I see and feel Ralf in every corner of every room of this house. Everywhere I look, there is a memory. Things that at the time seemed silly or insignificant are now moments that I wish I could have held on to forever. Even the things that drove me absolutely nuts, I find myself aching for now. Like the way he would steal my glasses because we had pretty much the same prescription and he had been missing his own for months. The way he would leave the containers for his daily contact lenses EVERYWHERE. Seriously, you would think he had been allergic to the waste basket or something. Oh, and a hamper allergy too because I’d find socks in places you wouldn’t believe. The way he would hoard junk mail, or open letters but then leave empty envelopes all over the kitchen counter and our dining room table. I even miss our disaster of a garage (he treated it like a dumping ground for all his fancy tools and gadgets that he loved and didn’t really need) and his truck that almost required a hazmat suit to enter. I’d give anything to still be able to complain about these things.
We had an inside joke. Whenever he would do something that would totally get on my nerves, I would look up toward the sky and wave my hands and say, “I love this man. I love this man. God, please remind me how much I love this man.” We would both laugh. He knew as well as I did that I never really needed a reminder.
Like I’ve said before, even though Ralf was an amazing husband and life partner, neither he nor our relationship were perfect. We had our share of struggles, as does any couple. We disagreed. We both let our pride and stubbornness get in the way from time to time. But in the end, we always found our way back to each other because we knew our love was greater than our trials. Looking through old notes again, I found this and I think Ralf put it best:
“Just as you know I am not perfect, I know you are not. Like you said, perfect does not exist. But I still believe in perfect fits. Maybe our puzzle pieces pinch each other, poke each other, punch each other, or appear to oppose each other; but at the end of the day they always come together to form a masterpiece.”
These last two days have been really rough for me. Aside from still trying to figure out all the finances (I was spoiled by Ralf who took care of all of that – he was, after all, a math and numbers guy), calling insurance companies, and trying to get this house ready for Mason’s arrival (I’ve had many helpers that I cannot thank enough), yesterday was my first regular day back at work. I had a lot of anxiety the night before because it felt like reality was setting in even more deeply. I know that I have two choices in this situation – I can either succumb to depression and close myself off from the world while feeling sorry for myself for the rest of my life, or I can do my best to move forward one breath at a time, one minute at a time. I know Ralf would have wanted me to do the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I have my share of emotional break downs and this morning’s was a doozy. But after my sobbing sessions, I wash my face, center myself as much as humanly possible, and start to attack the next item on my never-ending to-do list.
Those that know me personally know that my family is no stranger to loss. Ralf is the biggest loss that I have ever and most likely will ever experience in my lifetime, but he was not the first. When I was five years old I had a little brother (he was three, almost four years old) who passed away. He suffered from a congenital heart disease and many other health issues during his short life on this earth. Along the way, I’ve also lost my grandfather and my uncle. (Ironically, my uncle passed away unexpectedly in his sleep just a few weeks before Ralf, and Ralf was there to help my Dad load his body into the van that would take him to the crematorium. Never could any of us have imagined that Ralf was dying, too.) Through all those goodbyes of loved ones, I learned a very difficult yet valuable lesson from my parents: LIFE GOES ON. Whether you are ready or not. That doesn’t mean the pain subsides, you just learn to live with it.
Ralf and I had conversations about “What would happen if…” many times, and death was one topic we had discussed. He would jokingly say that he would die first, before Charlie (our dog) and me because he couldn’t stand to live without us. I don’t think he could have imagined that Charlie would actually outlive him. Anyway, there is one instance that sticks out in my memory. Ralf and I both agreed that we would want the other to move on, find happiness, and eventually find love again. But I remember saying to him that any other man that came into my life would have to accept the fact that he would never be everything that Ralf was for me. His response was, “You don’t know that. You could meet a great guy and really hit it off.” Among his countless traits that I admired and loved so much, that was the biggest – he was so humble. He had no idea how special he was.
Actually, now that we are on the subject of humility, I’m reminded of something that happened while Ralf was hospitalized. One of the times that the neurosurgeon came to speak with us, Ralf apologized to him. He was embarrassed that so many people had reached out to the doctor, whether through connections to Ralf’s dad who is also a physician, Ralf’s uncle who works at UM Hospital, or through Ralf’s previous supervisor and colleagues (he had a per diem job at UM). Ralf told him, “Regardless of what you may have heard, I am not special and I don’t expect special treatment.” Every time one of the nurses would go into the room to check on him or give him his meds, Ralf would ask the nurse if there was anything that he could do for them. He also comforted his visitors more than he was comforted himself. That was just the kind of guy he was.
