to get any better than that!

2008-2009 Zionsville, IN:  How we loved living in Zionsville….bought a huge house and did a big renovation only to move in less than one year.

2009-2011 York, PA:  Two more years, one house, massive renovation done just in time to sell to the new owners.  Seriously, I didn’t even have a chance to take a shower in the new master bathroom before we sold the house.  Ryan died in 2010….I could not have gotten through that horrible time without the love and support of the amazing women of York, my Sisters of the Heart.

2011-2013 Kirkland, Washington:  One house, big renovation….a very cool place to live, work and play.  Great friends!

2013-……..Bagdad, KY

Chan made the decision to really think outside the box when it came to finishing her senior year.  How my baby girl can be 18 and a senior in high school is beyond me!  Chan is finishing her senior year online and she, Kyle and Liz will be returning from their month-long European trip on Wednesday.  They have visited Hamburg, Berlin and Munich in Germany, Florence and Rome in Italy and Barcelona and Madrid in Spain…..what a whirlwind.  Along the way Chan has blogged and taken hundreds of pictures and video footage for a documentary she, Kyle and Liz will be making of their grand adventure.   College applications, visits and tuition payments are becoming a part of my  thought process as the reality of becoming an “empty nester” draws closer with each passing day.  

And now, another birthday for Ryan….October 18th.   I have two wonderful reasons to celebrate October 18th…Ryan, of course and also Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center in York, PA.  My precious friend Kristen Woolley is a warrior, an advocate, a humanitarian and the founder of Turning Point.    The work she is doing, the center of hope, healing and advocacy she has created is what makes this world a better place and she is changing lives for the better.  

And so to Ryan….Happy 31st Birthday!  And to Turning Point…Happy 1st Birthday. 

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Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Bella’s 8th Birthday!

100_1509100_1743OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA100_1140ryan bell at aquarium100_0731_0071Ryan Maddux-Lawrence:  Bella’s 8th Birthday!

Isabella turns 8 years old on March 14, 2013.  In some ways, that seems impossible, in others it feels as if that were a lifetime ago.  It has been almost five years since I have seen Isabella…held her, sang to her, baked cookies with her, colored together, read her a bedtime story, rocked her to sleep.  How I miss being a grandmother to her; we had so much fun together and it is pure joy to see the same twinkle in your granddaughter’s eyes as you do your son’s or notice the same dimple of your late husband placed right in the same spot of Bella’s once chubby cheek.

As I think of Bella today, as every day, I decided to make a list of things she probably doesn’t know or remember about her Daddy.  So Bella, this is for you….Happy Birthday Bella, I love you.

FUN FACTS ABOUT MY DADDY…..

My Daddy’s favorite color was blue.

My Daddy had very messy handwriting, but he loved to write.

My Daddy was an avid reader…to get my Daddy to start reading more, Mia bought
him books by “Goosebumps”…..he loved them and shared them with his baby
brother, Kyle.

My Daddy was very smart, but he wasn’t very good at math.

My Daddy was three years older than his brother Kyle…their father, Guy, died when
my Daddy was only 7 and Kyle was only 4….they loved their father very
much.

My Daddy got two other brothers, Cole and Drew when Mia married Papa.  My Daddy loved his brothers, Kyle, Cole and Drew….they were best friends.

My Daddy was 13 years older than his baby sister Chandler!  My Daddy liked to
hold Chandler and play with her, just like he did with me.

My Daddy was born in Nashville, TN at Baptist Hospital on October 18, 1982.

My Daddy had nicknames for almost everyone…sometimes Daddy called me “Bellie.”

My Daddy was very tall; he was 6 feet  2 inches and he had very big muscles
and he was very handsome.

My Daddy had a cowlick on his forehead and so do I….I look a lot like my Daddy.

My Daddy moved to Rome, GA when he was nine and went to elementary school
at West End.  He went to middle school at Rome Middle and graduated from
Rome High School in 2001.

My Daddy played baseball, soccer, basketball and even tried karate and yoga, but
his favorite activity was video games.

My Daddy loved music and played the guitar….he liked to play guitar with his brothers and friends.

