'It Doesn't Get Easier, but I Get Stronger': How Family Traditions Helped One Mom After Child Loss

After her 3-year-old son, Ryan, passed away unexpectedly six years ago, Jacqui Saldana and her husband found solace in her lifestyle blog, family traditions, and a promise to live in the moment. Today, she says that things don't get easier, but she's gotten stronger.

About a decade ago, Jacqui Saldana and her husband, Dan, were living in a small apartment in Los Angeles with their six-month-old son, Ryan. As the first in her friend group to become a mom, Jacqui was seeking a sense of community. That's when she was inspired to start a lifestyle blog called Baby Boy Bakery.

"My husband and I were just dating at the time, so we hit the ground running with parenthood," she says. "And Baby Boy Bakery was all about sharing recipes—Ryan's baby food recipes. It just became a place where I shared everything. I had a little series on my blog called 'Mama Mishaps,' where I would share all these things that would essentially go wrong, but it would be hilarious after the fact, and so I was connecting with people over random little parenthood things."

It quickly evolved into what Jacqui calls a community of parents who are "out there doing our best," making the most of the items they have at home without too many frills.

Having the support of other parents online was helpful for Jacqui as a first-time mom. But in 2014, Ryan unexpectedly passed away, and Jacqui's focus for Baby Boy Bakery began to change.

Immeasurable Loss and a Decision to Inspire

"We lost Ryan three-and-a-half years after we started Baby Boy Bakery," says Jacqui. "I felt like my whole world had just crumbled and turned inside out. All I could do was just write out what I was feeling, and that’s what I did."

The Saldana family with Ryan
Courtesy of Jacqueline Saldana

She and Dan also made the decision to keep the site up in honor of their son, vowing "to continue on as best as we can." In that spirit, Jacqui strove to make the site an inspiration to anyone looking for ways to cope following a tragic loss or difficult time in their life.

Documenting everyday life on the site also proved therapeutic. "I didn't go into the kitchen for a really long time because that was like my place with my son, and so the first recipe that I did, I made cinnamon rolls," she says. "That was the first time I got back into the kitchen without him, and I wrote about it."

The Importance of Family Traditions and Celebrations

As the years have gone on, the Saldanas have welcomed two daughters: Mila, 4, and Maya, 3 months. And they believe in the importance of celebrating simple moments and traditions, like baking cinnamon rolls or having a family movie night, which also serve to honor Ryan.

"Traditions are huge for everyone in our family," says Jacqui. "They give us something to look forward to, and for my husband and myself, they’re a way for us to just tie in what we did with Ryan and have him be a part of our new normal."

The California mom attributes her urge to "do everything at home and celebrate everything" to her mom. "I can thank my mom for this, because she was huge on family traditions and like weekly traditions, celebrating everything that we could possibly celebrate, and we did not have that much money," she notes. "My mom was a mom of three, and she had three jobs. My mom made the most of everything, and she made everything at home. If we wanted fruit snacks, she made fruit snacks. If we wanted chips, she made chips."

And when Jacqui was growing up, her mom started a tradition called "Family Fridays," which involved making or buying a pizza and watching a movie together. "As soon as I had Ryan, even though he was so little, we did Family Friday," she says.

Now, the Saldanas do it with their daughters. "All of us will be sitting on the couch, and Ryan is around us," she says. "We’re watching a movie together, we’re making pizza together. It brings so many memories of Ryan with us."

Jacqui also grew up going to Disneyland every weekend with her dad, so she says she grew up wanting to do the same thing with her kids. "When I had Ryan, I was like, 'I can’t wait to take my kids to Disneyland,'" she notes. "And we went to Disneyland all the time."

The Saldana family now celebrates Ryan's birthday at the park annually, and they're offered greetings and hugs from park employees and strangers alike. "We’ve gotten people that will come and give us a red balloon, or just say 'hi' and give us a hug and share their own stories about how they found out about us or how we helped them," says Jacqui. "As a mom who has lost their child, my ultimate fear is to accidentally forget certain things or to have people to forget who he was. But people show up and are proving me wrong."

Living Loud and Wild

In addition to keeping up with family traditions, Jacqui and Dan have made a promise to "live loud and wild," just like Ryan.

"My son was loud and obnoxious and wild, and he would throw himself into everything," recalls Jacqui. "He would run, he loved hard. He would squeeze you hard when he hugged you, he was in your face. His favorite thing to do was make everyone around him laugh."

Jacqui says time doesn't heal. She elaborates, "I lost my child, so there’s never going to be a day where I don’t think about him or mourn him or grieve him. It doesn’t get easier as time goes on. What happens is that I end up getting stronger."

It's through that philosophy, Baby Boy Bakery, and family traditions that Jacqui is making the most of every single moment. She explains, "It’s something that our whole family has really taken to—just living in the moment and living as loud and wild as we possibly can in honor of our son."

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