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In Loving Memory


It’s been a rough couple of days for everyone.  This post has been simmering in my mind for the last 24 hours, and I still don’t know exactly what to say. Others have done an amazing job in writing about him and his life, but I think I will be talking about my personal experiences with him.

We all miss our friend Ryan terribly.

At a bon dance in 2010. Photo by Ricky Li

I didn’t know Ryan Suenaga nearly as well as I should, but I’ve known him just about as long as I’ve known my husband, and all my memories of him are good. The first time I saw him, it was at Glazer’s Coffee, a coffee shop near UH Manoa, where he was meeting up with our mutual friend Appi Yashiro. The time frame for this is fuzzy for me, but I seem to recollect they were discussing sustainability. By January 2010, Ed-the-future-husband and I attended Ryan’s birthday tweet-up at Satura Cakes, where I clearly remember his paper crown made by Appi.

Ryan at his 2010 birthday tweetup, wearing Appi's crown. Photo by Kyle Nishioka

He was also at the Anti-Valentine’s Day tweetup, and TwitPic’d this photo of Ed.

Once Ed deployed in February, I was antisocial on-and-off, but I’d see Ryan’s tweets go by as I sat on Twitter, and that’s how I got to know him.  By the end of March, I was engaged, and at the first tweet-up I went to post-engagement, Ryan asked me to bring the buttons I was making for Kawaii-Kon, and bought some from me. Later that year, I saw them pinned to one of his bags, and it made me smile.

Picking out buttons for Ryan to buy from me at the mochi tweetup. Photo by Marc Orbito

Ryan seemed to always be around, and I would come across him at all sorts of events. From photowalk hikes to Appi’s graduation, I was always happy to see Ryan there.

I'm standing next to Ryan, talking about long exposure with him at our moonlight photohike at Makapuu. Photo by Kyle Nishioka

Ryan with Appi at her graduation. Photo by me.

But I would personally experience Ryan’s extensive kindness and giving nature that summer, when he selflessly offered to assist in setting up the network for our July 7th wedding that would allow the event to be livestreamed so that our friends and family on the mainland could virtually attend.  He arrived hours before the ceremony was to begin just to make sure everything would be up and running.

Getting the network set up before the wedding. Photo by Ricky Li

Everyone at our wedding, but Ryan is right behind my family. Photo by Marina Miller

Half a year later, in January 2011, I found myself at his birthday tweet-up once again, this time at Yogurstory. I brought him two new buttons, one with his twitter handle “@rsuenaga”, and another one that said “#antisocial”, because he would always be tweeting about how #antisocial he was, though he was one of the most truly social people I’ve known.

Ryan blowing out his birthday candles. Photo by me.

Ryan with Masumi, being photographed by Ricky. Photo by me.

He also joined in on my casual photo-teach session in which we took engagement photos for our mutual friend Renee, and TwitPic’d some photos of me here, here, and here.

My final memory of Ryan was this past Thursday, when he came to my house along with Ricky and Michael for Marc‘s “geek tribute” photo shoot. We all had a great time posing for parodies of “The Graduate” poster, and the evening was full of laughs and “that’s what she said” jokes.  I am so very thankful that we had that last time to hang out together.  I remember talking with Ryan about how I’ve recently been doing a lot of reading related to World War II and the effect of the attack of Pearl Harbor on Japanese Americans. He pointed out that the time to talk to the people who had lived through that time was now, because so many of them were passing away.  I couldn’t have known that him leaving through our front door would be the last time I’d ever see him.

One of the last photos of Ryan and I together, parodying "The Graduate". Photo by Marc Orbito

It was Sunday evening when I came upstairs to my computer after a long day of barbecuing with friends. Ed and our friend Hana were turning on the Xbox for some Halo Reach downstairs, and I was setting up mine upstairs (I am spoiled and didn’t want to share a screen) when I noticed the cryptic memorial messages going by on TweetDeck and Facebook. Once we were all in a party chat, I said, “Guys, I think someone died, but I don’t know who.”

A little while later, I received a DM saying it was Ryan, who had fallen during the #twike, or Twitter-hike, at Olomana. I was in the middle of a game, so I rattled off a couple of quick responses while quietly mumbling over our party chat, “Ryan Suenaga died.”  Ed replied, “Wait, what? Are you sure?” and our other friends offered condolences, but beyond me occasionally muttering “This is so sad…”, we put our reactions on hold and played a few more games. I went from playing terribly to leading my teams in scores.  It wasn’t until later, after Hana was dropped off at his ship at Pearl Harbor, that I let the tears come.  Ryan had just been here with us, and now he was gone.  I couldn’t bring myself to say anything online, so I took a melatonin and went to sleep.

The next morning, Ed went off to work while I went to Kaimuki to drop off lenses I’d rented for the weekend. I walked into Hawaii Photo Rental just after my friend Nat had unlocked the door. We exchanged good mornings, and I was asked how I was doing.

“Our friend died yesterday.”

Back in my car, I started crying again. I scrolled through tweets on my phone, and saw that people were talking about buying Jams in memory of Ryan’s passion for brightly-colored shorts. There, that was something I could focus on. I drove to Waikiki, and after parking walked to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center as the grey skies lightly drizzled down on me. I sat in front of Jams World for twenty minutes while waiting for them to open, sniffling a little as I kept refreshing Twitter, reading all the tribute tweets. My first tweet about everything was a Foursquare check-in to the store.

Once inside, I felt cheered by the bright colors, but at the same time, I was trying not to cry. I IM’d with Ricky for a bit on my phone before he went off to do his heartbreaking interviews about Ryan’s passing. Eventually, the store manager approached me, and I explained I was looking for shorts for my husband and I in memory of our friend who had passed away, and she said that she’s had customers do that before, before helping me out with sizes and such.  A couple more errands later, including a trip to American Apparel for colorful headbands, another of Ryan’s signature looks, and I headed home in time for lunch with Ed.

Koda posing with the colorful Jams I bought for Ed and I.

In our kitchen, where we had been sharing pizza with Ryan and our other friends just a few days prior, I looked over to see tears starting to stream down Ed’s face. I went over and hugged him, and we started crying together.  Ed said something about wondering if Ryan knew how much he meant to everyone. I said he must have known. He is important. He is loved.

Ryan has constantly been in my thoughts since we lost him.  Googling “rsuenaga” last night on my phone because I couldn’t sleep, I found his Formspring page, and the second-to-last question he’d been asked by Marc almost a year ago was particularly poignant:

I always thought about going out a hero or going down in a “blaze of glory” but if you could choose the way you die, what would you choose and why?

Same way I lived.

And that he did.

I also started reading about Shin Buddhism, since Ryan was an avid practitioner. I minored in world religions in college, so I love learning about them. The Wikipedia page about Shin Buddhism (Jōdo Shinshū), offered the following quote:

Once the practicer’s mind is united with Amida and Buddha nature gifted to the practicer through shinjin, the practicer attains the state of non-retrogression, whereupon after his death it is claimed he will achieve instantaneous and effortless enlightenment. He will then return to the world as a Bodhisattva, that he may work towards the salvation of all beings.

I can see that for Ryan. He was such a selfless soul, such a good man among us, that the world will be lucky if he has already returned to us to spread his compassion.

I’ll end this post with a song I always found to be beautiful, but never hoped to dedicate to someone.  I think it’s fitting for how Ryan was a part of all his friends’ lives, and how we are all better for our time with him.

We will always love and miss you, Ryan. You will always be a part of our family’s history, and we will never forget you.

Please read Ryan Ozawa‘s blog post for a collection of everyone’s thoughts and postings about Ryan.

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