My Expanded Heart

I met Ralf just a few months before my 18th birthday. Even with as young as we were at the time, I knew very early on in our relationship that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. We instantly shared a very special connection that was apparent to our family and closest friends.  Alike in so many ways, to the point that some friends would jokingly say we were the “same person” – just in male and female form. There were definitely differences, though. I was the passionate emotional one, he was patient and level-headed.

One of the biggest obstacles I faced after losing Ralf, was learning who I was without him. I’d been with him for so long; I’d transitioned into adulthood with him. The lines between his likes, his preferences, his dreams and mine now seemed blurred. So much of the person I’d become was because of what he and I had learned and accomplished together. Now I suddenly was forced to discover a new self . A self that would have to exist without Ralf’s presence in the physical form. A self that had no choice but to continue without him. A self that would have to experience initiation into parenthood alone, while simultaneously trying to rediscover my own identity as a newly widowed young woman.

It was hard, and oftentimes still is.

Just the other night at dinner, Vinnie and I were having a conversation about this. I was explaining to him that learning to be in a relationship with a man who isn’t Ralf has been challenging. Not because I’m comparing one man to another, because there is no comparison – they are two completely separate people. Not because I’m lacking any feelings for Vinnie, because I am very much in love with him. Not because of anything Vinnie has or hasn’t done, because he is nothing but patient and understanding of everything I go through. It’s been challenging because I’d only ever experienced a long-term, committed, adult relationship with one other person for nearly 11 years. Grief and life after loss look different for every individual. I imagine, though, that most people who have lost their spouses can relate on at least some level.

You think you’ll never be truly happy again.

You believe that life will never be enjoyed to the same extent it once was.

From my own experience, I’ve learned that it is possible to be truly and equally happy again – just in a different way.

Last weekend, I treated Vinnie to go see Incubus in concert for his birthday. We had such an incredible time together. I had several moments throughout the show where I felt immense gratitude for a great night with my new life partner. And yet, there were many thoughts and memories of Ralf, as Incubus was one of his favorite bands.

At the end of the show, the crowd cheered and the band reappeared on stage for an encore performance. The song they played is not very well-known or popular, and it was one of Ralf’s favorites. It was a regular on his playlist during our boating adventures. When I heard the intro, it brought a smile to my face and tugged at my heart all at once. The next morning, Vinnie and I were reminiscing about all the fun we’d had the night before. I’d already mentioned my memories of that final song to him. He said, “I can’t believe, of all songs, they chose that one for the encore. He is always with you.”

He is always with me. Ralf’s memory and spirit will forever be anchored in the depths of my heart.

And now, Vinnie is with me, too.

Reminding me daily just how much my heart is capable of expanding.

Showing me that it really is possible to love what was while cherishing what is – all the time, every day.

 

concert shot

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?

 

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Reunited after a week apart and my heart is complete again!

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.

Funeral Procession
Photo by: Rene Pimentel Photography

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. 


Twice Blessed


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.

Ups and Downs 

I’ve been in such a funk these past couple of days. I can’t think of any one particular incident that could have caused it. I think I have always been prone to anxiety, but ever since I lost Ralf, it has worsened significantly. Sometimes, there is a trigger – like our wedding song playing on the radio unexpectedly, or seeing a black Dodge Ram on the road, or having to do a double take because for a split second I forget he is gone and could swear I just saw him at the end of the aisle at Publix. Other times, though, it’s just a general feeling of yuckiness that sets in out of nowhere. My head is cloudy. I have a hard time focusing on the most minor tasks. My body and my heart physically ache. Once you enter widowhood, you are a member for life. Even if you are so lucky, as I have been, to move forward and find love again, the pain your great loss has caused you stays with you forever. Some days it’s more pronounced than others, but it is always present. I am not the person I once was. I am forever changed and more aware of my mortality and the mortality of the people I hold most dear.

 
I’ve been having horrifying dreams and reliving every minute of Ralf’s final days in my mind over and over and over again. I keep thinking about that last morning we woke up in our bed together. It was the first time in a long time because he had been so consumed with studying for his lieutenant’s exam and had been getting out of bed at the crack of dawn to head to the library to study for months. I remember feeling so happy and thankful to wake up next to him, not realizing it would never happen again and that in ten days I’d be at his burial. I keep thinking of all the time we weren’t granted, of everything he is missing out on, of all the things I wanted and needed to say to him. My heart will always feel like I could have and should have done more even though my intellect knows that isn’t true. It’s crazy how the human mind works. It’s like when you rewatch a sad movie that you’ve seen a hundred times – you know how it’s going to end, yet you watch it again because somewhere deep inside of you there is the tiniest ounce of hope that things might turn out differently. I often find myself thinking how I should have picked up on some kind of sign earlier and sent him to the doctor, or how my pushing him to follow his dream of becoming a fireman somehow led to him getting brain cancer. I can list all the things I would have done differently while he was in the hospital, as if it could make any difference at this point.