So, the lesson I take from him is that I am not special either. My pain and suffering is unique in the sense that no two situations, losses, or relationships are alike – that much is true. However, I’m not the first young pregnant widow to ever walk the face of this planet. In the moments when I feel completely broken and small, when the burden is too much, when the weight on my shoulders is just too heavy, I promise Ralf that I will remind myself of this. I will do my best to be like him. I will remind myself that I can survive through the pain and the heartache, that I have both Ralf and God beside me to hold me up, and that I am blessed to have experienced true and selfless love at least once in my lifetime. While I am still struggling to find my purpose, and figuring out how to deal with everything currently on my plate, my life will inevitably go on.
As promised, here is the start of my online journal. Please check out the “About” section, where I have provided more details about Ralf’s story and why I decided to start this blog. As my first official post, I thought it would be nice to tell you a little more about how Ralf and I met and our story as a couple. Before our wedding day, our amazing videographer, Ed Ballart with Belvedere Stories, had us complete a questionnaire together. Below are some excerpts. These were written by both Ralf and myself:
How did you meet?
We initially met in passing while on a class trip freshman year of high school. We reconnected junior year when we were placed in the same SAT classroom. Through the help of mutual friends, we quickly fell head over heels and became high school sweethearts.
How did Ralf propose?
Well, first we must explain the significance of the location. We first started “talking” in May of 2004. Keeping with the Columbus/Lourdes tradition, we both participated in the annual pilgrimage to Marco Island for Memorial Day Weekend. Maeghan went with her family while Ralf jumped into a car with nothing but a bathing suit, a twenty-dollar bill, and his friends. It was there that they shared their first kiss. Several months later they found themselves in Marco Island again on a traditional family vacation, where they shared another first – the first time they said, “I love you.” Over the years they have traveled there many times and have many wonderful memories.
So, back to the proposal. In July of 2010, Ralf took advantage of Maeghan’s horrible sense of direction and naiveté. He led her to believe that they were going to a family dinner in West Palm Beach. Little did Maeghan know that they were traveling a little bit further west in the complete opposite direction. Earlier that day, Ralf had taken Maeghan’s dad, Peter, to lunch to request his daughter’s hand in marriage. After receiving his blessing, he went to Maeghan’s house and packed her bags (he even packed make-up remover and tampons just in case!) without her knowing. Ralf had made reservations for dinner and hotel accommodations. After dinner, he took Maeghan for a walk on the beach with a blanket and champagne not far from the spot where they first kissed and said “I love you.” It was there where Ralf got down on one knee and Maeghan began to sob inconsolably. It was perfect.
How would your friends describe you as a couple?
We are known as the “go with the flow”, laid back, “whatever you want to do” couple. We are very easy to please and get along with.
What are your favorite things to do you like to do together? (ex. boating, traveling etc.)
Movies, kayaking on our lake, eating, drinking, dancing, playing with our new puppy (Charlie- an adorable, incredibly annoying French Bulldog), exercising (whenever Ralf is able to motivate Maeghan)…
Ralf, tell us a bit about Maeghan. What do you love about her? How does she complement you? What does she do that makes you happy? What does she do that drives you crazy (pet peeves, etc.), what are you most looking forward to after you marry her?
First and foremost, I am going to nip that fourth question in the butt. NOTHING Maeghan does drives me crazy or is a pet peeve (I am not as dumb as I look). What do I love about Maeghan? Maeghan is my best friend. She is like me in so many ways and different at the same time. Anyone who knows us would say we are two bodies sharing one soul. As cliché as it sounds, she truly is my other half. We share the same likes/dislikes when it comes to food, music, recreational activities, and life in general. We compliment each other in every aspect two persons can connect with- emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically, etc. Maeghan is one of the most honest people I know and has the biggest heart. She wears her mind on her sleeve (which is not always a good thing, but at least she is honest). She never puts herself first and will do anything for her family, friends and patients. While having such a compatible mate who thinks almost exactly the same way as I do does helps our relationship blossom day after day, it is also a double edged sword. You see, thinking the exact same way as someone makes you the perfect opponent in an argument. Maeghan knows what I am I thinking before I think it and is always two steps ahead of me. She knows exactly how and what to say to push my buttons and to get under my skin. It drives me crazy but I love it at the same time. I would not have it any other way.
Maeghan, tell us a bit about Ralf. What do you love about him? How does he complement you? What does he do that makes you happy? What does he do that drives you crazy (pet peeves, etc.), what are you most looking forward to after you marry him?
Ralf is the most selfless, big-hearted person I know. He is more than I could have ever dreamed of or asked for in a life partner. He supports me, builds me up, and believes in me when I don’t believe in myself. Anyone who knows us knows that we are so alike in so many ways. We compliment each other. He keeps me grounded when I get over-emotional and fly off the handle. By the same token, Ralf is also the most infuriating person because he knows just how to press my buttons when we argue. I wouldn’t have it any other way.