I was 28 years old and 7 months pregnant with my first child when my entire world collapsed. It was a time that should have been joyous and filled with nesting and baby shower celebrations and a family photo shoot featuring my enormous belly. Instead, I had to bury my high school sweetheart and husband of barely 3 years. He was my same age when a brain tumor detected just 10 days earlier took his life. There were no symptoms leading up to his diagnosis, other than some occasional complaints of dizziness and fatigue, which we assumed were due to the sleep deprivation and countless hours he had spent studying for his upcoming lieutenant’s exam. He woke up with a headache and nausea on our last morning in our house together, and we both thought a simple trip to urgent care would fix whatever was going on. Ralf went from being a healthy, active fireman to brain dead and on life support in what felt like a flip of a switch.
I was so incredibly broken. Not only had I lost the person I’d been in love with since before my 18th birthday – my dreams for the future had vanished, too. I lost the man who was supposed to be my forever. It felt like my previously beautiful life just evaporated into thin air. Suddenly I was a “widow” and a “single mom” and was mentally preparing myself to spend the rest of my life defined by those terms. I hoped to find companionship again one day, but had also accepted that it might never happen – and if it did, it would never come close to the love that I’d lost. I told myself I could do it alone and that Mason would never need a father figure. My pain was too fresh at the time to realize that if I were lucky enough to find a man willing to embrace Mason as his own, it would be a blessing. I couldn’t see past the fog of my current reality.
At some point, someone suggested that I try joining a Facebook support group for widows and widowers. I did, but the group consisted of thousands of members nationwide, and I quickly found my feed being flooded with long-winded vent sessions. It was impossible to keep up with every post, and I would just ignore and scroll through most of them. One day, however, a short and straightforward question caught my attention – a man asking what other members had done with their wedding rings. This struck a chord with me, as I had been struggling with the same issue. I was unable to even wear my wedding rings while Ralf was sick since I was so bloated, and once Mason was born and the rings fit again, putting them on was just too painful. I decided to reach out to him.
In talking to Vinnie, I learned that he was young and had recently lost his wife, Erica, unexpectedly. What’s more – she had been pregnant with their only son, Anthony, and was just days away from her due date. We quickly connected as we discovered many similarities between our stories. Aside from the obvious, we also had a lot in common. We both enjoyed music, singing, and stand-up comedy. When Vinnie asked me how I would feel about him traveling from Buffalo to Miami to meet me, I was naturally scared at first, but a little voice inside my heart told me it was the right thing to do. Our visits became frequent, and what began as a friendship and mutual understanding developed into something more. We both realized we didn’t want to waste another precious moment. We knew all too well that life cares nothing for “correct” timing. Vinnie took an immense leap of faith and moved cross country to be with me and Mason.
I truly believe from the very bottom of my heart that Vinnie and I were led to each other. I have this beautiful vision in my mind of Ralf and Erica crossing paths in Heaven and planning our meeting, wanting us to find love and happiness in each other, not in their absence, but with both of their spirits guiding our footsteps along the way. I imagine Erica witnessing the bond that continues to grow between Mason and Vinnie, and she smiles with pride. When I see Vinnie holding Mason, I also see Ralf holding Anthony and offering him the fatherly love he can only give Mason from afar until the day they get to officially meet in Heaven – the same love that Vinnie so anxiously anticipated giving to Anthony.
Our individual stories are tragic, but the new story we are writing together is beautiful and full of hope and promise. I know that neither one of us could have ever imagined that we’d endure such tremendous loss. I also know, though, that we couldn’t have designed a more perfect fit than the one we’ve found in each other. We share a perspective on life and love that comes only after losing the person you love most. We are slower to anger, quicker to appreciate, and endlessly grateful for a new beginning. I will always love Ralf, just as Vinnie will always love Erica. Our new love will never cancel out the loves that preceded it. Love has not divided, it has and will continue to multiply – and we are blessed to be alive and willing to embrace it.