Baby on Board

I wrote this on New Year’s Eve but wasn’t quite ready to share it yet. We realized that TODAY everything is going perfectly and that should be celebrated without fear. My heart is full. Enjoy…

Reflecting on the past ten years and oh what a decade it has been!

In 2010 I graduated with my master’s and Ralf and I got engaged. I began my career as a speech-language pathologist.

At the beginning of 2011, we bought our home and at the end of 2011, we got married.

2012 was mostly a year of just enjoying each other and being newlyweds.

I think it was the beginning of 2013 that we bought our boat and started enjoying our sunset cruises around the lake.

I had a health scare in 2014 when I got diagnosed with my lymphoma that turned out to be a lot less serious than we originally thought. We decided to try to get pregnant shortly after and Mason was conceived.

The beginning of 2015 was the absolute hardest time of my life. I lost Ralf suddenly to brain cancer while I was 7 months pregnant. My little man made his debut in May of 2015 and saved me in more ways than he will ever know. He was the force that kept me going and hoping for a better life for both of us. Toward the end of 2015, I met Vinnie in person after connecting through a Facebook group for young widows and widowers. Our connection over similar losses sparked a friendship that grew into more.

In 2016 Vinnie moved down from New York to be with us in Florida. At the end of 2016 we decided to move to a new town where we could start our own story together.

We suffered through our first miscarriage in 2017.

In 2018 we had another miscarriage shortly after we decided to get married. We had a perfect, intimate, and very emotional wedding in September.

The beginning of 2019 brought a wonderful job opportunity for Vinnie. We decided to try again and had our third miscarriage. It was devastating. We underwent testing to search for some answers and received none. Everything was absolutely normal. Mason started asking for a sibling incessantly and so we decided to try one more time, despite being very scared.

Now at the end of 2019 we find ourselves 9 weeks pregnant with a baby whose heartbeat is very strong. This pregnancy has looked healthy from the beginning (as evidenced by my nausea and fatigue). We know so very well that nothing is guaranteed in this life, but we are ending this year full of gratitude and hope.

In my heart I believe that 2020 will be the year that we become a family of four.

2020 will be the year I get to witness Mason become a wonderful big brother.

2020 will be the year that I will get to welcome a new life into this world with my husband at my side, holding my hand, as it should be.

And with all the surprises, new blessings, and challenges that are sure to come our way, the one thing I know for certain is that we will get through it all.

Cheers to 2020!

💙,

Maeghan

A Mother’s Oath

I carried him in my womb for 9 months. Luckily it was a pretty “easy” and “uneventful” pregnancy. Inside my womb where he was protected and untouchable, at least. Outside, my world was crumbling during those last two months. His little beating heart was the only thing that kept me going…

To read full post, click here.

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. 

A Perpetual Work in Progress

Judgment: we are all guilty of it and we’ve all fallen victim to it at some point or another. Why? Unfortunately it seems that it’s part of our human nature to assume, to jump to conclusions, to believe we know about something that we actually don’t understand.

Even before I lost Ralf, I suffered from some minor anxiety. I would easily stress over things that I realize now were pretty silly. When I remember planning the wedding – OH MY GOD! I had a complete and total meltdown over the invitations being printed vertically instead of horizontally. I’m talking a full-blown temper tantrum in my car with tears and screaming and hitting the steering wheel. Over a piece of paper that most of our guests would end up throwing out and that cost next to nothing because we were putting the invitations together ourselves. Granted, it was a time of high stress, but in that moment I was losing sight of the bigger picture. What mattered was that I was going to be marrying my best friend and not a tiny detail that would likely go unnoticed by everyone other than me.

