Never Say Never

I’ve attempted to sit down and write multiple times over this past month, but on each occasion the words have eluded me. March is filled with many difficult memories and milestones. There has been so much on my mind and heart, many thoughts and tears that need to be “let out” to avoid allowing them to fester inside of me. But until this very moment, I guess I haven’t had the strength or the energy.

On the 24th, it will mark two years since Ralf passed away. I know it sounds totally cliché, but it really does feel like just yesterday and yet like a lifetime ago. So much has changed in two years- losing my husband, becoming a mom, returning to work full time to better provide for my baby, selling a home I thought I’d never leave – just to name a few. Sometimes when I have a moment to just sit and reflect on the changes I’ve endured over the course of twenty-four months, I wonder how I’ve managed to keep my sanity. If it hadn’t been me, if my life hadn’t completely veered off the path that it was expected to take and I were hearing about some other young wife and mom-to-be whose husband died unexpectedly, I know I’d be imagining myself as a total basket case. Yet here I am. No straight jacket. No room with padded walls. Not only still breathing and surviving, but managing to enjoy life.

We all think we know how we will react in certain situations. I know I myself am guilty of saying “I will never” too many times in my life, especially shortly after I lost Ralf.  The truth is that you don’t have a clue how you will respond, or exactly how you will feel, until you actually find yourself in those predicaments. I’ve since realized that I shouldn’t set unrealistic expectations for anyone, and that I must reserve my judgment on myself and on others because none of us really “know” what we are doing as we navigate through grief. I’m learning as I go, listening to my intuition with every big decision, and it’s working for me. I’ve learned that it’s okay not to have all the answers up front, AND it’s okay to sometimes change my mind along the way. The one truly certain and inevitable part of life IS change – circumstances, perspectives, people are continuously evolving.

My biggest “I will never” proclamation after Ralf died was when I vowed that no other man would ever be allowed to carry the title of “Dad” for Mason. His dad was in Heaven, plain and simple. I even remember writing a post about it, and a very wise man commented on it. I didn’t know him personally, but I believe his name was Ivan. He said he wanted to respectfully remind me that it would be okay to change my mind at any point, and that if that moment came, I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Ivan was right. Mason did not choose to be brought into this world, much less without a father. He was robbed of the opportunity to meet Ralf, who I have no doubt would have done a damn good job at earning the title of “Dad” – anyone who knew him would agree. But Ralf is no longer here and he isn’t coming back, as difficult as that has been to accept. To have found a man not only deserving of the title, but also wholeheartedly yearning to step into that role is an absolute blessing. Knowing the type of unselfish person that Ralf was, I now realize that he would have wanted this opportunity for his son. Mason will always have his “Daddy in Heaven” (who he recognizes well in pictures) and now he is blessed to have a daddy on Earth, or “Dada” as he has chosen to call him all on his own.

As I deal with everything that March symbolizes for me, as I continue grieving the loss of a great love, I have new blessings that fill my heart with gratitude. I pray that I continue to allow my heart, which has a limitless capacity for love, to continue to heal, continue to forgive, continue to expand to accommodate yet more love. Anything is possible.

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.

Less Judgment, More Love

Not sure why, but today I remembered something that happened shortly after Ralf passed away, once Mason had already been born. I was at the nail salon with my brother’s girlfriend and we were having a pretty deep discussion about religion and spirituality. Several minutes into the conversation, my nail technician uninvitedly chimed in and said, “You girls are way too young to be talking about such serious things. You should be worried about going out and having fun.” I casually responded with, “Actually, I’ve been through a lot.” He then gave me a patronizing look and asked, “Oh yeah? What’s a lot?” I guess he was expecting me to say something trivial or insignificant. I did my best to suppress my raging postpartum hormones and said, “My husband died when I was 7 months pregnant.” That poor man did not know what to do with himself. The expression on his face made it quite clear how much he wished the earth could swallow him whole in that moment. He apologized and avoided eye contact for the remainder of that manicure. 