 
Even with the way I am currently feeling, I know the severity of this “funk” is temporary. The wound Ralf’s loss left is now part of who I am – some days the scar tissue is intact, other days I bleed like the pain is new. But I know that a hard day, month, even a rough couple of years does not equal a bad life. I’ve heard it said that you should never evaluate your life when you are in a bad mood because everything will be viewed in a negative light. Even when I am feeling this way, I know that I am so greatly blessed. Blessed for having known and loved Ralf, blessed for the tremendous amount of support I received after Ralf’s passing. I am SO incredibly blessed to have my baby boy and the opportunity to find great love again – a chance to rebuild. I recognize that not everyone who has walked along the path of widowhood can say the same and I am grateful. Some days it may take a little (or a lot of) extra effort, but I always end up at that same realization. I believe that many beautiful moments await me, and I hope to enjoy them with my whole heart.

The New Focus

As promised in my previous post, below is the speech I gave at the Florida Professional Firefighter Convention last month. Although we continue to grieve, we now have a new focus – making sure Ralf’s death was not in vain. This is what he would have wanted. Let’s spread the word – it all starts with awareness!

Good Afternoon,

I would like to start by thanking everyone for the opportunity to address you today. I ask you for your patience and understanding in advance if I should become emotional, which these days often happens without warning.

For those of you who don’t know who I am, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Maeghan Garcia and I am the widow of the late Ralf Garcia, a beloved and well-respected City of Miami Fireman who lost his life suddenly and tragically to brain cancer less than three months ago. I was 7 months pregnant with our first, and now only, child together at the time. Although I am still very much grieving the loss of my husband and father to my son, and always will be, I stand before you today because I have made the decision to find meaning and purpose during the most difficult time of my life. Anyone who knew my husband personally knows that he always stood for what was right and always went above and beyond to help others, especially his loved ones and his brothers and sisters in the fire department. Now that he is no longer here physically, it is my goal and mission to help carry on that legacy for him. I believe with all my heart that Ralf would have wanted to do whatever possible to stop our tragedy from reoccurring and devastating more families. One widow, one baby boy who will never know his father, one father and one mother who had to bury their son – these are all one too many.

I am here today to deliver a very simple message: something needs to change. Ralf knew the necessary risks and dangers he would be facing when he made the decision to answer his vocation to become a paramedic and fireman. I don’t think, however, that he, nor any other firefighter, should have to lose his or her life due to an avoidable, unnecessary risk. These men and women who put their lives on the line for the people of their community need to be better protected. How do we better protect them? By increasing awareness of the rising number of firefighters being diagnosed with cancer, by adapting the culture and practice of these civil servants to enhance their ability to better protect themselves, by providing them the necessary tools and/or equipment needed to do so, and by pushing for firefighter safety and cancer presumption legislation. This task can only be successfully executed if approached and attacked by a unified body – of firefighters, firefighter families, administrative personnel of all ranks, concerned citizens – out to accomplish a common goal: to do everything possible to prevent one more spouse, one more child, one more set of parents from experiencing the unexplainable, unrelenting heartache and emptiness that myself, my son, Ralf’s parents and our entire family must now live on a daily basis. It is our responsibility and our duty. Let us rise up to the challenge.

Thank you.

Open Letter to My Beautiful Boy

My Dearest Mason,

This past Sunday marked two weeks since your birth and two months since your father was taken to Heaven. My heart hurt so much for you. I wish there was something I could say to make sense of the fact that you will have to grow up never being able to physically meet your dad. I look at you and I see this beautiful, innocent little life who did not ask to be here, who does not deserve to grow up fatherless. It makes me angry. I will endure whatever pain I must to protect you as much as possible, but the reality of it is, this is not something I can protect you from. This isn’t something Mommy can ever make better or kiss away. It makes me feel so helpless. 

