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Katonya Breaux and Her Son Ryan
Mother Stories

Katonya Breaux On The Grief Of Losing A Son

Katonya Breaux and Her Son Ryan

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Katonya Breaux

The Los Angeles-based mother and entrepreneur describes her journey of grappling with the unsurmountable loss of her beloved son.

Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?

"Oh, yes. I come from a family of 11 and I always thought I’d have five or six kids of my own. I had eight brothers, so two boys seemed perfectly in line, but I really did always hope for a girl. I love my boys. We are, and were, the best of friends and I’m so grateful."

You have raised two incredible young men whom you seem to be so close to. Did you have a certain parenting philosophy or way of parenting that guided you when they were young?

"Thank you. The boys became incredible young men indeed. I didn’t have a certain philosophy. I only knew that I wanted to be the polar opposite of my mother. I had a very tumultuous childhood. I grew up in a verbally and physically abusive environment and the one thing I knew is that I would not have that kind of relationship with my kids; I would never curse them and humiliate them or make them feel bad
about themselves.”

"I was emancipated at 17 and had Christopher when I was 21. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted us to have a beautiful relationship. I knew that I wanted him to be able to talk to me and always feel comfortable in doing so. I continued that in my parenting of Ryan. And because of that, I’ve been blessed with the greatest gift for me, as a mother, to have both my boys call me their best friend."

“Losing Ryan was like nothing in the world I had ever experienced. It was worse than all losses combined. It was, and continues to be, the greatest challenge of my life.”

You lost your beautiful son Ryan in 2020, when he was only 18 years old. What was your experience with grief and loss up until that point?

"Yes, I lost my beautiful boy. He was just 18-years-old and in the car with his best friend Zeke, who was also like a son to me, and who had just turned 20-years-old. It was an incredibly sad day for so many of us, but it was far from my first experience with grief. I lost my brother in a car accident when he was 21 and I was 18. I lost my mom when I was 21 and Chris was just a baby. I lost my dad when I was 35 and several aunts and cousins."

"I had so much loss in my life but this one, losing Ryan, was completely different. It was like nothing in the world I had ever experienced. It was worse than all of those losses combined. It was, and continues to be, the greatest challenge of my life."

In those early days, months, and years after losing Ryan, what helped you get out of bed and keep going?

"In the early days after losing Ryan, I didn’t get out of bed. I was in shock and it took Christopher telling me, 'Mom I need you to get up. I need you to work on Ryan’s arrangements because everyone’s doing it and I know that’s not what you would want.' I got up, because, no, I didn’t want anyone to organize Ryan’s services. That was something that I had to do."

"Then, from a day-to-day perspective, I got up every day because Chris was still here. It was a very long time afterward that I did not want to be here. I wasn’t suicidal, but I didn’t want to be here and living was hard. I can’t explain it, but it was a bare existence. I pushed myself every day because of my Chris. He was the motivation for each breath I took."

"This might sound crazy to many, but the truth is that Ryan was also a big factor in how I survived this trauma. My experiences with Ryan were something I’d never imagined. I never thought it possible to experience his presence and his love in the ways that I had and continue to have. Those interactions were a constant reminder that I’d see him again, and that helped me keep going because I have that to look forward to."

How would you compare the woman you were in those early survival days to today—nearly 4 years later?

"Those early days are a blur and there’s little that I remember, honestly. I recall having a house full of white flowers because everyone was sending white flowers. They were in every corner of the room, and I walked into the kitchen and finally said, 'Get them out! I don’t want to see them, get them out.' They just reeked of death, and I just wanted to sleep, not remember."

"I don’t remember much in the early months except that I started a meditation practice about a month after the accident and I continue to this
day with the practice. I believe with all my heart that meditation opened me up to all the beautiful experiences and spiritual insights that helped me survive. I am completely different from the person I was before Ryan departed from this earth. I see life in different colors and I’ve become most comfortable outside in nature."

"I’m more comfortable seeing people as they truly are, and I understand that I am simply a spiritual being inhabiting a physical body. This understanding helps me in every aspect of my life and my Ryan is responsible for that. He lingered here in such a powerful way, and it helped me open to experiencing and knowing all the things we are capable of. Unfortunately, we all live in these boxes that prevent us from being open enough to realize who we truly are."

What have you learned about grief?

"What I’ve learned about grief is that you can navigate grief in one of two ways. It’s easy to become victims of our circumstances, stay sad and depressed, and lose out on the lives that we have ahead of us. It’s difficult to do the work of understanding our life as human beings, spiritual beings, and not avoiding the grief, but instead tackling it head-on and becoming vulnerable to the energy that’s always around us. There is protective energy surrounding each of us, helping us remember who we are and reminding us that our loved ones are still with us. I miss Ry more than anything and that’ll never subside, but grief has allowed me to understand and remember that Ry is still here. Our lost loved ones are still present and they’re still very much alive, but in a different way."

Do you feel like you are still "mothering" Ryan, even today?

"This is an interesting question because people often ask when we just meet, 'How many kids do you have?' I always say I have two boys; one with me in this physical world and one with me in spirit."

"I’ll always be Ryan’s mom. It’s changed a bit because as you know, quite often as you get older, your kids start parenting you; they’ll have to take care of you in many ways. I feel that Ryan is now taking care of me in many ways. Even though I'm his mom and always will be, and he will always be my baby, he supports me spiritually. He lifts my spirit and sends me reminders when I'm feeling my worst, as well as when I'm at my best. We chose this life together and I’d pick it repeatedly with him regardless of this pain."

