Tara Bowne, a sales rep from Omaha, Nebraska, for HR company Paychex, was on an overnight trip for work in South Dakota when her husband called to tell her the couple’s 2.5-year-old son, Ryker, was going to the hospital in an ambulance. At the time, Tara didn’t know how severe the situation was, but she left her manager a voicemail saying she had to go home. She started packing up her hotel room when 20 minutes later, she received another call from her husband with devastating news: Ryker had passed away.
Tara was screaming and panicking when her manager called back and she had to break the news. Her manager immediately asked what he could do to help, even offering to fly her to Omaha. Tara declined and drove the three-hour trip back home instead.
The night before Ryker died, Tara FaceTimed her husband and their two sons, Ryker and Parker, who was 9 years old, to say good night. On August 8, 2018, Ryker died from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC).
Tara and her family were devastated and traumatized by Ryker’s passing. But one silver lining was Tara’s supportive work environment. “I knew I could rely on my company to just handle things,” Tara said. The entire Midwestern division of her company started a GoFundMe to cover Ryker’s funeral expenses, which raised $5,000 within 48 hours. Paychex corporate donated an additional $5,000, so the funeral was completely covered. “Coworkers who hadn’t even met me came to the funeral,” Tara said. “It was not pretty, but they were there on a Sunday afternoon.”
To prevent Tara from having to constantly rehash the details of her family’s tragic story in the immediate aftermath, the company kept HR looped in on her behalf. When she called her manager to tell him that two weeks after Ryker’s death, insurance claims were being denied because of a mistake on the hospital’s part, her employer made all the necessary phone calls for her to get the claims approved. Paychex also offered her and her family six free grief counseling sessions, and set up the initial consultation so that Tara didn’t have to spend time combing through a list of counselors that fit her specifications.
Tara started easing back into work 16 days after Ryker died, and was back full-time after a month, though she was told she could take all the time she needed. On the anniversary of Ryker's death, even though "it's not a thing to call in sad," her sales team took calls and covered meetings. Tara acknowledged how competitive the sales field can be, but says her coworkers “weren’t like that at all.” In the fiscal year following Ryker’s death, Tara distinguished herself as number one in her district, and was one of the top five rookie employees of the company.
To add to the “rollercoaster of emotions” Tara and her family were experiencing, eight weeks after Ryker died, Tara found out she was pregnant. She and her husband welcomed their daughter, Tinsley, in May 2019, one day after their son Parker’s 10th birthday. “I had never had a full paid maternity leave, before,” Tara said. At Paychex, she was able to take 12 weeks of fully paid leave. “All I did was focus on Tinsley,” Tara said. “It allowed bonding time without affecting my family financially.”
Now, over a year after Ryker’s passing, Tara is grateful for her company, and for the ability to continue telling her son’s story. As a representative constantly in touch with HR reps at other companies, Tara has had many bosses and HR departments call her to ask how they can best help employees undergoing a tragedy similar to hers. Tara also created Honoring Ryker cards. The back of the card features a smiling photo of Ryker, and a poem encouraging the card’s receiver to do a good deed.
This act of kindness is done with love To honor sweet Ryker in Heaven above. Do something good for someone in need, There is love and joy in every selfless deed. Pay it forward, do what you can, We miss him more than anyone can understand.
Tara likes to pass the card to people in line at Starbucks. Sometimes she’ll write a note, like in the photo above, which she left in a hotel room. Sometimes she’ll slip the card and a $5, $10, $20 bill underneath a can of formula, or on top of a pack of diapers, at Target or Walmart. Anything to honor Ryker, and to pay forward the kindness she received after he passed.
Before he passed, Tara went on five to six overnight trips a month for work. Now, she sticks to one or two. The way her company rallied around her in times of great loss (and happiness, like when her daughter Tinsley was born) and how she now uses her career to influence other companies to do the same shows a rare and surprisingly heartfelt side to corporate culture. We hope more companies are inspired to extend the same compassion to their employees in times of need.