My Daddy played the saxophone and was in the marching band at Rome High his freshmen year.

My Daddy used to let me polish his fingernails and toenails!

My Daddy used to read to me.

My Daddy wouldn’t let me eat junk food or drink soda…only healthy stuff for me.

My Daddy loved history and watched The History Channel all the time….Uncle
Kyle loves history too and Kyle got his undergraduate degree in history from
Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, GA.

My Daddy went skydiving for his 18th birthday; Mia went too and has a video of
my Daddy jumping out of the plane and gliding to earth.  My Daddy said
it was the best birthday present he had ever gotten.

My Daddy was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corp and served with 3/2 Lima Company in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

My Daddy loved animals, especially dogs.  His two favorite dogs were Mollie Brown
and Maggie Mae.  He also loved CJ and Baxter, they are Boston Terriers.

My Daddy picked my name, “Isabella,” because he thought it was the most beautiful name he had ever heard.

My Daddy and I met for the first time when I was six months old because he was
serving in Iraq when I was born.

My Daddy was very brave.

My Daddy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery because he is a hero, just like
everyone else buried there.  One day, Mia wants to take me there.

My Daddy loved to swim….Mia called him a “water baby” because he always loved
the water, even when he was a baby splashing around in the bath tub.

My Daddy had deep, dark brown eyes, just like me.

My Daddy wore braces when he was a teenager.  After a couple of years of braces, his teeth were straight and he had a really handsome smile.

My Daddy wore glasses until he had eye surgery when he was in the Marines to correct his vision.

My Daddy’s favorite junk food was Taco Bell….it’s Mia’s favorite junk food too.

My Daddy didn’t like chili with beans and he hated green beans.

My Daddy gave the best hugs EVER.

My Daddy told his kindergarten teacher he wanted to be a  paleontologist when he grew up.

My Daddy was one of the emcee’s for The Howling…a high school talent show at Rome High, during his senior year.  Mia has the video and one day, she hopes to show it to me.

My Daddy had lots of friends and many of his friends live in Rome, Ga, where I do.

My Daddy said I was the most beautiful baby he had ever seen.

Bella, I hope one day you will not only read this list, but that we will be talking about all the things on this list.  Your Daddy loved you very much and we all love you very much.  You have a big family on your Daddy’s side too and all of us think of you, pray for you and hope you will be a part of our lives again some day.

Happy 8th birthday Bella…your Daddy would be so proud of you.  We love you very much.

Mia, Papa,  Aunt Chandler, Uncle Kyle, Aunt Liz, Uncle Cole, Cousin Dylan, Uncle Drew, Aunt Briana, Cousin Jackson, Big Tom, Dandy, Nana, Uncle Mike, Uncle Shon, Aunt Becky, Cousin Hayden, Aunt Laura, Granddaddy, Gran, Aunt Vicki, Uncle Bill, Cousin Andrea,  Cousin Matt, Aunt Lisa, Uncle Kevin, Cousin Jason, Cousin Jordan, Aunt Lori, Uncle Ron, Cousin Ron, Cousin Kevin…..just to name a few!

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Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Happy Birthday Guy

Scan 102130002Scan 102130034Scan 102130022Guy had just turned 29 barely two and a half weeks before his death on February 12, 1990.  We were all stunned and shocked speechless at the tragic turn of events.  After all, we were initially told that the cure rate for his form of cancer, non-hodgkins lymphoma, in its current stage was 90%.  Although the thought of a diagnosis of cancer was frightening, we were actually elated and felt so blessed to receive such a positive and hopeful prognosis.  

We felt equally blessed that even at the tender age of 27 and despite Guy’s diagnosis, he was otherwise healthy and strong.  There was no doubt in our minds that the recommended 9 months of chemo followed by 30 rounds of radiation would bring about the cure our family, friends and church family had been praying for….in fact, we were certain of it.  

And so began the journey of the “BIG C” for our young family…Ryan was 5 at the time and just entering kindergarten and Kyle was 2 and rebelling about being put in “Mother’s Morning Out” at a local church twice a week for a few hours.  Kyle was not happy about being in a classroom with other children, having to sing and play and create art projects.

