Change Your Perspective, Choose Joy

Earlier this week, I had to listen to my “Mommy Instincts” and make the last minute decision to pack up the car and drive Mason down to Miami to spend the next couple of weeks there. Things went sour at his daycare and summer camp at his new school won’t begin until June 12th. I knew it would be extremely hard to be away from him for so long, but his well-being is more important. I could have selflishly kept him at the daycare for another week so as to have him close to me, but chose to put his best interest ahead of my feelings, as any good mother would. I also chose to change my perspective on the situation and focus on how much fun Mason would have spending time with his grandparents, rather than concentrating on the time he would be away from me. 

Perspective really is one of the most, if not THE most, powerful forces. We always have the ability to change our viewpoint, in any situation. It’s not always easy, but it IS always possible. 

My late husband died tragically, during what could have and should have been the prime of his life. He never got to meet his only son, his flesh and blood. He wasn’t able to persue all the dreams he had for his future and fullfill the massive potential we all knew he had. There’s no way around it – it sucks and is completely unfair. Regardless of whether or not I believe there is a grander plan in place, an underlying reason that will one day make perfect sense, it doesn’t change that simple fact. It still sucks.

Here’s where perspective and gratitude come in, though.

I can’t travel back in time and somehow magically make Ralf’s brain tumor disappear. I can’t change the course of events leading up to his hemorrhage, which ultimately cost him his life. I can’t bring him back from the dead. I can, however, find reasons to be grateful for the way things played out instead of exhausting all my energy thinking of all the things that should have gone differently, when it won’t make any difference. 

Maybe if Ralf hadn’t become a firefighter, he wouldn’t have been exposed to whatever toxins caused his brain cancer.

Maybe if Ralf hadn’t had that spinal tap, his tumor wouldn’t have bled out and crushed his brain stem.

Maybe if the biopsy could have been performed as planned, and he could have undergone chemotherapy and radiation, Ralf could have been kept alive for a few months to meet Mason.

Maybe. 

But would this have necessarily been better?

I’ve done my research. The type of tumor Ralf had almost always comes back stronger and even more aggressive than before. He could have possibly had another 6 to 18 months to live if the tumor hadn’t exploded. But he would have very likely been unable to hear, to see, to speak, much less walk or continue his career as a firefighter. He would have been trapped inside his own body, very possibly with his cognition still intact, fully aware and tortured by the fact that his wife, his son, his family and closest friends are struggling to take care of him, watching him deteriorate.

In my humble opinion, the alternative would have been much, much worse.

True love is unselfish. It seeks what is in the best interest of the other person, whatever that may entail. It is not always an easy task to put one’s own feelings aside, but when that feat is accomplished, it allows one to reach a new level of empathy and gratitude that would otherwise be drowned by anger and resentment.

For as long as I can remember, Ralf always told me his greatest fear in life was to end up paralyzed or wheelchair bound. Had it not been for that brain bleed, that is exactly what would have happened. I know I speak not only for myself when I say that I would much rather have endured whatever pain necessary to spare him of that nightmare, which he did not deserve. 

I choose to be grateful for the time I had with Ralf – for our love that will live inside my heart forever – rather than dwelling only on the future we won’t spend together. 

I choose to be grateful for the daddy that Mason has been blessed with on this Earth, rather than focusing only on the fact that he couldn’t meet the one who waits for him in Heaven. 

I choose to be grateful for being granted a second great love in my life with another amazing man, recognizing that many spend their whole existence without ever experiencing true love at all.  

As I’m wrapping up this post, I’m sitting in the passenger seat as we head down to Miami to spend the next couple of days with our little man. We just couldn’t stomach a full two weeks. The weather is awful and we ended up taking a route we haven’t taken before. Instead of complaining, Vinnie says, “Well, it’s probably better we aren’t on the highway in this rain. Maybe we will avoid an accident.” Pretty appropriate, right?

Ever Present

I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with Mason. It feels like it was just yesterday – and I know that I’ll probably still be saying that twenty years from now. I was home alone, it was late afternoon. I’d just been to urgent care the previous night because I wasn’t feeling well and was prescribed some pretty hefty antibiotics. They’d tested for pregnancy and the result was negative. On this afternoon, though, after I’d already taken three of the fourteen pills dispensed to me, something prompted me to take a home pregnancy test – just in case. I remember opening the bathroom cabinet to grab something else, and there was the First Response logo glaring at me.