All I can promise to do is give you all the love in my heart and to talk to you about your dad every day. To show you pictures of him, tell you stories about him, and answer your questions about him as you get older. I know those questions will come – and I know some of them will be difficult for me to hear. But I’m prepared for that. I will do whatever I can to make you feel close to him. But I ask for your forgiveness and understanding in advance because I know I will fall short sometimes. Please just always remember how much I love you and how much I will ALWAYS love him. 

Let me start telling you a little about the amazing man your father was…

He was mostly known for having a heart so big it barely fit inside his chest. He was always willing to give anyone the shirt off his back, to help in any way he could. He didn’t have a malicious bone in his body. 

He was crazy smart. Seriously, your dad was a brain. He always got straight A’s while growing up, graduated as valedictorian from Saint Brendan’s elementary/middle school and then was second in his class when he graduated from Columbus High School. He got into many colleges, including Harvard. He faced some opposition/criticism when he decided he wanted to go to FIU and get a degree in Mathematics Education while persuing his dream to become a firefighter/paramedic. But he knew what he wanted, and he went for it. During his last semester at FIU, he was taking 12 credits worth of classes (actually, it may have been 15 now that I think about it), going to paramedic school at night, completing all the necessary clinical rotations on weekends, and still managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA and graduate Summa Cum Laude. Oh, and I forgot to mention he completed his bachelor’s degree in 3 years instead of 4. He was an incredibly hard worker, which is a quality I hope to teach you. 

Your dad accomplished everything he set his mind to. That was his nature- whatever he did, he did all the way. He finished Coral Springs Fire Academy with the title of Most Outstanding Student. When he completed the City of Miami Fire Academy, he was awarded the  Manuel Padron Award, also an honor given to the top recruit. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would have aced that lieutenant’s exam and would have worked his way up to chief one day. 

He was an adrenaline junkie who loved to fish, work out, play sports, drink beer, watch movies and TV, lounge on the couch, spend days out on the boat, going to Bass Pro Shops just to browse, playing pranks on his friends. He loved me. He made sure I knew it everyday. He loved you so much and was SO excited the day we found out you were going to be a boy. Please never doubt that he wanted to be your dad more than anything. 

Lastly, I just have to mention that your father was the most handsome man I ever laid my eyes on. (Well, actually, now tied with only you.) He always made my butterflies rumble, but when he got all dressed up in a suit, tux, or when I saw him wearing his uniform – wow! Okay, sorry – Mommy is embarrassing you, I’m sure.

You would think with everything I have mentioned, that your dad had reason to be full of himself, right? But he wasn’t. He did not possess an ounce of arrogance. He was the most humble person I’ve ever known and had a way of building other people up, of bringing out the best in them. He always brought out the best in me. 

Mason, I could go on forever about your dad. He was the absolute love of my life. I know I’ll never be able to fill his shoes, but I promise to give you my all and do my best to teach you to be the selfless, humble, respectful, hardworking, loving, loyal, joyful, fearless, determined man your father was. Anything you want to know, just ask. 

You now own my whole heart,
Mommy

Open Letter to My Love

My Love,

Our little angel has finally arrived, but I know you already knew that. You did, after all, have a special conversation with God and request for his birthdate to be on none other than Mother’s Day. I have no doubt that was your doing. You not only wanted to further ensure the special bond that I will always have with our son, but you also wanted to give your own mother a beautiful distraction on what must have been a difficult day for her. Not to mention, his birthdate – 5/10/15 – will always carry a piece of both of us since you were born on the 5th, I was born on the 10th, and together those numbers add up to 15. You + Me = Mason. Perfect.

What can I tell you about this amazing little person that our love created? Mason Ralf Garcia entered the world at 2:08pm, weighing 7 pounds, 14 ounces and measuring 20.5 inches in length. I was in labor for a total of about 14 hours. Our parents took me in to the hospital once my contractions were about 5 minutes apart. The doctor examined me and found that I was only 1 centimeter dilated, so he had me walk around the hospital for 2 hours to see if that would speed things up. Our moms took the first hour shift, and our dads the second. They comforted me through contractions and made me laugh. I even managed to do some lunges in the hallway with my huge belly. After all the walking, I had dilated some more and the doctor decided to admit me. I had an epidural (which, I must say, was magical) and then the doctor broke my bag of waters. After that, I dilated to a full 10 centimeters in just a couple of hours. All signs pointed to an easy, natural delivery. However, things didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. I pushed for 2.5 hours and the baby just wouldn’t come out. Turns out my pubic bone was in the way by a fraction of an inch and he wasn’t able to squeeze through. So, I ended up needing a c-section.