Rather, Kyle wanted to stay at his NeeNee’s house (Guy’s Mom) getting spoiled rotten, eating honey buns and bacon, hot dogs and french fries, watching his favorite TV shows non-stop,  and who could blame him.  I was persistent though knowing that Kyle would fall into the routine of preschool and would eventually come to love the companionship of the other kids, especially since his best friend and big brother Ryan was in school.

  After weeks of Kyle protesting and begging me to let him stay home, I finally asked him, “Kyle, why don’t you like school?”  Kyle looked up at me with those big brown eyes with a head full of loose curls and the most adorable face you could ever imagine and he said, “Those children, they bother me.”  That was it, Kyle became a preschool dropout and either stayed home with me on days Guy wasn’t receiving treatment or with his NeeNee where he felt safe, comfortable, loved and nurtured. 

Guy was a model patient and faced his diagnosis and treatment with courage and character.  I never heard Guy complain and he was often the one comforting and encouraging every one in his presence instead of the other way around.  

 During Guy’s initial chemo and radiation treatments he was still determined to continue working as much as possible.  Guy’s colleagues and peers at Peterbilt were incredibly supportive and understanding giving us the relief of knowing that despite Guy’s illness and necessary absences from work, his job was secure.  

It was cause for celebration when the nearly 11 months of treatment were finally over and Guy received a clean bill of health.  We were so deeply grateful that the toughest part was over with and we could look forward to moving on with our lives.  It was a joy to see Guy gaining strength and stamina and it didn’t take long for Guy’s golfing and fishing trips to begin again in ernest.  

In less than six months post treatment, Guy relapsed.  The doctors were shocked and we knew that a relapse so quickly after such intense treatment meant Guy’s longterm health could be in jeopardy.   It was at this point we made our way to Vanderbilt Hospital and learned all about bone marrow transplants. 

23 years ago, bone marrow transplants were still considered experimental so even though our first meeting with our new team of physicians was positive, they also told us to make sure wills were signed and necessary paperwork was in order, just in case.  That’s not exactly what you wanted to hear, but Guy made the decision to have a bone marrow transplant with the hope of a cure rather than face year after year of chemo and radiation yet ultimately dying from the cancer his body would eventually no longer be able to fight off.  

Guy was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant in January of 1990 at Vanderbilt Hospital.  There were a limited number of beds in the bone marrow unit, so the staff took scheduling and committing to the treatment plan very seriously.  

On the day Guy was to be admitted into the bone marrow unit, he decided to first play a round of golf with some of his family and closest friends.  I knew they would be gone for several hours, but he really didn’t need to show up at the hospital until late afternoon, so I wasn’t really that concerned.  I became concerned when early afternoon came and went and the hospital began to call asking if Guy was going to show up and stating that if he didn’t show up soon, they were going to have to give his bed to someone else.  

In the late afternoon, Guy finally got home after playing 36 holes of golf….he was barely able to walk up the stairs and into the house and someone had to carry his clubs in for him, but he had a smile on his face and I knew the day had been a special one. Relieved,  I immediately called the hospital to let them know we were on our way and would be there within the hour.  

On January 25, 1990 we celebrated Guy’s 29th birthday in the bone marrow unit of Vanderbilt Hospital.  He was surrounded by his family, lemon birthday cake in hand, and for the first time since Guy entered the hospital in early January, Ryan and Kyle visited their Daddy.  

Less than three weeks after Guy’s birthday, he passed away due to complications from the bone marrow transplant.   Simply put, the amount of chemotherapy drugs used for the transplant overwhelmed his organs and they began shutting down, one by one.   

Guy died on February 12, 1990.  It was one of the worst days of my life, especially considering I had to go home and tell our two young sons that their father had died.  Our entire family was absolutely devastated.

Guy was loved and cherished by all who knew him.  He is one of the finest people I have ever known and being his wife and parenting our sons together remains one of the greatest blessings of my life.  