In what ways do you move through the world differently after losing a child?

"I move through the world so differently now. The things that mattered to me before the accident have no role in my life, such as certain people and energies, I just don’t have room for it. When you lose a child, you can deal with so many more things than you ever imagined. One example is when someone cuts me off on the freeway, I smile and say a prayer for them because there’s no need to rush and stress. There’s just a need to live, to enjoy this life that we have, and to see all the beauty in it. I've become much more sensitive to the world, people, and the environment. I’m more aware of the things that matter and don’t. I believe this is attributed to my son’s physical form departing from this world."

“When you lose a child, you can deal with so many more things than you ever imagined. I’m more aware of the things that matter and don’t.”

What were things that people did for you—and hopefully continue to do for you—that help you move forward?

"With the passing of a loved one, as I’m sure many of us can attest to, people come around in the early days and then they fade away. Unfortunately, there's a societal timetable for how long grief should last, which is one of the worst things we can impose on someone. I've been guilty of this myself before experiencing my profound grief. During this time, the people I expected to be there for me essentially abandoned me, while others, including my best friend, showed up in ways I never imagined. She put her life on hold to support me, becoming a part of my life and helping me through the process, sharing so much with me. My oldest sister spent at least two nights a week at my home because I lived alone and it was so helpful to have her there with me. Ryan's friends continue to be a part of my life today and are like family. If they made a commitment to Ryan to take care of his mom, they held onto it and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve had incredible experiences with people who loved me and took care of me, and I’m forever grateful."

Can you tell us about the spiritual and wellness habits that continue to fuel you—as a mother, person, and businesswoman?

"I continue practicing daily meditation as it’s been a lifesaver. It has opened my mind, heart, and eyes to worlds beyond this one and I can’t start my day without it. I journal, especially when I’m feeling low or feeling particularly sad. I like to walk and keep active in that way, but I don’t particularly care to exercise like my oldest son's chagrin. I do believe in self-care and I get massages every other week. I’ve gone on many meditation and silent retreats. I started traveling more in the past three-and-a-half years and have been to many places that touch my heart and feel like home. I’ve spent more time in nature than ever before and have discovered that it is my happy place. These things feed my soul and life."

"For the first few years I couldn’t listen to music until I started listening to music without words. Now I’m able to listen to music that rings of positivity, so I listen to all genres of music as long as the energy is good, feeds my soul, and feels as if my vibration is lifting. I have changed in many ways; this is who I am now and I love this new Katonya."

"I’ve come to rely on many books that teach about meditation, spirituality, brain waves, the afterlife, and death. Everything that I didn’t grow up understanding as a Pentecostal Christian child, I now know that God is so much bigger and wondrous than any religion and any human
person, brain, or mind can even fathom. I’m excited to wake up every day and know that this, this, being, this creator, the source of everything exists and propels me on my journey."

What would you like other folks to know about mothers who have lost their children?

"If you encounter someone who lost a child, these are some things that were difficult for me. In those early days, I remember it was hard with everyone asking how I was doing even though I knew they meant well. It was hard hearing from those who were trying to relate by sharing their recent experience with losing a loved one because I felt there was no comparison to losing a young child, who didn’t have a chance at life. I found that I enjoyed it when people chose to just be there, listen, and let me be understood instead of comparing. That silence was comforting. Please just be supportive and present and remind the grieving that they are not alone."

In life—and business at Unsun—what are some things you are looking forward to right now?

"In life, I’m most looking forward to continuing to evolve into my best self and developing a greater connection with Ryan and the world beyond me. I’m looking forward to sharing the rest of my life with Christopher and his experiences in this world. I look forward to spending more time with my friends, family, nieces, and nephews and sharing life experiences and wisdom with them."

"I’m looking forward to Unsun doing everything that it’s meant to do in this world and being a part of that process."

Write a Comment

  1. Tony Breaux says...

    I’m right with you Pie
    I love you

  2. Yvette Hicks says...

    Thank you for sharing such a profound and inspiring piece. Your words have not only enriched my understanding but strengthened my love for life in a new way to conquer our journey with grief we all share.

  3. Daphne McClendon says...

    Thank you for sharing Katonya!

  4. Kim says...

    This is such a beautiful piece, your words have opened my eyes to a different side of grief, and to acknowledge that healing is not linear. Ryan will forever stay in our hearts.

  5. Kim says...

    This is such a beautiful piece, your words have opened my eyes to a different side of grief, and to acknowledge that healing is not linear. Thank you, Ryan will forever stay in our hearts.

  6. Porfirio Ollistac says...

    I want to say thank you for sharing your experiences with grief. It’s fascinating how the world changes after losing someone close to you and I’m eternally grateful for how your words were able to help me understand different perspectives of dealing with grief as well as to console others. Thank you.

  7. Mars says...

    Katonya— Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us. I just want you to know that these words had great impact on me and that I’m grateful for getting the chance to stumble upon and read this interview of yours with Katie. Sending so much love!

  8. Mj Aquino says...

    Thank you so much for sharing Katonya!

  9. Krystle Wilson says...

    You seldom see stories like this – thank you Katonya for sharing your story.

  10. linda icenhower says...

    thank you for sharing such an important article. katoyna speaks wisdom and guidance to a topic that is wrapped in so tightly in bubble wrap others often have no idea where to even begin to offer companionship.
    holding you, katoyna (and all the mothers) in my heart.

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