Our moms went into the operating room with me. I couldn’t see what was going on, of course, but once I heard him cry my own tears began to flow uncontrollably. We all sobbed. I felt you in that moment – not just your spirit, but I swear I felt a physical presence. I could feel your hand rubbing my head, your warm breath in my ear as you whispered, “He’s here and he’s okay.” When they placed him on my chest, the very first thing I noticed was that he has Daddy’s eyebrows.

It’s still too soon to tell who he will look like, since I know he will change so much from week to week and month to month. But I can tell you that I see so much of you in him already. He has your hands and I’m so happy that he does. You know how much I loved your hands. I complemented them all the time- so strong, so masculine. He has the same little dimple on his left cheek. And he already looks at me in that same way that you used to – a look of pure, innocent, unconditional love. He has become the center of my universe, just as you were before you left. I know that I will make mistakes along the way, but I promise you that I will love this child with everything that I am and will do whatever necessary to give him everything he needs and deserves.

I can’t lie to you – the experience has been bittersweet. I have moments when I just cry out of frustration that you aren’t here to help me with the late night feedings or the diaper changes. I cry because I miss you so much that it makes my body ache. I cry because even though I continue to have so much support from both of our families, having them around constantly is a reminder that they are here because you aren’t. But I know I’ll make it through- you will give me the strength to do so. I know that you have given me the strength that has brought me this far, because there really isn’t any other explanation as to where this strength has come from.

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Love you to the moon and back,

Maeghan

The God That I Believe In

Yesterday I went with my in-laws to design Ralf’s tombstone. It was completely surreal. I couldn’t believe we were having conversations about what granite color he would have liked, what cross he would have chosen. I couldn’t help but feel like the whole thing shouldn’t have been happening, like we shouldn’t have had to be there. That I should have been at home with Ralf, watching him frustratedly yet ever so lovingly build our son’s crib, or bassinet, or Pack-n-Play. That Ralf should be around to complain about me stealing all his t-shirts because none of mine fit my humongous belly, or to ask “Again?!” when I get out of bed for the 18th time to pee in the middle of the night. We should be enjoying my last few weeks of pregnancy together, knowing that our married life will change soon, but that it will be worth it. Instead, the only person whose life has completely flipped upside down is mine. I’m still excited to meet our son, but I am honestly more terrified. Becoming a mom is scary enough to begin with, but the thought of having to learn to become a parent on my own without my partner is sometimes more than I can take. I went to bed with a very heavy heart. 

So many people keep telling me to remember that everything happens for a reason- that this is all part of God’s mysterious yet perfect plan. I do believe that God has a plan, but my interpretation may be slightly different from how others see it. I don’t – actually, I CAN’T believe in a God that would cause my 28-year-old husband of less than 4 years to die unexpectedly from a vicious  disease, all to teach me some valuable lesson about the fragility and brevity of life, or to make me a stronger person. Especially not while expecting our first child together. I refuse to believe in a God so cruel.

The God that I believe in is just as saddened and angry as I am about the unfairness of this entire situation. God did not cause this to happen. Just as God did not cause the recent earthquake in Nepal. These incidents were acts of nature, which has free will just as we human beings do. Does God know what’s going to happen before it happens? Yes. But it doesn’t mean he can stop these disasters or injustices from occurring. It’s difficult (perhaps impossible) for our human minds to comprehend. 

The God that I believe in brought Ralf into my life early so that I would have more time to love him, because he knew that his life would unfortunately be cut short. The God that I believe in spared Ralf of the agony he would have endured had he not suffered that hemorrhage during his final days. Had it not been for the bleed, he would have had the biopsy done, would have been obsessing for weeks about the results which would ultimately be heartbreaking, and then subsequently have to await surgery and watch his body deteriorate while living with the knowledge that he would die soon. Instead, he lost consciousness and went peacefully and without pain, never even knowing he went into surgery. Most importantly, the God that I believe in blessed me with the little life growing inside of me so that I could continue to have a piece of Ralf here on this earth even after his passing. 

A few weeks ago at mass, Father Bob Vallee said something that really struck me. He was talking about St. Thomas the Apostle, also known as Doubting Thomas, and he said that being a faithful follower of Christ does not mean one shouldn’t use his or her brain. A true Christian does not simply follow blindly – he knows what he believes and why he believes it.

So, yes, I do believe that “everything happens for a reason” but it’s important to understand that this philosophy is much more complicated and profound than it appears on the surface.