APiD Ep. 033 Ryan's Story
A Tale of Courage and New Life in the Midst of Tragedy and Grief
When tragedy strikes and grief consumes you, how do you find your way forward again?
Ryan Bramwell is my neighbor. He piqued my curiosity soon after moving in a few doors down--the way your curiosity can be piqued after a few comments here and there in the midst of a casual conversation in the driveway begin to suggest that there's much more to the story than first meets the eye. That curiosity led to a conversation on my porch, which gave me a bit more insight into Ryan's story and ultimately landed him in one of my Graveyard Groups.
For almost a year now, along with the other guys in Ryan's group, I've had a front row seat perspective on Ryan's journey--a tale of courage and new life in the midst of tragedy and grief.
The events of the past three years, especially, have led Ryan to redefine and double-down on what matters most.
And true to form here on Andrew Petty is Dying, encounters with Mortality have a leading role in the story.
Your Front Row Seat
This episode gives you a front row seat perspective, too, as Ryan unpacks his story with vulnerability, humility, and courage--qualities that have been refined in Ryan through his suffering. Even as Ryan unpacks his story with us, he's also still very much in the middle of living the chapter of his story that he's describing. Some of it is in the rearview mirror, but a whole lot of it is still right here and now.
Meet Ryan Bramwell
Since 2007, Ryan and his team of designers, animators, editors and producers at Spillt--a progressive, industry-leading brand development, design, and animation agency in Denver--have been creating amazing stuff that you and I see everyday on network TV and in advertisements, movies, and streaming services.
Spillt's clients include ESPN, CNN, Netflix, HBO, and National Geographic, to name a few.
Ryan is a creator, entrepreneur, and adventurer in mind, body, and soul. He's also unassuming and modest about his accomplishments, which helps me understand why it's taken so long to really appreciate just how big a deal he is in his industry.
First and foremost, though, Ryan is a husband and father.
You know me...I think regular, voluntary exposure to the reality of our Mortality is life-affirming, not depressing. It can motivate us to live NOW, to love BETTER, to get unstuck more quickly, become the people we were made to be and live the lives we were made to live.
Even so, fair warning: This episode touches on some of the most difficult topics in the human experience, including suicide and mental health challenges. I hope that won't discourage any of you from tuning in to the whole episode because Ryan's story is ultimately a triumphant one that I believe will encourage you. But I do want you to know what you're getting into.
Alright, without further ado, let's jump into Ryan's story.
Ecstasy One Minute...Tragedy the Next
After a little more than a decade of running his business, Ryan was beginning to feel pretty burned out and also wanted to test how well Spillt would run in his absence. So he, his wife and son, and his dad headed out to a tropical destination for some R&R. Gradually, Ryan began to truly relax and regain some objectivity about his life and work.
Then in the middle of the night, his dad--who had gone back home early--called with the news that Ryan’s brother, Taylor, had killed himself.
Horrifically, Ryan’s dad had found Taylor dead in the entryway to the home that they shared. Here’s Ryan in his own words:
“...I started to get a break on the beach--a release of stress or pressure or whatever you want to call it. And...started to get in a place where I can really objectively look at everything. And I got the unexpected call and news which flipped everything--I'd like to say 180, but it's kind of like 180 and digging a giant hole.
Waking up in the middle of the night to my father's phone call, I just broke down. I'm not a big crier, but I don't think I've ever cried for that long.
I didn't sleep, and it immediately thrust this calm, fun, open energy with our family just purely spending time together to shock, grief, needing to pack our bags, somehow find a flight back to Denver so I can somehow support my parents.”
A New Chapter Begins
And so Ryan and his family began a new, unexpected, and unwelcome chapter of their Story--with Grief in the leading role. Ryan’s long-term alcohol use began to spiral out of control, with long solo drinking sessions in his basement becoming a common occurrence. But one day, Ryan realized that he was slowly killing himself and would leave his family prematurely if he kept it up. So he enrolled in an outpatient treatment program and began the painstaking process of sobering up and evolving his relationship with alcohol.
