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It has been about three plus years since I’ve stopped pouring drinks at Underground, Chicago’s hottest nightclub, and working for Billy Dec.  Although I met some high profile and interesting people while bartending, I have to say I have met some profound people in my new career of teaching, since I put the bottles down.  Thanks to Billy’s charitable acts and continued connection, through this blog I hope to reach even just a few people to share a woman’s remarkable story about love and loss and how she has been able to turn her grief into heroism.

Earlier this summer I sat down with Lori Briere, who gave me the honor of hearing her journey through the tragic loss of her son’s life and her recovery process.  Lori lost her son just three weeks shy of his third birthday due to a choking accident.  Her beautiful son Ryan choked on a hotdog at one of Chicago’s most popular restaurants, and when I sat down with her over drinks (this time at Starbucks) here is what she had to say:



Jessy (Left) & Lori (Right)

J:  What do you hope to achieve through the Ryan Briere Foundation?

L:  Our biggest goal is keeping Ryan’s name out there and continuing the work that we feel Ryan was meant to do while he was here with us.  We do not believe that it was Ryan’s time to go and what happened was truly an accident and not meant to happen.  We believe our job is to complete his mission based on the type of child he was.  Ryan was a very loving, giving, happy, and caring child.  We feel as though our job is to complete what his was – and that is to make other people smile – to make other people feel good about certain things. This is why we started the foundation and we raise money for various children’s charities and educational opportunities for teachers of young children.  Ultimately, the mission is making other people smile in Ryan’s name.

J:  Tell me more about the event…

L:  The event takes place every year in September.  This year will be the third year.  It includes various children’s activities such as kiddie sprints, a bounce house, Kid Snips comes out and styles hair, Robie’s smoothies, the Fire Department, a DJ, and various children’s games.  Each year we select a not for profit cause to raise money  in Ryan’s name.  The first year we raised money for the Goddard School where Ryan attended and the money got earmarked for the teachers to continue their education when they go back to school for early childhood.  


J:  That’s amazing!

L:  Last year was a school called A Child’s Voice in Wooddale.  Ryan had tubes put in his ears at a very early age so many sounds were distorted for him.  We also had friends with hearing loss.  This school does not use any sign language at all.  They all welcomed us with their voices.  I was in tears when I walked in.  Each child was outfitted with a hearing aid and or cochlear implant.  The money we raised last year went directly to their audiology department for loaner hearing aides and batteries. 

J:  And this year…

L:  We have a multi-year commitment with Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.  They are building a new building and I’m excited about it because it is for their pediatric wing.  Everybody knows it is no fun being a kid in a hospital.  When you’re a kid in a hospital whether it be a day or month…

J:  You want to escape…

L:  You need that escape.  You need to go some place if you’re capable of it – to move rooms and feel refreshed and feel like you’re not in a medicinal looking room.  We reached out and the timing was perfect; they said they were building a new hospital.  So it was almost meant to be that we found each other.  It’s a five-year commitment still in the planning stages and our goal is $50,000.  With this money we want to build a room that will include music and art therapy, and I envision gorgeous murals on the walls.  We want a calming place for these kids to go to have an escape because it’s awful to be a child in the hospital.  We wanted to work with this hospital in particular because it was also where Ryan was born, so there’s a little bit of a connection that goes along with it.  

J:  Yes, very special.  Can you tell me your favorite memory of Ryan?

L:  Oh gosh!  My favorite memory of Ryan is not one in particular, but it’s a thing he would do.  He was definitely a hugger and a kisser.  The thing was he didn’t just come up to you and put his arms around you and tap you.  He gave those running bear hugs that you would have to be ready for because he would jump up on you and wraps his arms and legs around you and just squeeze.  That’s probably one of my favorite things I will probably always remember and miss about him.



J:  Do you feel any guilt? And how have you coped with it?

L:  Every day I do.  Lots of therapy and I met a fantastic group of women from a support group for grieving parents called The Willow House.  I don’t think I could have survived without them.  These women are a godsend to me.  We started going there a few months after Ryan passed away and we actually went to the fire department that was involved a week after Ryan passed to come in and meet the team that was on that night and tried to help Ryan and consoled me.  There were a couple firefighters that were definitely taking care of me that night at the hospital and consoling me and I didn’t remember their faces.  I didn’t know their names (gets tearful), I felt that they were important enough for me to say thank you and me to know their names in case I ever see them out so I can say I know who you are.  I remember you.  



J:  Thank you so much for being so brave Lori and opening up to me and sharing your story.  I look forward to volunteering at the event again this year!



Lori’s “Ryan” wrist.  I gifted her with a ‘Moments’ bracelet from my jewelry line before we even started the interview.  It turned out to be the perfect word.

Jessy Santini

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