When Ralf was alive, I had a recurring dream for the longest time. I would dream that I couldn’t find him. That he would disappear and wouldn’t answer any of my calls or texts, and when I would reach out to friends or family to try to figure out where he was, they would look at me like I was crazy or didn’t know who I was talking about. I always woke up from those dreams so disturbed, wondering what my subconscious was working through. I remember I used to tell Ralf about the dreams and ask him what he thought they meant. In his typical joking way he would say something like, “Yeah, I know what it means. It means you’re crazy.” I can’t help but wonder now if those dreams were some kind of premonition of what was to come. I can think of several other instances that make me think I somehow knew, deep down inside, that I would lose him.
We were in the dining room of our old house folding laundry. I can’t recall exactly how we got into the conversation, but we were talking about how getting pregnant was scary because the thought of having a sick child was terrifying. We talked about what my parents had been through – having to bury two of their children- and how we couldn’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like. Then I remember saying something like, “You know, your parents have been so blessed. They raised five boys who were completely healthy.” I remember having this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach after those words left my mouth and thinking, “I hope I didn’t just jinx it by saying that” – and of course feeling silly for even thinking I could have that kind of power.
In the Fall of 2014, I was diagnosed with Mycosis Fungoides, a type of non-Hodgkin’s cutaneous lymphoma. When my dermatologist first gave me the news and told me she was referring me to an oncologist, we were totally freaking out. We had to wait for two weeks for that appointment at the University of Miami Comprehensive Cancer Center, where we were informed that what I had was in the early stages, very limited, and very unlikely to progress into anything more than the white scaly patches I had on my thigh. I remember feeling relieved, but not completely. The news that I was going to be okay, that we could proceed with our plan to start a family, didn’t bring me as much peace as it should have. I felt like there was still something not quite right. I even remember the word “foreshadowing” crossing my mind. Why on Earth would I even think that?
Another time we were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner. I was pregnant and we had recently found out that we were having a boy. I was telling Ralf that I had a really funny feeling the baby would be just like him, as I handed him the ice bucket to put in the cabinet above the refrigerator that I couldn’t reach. I said something clever like, “Yeah, God’s going to give me a little you to drive me crazy when you’re not around and to put dishes away for me when I can’t reach.” I vaguely remember we had a moment right after that where we made eye contact and both silently acknowledged the awkwardness of those words – “when you’re not around.” Of course, I meant when he was on shift at the station.
About three weeks before Ralf got sick, we got into an argument. He was at work and he asked me to organize some paperwork to prepare for our upcoming appointment to complete our tax return with our accountant. As I was gathering all the necessary documents, I came across a paystub, where I read that his father was listed as his primary beneficiary, his mother as secondary. At that point, we had been married for three years. I was so upset that he hadn’t yet changed it. I confronted him about it, and he said he had not changed it because it was “such a mission” and he had to make a trip down town, etc. I remember telling him what a pain in the neck it was for me to change my name after we got married – on my social security card, my credit cards, my student loans, my professional licensure and certification. I called him irresponsible and he was offended. I specifically remember him saying to me, “I’m sorry that you think my parents are so conniving that they wouldn’t give the money over to you if I were to die.” I told him he knew me better than that and that was obviously not what I was trying to say. I then told him I meant that if something were to happen to him, not having me listed as the beneficiary would make it that much more difficult for me to get the funds that I would need to provide for our children. He promised he would change it as soon as Mason was born. We made up, apologized to each other, and admitted we were both stressed and anxious. Unfortunately, I had no idea just how accurate my words would turn out to be.
My uncle and godfather, Tio Lui, died less than three weeks before Ralf. Ralf wasn’t working that day. I remember getting the call from my mother in the morning. I hung up the phone and just started sobbing. Ralf woke up when he heard me crying and pulled me in close to comfort me. I called my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be able to make it to work and we went to pick up breakfast for my parents. Then we headed to the apartment where my uncle had been living with my grandmother. Ralf helped to transfer my uncle’s body into the van that would transport him to the morgue. Afterwards, we went to spend the day at my parents’ house. I remember we were sitting at the kitchen counter, I was resting my head on his shoulder, and my mom was standing across from us. She was telling us about her experience visiting her estranged father just a couple weeks prior. She traveled to New Jersey to make peace with him before he died, but arrived just minutes after he passed. Ralf told her she did what she could and that she couldn’t beat herself up over it. My dad’s uncle was also very ill at the time. Someone commented, “They say it usually happens in three’s.” In that moment, I had that same uneasy feeling in my stomach. I thought, “Oh God, I hope it’s not me or Ralf.” We had no idea Ralf was even sick at that point – what would cause me to have a thought like that?
One of Ralf’s favorite movies was Ladder 49 with Joaquin Pheonix. As a matter of fact, we saw that movie together in theaters when we first started dating in high school, and I think that was the beginning of his fascination with a career in the fire service. I always had a hard time watching the ending of that movie – the part with the funeral. I didn’t know why it hit me so hard, but it did. Shortly after Ralf’s passing, I was cleaning out his truck and found the soundtrack for the movie among his CDs. In that moment, I remembered the funeral scene, and how much he liked the song that played. I decided to search for it on YouTube. When I watched it, I felt like I was watching footage of Ralf’s funeral. They were so similar. Of course, many tears resulted from that realization.
I’m not an extremely religious person, but I am very spiritual. I believe in signs. I believe some people have the ability to see that which others cannot. I guess I will never know for sure whether these examples are merely coincidences or something greater. I can say, though, that “knowing”, whether consciously or subconsciously, that I would lose Ralf could still have never prepared me for it.
Since Ralf’s death, I have a new recurring dream. I walk into the house and he is laying down on the couch and greets me just the same way he always did. As if nothing has happened, nothing has changed. I sit down next to him and explain everything – that he got sick, that he died – and he is completely shocked by all of it. I’m still trying to figure out what this dream means – maybe just my subconscious trying to make sense of it all.
I have other dreams, too. Some are negative, but the good ones – those are the ones I choose to hang on to. The other night I dreamed that I saw Ralf, I ran into his arms but then pulled away while holding his face between my hands to get a better look at him. I asked him, “Is this real, is this really you? Or am I just dreaming?” He smiled that Kodak smile and said, “It’s real. I’m here.”