So much has happened over the last month. I’ve adjusted into motherhood, which I must say is hard work! I’ve become an expert on baby reflux and milk protein allergies. I spoke at the Florida Professional Firefighter Convention (as part of the effort to raise awareness of cancer among firefighters and push for cancer presumptive legislation – I’ll share my speech here in a different post). I’ve pretty much gotten all of the finances under control, although I continue to fight with insurance companies. Mason and I survived Father’s Day – his first of a lifetime without his dad. I made it through our 11 year dating anniversary and the anniversary of the day we got engaged. I went on my first outing with my girlfriends. I made it through my first Fourth of July without Ralf – bittersweet since it was also my first with my beautiful little boy. I’ve lost most of my baby weight (just 15 more pounds to go!). I’ve cried my eyes out, a lot. Way more than anyone is aware of because I do it when I’m alone (mostly in the shower). I’ve also smiled and laughed until I could not breathe. I’ve reached out to old friends and made connections with new people. More than anything, throughout this grieving process, I’ve learned SO much.
The most obvious lesson I’ve learned is that tomorrow is not promised and life is completely unpredictable. I’ve always been guilty (as was Ralf) of being an over-planner and an over-thinker. Don’t get me wrong – it was that mindset that allowed us to build the amazing life we had together at such a young age. A lot of people would say that we did things the “right” way. We finished school and got our careers up and running before getting married. We were frugal and saved money while dating which allowed us to become homeowners of a beautiful house at the age of 24. We enjoyed just being married for a few years before becoming pregnant. But in the end – doing things the “right” way, and all the over-planning and over-thinking in the world could not have prepared us for what was to come. I still have to be a planner and a thinker to a certain degree because I have a boy that I want to raise into a good man. But I’ve found a new appreciation for “living for today” and “living for the moment”. I’m blessed to be able to say that I don’t have any guilt or regrets when it comes to my relationship with Ralf. I know how much he adored me, and I have no doubt that he was sure of my feelings and devotion to him. Sometimes I just wish that maybe we should have taken that trip to Fiji or Tahiti and worried about the finances later. We said we’d find a way to go by our tenth wedding anniversary and now that opportunity is forever gone.
I’ve learned gratitude. This experience has shown me that there are so many good people out there. The support, the gifts, the letters, the cards, the flowers. It really has been overwhelming. It’s testament to the type of man that Ralf was – that’s why so many people have wanted to help. But it’s also proof that while there is a lot of crap out there, there really is so much good in this world, too. I am also grateful because I’ve realized that the saying “No matter how bad you think you have it, someone always has it worse” is absolutely true. Despite everything that I’ve gone through, I still have SO much to be grateful for.
I’ve learned that everyone has an opinion, whether well-intentioned or not. An opinion about me choosing to live alone with my son rather than moving back in with my parents. An opinion about when I should or shouldn’t go back to work and where I should work. An opinion about whether Mason should sleep in my bed or in his bassinet or in his crib. An opinion about me deciding not to torture myself over breastfeeding. An opinion about when I should start dating again. And of course, when that special person comes into my life and makes me feel ready – some will be offended that I dated too soon, while others will be implying that I should be “over it” already. If I can give a piece of advice to anyone who will experience a loss of a spouse, it’s this: DO WHAT FEELS RIGHT FOR YOU. There is no right answer, no “appropriate” timeline, no handbook, no calculated recipe for grief. People who truly love you will be there and support you in any way that they can without passing judgment – even if they may disagree. No one knows what it is to walk in the shoes of a widow or widower unless they’ve been there. I’m not saying it’s any more or less significant than the loss of a parent, a child, or anyone else. But when you lose your spouse, you lose your partner in crime, the person you built your life around, the one you envisioned the rest of your future with. When they are gone, you feel completely lost and have to rebuild your whole life.
I’ve learned things about myself that I never knew or realized before. It really is true that you don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have. I’ve become more bold. I’m less worried about pleasing everyone and more concerned with taking care of myself and those closest to me. I speak my mind and stand up for myself when necessary. Motherhood has also given me courage I never imagined possible. I came across this quote on Instagram a few weeks ago, and it struck me so much that I reposted the picture:
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Interestingly enough, this quote recently made another appearance just a few days ago. It’ s like I’m being reminded. That’s another thing I’ve learned – there are signs everywhere! You just have to have an open heart and mind to receive them.
And with every new day, every new experience, I’ll continue learning. Living, loving, and learning. My heart is open.