We are all guilty of this and more often than not, we don’t even realize we are doing it. I think as human beings we are inquisitive by nature, and unfortunately this sometimes causes us to be quick to judge or assume. It’s not something that is necessarily done maliciously or even consciously. We need to remind ourselves that we never know what someone might be going  through. You may think you have an idea and be completely wrong. It’s a lot easier to ask yourself, “What the hell is her problem?” when a stranger doesn’t return your smile or when a quiet coworker keeps to himself and doesn’t mingle with everyone in the office. But that’s just it – you have no idea what he or she might be dealing with. By the same token, we shouldn’t assume that those who always appear to be happy or that seem to have a picture-perfect life are not actually fighting a silent battle. We ALL have our demons. 

We need to be less critical of each other. To offer more empathy and less judgment. To understand that we all walk different paths and that even when those paths seem very similar, that we are all individuals who react to situations differently. To stop assuming we know what another person is thinking or feeling or suffering, or to think we know what’s best for them. To offer a listening ear and shoulder to cry on rather than a condescending lecture or unsolicited pep talk. More listening, more love, more understanding. Especially in this world we currently find ourselves in. 

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.

Repost: Life Goes On

Thank goodness for old friends and the power of social media! A fellow Lourdes Academy graduate of the class of 2005 (and now, fellow speech-language pathologist) helped me recover almost all of of my missing posts from my previous site (soaringthroughsorrow) – Annette, you rock!

The entry below was written on April 8, 2015. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I realized how far I’ve come and how much life has changed since I wrote this. Life has and continues to go on. Some days are better than others, but all in all, I have been greatly blessed. I continue to move forward just as Ralf would have wanted me to, carrying him in my heart every step of the way. And, I can just imagine Ralf grinning and giving me a big ole “I told you so” – you’ll know what I mean when you get to the third paragraph. I truly believe that he (and another angel I hope to tell you more about later) played a part in making those words come true. I hope you enjoy reading this again as much as I did.

Life Goes On

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 to much, when the weight on my shoulders is just to 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.

Being Human

I was needing a therapeutic writing session today but couldn’t decide on a topic. So many thoughts on my mind and heart and I just couldn’t choose one. I started going through content from my original blogsite (soaringthroughsorrow) for some ideas. Since I deleted it, I’ve had a few people reach out to me requesting specific posts I had written – posts that resonated with them and that they actually remembered by title. I thought it might be a good idea to share some of those on my new site so that anyone who has been wanting to read them again could have access. While going through what I thought was all the material from my previous site, I realized that three of my favorite pieces were not there – a letter to Ralf about Mason’s birth, a letter to Mason about Ralf, and a post where I wrote about my views on God. I don’t have a clue how that happened. This discovery made me so sad and angry. Angry at myself for being impulsive and not making sure I saved everything correctly before deleting the site, especially those letters that I wanted Mason to read one day. I was so upset and on the verge of tears. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I needed to write about today.

Some days I feel empowered. I feel like I can accomplish anything and I feel proud of the woman I am after everything that I have endured. Other days, though, I feel like a failure. I feel like I am failing as a mom because I don’t spend enough time with Mason since I work full time. I beat myself up about the laundry pile being too high, the refrigerator not being fully stocked because I haven’t had time to make it to the grocery store, the sink being full of dirty dishes, the bed not being made in the morning…the list goes on. (Today, it was not saving important files to my hard drive.) On those days, I let the negativity take over and allow myself to stress the insignificant, when I know better. I forget that I am only human and that I am doing the best that I can.

It doesn’t matter if the bed isn’t made every morning – it matters that I make sure to kiss Vinnie goodbye before we both leave for work. It doesn’t matter that the hamper or the sink are overflowing – it matters that I take the time in the evening to lay down with Mason and read books to him and enjoy his snuggles. Laundry and dishes can wait. Even after losing Ralf as suddenly and unexpectedly as I did, after learning first hand that tomorrow is not promised, I still occasionally forget, as we all unfortunately do. My bathroom and toilet need scrubbing, but instead I am taking Mason to the playground to enjoy this beautiful morning. Years from now I won’t remember that the bathroom was dirty.