Since losing Ralf so quickly and unexpectedly, my anxiety has become significantly worse. Sometimes there is a trigger for feeling anxious, like getting in my car before work in the morning and realizing I’m low on gas. Other times, though, there is no single incident that sets me off. Of course, the anxiety I’ve always been prone to is now magnified by depression caused by grief and the sleep deprivation that comes along with parenthood. I often have a hard time being in large crowds of people without feeling like I am going to jump out of my skin. I can barely handle traffic. I am forgetful and I misplace my keys and my phone constantly. Some days it’s hard to simply function because I’m in such a fog.

I haven’t been diagnosed with an actual mental illness by a professional, and I believe my anxiety and bouts of depression are pretty “typical” or “expected” considering what I’ve been through. But now that I’ve become familiar with these feelings – it makes me so much more understanding of people who have battled with them their whole lives – even perhaps without a “reason” to.

How does this tie into judgment?

Unfortunately, mental illness is often accompanied by stigma. You’re expected to just “snap out of it” or “suck it up.” People who have that mindset don’t realize that a person who is truly suffering from anxiety or depression wants nothing more than to stop feeling that way. They don’t realize the enormous amount of effort it can take, and that effort is sometimes not enough. For me, I have to fight daily to stay positive and remind myself of all my blessings so that I don’t stay focused solely on the tragedy I’ve survived. I have to stay active. It really helps when I’m exercising regularly and eating clean. Speaking to a counselor and journaling are also helpful. When I do all of these things consistently, I am able to keep the negative feelings under control most days. Some people aren’t as lucky. Some people can’t shake them even when they take all these same actions in addition to medication.

I remember not long before Ralf passed, there were two firefighters in his department who took their own lives within months of each other. Both were young. Both were fathers. Some comments were made about how their actions were “cowardly” and that they should have at least wanted to keep living for their children. It seems like it should be that simple, right?

It’s not.

I have never been suicidal, so I can’t even begin to imagine the level of desperation a person must feel to want to give up on life. To actually believe that your existence is burdening those you love most and that they would be better off without you. It’s heartbreaking.

We shouldn’t speak in absolutes, and yes, there are cases where people are offered help and choose not to accept it. I’m talking about the ones who need and want the help but don’t know how to seek it. Who are scared of being mocked or told to “just deal.” The ones who hide behind what seems like a “normal” life but are actually stuck in a black hole of misery and unable to climb out.

They matter.

There is nothing “wrong” with a person plagued by mental illness any more than a person who is diagnosed with high blood pressure, or diabetes, or cancer, or any other physical ailment. Mental health is a real issue that deserves real compassion.

Now, I am going to contradict myself just a little and speak in absolutes:

We ALL are fighting inner battles.

We ALL have parts of ourselves that are sometimes difficult to acknowledge.

We ALL need help from time to time.

We are ALL a work in progress.

I suffer from anxiety. I have to fight through intermittent bouts of depression, which are fewer and further apart as more time passes. But I’m still a good person and there is nothing “wrong” with me. My anxiety is just one aspect of who I am; it does not define me as a person. Perhaps one of the most detrimental forms of judgment is the one we often cast upon ourselves. I am working on being more forgiving and understanding of myself, and I encourage you to do the same.

Messages from Beyond

I often reminisce about conversations that Ralf and I shared. That was one of my favorite things about our relationship – the way we could chat for hours on end about virtually anything – ranging from silly and irrelevant to profoundly deep. Memories of those heart-to-heart exchanges are a great source of comfort and peace for me now. We spoke about death numerous times, perhaps because of the nature of his career, or maybe because somewhere deep inside, our subconscious minds knew that we needed to. We always agreed that we would want the person left behind to continue living a happy and full life.

We were both huge fans of Robin Williams. We loved his movies and owned a copy of one of his HBO standup comedy specials, which we would pop into the DVD player whenever we wanted a guaranteed good laugh. We even got to see him live at the Hardrock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida a few years before our wedding. There is one Robin Williams experience that sticks out above all the rest, though. I’ll never forget the night we watched What Dreams May Come. To simplify a very complex screenplay, it’s the story of a man who travels through different realms of the afterlife to reach his deceased wife. After watching that movie together, Ralf and I promised that if there were in fact a way to communicate after death, that we would somehow find a way to do so – and I truly believe that he does.