We celebrate “Guy Maddux Day” each year on January 25th as we think of the man we love….the son, brother, husband, father and friend.  I carry the love I have for Guy with me each day; he still remains a constant fixture in my life.  This year as I think of Guy on his birthday, I picture him with Ryan, side by side, fishing poles in hand, watching the sun come up…..I can see Guy blowing kisses down to us and Ryan throwing us a few peace signs. I  see both of their beautiful smiling faces, arms around each other’s shoulders and I know they are at peace and sending us love.

Happy birthday, Guy…..we love you.

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Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Finding Balance

I am struggling….pure and simple. I am taking a nosedive and if I don’t pull out of it, there is going to be a horrific mess to have to sort through with millions of tiny pieces to try to figure out how to put back together.  How I hate to admit my struggle….my inability to “rise above,” “move forward,” “let go and let God.”

I had lunch recently with Tracy, my “Seattle Sister of the Heart” and she looked me straight in the eyes and told me I needed to get back on Lexapro, immediately!  Tracy is a straight shooter, she pulls no punches and yet her ability to communicate the right message in a non-offensive way is brilliant.  Is it the British accent?  Well, that probably doesn’t hurt, but I am going with Tracy’s immense capacity for kindness, impeccable timing and divine intuition.  I guess God anticipated the deep sorrow and void Ryan’s death would leave, and so she blessed me with amazing friends who have stood beside me, cried with me, held me, kicked my butt, motivated and inspired me and who just sense when I need them most.  And that is when the phone calls start, or the cards show up, or the trips are planned….God does work in mysterious ways and for me, God’s most impressive work has show up in the love and support of my precious friends.

I long for balance, joy, lightheartedness and there are moments when I get a glimpse of those long-ago feelings, however fleeting.  But my reality is more like being in the middle of a store and seeing a sign that reads, “Happiness is a choice,” and wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, “Oh really!  Really!  Well, walk a mile in my shoes and see just how happy you are!”  Or better yet, realizing that you have a “Life is Good” t-shirt on in the midst of a meltdown and literally ripping it off of you because you know that in that moment, life is not anywhere close to “good” and wearing something that states that it is feels hypocritical.

After lunch, Tracy and I chose to explore the healing powers of gem stones.  After the very convincing and knowledgeable owner of our local gem stone store explained the various healing properties of certain gem stones, I loaded up on stones that were believed to have the ability to heal, calm and cleanse my heart along with the anxiety and heavy burden of grief.  I am carrying around a stone of jade in my pocket and have heart shaped stones of jade,  red jasper, and rose quartz, all carrying promise of heart health and relief,  now in a bowl on my coffee table.  To insure the efficacy of my new gem stones, I placed them on my chest, right over my heart, and left them there for about an hour as I meditated on their healing properties while simultaneously rubbing the jade “worry stone” and praying for peace, guidance and direction.  I actually slept with my jade worry stone last night resting in the palm of my hand and at various times during the night, placed it upon my heart.  For whatever reason, it comforted me and for now, that is good enough.

And that is not all….I pray, read books on spirituality, I have faith, I believe, I put on a happy face and know that sometimes you have to “fake it until you can make it” and I understand that you have to “feel it to heal it,” and yet, the sorrow is now so pervasive that I find myself unable to catch my breath between each wave of grief.  It’s like swimming underwater in a lake and needing to come up for a breath of fresh air.    I can see the surface and yet there is a barrier, something holding my head under water, preventing me from reaching the surface and taking a cleansing breath.  I am drowning, I know it, I feel it and yet I am powerless to prevent it.  It feels terrible, frightening at times and when I am at my lowest, I feel ashamed that I am not able to be stronger, more faithful, more hopeful, more courageous.  To put it bluntly, it sucks.

It is not just the reality of Ryan’s death that is so difficult to come to terms with, but rather the circumstances. Death by suicide! Suicide!  How is that possible?  How can a young man so loved, so adored, so intelligent, so full of promise and hope….a son, brother, father, friend….how could this have happened?