Stop being so hard on yourself. If you’re a mommy working full time because it’s currently the only choice you have – you are not failing. You are doing what you need to do for your family. Make the time that you do have with your children extra special – it’s about quality, not quantity. If you’re upset with yourself over a mistake you made, whether big or small, learn from it and then let it go. Forgive yourself. You can’t change the past, but you can try to do better in the future. I’ve learned from this mistake – I will be saving all my posts individually onto my hard drive! I have lots more to write about but the swings and slides are waiting for us…

 

 

 

Premonitions

When Ralf was alive, I had a recurring dream for the longest time. I would dream that I couldn’t find him. That he would disappear and wouldn’t answer any of my calls or texts, and when I would reach out to friends or family to try to figure out where he was, they would look at me like I was crazy or didn’t know who I was talking about. I always woke up from those dreams so disturbed, wondering what my subconscious was working through. I remember I used to tell Ralf about the dreams and ask him what he thought they meant. In his typical joking way he would say something like, “Yeah, I know what it means. It means you’re crazy.” I can’t help but wonder now if those dreams were some kind of premonition of what was to come. I can think of several other instances that make me think I somehow knew, deep down inside, that I would lose him.

We were in the dining room of our old house folding laundry. I can’t recall exactly how we got into the conversation, but we were talking about how getting pregnant was scary because the thought of having a sick child was terrifying. We talked about what my parents had been through – having to bury two of their children- and how we couldn’t even begin to imagine what that must have been like. Then I remember saying something like, “You know, your parents have been so blessed. They raised five boys who were completely healthy.” I remember having this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach after those words left my mouth and thinking, “I hope I didn’t just jinx it by saying that” – and of course feeling silly for even thinking I could have that kind of power.

In the Fall of 2014,  I was diagnosed with Mycosis Fungoides,  a type of non-Hodgkin’s cutaneous lymphoma. When my dermatologist first gave me the news and told me she was referring me to an oncologist, we were totally freaking out. We had to wait for two weeks for that appointment at the University of Miami Comprehensive Cancer Center, where we were  informed that what I had was in the early stages, very limited, and very unlikely to progress into anything more than the white scaly patches I had on my thigh. I remember feeling relieved, but not completely. The news that I was going to be okay, that we could proceed with our plan to start a family, didn’t bring me as much peace as it should have. I felt like there was still something not quite right. I even remember the word “foreshadowing” crossing my mind. Why on Earth would I even think that?

Another time we were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner. I was pregnant and we had recently found out that we were having a boy.  I was telling Ralf that I had a really funny feeling the baby would be just like him, as I handed him the ice bucket to put in the cabinet above the refrigerator that I couldn’t reach. I said something clever like, “Yeah, God’s going to give me a little you to drive me crazy when you’re not around and to put dishes away for me when I can’t reach.” I vaguely remember we had a moment right after that where we made eye contact and both silently acknowledged the awkwardness of those words – “when you’re not around.” Of course, I meant when he was on shift at the station.

About three weeks before Ralf got sick, we got into an argument. He was at work and he asked me to organize some paperwork to prepare for our upcoming appointment to complete our tax return with our accountant. As I was gathering all the necessary documents, I came across a paystub, where I read that his father was listed as his primary beneficiary, his mother as secondary. At that point, we had been married for three years. I was so upset that he hadn’t yet changed it. I confronted him about it, and he said he had not changed it because it was “such a mission” and he had to make a trip down town, etc. I remember telling him what a pain in the neck it was for me to change my name after we got married – on my social security card, my credit cards, my student loans, my professional licensure and certification. I called him irresponsible and he was offended. I specifically remember him saying to me, “I’m sorry that you think my parents are so conniving that they wouldn’t give the money over to you if I were to die.” I told him he knew me better than that and that was obviously not what I was trying to say. I then told him I meant that if something were to happen to him, not having me listed as the beneficiary would make it that much more difficult for me to get the funds that I would need to provide for our children. He promised he would change it as soon as Mason was born. We made up, apologized to each other, and admitted we were both stressed and anxious.  Unfortunately, I had no idea just how accurate my words would turn out to be.

