My sister's family recently road tripped to us for a visit. I love their visits because we don't get to spend nearly enough time together being about a 4 hour drive apart. So it was great to have 4 days with her, my brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and their new puppy. It's always a bit of a crazy-time, but with lots of fun packed in.
There's also always a bittersweet element for me when we get together, though. Because I can't help but feel a little sad that I can't watch Ryan grow up with his cousins. We took trips to the baseball diamond, Legoland, splash pad, water park, Medieval Times... And in each place I wondered how it would have been if Ryan were there. I can't help it. My mom-instincts just want to place him in all of these little moments with my family.
But since he can't physically be here, I spend time looking for signs that he's with us.
Every day I still need to take a few quiet moments to feel close to Ryan. It doesn't matter where in the world I am, or what's going on that day, if I don't have just a few quiet minutes I tend to feel extra sad or anxious. So each morning of their visit, as I usually do, I stepped outside to "tinker around" in Ryan's Garden. But unlike many days, as I would crouch down to do my thing I'd be greeted by the prettiest little white butterfly. Ryan popping in each morning to wish me a good day and to remind me to enjoy myself and the moments I'd have with my family. On the "worst" of the mornings (because that still happens sometimes too -- I just wake up and feel in the "sad place" about Ryan's absence) I was greeted by a much bigger, more striking butterfly. Because sometimes Ryan just seems to know when I need an extra boost.
The most special moment of the whole visit for me, though, is one I will never forget. My niece who is nearly 3, has the biggest imagination. She can spend the longest stretches of time just playing on her own or with her imaginary friend "Hailey." Something she did for quite some time after she lost interest in our game of mini=putt on Wednesday afternoon. On our walk back to the car, my sister requested her hand to hold across the parking lot. Her fists were clenched tightly and she refused to give up her right hand. "No mommy. That's Hailey," she said. So my sister moved for the left hand, which she also refused explaining, "No mommy. That's Ryan."
My heart swelled in that moment and I smiled at my sister. I have so many thoughts on the whole thing -- but mostly I simply believe he was really there with us in that little moment. And I know I'll always have the memory of that day, watching her play "by herself" on that mini-putt course... but not really by herself at all. Her baby cousin Ryan was keeping her company.
I miss him so much. And I wish so hard I could have seen him truly interact with his cousins. But the greatest gift I could get now is having him be remembered by them even though they never got to meet him. At least not the physical him.