From Grieving to Grateful

After losing five-year-old Ryan in 1993 to viral encephalitis, Tina Zarlenga discovered that giving back would actually save her.  It started with something simple: volunteering to print mailing labels for the monthly Compassionate Friends newsletter. It was the beginning of her move from grieving to grateful.

Eventually, after recalling the kindness of a stranger to her son on his fifth birthday, Tina found a new sense of purpose. She organized a Christmas toy drive for Cleveland Metro Hospital, where Ryan had passed. Hundreds of new toys were collected by Tina, her family, and friends, which they delivered to the hospitalized children on what would have been Ryan’s sixteenth birthday. For the first time in years, Tina was beaming.

Telling her Story

She tells about it in the book Loss, Survive, Thrive: Bereaved Parents Share Their Stories of Healing and Hope by Meryl Hershey Beck (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019):

I’ve been an introvert all my life. So at first I was only comfortable doing these acts of kindness anonymously. I felt like a fairy godmother who sprinkles confetti and vanishes before it can hit the ground.

Giving Provides Hope

But as my practice of paying it forward has flourished, I’ve decided to share this powerful lesson. When I give openly in Ryan’s honor, others find ways of doing the same—and always on my sweet son’s birthday.

Thankfully, in the twenty-five years since we lost Ryan, giving still offers us hope. Each random act of kindness intercedes in a magical way.

Today, we celebrate Our Pay It Forwards throughout the year, as well as on Ryan’s birthday. What began as an effort to save myself now enriches my life beyond measure.

With his spirit of pure love and kindness, our precious Ryan lives on.

Tina Zarlenga
Medina, OH
Freelance Writer
Founder, Pay It Forward for Ryan

The above was excerpted from Loss, Survive, Thrive: Bereaved Parents Share Their Stories of Healing and Hope eBook

To read another excerpt from the book, see

Meryl Beck

Meryl Hershey Beck, MA, M.Ed., spent her early professional life as a high school and community college teacher. In 1990 she became a licensed counselor specializing in 12-Step Recovery and eating disorders and soon designed and implemented a successful outpatient Food Abuse Treatment week. After she discovered energy techniques, Meryl began writing about and teaching energy modalities to mental health practitioners nationwide beginning in 1998. An authority in this field, she has presented at workshops and conferences internationally. Her first book, STOP EATING YOUR HEART OUT: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating, tells her story and presents many tools to skyrocket personal growth and alleviate emotional eating. As a professional counselor, Meryl spent decades helping others integrate loss. But it wasn’t until her 35-year-old son ended his life in 2011 that she fully understood deep grief. Meryl is the creator and developer of SourceTapping®, a meridian therapy technique that is like needle-less acupuncture, which helps to ease both physical and emotional pain. She uses this tool for herself, with bereaved clients, and now includes it in all her workshops. Although Meryl endured the hell of excruciating grief, she chose to face it rather than stuff it. And, she also made a conscious decision to recover and to honor her son’s memory by living as full and rich a life as possible. She has been called a way-shower, or role model, demonstrating that a joyful life after significant loss is possible. Meryl collected stories from 26 other bereaved parents who are not just surviving but thriving, to give others hope that their lives don’t have to end because of the tragedy they suffered. These stories (plus resources for the bereaved0 became the book LOSS, SURVIVE, THRIVE: Bereaved Parents Share Their Stories of Healing and Hope. Her blogs and event information can be found at,, and

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