I thought to myself, “There’s no way I could be pregnant already. We just started trying. Plus they just tested me yesterday. I’m being ridiculous.”  

I watched that second, very faint and barely visible pink line appear on the result window of the test stick. My jaw dropped. Just to be extra certain, I stopped at Walgreens on the way to my parents’ house. They were waiting for me to join them for dinner, as I often did while Ralf was working. I purchased one of those digital tests – the kind that clearly say “pregnant” or “not pregnant” – because I was in a bit of denial. I remember quickly hugging my mom and rushing past her to get to the bathroom. Sure enough, there was the word I was praying I’d see.

“Pregnant.”

I had to sit through that dinner with my parents, wanting to explode with happiness but having to keep it under wraps. It took every last drop of willpower not to call or text Ralf and spill the beans – I am THE worst when it comes to keeping these kinds of secrets. When he arrived home from teaching late that night, I greeted him at the front door with both tests in hand. I remember how the expression on his face revealed the same shock and disbelief, yet utter joy, that I was feeling. Then, in true Ralf fashion, he pulled out a calendar and started calculating timelines and crunching numbers.

Ralf went into full-force study mode very early on in my pregnancy to prepare for his upcoming promotional exam to become lieutenant. I often felt lonely through the whole experience because he wasn’t able to participate much. If he wasn’t working, he was hitting the books until the wee hours of the morning. I had to go to many of my appointments alone, created the baby registry by myself, went to test out strollers and look at car seats without him. It was really hard, and if I’m to be honest, our relationship was disconnected and strained at times. But we both kept telling ourselves that it was temporary, and I knew his goal was to move up the ranks in his career to better provide for our soon-to-be little family.

I’ll never forget a conversation we had one night in the hospital. Our family had just left after a very difficult discussion with the neurosurgeon – the moment I think we all realized the severity of what was happening. It was the only time Ralf revealed how scared he was, when he finally broke down. Up until then, I kept asking him to let me be there for him, telling him that I didn’t need him to be strong for me. I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere, that we’d figure it out no matter how bad things got, that I would make sure he could be an active participant in Mason’s life regardless of how handicapped he might become.

With tears streaming down his face, rubbing my belly in such a way that it almost seemed like he knew it would be the last time, he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to be stuck in a wheel chair. I want to be there. I want to hold him.” Two days later, Ralf was on life support.

Some might call it naivete, but I really believe that Ralf was finding ways to be present in the decision making even when he had only machines keeping him alive. On the morning that I had to tell his family that Ralf had been off sedation for over twelve hours and wasn’t waking up on his own, I also told them that I planned to change the baby’s name. I wanted to name him after his father. Later that same day, as I sat next to Ralf’s hospital bed, I happened to look up at his IV bag and saw the name of the brand.

“Mason-Tayler.”

I heard Ralf’s message loud and clear. He wanted me to stick to the name we had chosen together. So I compromised and only changed his middle name.

Since Mason was born, I keep discovering all kinds of little “coincidences” that I know in my heart are not actually arbitrary at all.  Most recently, Ralf spoke to me in a huge way. I’ve been unhappy with the situation at Mason’s current daycare for some time, and have been looking into other options. I went to tour a private school that my good friend recommended, and instantly loved it when I walked through the doors. It had the right vibe – reminded me a lot of my own upbringing. I immediately fell in love with the school and registered Mason for both the summer camp and the upcoming school year. When I excitedly shared the news with Ralf’s parents, his dad informed me that Ralf attended a school by the very same name in Miami for prekindergarten. I had no idea. I realized that Ralf had chosen this school for Mason even before I stepped foot in the building.

There’s another memory that I seem to revisit repeatedly. One day during Ralf’s hospitalization, I was told I couldn’t be in the same room with him for twenty-four hours. He received some testing that exposed him to radiation, and since I was pregnant, they wanted to be certain the baby would not be affected in the least. Although I understood and appreciated the concern, I was heartbroken and frustrated. I hated that I could’t be right next to him every step of the way. I expressed this to Ralf over text and his response will stay with me until my dying day.

