The Power in Perception

Earlier today while working at one of the private schools that I service, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation that was taking place just outside the room. The school pastor was on the phone with what sounded like either a long-time friend or a family member. I could only hear one end of the exchange, but it was clear that they hadn’t spoken since before Hurricane Irma. The pastor was listing all the damages that his home suffered as a result of the storm, and yet he sounded completely calm and optimistic. At one point he said, “I won’t say that all material things are replaceable, because I realize that some things are not. But our lives and our loved ones are definitely more important and thankfully we are all okay.”

I’ve been incredibly stressed and overwhelmed over the past few weeks. After receiving some difficult news early this month and then incurring some unexpected hospital expenses (all while dealing with an awful sinus infection and Mason having Croup), having to prepare our home for Irma and ultimately deciding to evacuate because we knew the uncertainty of the storm would not bode well for our usual anxiety levels, being stuck in horrible traffic for over 14 hours, not being able to come home after the storm for 8 days waiting for power to be restored, and now being diagnosed with bronchitis – yeah, I haven’t been in the greatest mood.

Listening to that Pastor’s sincere and simple statement today was much needed.

Our part of town took an unexpected direct hit by a category 2 hurricane. There are many fallen trees and down power lines, but I can’t even imagine what might have resulted from a category 5 storm.

Things could have turned out SO much worse.

There are families in Houston still waiting for the flood waters to recede.

There are families in Mexico who’ve had their lives rocked by not one, but two catastrophic earthquakes.

There are families in the Caribbean bracing themselves for another category 5 hurricane, without anywhere to stay because their houses are in shambles after Hurricane Irma.

There are lives lost.

There are children left without mothers or fathers or both.

There are parents left without their child.

There are husbands and wives left widowed.

There are families left without shelter or food or clothing.

I get it, trust me. Not having power or cable or Wi-Fi royally sucks, but instead of focusing on how terrible our current state of affairs may be, maybe this time should serve to remind us of how great we usually have it. I for one am very guilty of being comfortable and taking that luxury for granted, when I should know better. The ONLY thing that is certain in this life is change – positive or negative- and life can flip upside down in an instant.

Our kick-ass neighborhood has a Facebook page where we are all able to communicate and update each other. It has been an excellent source of support after the storm. One neighbor posted something the other day that I just loved. She said our block didn’t need electricity to have “power” because it was already evident in the way we were supporting one another.

It’s not always easy – and sometimes it’s really damn difficult- to remember that we hold the power in our perception in any and every circumstance.

Dig deep.

Find your power.

Change your perception.

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Hurricane Irma granted me the opportunity to share my 31st birthday surrounded by my family. 

Still Fighting 

Life can be really hard sometimes.

Unfair.

Cruel.

And there seems to be no rhyme or reason for any of it.

Sometimes I find myself wondering why some people are given such a heavy burden to carry. Why do some encounter roadblock after roadblock, obstacle after obstacle, when they are trying so desperately to pull themselves out of the depths of despair, while others seems to have their lives follow some perfect, cookie-cutter plan that they’ve crafted.

I don’t know.

When I have these thoughts I’m reminded of one of the last conversations I had with Ralf in the hospital. We’d just finished meeting with the neurosurgeon at University of Miami Hospital to discuss our plan of action. It was the first time that I think Ralf fully grasped the severity of what was happening. It was the moment he realized that his life as he knew it would be ending – and maybe really ending

After everyone left and it was just the two of us, I looked at him and said, “Don’t ask yourself why this is happening. If you ask why, you’ll just drive yourself crazy.” I realize now that I was really speaking to myself, because these questions were heavy on my own heart.

Why now? When we are awaiting the arrival of our first baby?

Why my husband, such a beautiful and genuinely good person?

What did we do to deserve this?

He looked at me shaking his head and responded, “No. I don’t ask myself why.”

I don’t think I fully appreciated the profundity of those words until much later. 
He didn’t wonder why. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He didn’t believe that he was entitled to anything. He knew that maybe some things in this life just aren’t meant to be understood- that our human minds are simply incapable. 

With everything I’ve already been through, I wish I could say that I’ve met my “quota” of hardships, but it’s just not true. Life is an endless cycle of ups and downs. Hopefully, the hard times can serve as reminders of how important it is to cherish the good times. To be grateful for all that we hold dear, understanding that nothing should be taken for granted. 

Don’t ask why. 

Instead, just believe in your strength. Even if you can’t see it. Even if you have to dig into the deepest trenches of your soul. Find that last ounce of faith and hold on for dear life. Because that last drop of faith will carry you through until you reach the next moment filled with happiness and gratitude. 

Life can be really hard. But you can be equally strong. Even if that strength means you need to shed some tears. To get angry for a bit. To scream or yell your head off alone in your car.

Do what you need to do and then get back up and stay in the fight. 

Whatever comes my way, I know I can make it through, because I already have.

I promise that you can, too. 

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!

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.