Whenever I’m feeling particularly down, Ralf finds a way to reach me. It’s usually something subtle, like a song that comes on the radio at the very moment that I need it to, hearing from someone I haven’t spoken to in ages, or having a stranger reach out to me to tell me how Ralf touched his or her life. There have been other signs since Ralf’s death, though, that have been blatant and undeniable. Even members of both our families who consider themselves to be agnostic, or even atheist, have admitted that some occurrences have defied any logical reasoning. These are the ones that stick out the most…

A Numbers Guy, Through and Through

I was very blessed to have my mom care for Mason while he was an infant and I had to return to work. I would spend my lunch hour with him as often as I could. One day, after enjoying a mid-day visit with my little man, my phone started ringing as I turned the corner into the parking lot of the clinic. I had my phone connected to the Bluetooth system, so it took a moment before a name registered on the screen. I remember freezing when it finally appeared.

“Incoming call from Ralf Garcia.”

At this point, both my mind and my heart were racing. My immediate thought was that maybe Ralf’s phone number had finally been reassigned to a new Sprint subscriber. But even so, why would that person dial my number? Then I realized the phone number that was appearing right under his name was slightly different from his – the area code and first two digits were off, but the last five were identical. Then I said to myself, “Maybe it’s a glitch in the Bluetooth and it’s registering as Ralf because the phone number is so similar. Someone probably just has the wrong number.”

I pressed the answer button and heard nothing but static noise.

“Hello?”

The line went dead.

“Hello?!”

I tried calling back three times, only to encounter an automated voice stating that it was not currently a working number, urging me to hang up and try again. And when I manually dialed Ralf’s number, I heard the same message.

There was another occasion involving his phone number. I went to visit Ralf’s gravesite on his birthday with my parents. On the way there, we stopped at a flower shop to pick up a nice arrangement. I stepped outside for some fresh air while my father made small talk with the florist and wrapped up the transaction. My mom could tell that I was feeling anxious, so she joined me. We were talking about something – I can’t recall exactly what right now – when suddenly her voice faded into background noise and my jaw dropped.

“Oh my God, no way!” I gasped in disbelief.

“What is it?” she asked in a concerned way that only a mother can.

“Look at the store’s phone number on that sign,” I responded.

We hadn’t noticed it until then because it was awkwardly placed on the side of a refrigerator they kept out front. Their phone number was almost exactly the same as Ralf’s, with only the last digit being different. I’m not quite as good as Ralf was at calculating statistical probability (he had a degree in mathematics), but I’m guessing those chances were pretty slim.

Tattoos and Nicknames

Not long before I met Vinnie on Facebook through a support group for widows and widowers, I had posted a picture on Instagram of a quote I’d come across and really liked. At the time, I had no idea that it originated from the story of Winnie the Pooh. When Vinnie and I started talking, exchanging stories, and getting to know each other via Facebook Messenger, he asked me if I had any tattoos. I told him I didn’t, and then he shared a picture of his with me. Beautifully written across his forearm were the same words that had caught my attention just days earlier, as if alerting me of something significant that was to come.

“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

After Vinnie and I had already met in person and our relationship was blossoming, I was invited to have dinner with some friends. Max and Ralf had become best buddies through work, and Max was actually the person who spent the most time with Ralf during his final months because they were studying for the Lieutenant’s exam together. I had become very close with his wife, Melissa, after losing Ralf because she was there for me when I needed her most.

That night, like so many before, we shared food, beer, and great conversation – just with a piece of our quartet missing. We started reminiscing, exchanging funny Ralf anecdotes. Somehow, the conversation led to Max recounting some of their studying shenanigans. When he got to this part, I remember making eye contact with Melissa, who already knew about Vinnie, as we both tried to subdue our reactions.