“You are here. You’re always with me.”

Except, he is the one that is always with me.

With us.

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Gone Too Soon

Earlier this week, I received some really devastating news. The little boy of a friend and coworker of mine was involved in a terrible accident on Sunday and, as a result, ended up on life support. On Monday evening, his parents made the difficult decision to pull the plug and he passed away cradled in their arms. He was just 3 months older than Mason.

I’ve been so shaken up since I heard, unable to imagine what this mother must be going through. I’ve been picturing her sitting next to his bedside, stroking his hair, grasping on to every possible ounce of hope, only to have to come to terms with the fact that his life would be cut way too short. Thinking of her as she begins this incredibly difficult grief journey has stirred up many memories of my first days post loss.

I’ll never forget that morning when my deepest fear was confirmed. I remember sitting in that cold hospital room next to Ralf, clenching his hand so tightly, wishing with every fiber of my being that he could squeeze back. Constantly whispering “I love you” in his ear, praying he could hear me somehow. I watched as his nurse so carefully and lovingly changed his IV bag, inserted yet another suppository to try to control his fever, placed cooling blankets on his chest and on his legs.

I finally decided to start talking to her, to ask questions. I inquired about the medications she was administering. It was then that I found out Ralf had been off of sedation for over 12 hours. He wasn’t being kept asleep anymore; he wasn’t in a medically induced coma.

He just wasn’t waking up.

I remember closing my eyes, taking a deep breath, and then walking out of the room to round up his parents and brothers to bring them up to speed. I sat at that conference table, looking at each of their pain ridden and shocked faces, my eyes clouded by my own tears.

“We need to start preparing ourselves. ”

The next 48 hours were a blur. Sometimes I still find myself recalling details that I’ve either suppressed or forgotten. I vaguely remember my conversations with the organ transplant team, making the decision to end life support, deciding where we wanted to hold the funeral mass, where he would be buried. All the family members, friends, coworkers, former students and teachers, and complete strangers who passed through that funeral home and attended the service and burial.

One memory that is so vividly emblazoned in my mind is that procession toward the altar of the church, following closely behind Ralf’s casket. The same aisle that I walked down just a little over three years prior, to meet my handsome groom waiting for me with a smile that could not only light up any room, but that illuminated my whole world.

I wish I could offer some form of comfort to my friend and fellow mommy as she endures what will quite possibly be the hardest time of her life. Yet I know, more than most people, that there is really nothing that can be said to ease her pain. My words, although heartfelt and sincere, all seem to fall flat.

Tomorrow is not promised. Not for anyone – no matter how old or young.

Hold tight to those you love.

Remember not to sweat the small stuff.

Forgive others. Forgive yourself.

Don’t wait until tomorrow.

All we have is now.

The Terrible Twos Have Arrived!

Two years and almost two months ago, my heart was shattered into a million pieces. I believed that it would never be whole again; that the pieces could never fit together the way they once did. I had accepted this to be my new reality for the rest of my days. Then, exactly two years ago today, a nurse placed a beautiful, healthy, dark-eyebrowed baby boy on my chest. From the moment I laid eyes on him, heard his voice, smelled his sweet baby smell, I was reawakened.

Not only did he mend the unmendable – he expanded my heart and filled it with more love than I ever imagined possible.

He saved my life.

Watching him grow, witnessing his personality develop, seeing the world through his innocence, is proving to be one of the greatest adventures of my lifetime. Everyday I am amazed by how incredibly smart he is and by how much he resembles his Daddy in Heaven – both in looks and in personality. His smile brightens even the gloomiest days, and the sound of his laughter brings me a joy that I simply cannot describe with words. He makes my heart smile on a daily basis. Even on days when it doesn’t want to, or times when the arrival of the “Terrible Twos” is very evident.

Happiest of birthdays to Mommy’s Little Man! You will never know the depth of my love for you.

 

Mason's 2nd Birthday

 

 

Soaring through Sorrow…still!

