Today would have been my loving nephew Rylee’s 23rd birthday but tragically his path on this earth ended when he died in a car accident this past May. Below is the eulogy I gave at his funeral services. I thought I’d share it here, both to honor him on this day, and also for his loved ones – including his young son and maybe some future grandchildren – to find one day when they search his name. We love you Rylee, and we miss you so very much.
My sister Apryl gave birth to Rylee John Hetzner on August 29th, 1998. She called to tell me she was in labor and was all by herself. She’d even driven herself to the hospital, stopping in the middle of the road when she needed to breathe through a contraction, and then driving again to make it to the hospital to have her baby boy. I was living in LaCrosse at the time and she was living in Appleton – the other side of the state – so I hopped in my little Geo Metro and drove as fast as those 3 cylinders could go to try to make it to her in time to be there with her when Rylee was born – but I was a few minutes too late. By the time I got to the hospital Rylee had arrived.
Apryl had been SO STRONG. She had a natural childbirth with no epidural and no pain relief other than the male nurse she yelled at every time a contraction hit.
She was so strong.
And so was her son.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Rylee’s voice. He let out a little baby cry to let the world know he was here, and his voice was so deep. This beautiful deep-sounding voice coming from this little baby.
It caught everyone’s attention. We just marveled at him.
He was such a sweet and beautiful baby boy who grew into such a sweet and beautiful young man.
He was a loving and very much loved son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin, father, friend…and Honda Civic owner. He was so kind and thoughtful, and always ready to wrap you up in his tall body for a great big hug, or give a handsome smile.
His Facebook page has filled up over the past fews days with posts from so many friends and loved ones sharing beautiful memories, sweet words and fun photos celebrating Rylee’s life and how much we all loved him. It also shines a light on how much HE loved US. How much he truly cared for his friends and family members and the people in his life, and how much he *took care* of people. He had such a big, beautiful heart, and was a natural caretaker.
I believe in many ways he’s still taking care of us now, as we grieve his passing.
On Sunday – the day we learned of his death – my sister Apryl said she wished she could have some sort of sign to know he was okay. That he was in a better place, and at peace.
I was thinking about that as I drove home from her house – taking backroads from the Dells to southern Wisconsin – when for some reason I turned my head to look out my driver’s side window…and saw the biggest, brightest, most beautiful rainbow I’d ever seen in my life. It was absolutely astonishing. It was a full rainbow that covered an entire field and was fully bright end to end with all the colors. It was so vibrant and huge and beautiful, with a second lighter rainbow glowing over the top of it. I pulled my car over to photograph it so I could show my sister that Rylee was giving us that sign that he is okay. He IS in a better place. He is bright and happy and wrapping us up in love and light and colors. It was truly astonishing.
I sat alongside the road sending Rylee love, and thanking him for showing us this sign, and I watched that beautiful rainbow until it faded and was gone.
And then I continued on my drive home.
About ten miles later, I came around a corner and stretched out in front of me – directly over the road I was traveling – was a SECOND rainbow! It was another FULL rainbow, vibrant and bright and huge with all the colors shining end to end, with another full rainbow shining lightly over it. It was directly over the road I was driving down, like he was saying, “I don’t want you to miss this one, Aunt Dusty.” I pulled my car over, crying, but also filled with so much peace and joy, saying, “I see you, buddy. I see you.” I took some pictures of it, said a prayer of gratitude for showing me this sign I could share with my family, and then continued on my drive.
About ten miles after that, to my astonishment, I saw a third full rainbow. This one was still visible end to end, but it was much lighter, and nestled in with the clouds.
To see even one rainbow in a lifetime is remarkable. To see three full rainbows in less than an hour was truly extraordinary, and I believe with all my heart it was a gift and a sign from Rylee up above to his loved ones here on Earth. I said, “I see you, Rylee. You can rest now. I’ll let everyone know you’re okay. You’re at peace, and you’re shining your beautiful colors and your loving light down on us.”