More Relationships Evolve
As Ryan wrestled himself free from the destructive clutches of alcohol, he began to rediscover himself--to find the real Ryan Bramwell beneath the accumulated years of using alcohol to cope with life’s discomfort.
Not everything that he found was pleasant.
He discovered, for example, that he didn’t know how to sleep without alcohol’s influence, and had to rebuild that basic life skill from the ground up. Nor did he know how to understand, express, or manage his emotions very well. The hardest work of his life was now underway as he overhauled his relationships with some of life’s most fundamental elements without the crippling influence of alcohol.
And Grief? Well, Ryan found that the more he resisted it, the stronger its grip became. So he gradually learned not to seek permanent freedom from the Grief that threatened to overwhelm him but to embrace it instead.
Here’s Ryan in his own words:
I learned the lesson through this that the only way to deal with the things I want in life--whether it be bad grief or something I want to attain to in life--is through it.
Fighting something as large as grief is, in my opinion, a bottomless amount of energy that I don't know how you I could get myself out of the hole by just purely fighting it. I think I had to more accept it. I think I'm still learning today how it manifests and my relationship with it. And again, it's just that path, it's one step at a time. And that path for me and my family has led to what we want in life, what we truly want, how we want to live, and eventually got us up to Steamboat.”
Then, just a year after Taylor committed suicide, Ryan’s father-in-law died of health-related causes. In the midst of his grief over his brother’s loss, Ryan was now grieving his father-in-law’s death and caring for his wife in her grief.
Death Brings Dreams to Life
In the midst of their Grief, Ryan and his wife began to double-down on what mattered most to them--especially the things that they believed would provide an awesome childhood for their young son.
With Mortality as their motivator, Ryan and his family moved to Steamboat Springs to make their dream of mountain living a reality.
Here’s Ryan in his own words:
“...those things that fill us up from a personal level began to draw us...there's something inherently that just starts as a whisper of--I don't want to say more, but something different that fulfills us...It made us evaluate the kind of life that we wanted our son to have, and what fills us up. For us, we moved up here full-time, and my company is still in Denver, and I commute every other week, and to do that small commute, that perspective change--which is really all it was to support this life--was a small thing.”
The Story Ain’t Over
Ryan is still very much in the middle of writing this chapter of his Story. The Grief comes and goes. The quality of his presence with others waxes and wanes. His emotional intelligence ebbs and flows.
But he’s on a new path now, taking each day as it comes, one day at a time, one step at a time.
Some Takeaways from Ryan’s Story
Take time away from the grind to prevent burnout, gain objectivity, and enjoy the ones you love.
Cultivate a relationship with Grief instead of trying to kick it out of your heart and mind. When it shows up, it will remain a part of you for life, but cultivating a relationship with it allows its place in your story to evolve over time.
Practice truly being present with whomever you find yourself with--especially your family and friends. Let curiosity and understanding be your guides in those moments. As Ryan learned, It can all change from a dream to a nightmare in the blink of an eye.
Pursue what fulfills you and prioritize what matters most with single-minded focus--NOW, before crisis blasts you out of your complacency.
And more...Tune in for all of the nuggets of practical wisdom for living well that this episode has to offer.
Making It Personal, and Making It Matter
What's sticking with YOU from Ryan's story today?
Are you pushing yourself too hard at work, approaching burnout, and neglecting what really matters most in your life? Resolve right now to be the boss of yourself, take a page out of Ryan's playbook, and step off of the hamster wheel for a while. Take a break, get some perspective, and get more familiar with what it is that drives you so hard that you'd reach this point in the first place so you can take steps to reduce its influence in the future.
Have you lost a loved one to suicide, considered it yourself, or know of someone who you think may be at risk? Take just that one step today that Ryan encouraged you to consider. Get help, offer help, break the power of the status quo in your life and begin to create a new way forward one step at a time. It's NOT easy. But it IS possible. And you CAN do it.
Whatever's sticking with you from this episode...resolve to do just one thing with it today. As you add Action to your Insight, you move toward genuine Transformation.
I Can Help
Go Here to learn about Graveyard Group masterminds--where we make time each week to invest in your life's most important work.
I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to “follow” this show (apparently, that’s the new term that’s replaced “subscribe”), and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.
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Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!