It is my answer to this question that is most troubling, leaving me with a feeling of hopelessness at the seemingly insurmountable obstacles obscuring our society’s vision, willingness and determination to transform our world into a peaceful, tolerant, kind and loving society.    How can our society create and allow violence, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease?   We could change all of that in an instant, just by deciding that those things are no longer acceptable.  Apathy, indifference, fear….these are the enemies of creativity, compassion, tolerance and peace.  They are the root causes of violence, poverty, and illness.

There were so many opportunities for Ryan to get the help he needed and deserved.  I was so relieved and grateful when Ryan came home from Iraq.  I thanked God over and over for keeping Ryan safe and whole and we were all overjoyed to have him back home.  I had no idea that Ryan was in more danger once he got home than he ever was in Iraq.  At least in Iraq, he had a known mission and objective and was surrounded by his “band of brothers” willing to stand beside him, fight and if necessary, die with or for him.  Once home, Ryan lost the comfort of the camaraderie  and belonging he felt on the battlefield.  His sense of self and identity were skewed, he was being attacked and falsely accused by those who once professed to love him.  Unemployment, financial and legal difficulties, these became Ryan’s realities.

What I struggle with the most is the fact that those with the position,  power,  knowledge and expertise to help Ryan, including a long list of doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, counselors, attorneys, the Veterans Administation in Atlanta and New Orleans, ….these are the very ones that decided to look the other way, to let Ryan slip through the cracks, to literally let him out of a car knowing he had no immediate support system , means or even capacity to take care of himself.  I have often wondered what these same individuals would have done had Ryan been their son.  I can assure you, the outcome would have been different. I am confident these same individuals would have made different choices.   They would have done everything in their power to ensure Ryan was receiving the medical attention he so desperately needed and deserved had he been their son.

I will always believe that Ryan’s death was preventable….that had he received the proper treatment, he would have regained his life and we would have him with us today.  Instead, Ryan slipped deeper and deeper into mental illness, isolating himself from his friends and family as his life slowly unraveled.  The burden of guilt that I carry for not being able to fully understand, comprehend and take action that could have prevented Ryan’s death weighs heavy on my heart and is felt in every fiber of my being.  It is a mother’s job to protect their children, and I failed to protect Ryan.  How I wish I could go back in time and make different decision of my own…..hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?

It is interesting how each day brings new challenges and opportunities.  What felt so horrible yesterday now seems tolerable in the light of a new day.  It is for these little glimpses of light that I am so deeply grateful.  Even in the midst of my darkest days, I have felt the love of God envelop me.  I know my pleas for peace have been heard and are constantly being answered in every way imaginable.  God is so very clever….”Okay, let’s see what we can do today to gently remind Monika that there is hope, that she is loved, important, needed, valued, guiltless.  I know, let’s send a guardian angel into her life that will help her remember that there is so much good in this world, that people do care, that we can all make a difference, that happiness, love, tolerance, peace, and kindness really are choices.  Let’s call these guardian angels Joan, Kristen, Kathy, Kathie, Amy, Tracy, Jeanne, Helen, Deb, Aaron, (just to name a few) …. let’s throw in a few complete strangers too, just for fun, who willingly, lovingly share their stories and listen with open hearts as grief and  sorrow are exposed, examined and laid bare for all to witness.  And then, I am going to really make Monika’s  day by reminding her of the limitless beauty surrounding her….The beauty of nature should do the trick, so here is a rainbow, some shooting stars, and a cloud in the shape of a hand with the sun in the palm of the hand so brilliant and bright, shooting rays of sunlight as if to say. ”” It will all be okay, Monika, I know you are weary, but I’ve got you, Dear One, so relax, rest, recharge, take care of yourself, I’ve got you.” “

All of these things, and more, occurred on a recent drive to California to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.  One of the highlights of our trip was getting to meet Blake and Beckham, our newborn nephews, for the first time.  It was such a joy and so healing to spend time with the two B’s, holding them, playing with them, feeding them and rocking them to sleep.  I was in heaven!  I LOVE babies, especially newborns and to have two at a time allowed me to have at least one of them in my arms at all times.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Ryan’s soul convened with Blake and Beckham before their birth, sending them off with the advice to remember the source of pure love from which they were created and letting them know they were about to enter the lives of some amazing parents who would love, cherish and spoil them rotten as would the rest of the family.  And I wonder if Ryan let Blake and Beckham know that they would be meeting me and that their tiny little souls and precious little smiles, coos and cries would be like a soothing salve on an exposed wound.  “You are gonna dig my Mom, she loves babies! Just having you in her arms will be healing….so please, be patient because she won’t want to put you down.  Peace out, guys, have fun down there!”