The story goes like this:

Among the many books that they had to review for the exam, there were two authors who penned a lot of the material. One’s last name was Salka, or something similar, and the other’s name was Vincent Dunn. Apparently their pictures appeared somewhere in the text and through their endless hours of studying and delirium, Ralf and Max each took on one of these authors’ personas. Ralf would call Max “Salka” because he had a more rugged appearance like him, while Max would tease Ralf by saying he had a “pretty boy look” similar to Vincent Dunn.

And what did Max nickname Ralf?

“Vinnie.”

They had a running joke whenever they were quizzing each other on proper protocol in different scenarios. When one would stump the other, he would say, “Come on, man! WWVD – What would Vinnie do?” They even jokingly used it as a hashtag.

An Unexplained Welcome Gift

Mason and I joined Ralf’s aunt, cousin, and grandmother in Disney World this past weekend while Vinnie was out of town working. They arrived in Orlando on Friday afternoon and we met them at Animal Kingdom on Saturday morning. We had a wonderful time seeing all the different animals and enjoying the rides. On Saturday evening, we headed back to the hotel for some dinner. We would be staying in a different room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge than the one they had the night before, because Ralf’s aunt requested one that would be more handicap accessible for Ralf’s grandmother.

As soon as we walked through the door, we all commented on how nice the suite was and noticed that someone had left three complimentary stuffed animals on the couch. We agreed that it was a nice touch. Then we quickly made our way out to the balcony in hopes of seeing more animals, since we’d heard they tend to be more active at dusk. Mason squealed in excitement at the sight of a giraffe.

I stepped back inside to head to the bathroom, and something on the couch caught my attention that, for some reason, none of us had noticed before. Resting just to the left of the stuffed lion was a beautiful painting of Mickey holding hands with a firefighter.

I froze, completely speechless. And as Maria and Caro trailed in behind me, so did they.

“Maria, did you do this? Did you mention our story to anyone?”

Nearly in tears, as was I, she promised me that she had not. I quickly texted Ralf’s parents to see if by chance they were responsible – of course, they weren’t. I even called the front desk the next morning, explained the significance of the gift to our family, and nobody could explain why we’d received it. We are still waiting on a call back from Guest Relations.

 

Could all of these examples be nothing more than very lucky coincidences? Someone could definitely argue that point. But I choose to believe that they are much more than that. I choose to believe that they result from the power of a great love that exists beyond the parameters of space or time. If I’m wrong and in the end there is nothing more to death than “lights out” I won’t know the difference anyway, right?

So why not believe?

I absolutely do.

 

firefighter painting

 

UPDATE

 

mug

 

While visiting Vinnie’s parents in Buffalo a few months ago, I discovered this mug in their cabinet as I was about to prepare myself a morning cup of coffee. Vinnie recognized the picture when I pointed it out to him. He’d completely forgotten that his mom (a huge Disney fanatic) owned a mug with the same image that mysteriously appeared in our hotel room last year. I immediately snapped a photo of it and sent it to Ralf’s aunt, Maria. She couldn’t believe it either. She also made an interesting point. She said that maybe that mug, although unbeknownst to anyone for quite some time, was a sign of what was to come: a Disney loving family crossing paths with a firefighter family. What an awesome thought!

I also asked Maria if she ever heard back from Guest Relations. Nobody was ever able to tell her exactly how that picture ended up in our hotel room. And, she was told that there was nobody in that department by the name I’d been given from the front desk. We may never know if it was an anonymous gift (perhaps someone who recognized us and knew our story?) or just some crazy coincidence (maybe it was simply a gift intended as an apology for the previous room not being handicap accessible and it just happened to have a fireman in it?)…

It doesn’t really matter, though, because wherever and whoever it came from, the inspiration to give it came from somewhere – perhaps from a source beyond what our human minds can imagine.

 

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.