Those of you who have followed my story from the beginning know that I unfortunately deleted the original blog site I had created (soaringthroughsorrow.wordpress.com). I made that decision on impulse when I was dealing with some difficult emotions, and I have greatly regretted it. At the beginning of 2017, I decided that I wanted to start writing again and was so disappointed to find out that there was apparently no way to reactivate my site, so I created this new one (alongthebrokenroad.com).

After explaining my story to a very kindhearted soul the other day, he was gracious enough to make an exception for me and…reactivate my old site! I was so thankful and appreciative!

Here’s the bummer, though. With my new site, I am using an upgraded plan that offers more features and the ability to have my “.com” so that the address is easier to find and remember for my readers. Unfortunately, I am unable to do that for soaringthroughsorrow because that domain name is unavailable. So, I’ve decided to stick with this new name.

But here is the great news! The person I spoke to was able to transfer all of my previous followers, both through WordPress and through email, to this new site!

If my words are reaching you for the first time in a very long time, I want you to know how genuinely happy I am to be able to share my journey with you once more – as I continue to soar through sorrow along this broken road called life. I hope you will continue to follow and find inspiration here.

I’ve got lots of thoughts to share and big plans for this year – so stay tuned!

Ralf Angel

 

Tomorrow Starts Today

My little man’s second birthday is less than a week away and, needless to say, I almost can’t believe it. Before you have children, you hear experienced moms and dads preach about how quickly time flies, but I don’t think this concept is fully grasped until you actually become a parent yourself. As his birthday approaches, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the type of parent I am and the kind of mother I hope to become.

Any good mother worries constantly about her children. Here’s the good news: if you’re incessantly concerned about being a good parent and doing right by your kids, that’s a pretty good indication that you are in fact already doing both. I worry about providing for Mason, making sure he has access to a good education, teaching him right from wrong, raising him with a strong moral compass that will lead him to one day stand up for what he believes in. These are things all good parents hope to do for their children.

They say the best way to lead is by example. I believe this to be especially true when you are raising children. Lately I’ve been asking myself if I’m providing the best possible examples for my son. When it comes to showing him to keep going no matter what life throws at him, to work hard, to appreciate and be there for the ones who matter most, to speak his mind – I do know I’m doing the best I can. (Maybe a little too well with teaching him to speak his mind because OH MY GOD does this almost-two-year-old know how to make his wishes known!) But what about teaching him to follow his dreams? To take risks in order to achieve something which seems unreachable? To take a leap of faith? To just go out and DO it? Without fear of failure or rejection or humiliation. This is where I sometimes feel I’m failing.

Anyone who knows me personally would probably describe me as responsible – I’ve always been what people call an “old soul”. I did everything the “right” way and in the “right” order – good grades in school, completed my bachelor’s degree in three years, graduated with my master’s degree when I was 23 years old, got married at 25 and then pregnant three years later. And then? My timeline went out the window the day I lost my husband and father to my unborn child. You’d think this would have made me realize that there is no “right way” and that life is too short to avoid doing things out of fear- and in many ways it has. But then there are those things that I continue to make excuses for, those dreams I find endless reasons not to pursue.

My writing.

My singing.

I want Mason to look back on his childhood one day and remember having a mom who gave it all she had. I want to do more than just TELL him that he can do or be anything he wants. I want to SHOW him that if you put in the commitment, the passion, the hard work – good things will come. And if it doesn’t turn out the way he hopes, that he will have peace in his heart because he tried with all his might. That’s the kind of mom I want to be.

So, no more excuses. No more self doubt.  I’m going to start doing a better job of listening to that voice inside my heart. The one that gives me all these thoughts that I convince myself no one will be interested in reading. The one that reminds me how much I love to sing and share my voice, but that I silence because I’m sure nobody wants to hear me. Time to stop. Not everyone will want to read, not everyone will want to listen – but somebody will. And that’s enough.

I’m committing to taking baby steps toward making my dreams come true.

I won’t know unless I try, right? And neither will you.

Let’s try.

