On February 17th, 2018, 20-year-old Ryan Shtuka went missing from Sun Peaks, where he was living and working at the popular ski resort.
It is a well known story that has travelled far and wide from the shaken up village of Sun Peaks to Ryan’s grieving home town of Beaumont, Alberta and beyond. The online support from friends and community continues and the mystery remains.
On February 17, 2019, Kamloops This Week covered the details of Ryan’s disappearance, right from the first text his mother, Heather received the day that changed Ryan’s family forever.
But what about the daily emotional challenges that Ryan’s family has been navigating these past 16 months? Here Heather shares an inside look. I asked her how the healing process works in such a horrific situation and what motivates her to keep moving through crippling moments of despair:
“I’m not sure I can confidently say that we are into a healing process. Everything remains broken and uncertain. How does one heal from an unknown? The hurt goes deep and yet in our situation lies a kernel of hope. We are surviving.
I feel like I skirt around the issue of Ryan missing and the long term consequences of that. The years seem so long. All the regrets, guilt and sadness that Ryan won’t be here to experience life the way he would have lived it.
I think for me, it makes it possible to then be able to discuss possibilities and scenarios surrounding his disappearance. To be able to explain to searchers what they need to look for. I can hardly believe the words I must use to describe my son. It breaks my heart so I find myself shifting topics so that nothing really sinks in. My emotions sit just below the surface of my skin. From time to time they bubble up and break through.
I have no gauge to let me know what will trigger an emotional release. This makes me feel out of control sometimes.
I sit in despair for however long I need to. My girls bring me comfort and love and the little necessities to ensure I know how loved I am.
But I know I can’t stay there. The world goes on whether I lie down, kneel or stand. What motivates me to stand is my beautiful baby girls. They need me whole. I show them the way to grieve, survive and to thrive. I don’t want anything more to be taken from them.
I also get up because who searches for my son if not me?”
Being a mother myself, and knowing many other mothers and mother figures, I wanted to know how the disappearance of a child changes a parent, and what advice there may be for other parents in similar circumstances:
“I think I have become kinder. More grateful. Incredibly aware of the fragility of life. I communicate more. Our family talks all the time. We can no longer hide under hurt feelings, fear or anger. So we talk about what is great and what is sad. Life, at this point will never be as terrible as what has happened so that means even if issues can’t always be perfectly solved, we can find ways through them.
My advice to parents … hmmm. Every parent experiencing loss will undergo a journey unique to them. Their paths and what choices they need to make to survive will intuitively be up to them. But those early days when the notification comes informing you of the ultimate loss, that I know well. The fear and terror, grief and sadness.
I choose not to live in alternative realities. I stick to the facts I know and that is all I can do. If I don’t, with the possible scenarios, how could I go forward? All my reactions and actions would be based on the thoughts in my head. I don’t want a make believe life. I want to be present.
I would tell parents to create an environment that includes their loved one. Talk about them. Laugh about them. Complain about them. If the memory is all we have left, why lose that as well? Make it okay to have conversations. Even if it makes you cry. You will be surprised at all the wonderful memories you either didn’t know or had forgotten. They deserve to live on.”
I asked Heather to talk about what the family’s future looks like for them:
“I want so desperately to hope that we will find my son and bring him home. To pray that we can move on to the next stage in this journey.
I want to find purpose in this loss. I may never understand the reasons why but I hope that I can create a legacy for Ryan that feels like it honors him.
For our family, my wish is that we learn to thrive. That my beautiful girls have peace and happiness. My wish is that they follow their dreams and that Scott (husband) and I will support them.
I want my daughters to know that wherever they go and whatever they do, they can go forward with the knowledge that there will always be two people in this world that love them unconditionally.
The same that we told Ryan.”
The ask here is that we keep Ryan’s story alive. Keep sending his story and picture far and wide. Keep your ears and eyes open and never lose hope of finding Ryan.