Grace Notes

a blog about life’s everyday magic

March 28, 2019

Living with the Betrayal of Spring

Bella Grace Magazine

Words: Tina Zarlenga
Photo credit: Caroline Jensen

I used to hate February, after all, my son died in February, and my father died in February. The shortest month of the year and I had to hold my breath just to get through it.

But the cold and damp of winter pairs well with grief, the drab grey exterior matching the turmoil of grief’s interior.  And although winter felt fitting for grief, spring felt like a betrayal. My heart can summon up that spring over 25 years ago where sadness and anger rocked with me on the front porch swing as I scribbled my sorrow in tear stained journals.

Spring was just another reminder of how life goes on, the burst of nature in tiny details were one more nudge to remind me that I was the only one sitting still. Tears stung my eyes as I listened to the worlds chatter while I sat unable to move. Birds singing, flowers blooming, even the green of the grass played a role in my sadness.

This year, for the first time, I did a pay it forward to acknowledge Ryan’s death. Pay it forward has always been about celebrating Ryan’s birth, but this year I realized that actually it has always been about remembering Ryan. He has been gone for 5 times the years that he lived; yet there are days when I can still hear his giggles like it was yesterday.

Ryan was a sweet, silly, shy little boy that loved coloring, memory games and Nintendo. We watched Aladdin, Jungle book and Fern Gully so often I can still, to this day, sing all the songs of each movie.

He made us laugh with silly songs he made up; he made us smile with his caring nature and the stories shared by his preschool teacher of how his calming influence helped his schoolmates.

For years, he and I were a team when shopping. We would search the grocery isles patiently looking for any of the items we needed. Once Chelsea learned to talk, she became our voice and stopped anyone walking by, speaking for us all.  After losing Ryan, everything was painful, and on most days, even the rows of cereal at the grocery store were too much to bear.

Loss doesn’t go away, time doesn’t make it better, the only thing time does is teach us how to live with the emptiness, and that is a troubled path to navigate.

I don’t know today what it would be like to have my son as a grown man, I only know of that 5-year-old child. Memories take the helm on this roller coaster of life and loss, like the flicker of a candle both illuminating and destructive.

I write about Ryan, my grief and the sorting of these mixed up emotions to help myself, hopefully help others, and maybe even inspire someone who is grieving on their front porch swing witnessing the arrival of spring.


While searching for a reason to go on after losing their five-year old son Ryan, she discovered that giving back could actually save her. Tina Zarlenga is married with two grown children and her first grandchild, sharing stories of inspiration and hope, as well as her journey through grief with emotional essays of life on her website  Unraveling My Heart the Write Way and through a campaign to pay it forward for Ryan she uncovered JOY. Published essays can be found in Bella Grace Magazine, The Compassionate Friends, as well as many online communities.

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Comments ( 13 )

  1. Patricia Clifford

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I lost my only child, Andy (middle name Ryan) in 1981, he was 10 years old. He had ALL (leukemia) and lived a brief 14 months from diagnosis to death. I know the grief well, I have to cry and will sometimes burst into tears at little things that remind me of him. He was born in late July, died in August, 9 days after my own birthday…summers are my difficult times although I love summer…I seem to “fall” into fall which makes for a long, cold and barren season some years. I know the pain…

  2. Tina

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    So sorry for your loss Patricia, thank you for sharing your Andy (Ryan), I completely understand why summers are difficult.

  3. Judy H.

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Dearest Tina, I felt my heart in my throat as I read your memories of the life you shared with your precious Ryan. My eyes welled up and I wished I could change the past and hug both of you.
    I often hear people say, “life goes on”. I hear that and think to myself that of course, the days continue to pass, weeks become months and months into years, but THAT life, your life with your precious one stops, forever frozen and the sense of loss must surely stay. How could that pass?
    My heart is warmed with the knowledge that your life has been blessed through your husband, more children and a new grandchild.
    I’m glad your special memories of Ryan continue to bless you, but I grieve with you as you continue to grieve him. How could you not?
    I’m filled with admiration for your generosity in sharing your journey through grief to help others find the way on their journey, bless you. I admire Ryan for his willing and generous spirit in allowing you and nudging you along to write about your dear memories together, to bring some comfort to all who read and share.

  4. Vi

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    My chest contracted. Tears blurred my vision. Death is heartbreaking. I’m still tearing. I haven’t gone through what you went through, and Patricia, and I hope I don’t. Every time I hear the death of a child, I compare the age to my grandsons’ age. What if it was them, I’d asked. Then the grief of the heartache throbs. Yeah, life goes on and so does the memories and wonders of what it would have been. Memories hurt, but then, the smile of your grandbaby melts the hurt away and you smile too, giving your baby a loving hug. (I’m still tearing.) Note: my four-star supposed to be five, sensitive touch screen.

  5. Marcy Naples

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Dear Tina,
    I do not know the terrible loss you had. Still, my heart aches for you as well. My own loss, while I was 8 months pregnant with my youngest son came when I lost his father. This was 15 years ago. I hear people say often, time heals all wounds. This is not true. Your heart carries the scars and hurt. You just learn to move forward and hopefully appreciate the good memories. Spring is a time for renewal. I often look for dragonflies. Enjoying the beauty of nature, lightens my heart. May Spring always ease your grief.

  6. joie foster

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I luv, luv, luv Bella Grace magazines! I can hardly wait for the next issue to come out! I have gifted many friend’s with your magazine & they too, luv it as much as I do. I want to host a Bella Grace night. I have lots of candles, blankets to wrap around in, & all things cozy for a special evening. We will share our thoughts as we each share our favorite prompt straight out of the magazine pages. Thank you, Christen & all the magazine staff for this awe-inspiring magazine. What a blessing!

  7. Catherine

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    We lost our precious son,Joseph, when he was 19 years old. It will be 9 years April 17 th When the forsythia bloom and the Azaleas burst into flowers I remember the grief that never leaves.

  8. Tina

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Judy, thank you so much for your comment, it means so much when our stories can connect us, even when we haven’t gone through the same situations <3

  9. Tina

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you Vi, your kind words mean a lot. Yes, my granddaughter melts me and reminds me how life does go on in beautiful ways even after heartache… thank you for taking the time to write.

  10. Tina Zarlenga

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you Marcy, I believe loss can connect us in ways we never realized as we share our pain and compassion and are available to help others…. so sorry for your loss, I can only imagine the heartbreak for you and for your son of never knowing him.

  11. Tina Zarlenga

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    So sorry Catherine, we never forget any loss, but a loss of a child is losing a piece of our future and that is difficult enough. I will be thinking of you and Joseph on the 17th

  12. Gayle Glenn

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I am amazed as I read your story of loss and healing through your journal. I have also lost my son, my sweet faced little boy who could brighten up any event with his beautiful smile, so much he was called the “spark plug” of the ball team he was the bat boy for. I have overcome and pushed through some of the most difficult things life has to throw out and it truly is amazing to see others who have used their pain in POSITIVE ways regardless of how incredibly broken they may be… You see, I have seen both sides of this and thanks to the grace of God and some amazing women who also suffered but OVERCAME I was set free and chains were broken …you’ve given hope and help in ways that are inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing about your sweet little boy

  13. Tina

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Oh Gayle,

    So sorry for your loss… tell me more? How old was your son, his name? I love the spark plug, what a fun way to remember him. Maybe there’s something in that for your healing, some kind of baseball themed memory to share his sweetness with others <3 hugs to you

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