Today is a new day…..with new opportunities for both challenges and growth.  I am shooting for growth, but will try to be kind to myself if the most I get out of the day is a shower.  Sometimes a shower is as good as it gets, and sometimes that’s okay.

And so, the journey continues……..

Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Isabella

Bella is a part of my daily life even though we have no contact.   She even appears in my dreams from time to time. That was always my signal that she needed me and so I would hop on a plane and head to North Carolina to check on my baby girl.  I dreamed of her again last night, actually in the wee hours of the morning, and I awoke saddened, unable to shake the sorrow of her absence from my life.

Randy and I were back in Rome, GA a couple of weeks ago for Drew and Briana’s wedding.  I really wasn’t sure how I would feel about being back there…I was trying to convince myself that it would be fine, that by focusing on the good memories I could power through the tough ones.  After all, Rome is where Randy and I raised Ryan and Kyle, where Chandler was born, where I found opportunity with a career in design, where our first grandchild Jackson was born and where Bella was born while her Daddy was fighting a war in Iraq.

I have tried over and over to convince Bella’s mother that my love for Bella and Bella’s love for me and our family would in no way diminish Bella’s love for her and her family.  There can never be too much love…the more, the merry.  Even though there are so many things I am sure we will never agree on, loving Bella, supporting, encouraging, guiding and cheering her on is something we can all engage in  joyfully, harmoniously and peacefully.  And yet, my effort to reconnect with Kristina, which is my path to Bella, has been rejected time and time again.

It was so difficult to be in Rome, knowing Bella was there and yet being unable to see her.  Randy and I have talked about how to properly pursue the right course to bring Bella back into our lives.  Legally, as Bella’s grandparents, we do have rights and attorneys have been consulted and strategies discussed.  My first concern and consideration is for what will be in Bella’s best interest.   Despite my legal rights, however, I have been hoping that working with Kristina through open dialogue, the gift of time allowing for emotions to calm,  maturity to increase,  awareness and understanding of the complexities of PTSD and the common goal of loving Bella, would be enough for forgiveness and reconciliation, by all of us.

We drove by Bella’s house while we were in Rome and a part of me was hoping that she would be outside….that if I couldn’t spend time with her, I would at least be able to see her, but no such luck.  I am having a hard time understanding the reasoning behind Kristina’s decision to eradicate our family, and Ryan, from Bella’s life.   How could that be in Bella’s best interest?

I remember the miracle of Ryan’s phone call moments after Bella’s birth.  We knew he was on a mission and we were told he would not be able to communicate for several days.  We were all surprised and thrilled to get Ryan’s phone call and it was a joy to describe Bella’s beauty to him as I was holding her in my arms.  “She looks just like you Ryan, right down to the cowlick!  She is so beautiful and she and Kristina are doing well.  You would be so proud.” I reassured him.  Even Dr. Peek spoke to Ryan, assuring him that Bella and Kristina were healthy and well and the tenderness and significance of the moment left us all in tears.

These moments and memories and so many, many more are ones that I hope to share with Bella.  She needs and deserves to know who her father was, how much he loved her and how much our family loves her.   And so, I will continue my campaign with kindness , patience and persistence as I reach out to Kristina, hoping to find the right words that will resonate with her and convince her that our desire is to love, support and encourage Bella.  I will look for every opportunity, and pursue every path, including technology and the internet,  to make it easy for Bella to find us as she will undoubtedly want to explore and understand her  heritage and lineage.

We still have a deep connection to Rome and have many friends there.  I have spread the word asking that our friends keep an eye on Bella, showering her with prayers and shielding her tender heart with a cloud of love and peace.

We love you, Bell…somehow I hope you feel that love and that it brings you comfort and a sense of peace.  I am never far from you Bell….I carry you with me in my heart each and every day, right beside your Daddy.

