Like all of us, Rylie was unique. She had her own way of doing certain things and her own approach to making herself known. While I’d say that she was more about bringing others up, than being in the spotlight, one of the things I loved most about Rylie is the subtle little ways she would show up.
In a way, she kind of reminds me of the little leprechauns that she and Tanner used to trap. You know the little leprechauns that show up mysteriously on St. Patrick’s Day leaving green footprints on the floor, or green ‘poop’ in the toilets? One could never really catch those sneaky little leprechauns, but they would leave their mark behind in some little leprechaun sized way.
Rylie was a lot like that. It was not uncommon to find that she’d written her name on something random, or drawn on a container. Like the leprechauns, she was never caught in the act, but there were always little reminders that she’d been there and left her mark.
Sometimes her marks were intentional like when I noticed an “R” scratched on the handle of her side of the car and a “T” on Tanner’s handle… Or the lipstick imprint that is on the wall in her room. That was her way.
Other times, the marks were just an afterthought, a result of her being in a room, making a concoction, or trying a pinterest project. Kind of like the mystery item that’s melted on the carpet in her room. I’m still not sure if it’s crayon, candle or some sort of creation she made from a variety of substances.
One of my favorite Rylie “stamps” is Harry. I’m not sure when Harry happened, but at some point Rylie sketched a little face on the top of the large container of salt in our spice cabinet. Perhaps it was while she was baking a treat for us, or preparing a surprise meal. Perhaps it happened while she was leaning on the island talking to one of us as we prepared dinner. I really don’t remember.
Likely, I found it annoying at the time. I can almost hear myself saying something snarky like, “Really Rylie, you couldn’t doodle on a piece of paper?” or “Come on… I need to add salt to this recipe and now I have to wait for you to finish your doodle!”
It surely wouldn’t have been one of my finest parenting moments, but it’s also very much a reality. I’d say I probably have more parenting moments like that where something less than supportive, kind, or understanding bursts out of my mouth than moments where I’m championing my child(ren) or encouraging them.
Needless to say sometime in the last year and half, when the salt ran out, I was paralyzed. I know it’s just a 59 cent container of salt, but I couldn’t throw Harry away. Not after Rylie died and I knew that no more Harrys would magically appear.
So I kept it and bought another container. Then I had to do this weird shuffling routine, putting Harry in the cabinet along with his nameless and faceless counterpart. At one point, I told myself I should throw Harry away. I mean, really, it makes zero sense to take up space in an already crowded spice cabinet for an empty salt container, and it’s not like I could proudly display Harry in our cabinet of artwork either. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Then a brilliant friend suggested that I simply pour the new salt into Harry.
So I’ve done that - a few times over. I have kept Harry around as a reminder - especially in those weird bewitching moments around dinner time. You know those times, when the worst version of yourself comes out? For me, I’m even quicker to judge, quicker to yell, and just generally feel frazzled.
Now when I reach for the salt, I see silly Harry staring back and me and I’m reminded that Rylie was there.
She stood in that kitchen with me countless times.
She made a giant mess of that kitchen countless times.
I was irritable with her for interrupting when I was measuring or reading a recipe, more times than I care to remember.
I was annoyed that I had to come in behind her and clean up after she’d made a giant mess, more times than I care to remember.
I was quick to forget that the giant mess came from a delicious meal that she’d created out of love, more times than I care to remember.
I use Harry as a visual cue to remember that the ones we love may not always be around, in more ways than one. I try to use Harry as a reminder to pause and find perspective.
Yes, it was annoying to be interrupted in the middle of a recipe and lose my place. But, that meant that Rylie was there. It meant that she might have been telling me a story, or asking for help. If I’m honest, it also more likely meant I’d called her down to lecture her on her grades, the condition of her room, or something equally silly. Oh, but what I would give to have that interruption. To have her pick on me because I follow a recipe to a T, while she would just add a little of this and a little of that and somehow have it turn out.
Yes, it was frustrating to have worked all day and have to come home and clean up after someone who was more than capable of cleaning up after herself. But that meant that I didn’t have to cook and clean. It meant that Rylie was loving us using one of her beautiful gifts. Oh, what I would give to have to clean up the kitchen after a Rylie meal.
Aside from Harry reminding me to treasure moments, even the frustrating ones, I use him as a reminder to pause and adjust my attitude. Why is it that I find it so easy to hurt the ones that I love the most? I know there were lots of times where that bewitching hour was a result of personal frustrations, disappointments or challenges, yet I’d lash out at the kids or Ziggy. So I try to look at Harry’s goofy face and remember that love is the language we are meant to speak.
Rylie spoke love more openly than I ever did. Harry is her way of reminding me to speak love to others, and myself. It’s her stamp. Her reminder that she’s still with me - still teasing me about my cooking skills or lack thereof. Still encouraging me to learn and grow with each passing day.
Meghann and Ziggy Guentensberger are Rylie's parents. During their time in the hospital with Rylie and after her death, they began writing about their experiences. What started as a way to keep people informed of Rylie's condition, turned into a way for them to process all that was happening. After she died on May 26, 2017 they both continued to write as a way to process and heal themselves and occasionally inspire others. These writings are housed on the Rylie's ARK Facebook page.