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.