And so, the journey continues…..

Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Happy Birthday Ryan – The Big 3 – 0!

Ryan never got the chance to meet Kristen, but he would have loved her.  She was the first person I called the morning after Ryan’s death, knowing she could help me navigate the journey through the grieving process and help me find the professionals capable of guiding and supporting our family.

When I think of the people that have become a part of my life due to that phone call, it takes my breath away.  Joan’s wisdom and expertise have helped me release the immense guilt I felt after Ryan’s death.   Leslie and KC at Olivia’s House walked us through the grieving process and allowed us to heal by helping others heal and teaching us that you have to “feel it to heal it.   Terri whose “bone sighs” discuss life’s mysteries in the most concise and profound way, speaking to my heart and resonating with my soul.

And there have been many angels along the way too….my “sisters of the heart,” which include friends from long ago and newbies as well….like Jeanne, Tracy and Deborah.  In every direction, I have found myself surrounded by love, understanding, patience and encouragement.

It is the love of Randy, Kyle, Cole, Drew and Chandler and the commitment to my family and our well-being that is the driving force in my life.  Our family has had the opportunity to celebrate some amazing milestones since Ryan’s death….Byron and Idelia’s 80th birthdays, Kyle and Liz’s wedding, Matt and Wren’s wedding, the birth of Blake and Beckham, Drew and Briana’s wedding, Chandler’s first love.  With each event and opportunity to be together, we have taken the time to celebrate, to relish the moments we have to share our lives and to remember the love and joy Ryan brought to each of us.

And the circle keeps expanding…Aaron is now a part of my life and his mom, Deb too.  Aaron and Ryan served in Iraq together and were dear friends.  Aaron has been struggling with PTSD for five years and is finally finding his way again, remembering that he has the ability to determine his own course, reaching out to those able to help him and trusting that a fulfilling, meaningful life is possible in spite of the struggles and challenges along the way.   I feel a bond with Aaron because of his love for Ryan and the friendship they shared.  Encouraging Aaron and watching him heal helps me heal too…I try to do for Aaron what I can no longer do for Ryan and that gives me a sense of peace.

I have had the opportunity to talk to Deb, Aaron’s mother.  She has shared stories of the hardship and heartbreak of watching her son, her hero, struggle with PTSD.  The slope for Aaron has been long and slippery and there were many times when Deb was not sure Aaron would make it, and yet, she would not give up and she would not let up either.  Deb saved Aaron….her sheer determination saved her son and I have such admiration and respect for her.

I was in York, PA last week celebrating the opening of Turning Point…Kristen wanted to honor Ryan so she had the first open house on October 18th, Ryan’s birthday.  It has been amazing to witness the creation of Turning Point…from conception to reality…it is a warm, beautiful, peaceful and nurturing center where miracles of healing have already begun.  I stood in wonder on Thursday and Friday as the touring of Turning Point began…stories were shared, tears were flowing, jaws were hanging open at the beauty and meaning behind Turning Point’s purpose.    I could literally feel the emotions of the people touring the center, especially the women who had experienced child sexual abuse and were hoping to find a safe haven of acceptance, understanding and healing.

We each celebrated Ryan’s birthday in our own way….he would have been 30! and as impossible as that seems, it is a fact.  As for me, I smoked a cigar after the festivities of Turning Point had ended for the day and I thought of the gift of Ryan in my life.  Kyle was also puffing away in Savannah; Cole was at Arlington with some fellow Navy buddies toasting Ryan with a six pack. Randy was on the road, quietly contemplating the impact of Ryan’s life on his own.  Drew was juggling his full-time job with his last semester of his undergraduate degree and basking in the joy of the recent renewing of his vows.  Chan was busy with school, volleyball and the highs and lows of being 17.

Many years ago, I wanted to do something really special for Ryan’s 18th birthday, something he would never expect but that I knew he would love.  It was a stroke of brilliance when I came up with the idea of skydiving….daring, unforgettable, thrilling…I knew he would love it.  You should have seen the look on his face when I told him what I had planned…he was thrilled, but also a little apprehensive.  “Your not going to make me do this by myself are you?”  he asked.  “Well, do you want me to do it with you?” I said.  “Yes!” was his resounding response.