To My Widowed Sister

Just a couple of months ago,  I had a fellow widow reach out to me. On January 17th of this year, she unwillingly and involuntarily entered into this lifelong club of young women who lost their husbands long before they were supposed to – before having the opportunity to share a lifetime of memories with them, of building a family, of growing old together. She told me that she’d come across my blog and thanked me because my story gave her hope. While I was thankful that my words reached someone who truly needed them, I have to be honest – I felt helpless. She said she felt “destroyed” and I hurt so much for her because I can completely empathize – something that not everyone can truthfully say. I wanted so much to comfort her, but all I could muster at the time was, “I am so sorry. I know it doesn’t feel like it now and you will never be the same, but it will get a little easier.”

I’ve been reflecting long and hard on my conversations with her, asking myself what I can do to help – and after the anxiety I’ve been dealing with the last couple of days, I realized that I may have lied to her. Not intentionally, of course, but in hindsight perhaps the promise that “things will get easier” is a gross oversimplification of the the grieving process altogether. I realize that grief is very unique to every individual, and that hers may not look exactly like mine. I’m hoping, though, that my recent “aha” moment can offer some insight. My widowed sister: this one is for you.

I remember during my first few months as a widow, it was often so hard to nod in agreement when someone told me to stay strong, to remember that everything happens for a reason or in God’s timing, to take solace in the knowledge that Ralf was in a better place. Even back when my grief was brand new, I realized that people said these things because they had no idea what else to say – and the truth is, there is nothing that can be said to ease the pain that early on. And still, even though I should have known better given my own experiences,  I found myself trying to comfort this woman using one of those very same cliche condolences.

So, I take it back. What I said is inaccurate and misleading. IT (as in the loss of your husband who you loved with every piece of yourself and envisioned an entire future with) will never “get easier” – how could it? That statement doesn’t even make any sense if you really think about it. Here is the good news, though: YOU will get stronger. IT will never turn into some distant memory of an obstacle you once overcame – YOU will learn to somehow continue living with a permanent scar on your heart. There will probably be difficult days for the rest of your life, moments when the pain rises to the surface and results in sadness or anxiety or anger. On those days, don’t be ashamed of how you feel. It doesn’t make you weak or ungrateful for what you currently have. Allow the tears to flow and remind yourself that they are a testament to the great love and loss that you have experienced. These emotions will eventually visit you less frequently but I doubt they will ever disappear forever – even after you’ve managed to rebuild and recognize that your life is still beautiful.

And yes, beauty and happiness can be found again in this life – in ways and to extents that may seem impossible right now.

When YOU are ready.

When YOU decide.

If YOU keep believing.

I believe in you.

A New Dance 

This weekend, I reached another milestone since Ralf passed away: I attended a wedding. Well, almost – we decided it would be best to skip the ceremony and head directly to the reception. There was some anxiety leading up to it since I knew it would be just one week after the anniversary of Ralf’s death, and the end of what’s been a very emotional month for me. Vinnie and I talked about it a lot. We decided to RSVP with the understanding that if it proved to be too much at any moment, I could just say the word and we could leave with no questions asked. I’m so blessed to have such a supportive man by my side who totally gets it.

I was feeling good when we arrived to the venue. Anxiety was at bay. It was nice to have a reason to get all dressed up – something I don’t really do much of anymore being a full-time working mom of a toddler. We were enjoying our cocktails while Vinnie was catching up with old friends as we waited for the bride and groom to make their grand entrance. When they finally arrived, their faces were beaming with the happiness of two people who have just begun one of the greatest adventures of their lives. It was then that I remembered why I used to love weddings so much. A celebration of love, commitment and anticipation for the future. 

Then, it happened. I heard that piano intro start to play and immediately recognized the song. The groom pulled the bride in close for their first dance as a married couple. I looked over at Vinnie with a huge lump forming in my throat, tears welling up in my eyes. “I have to walk out.” Vinnie nodded in understanding and responded, “Okay.” I tried to hurry over to the restroom as discretely as I could, and thankfully it was empty. I trembled as I turned the lock and rested my head against the door. Releasing the tears I’d been holding back with all my might, I listened to the muffled sounds of Rascal Flatts welcoming the couple into their new journey from a distance. I was transported back in time, with Ralf’s arms around my waist, my forehead no longer pressed against that cold varnished door, but rather against his warm cheek.  I could hear him softly singing the lyrics in my ear as we swayed back and forth to the rhythm of the music with all our friends and family watching. That was when I knew that the decision to skip the ceremony had definitely been the right one. 

