Ronnie Was the JOY in Our Lives

by Rivka Guttman, SUDC Grandmother
Montreal, Canada

Ronnie Joy, our youngest grandchild at the time, brought so much joy, peace, and calm to my life. I had planned to retire in June of 2020 and was looking forward to playing with Ronnie and taking her to music classes. She had so much personality! She had an unusual love of animals, especially dogs and sheep, loved to sing songs and dance, play dress up, and carried her two bunny “luvies” everywhere. She especially loved imitating her big sister Lielle and watching her brother Ari play his video games.

My best memory of Ronnie is putting her to bed at night when I would babysit. We’d sit on the rocking chair in her room, and she would choose the books she wanted to read. Sometimes she would “read” them to me with her incredible memory. I’d hold her in my arms, and she would lay her head on my shoulder. I’d sing her a lullaby, put her into her crib and then watch her on the monitor rolling in her bed and talking or singing to herself. My last memory was of her standing front and center as our family lit Hanukkah candles, waiting to blow them out as if they were birthday candles.

Ronnie died suddenly, and with no explanation, on January 13, 2020, at the age of 2 years and 3 months while playing at home. My husband and I were on vacation when it happened, and the time it took for us to get back to Montreal to hug our daughter Dahlia and son-in-law Michael was the worst 24 hours of our lives. We were in shock, hollow, and empty.

Of all the scenarios I could have imagined in my life, losing a grandchild never came to mind, let alone a death of unknown cause. Even though we are a family of healthcare professionals, we had never heard of SUDC, and it was shocking to learn that the pediatric doctors in a major university children’s hospital were no more knowledgeable. It was a friend’s internet search that led us to the SUDC Foundation.

My only experience with grief up until this point was the loss of my father, of cancer at 79 years. I miss him but not in the same way I miss Ronnie. The pain remains raw even after almost two years. I had so much to learn, and I felt so helpless.

My initial contact with the SUDC Foundation was with Laura Gould. It was comforting to talk to someone who had been there, and I immediately felt a sense of calm, even though I understood that the journey would be difficult. She sent me information which I shared with my daughter who subsequently contacted the SUDC Foundation herself and is now an SUDC Foundation Ambassador.

From the beginning, my focus was my daughter and her two other children. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. My daughter could sit for hours scrolling through pictures of Ronnie on her phone or texting, while I sat next to her feeling lost. Not only had I lost my precious Ronnie, but I lost the daughter that I knew. As a parent, I could always help to make things better, whatever challenges my children would encounter, there was always a solution. I felt like a failure as a mother and that my daughter’s life, our family, would never be normal again. It was, and still is, a roller coaster of emotions.

I participated in one of the Foundation’s virtual Grandparent Support Hour events early on when I needed some guidance on how to best be there for my daughter. I appreciated the grandmother who joined five years after her loss; she gave me a perspective of what to expect and how I might navigate the ups and downs, especially future family gatherings. It was comforting to share and learn from someone who understood the loss of a grandchild, and the helplessness I felt. I also appreciate the SUDC Foundation Grandparent online community in the SUDC Foundation Network; the conversations are relatable, and I feel comfortable contributing when I think it might be helpful.

Through Foundation’s parent Facebook posts and SUDC resource articles, I gained an appreciation of how to navigate birthdays, holidays, and other events in a meaningful way, and how important it is to give meaning to Ronnie’s life. I support Dahlia in her charitable endeavors through Ronnie’s Joy Foundation and its mission to bring joy to sick children, support grieving families, and the SUDC Foundation.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Ronnie, what she would look like, what we would be doing together as she would have turned three and, recently, four years old. She now has a baby sister and I hope to talk to her about Ronnie when the time comes, and tell her all about her loving, silly sister.

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