And so we both did a tandem jump, with instructor on our backs, we jumped out of a small aircraft 10,000 ft above ground.  Ryan jumped first and then the instructor and I rolled out of the aircraft into the beautiful blue skies of Georgia.  The rest of the Lawrence crew, with their feet firmly planted on the ground, were watching us fall, then gently glide down to earth. I am so grateful for that special birthday memory.  The smile on Ryan’s face was literally from ear to ear and that alone said it all;  Ryan loved it and it is one of my favorite memories.   I am so thankful that we not only have pictures from the skydive, but we had a video done of Ryan’s jump as well.  Every now and then, I pop the CD in just to relive that special day.

It seems as if everywhere I turn, I am hearing stories of how Ryan impacted the lives of others.  It is such a joy to hear these stories….what a relief that, for the most part, we are beyond the “I don’t know if I should bring this up or not because she might cry or get upset” phase.  Bring it on….all of it.  Sure, we might cry and I might even get a little upset, but that’s okay…the memories are worth the tears and there is always a beautiful mixture of tears and laughter with each story.

So, thank you Kristen, for allowing me to celebrate Ryan’s birthday in an amazing way this year.  Happy birthday Ryan!

And so, the journey continues……

Ryan Maddux-Lawrence: Drew’s Wedding

Drew and Briana’s wedding was so special.  Actually, it was a renewing of their vows; they got married in March of 2011, but wanted to publicly share their commitment to each other and to Jackson in front of family and friends.

Randy and I finally met Briana’s parents and brothers as well as her grandparents and extended family.  It was a lot of fun merging our two families…confusing, but fun.  There were wives and ex-wives, husbands and ex-husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, brothers and sisters and half brothers and half sisters and steps of all kinds….step-brothers, step-sisters, step-parents, step-grandparents….See what I mean, confusing… but fun.

Briana looked absolutely gorgeous…she was radiant and you could see in her face how happy she was to share her love of Drew and Jackson with all of us.  My favorite part of the day was when we all stood in anticipation of the bride as she was to walk down the aisle toward her groom.  I was watching Drew and I knew instantly the moment Bri rounded the corner and he got his first glimpse of his bride in her wedding gown.   It was like magic….I could feel the love Drew had for Briana…I could literally feel it and I could see it too, in Drew’s face, in his posture and in his eyes.

And there stood Byron, “Granddaddy,” beside his grandson, son and great-grandson ready to marry off another Lawrence.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times Byron has performed wedding ceremonies for those in his immediate family…some of them multiple times.  Byron has an extraordinary gift for making the ceremonies personal, sharing stories of antics pulled and pranks played. He weaves the serious and the sacred bringing tears of laughter and joy…a “granddaddy” ceremony is mighty special.

For me, the most touching moment of the evening came about when it was time to take family pictures.  They called for the bride to be surrounded by the brothers of the groom….and there they were, Kyle, Cole and …… I almost began to look around for Ryan.  Where is Ryan?  The picture was taken quickly and the photographer was on to the next photo, but the moment was not lost on me, or on Kyle, Cole or Drew.  We all felt it, all of us…the void, the sadness, the disbelief.

And yet, we celebrated the love of Drew and Bri, their commitment to each other and to Jackson and it felt good and right and real.  Ryan would have been the first to tell his baby brother that he was proud of him, that he hoped Bri could put up with him but, with a smile on his face, doubted that she could….then Ryan would have laughed and given Drew one his amazing bear hugs and the brotherly bond would continue to strengthen.

Instead, it was up to Kyle and Cole to step up and they did so with grace and the love that only brothers share.  Out came the cigars and whiskey and we sat in a large circle and toasted Drew, Briana and  Ryan.  It was then that the conversations got interesting and the lies got bigger…I could just imagine Ryan with us, knowing he would have loved all of it, every bit.

Congratulations Drew and Briana….we love you both so very much!

And so….the journey continues