This little breakdown went on for about five minutes. Then I took a few deep breaths, wiped my face with some tissues, and fixed my makeup. I made the decision to go back out there and have a great night with the wonderful man that is in my life now, rather than allow for the rest of the evening to be ruined. And that’s exactly what I did. 

I walked back to the table to find Vinnie waiting for me, with a concerned look on his face. I explained what had happened and told him I’d be fine. As we finished eating dinner, a slow song began to play and couples started making their way toward the dance floor. Vinnie asked me if I wanted to dance. I smiled as I placed my hand in his. He pulled me in, pressed his cheek against mine, and interlaced his fingers behind my back. And in that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. We danced and laughed the night away- it was one the best times we’ve had together. 

It’s not the life I planned for. It’s not the story I anticipated. But I am so grateful to be learning this new dance with you. 


Repost: Love Out Loud

With the anniversary of Ralf’s passing just three days away, I felt it would be appropriate to share this again. Words that I wrote from my heart, and that became a tribute to my Forever Hero.

Life goes on. I continue to heal and grow while love takes on new forms. My heart continues to expand and I am abundantly blessed, even after tragedy and loss. Still, I will carry the memory of our love on my skin and in the deepest corners of my heart and soul – all the days of my life.

Those of you that have been following my story from the beginning, when Ralf was in the hospital and I started posting on Facebook, have already read the words below. If you attended his funeral mass, you heard them read so eloquently by my father-in-law before he gave his beautiful eulogy. What you don’t know, however, because I didn’t mention it at the time, is that the “meat” of this post – which you will notice in bold now- was actually written several months before Ralf’s passing. I took them from an email that I wrote to him after we’d had a really stupid fight over something so insignificant – something that couples unfortunately do at times. I realized that I was being ridiculous for being upset with him, and so I wrote my feelings down. When I made the Facebook post, I just added some introductory/concluding remarks and changed all the you’s to he’s.

I am SO happy that I can say Ralf read these words, that he knew how I loved him. I believe he still does and always will. Even on the days when I feel like the grief hits me all over again like a ton of bricks, that brings me so much comfort and peace.

Don’t ever assume the people you love know how you feel about them. TELL them. SHOW them. Love them out loud. Even if they do already know, it’s nice to be reminded.

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As I sit here, trying to cope as best I can, I struggle to find the words to express what I am feeling. Everyone tells me how “strong” and “amazing” I am being, but the truth is the only thing that is keeping me going is Ralf’s baby, whose heart is beating inside of me. I am only trying to do what I know Ralf would have done for me.

From the moment I found out that we were having a boy, I kept telling Ralf I had this funny feeling our baby was going to be a little carbon copy of him. I believe that more than ever now. I know so many people have been witness to the genuineness and pure love that was Ralf, but no one will ever understand the level of intimacy he and I shared on all levels. I will not sit here and tell you he was perfect, because perfect does not exist. But I can tell you without a doubt in my mind or an ounce of hesitation that he WAS the ideal man that every woman dreams of finding one day. A man that put his woman’s needs ahead of his own. A man that treated his woman with the utmost respect. Who listened to her and did whatever he could to make her feel understood, even when she sounded crazy to the rest of the world. A man that found beauty and humor in all of his woman’s little quirks and imperfections and did his best to make her feel like the most attractive creature alive (even on days when she felt anything but). A man that owned up to his mistakes and apologized from the bottom of his heart. A man that made his woman feel loved, and appreciated, and cherished every day. Even on the not-so-great days. He was the kind of man that most women never find. 

Although I feel he was taken from me too soon, I feel honored and privileged to have been able to share my life with him and call myself his wife. A love like ours is one that comes along rarely, and why God chose me, I will never fully understand. But I am so grateful. Don’t take pity or feel sad for me. I was the lucky one. He was the love of my life and my heart will always be his.

I love you, Ralf. Know that your son will be raised with so much love and support. I will make sure everyday that he knows who his daddy was and what an amazing and loved man he was. I have no doubt that you will be there in spirit every step of the way. Rest easy, in peace and without any pain.