On June 5, 2017, our sweet Rylen who was only 13.5 months old, earned his angel wings after a week long battle with Bacterial Meningitis. We don’t know why God chose to have Rylen return to Heaven so soon, but what we have learned over time, is that God has this amazing PLAN that is still unfolding to this very day! You see, though his life was short, he continues to touch so many by making a HUGE impact on Earth.

Photograph courtesy of the Cowan family

How, you may ask? Well, after his passing, we were faced with what you might think was a difficult decision to donate his organs, but we felt blessed to have this opportunity, as we knew he would be able to give the “gift of life” to others. To date, we have met the heart recipient Gannon, who lives in Alabama, and is doing well. We have also had the pleasure to meet the left kidney recipient Brian Green, who lives in the Dallas area.  Meeting Rylen’s recipients has brought so much closure to our family. We pray to meet all recipients one day.

Photograph courtesy of the Cowan family

Rylen was known for his SMILE, which quickly earned him the nickname Smilin’ Rylen! Often, after his passing, Rylen would leave us with signs to remember him by. Specifically, the color ORANGE, because ORANGE makes you smile and it is a happy color! We look daily for ORANGE sunsets and sunrises, and we are always on the lookout for Orange “Rylen winks”, just to let us know he is looking down from above. Shortly after Rylen’s death, the Cowan Family established a Foundation in Rylen’s honor, naming it the Smilin’ Rylen Foundation. (Established August 11, 2017) Yup, just 2 months after Rylen’s death.

The Smilin’ Rylen Foundation holds an annual run in Rylen’s name each April in Katy, Texas, called the Smilin’ Rylen Run, to raise money to give back to multiple non-profit organizations that touched their heart: Life-Gift, Ronald McDonald House-Houston, Emma’s Hugs, and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Our hope is that in this yearly event, we can remember Smilin’ Rylen, honor him, and help raise awareness about organ donation all while helping families in crisis.

Photograph courtesy of the Cowen family

The foundation has raised $124,000 over the past 3 years!  And with any extra money we collect, we are always looking for ways to give back to the community. In 2019… that opportunity fell in our laps, as we were presented with the idea of a “Bereavement Cart” project for Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. Knowing that this was Rylen’s hospital, and knowing that Rylen was on floor 9 in the PICU, from May 27, 2017 – June 5, 2017, the Foundation was honored to jump on this opportunity, and said YES very quickly, knowing that it supported our mission to help families in crisis, and aid to their needs after an unimaginable loss.

“This is what we wanted for other families to have as they start their grief journey.” We knew what it was like to have all the support from our community, through small and large non-profits, to help us get through our toughest days. We wanted the Smilin’ Rylen Foundation to be able to provide that for others. Though the Bereavement Cart cannot replace a baby loss, we knew it could be a gesture of a token of love, to be used for families as it supported their grief journey. We wanted to make sure these families knew they were not alone, and that they were loved and their babies remembered.

On May 27th, 2020, the Smilin’ Rylen Foundation was able to gift a beautiful hand-made Bereavement Cart that is stored at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. The perinatal mobile bereavement cart had been created to give families the opportunity to memorialize their precious angel. The cart is easily mobile as it has wheels and can be moved from room to room as needed. Inside are stored supplies to provide physical and emotional support, such as a memory kit, journals, grief books for parents and children, as well as baby clothing and blankets.

Photograph courtesy of the Cowan family

The Smilin’ Rylen Bereavement cart is very special as it was designed with a special top that opens up, allowing for a dedicated photo space for families, hospital staff, and volunteer photographers from organizations like Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep to take photos on. When the top is pulled up, beautiful heavenly clouds are revealed. The front cabinet covers have a special touch that was added purposefully as a tribute to Rylen and his connection to the color orange that is seen in every sunrise and sunset but also symbolizes Hope, Peace, and Love. Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital at Texas Medical Center is grateful to now have two mobile Bereavement Carts.

Photograph courtesy of the Cowan family

We’re blessed with the opportunity that the Smilin’ Rylen Foundation has had in providing this “Bereavement Cart” for the hospital, and we are sending our deepest condolences and prayers for families who have lost. Our hope is that the cart provides a safe place of comfort for families as they start their grief journey. We feel blessed that Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep partners with the hospitals, and help families utilize this gift, as their volunteers capture moments that will never be forgotten, but forever held in their hearts.

Smilin’ Rylen Foundation
Travis, Kristen, Corbyn and Smilin’ Rylen Cowan

To learn more about Smilin’ Rylen and the Annual Smilin’ Rylen Run in Katy, TX, visit www.smilinrylenfoundation.org

Photograph courtesy of the Cowan family

Give the gift of remembrance to future bereaved families

Remembrance Portraits
Medical Affiliate Program