My uncle and godfather, Tio Lui, died less than three weeks before Ralf. Ralf wasn’t working that day. I remember getting the call from my mother in the morning. I hung up the phone and just started sobbing. Ralf woke up when he heard me crying and pulled me in close to comfort me. I called my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be able to make it to work and we went to pick up breakfast for my parents. Then we headed to the apartment where my uncle had been living with my grandmother. Ralf helped to transfer my uncle’s body into the van that would transport him to the morgue. Afterwards, we went to spend the day at my parents’ house. I remember we were sitting at the kitchen counter, I was resting my head on his shoulder, and my mom was standing across from us. She was telling us about her experience visiting her estranged father just a couple weeks prior. She traveled to New Jersey to make peace with him before he died, but arrived just minutes after he passed. Ralf told her she did what she could and that she couldn’t beat herself up over it. My dad’s uncle was also very ill at the time. Someone commented, “They say it usually happens in three’s.” In that moment, I had that same uneasy feeling in my stomach. I thought, “Oh God, I hope it’s not me or Ralf.” We had no idea Ralf was even sick at that point – what would cause me to have a thought like that?

One of Ralf’s favorite movies was Ladder 49 with Joaquin Pheonix. As a matter of fact, we saw that movie together in theaters when we first started dating in high school, and I think that was the beginning of his fascination with a career in the fire service. I always had a hard time watching the ending of that movie – the part with the funeral. I didn’t know why it hit me so hard, but it did. Shortly after Ralf’s passing, I was cleaning out his truck and found the soundtrack for the movie among his CDs. In that moment, I remembered the funeral scene, and how much he liked the song that played. I decided to search for it on YouTube. When I watched it, I felt like I was watching footage of Ralf’s funeral. They were so similar.  Of course, many tears resulted from that realization.

I’m not an extremely religious person, but I am very spiritual. I believe in signs. I believe some people have the ability to see that which others cannot. I guess I will never know for sure whether these examples are merely coincidences or something greater. I can say, though, that “knowing”, whether consciously or subconsciously, that I would lose Ralf could still have never prepared me for it.

Since Ralf’s death, I have a new recurring dream. I walk into the house and he is laying down on the couch and greets me just the same way he always did. As if nothing has happened, nothing has changed. I sit down next to him and explain everything – that he got sick, that he died – and he is completely shocked by all of it. I’m still trying to figure out what this dream means – maybe just my subconscious trying to make sense of it all.

I have other dreams, too. Some are negative, but the good ones – those are the ones I choose to hang on to. The other night I dreamed that I saw Ralf, I ran into his arms but then pulled away while holding his face between my hands to get a better look at him. I asked him, “Is this real, is this really you? Or am I just dreaming?” He smiled that Kodak smile and said, “It’s real. I’m here.”

New Year, New Blog

I am not, by any means, an expert on grief. I know that there are a lot of really knowledgeable mental health professionals out there who have years of education, research, and numerous publications on their list of credentials, who can provide you with all kinds of information and resources. I can only speak from my own personal experience. I can tell you what grief has looked like, and continues to look like for me.

 

In the beginning, my grief was very public. Looking back on this now, I think there were a few reasons for that. I initially started posting on Facebook and Instagram to update our family and friends on what was happening after Ralf had been admitted into the hospital. It just made it easier. He and I were both being flooded with phone calls, texts and emails that were nearly impossible to respond to, and I wanted to relieve whatever stress I could for him. I took to social media because obviously it was easier to reach everyone that way. Then somehow those factual status updates and requests for prayers evolved into something more. They became my therapy. I found that writing allowed me to express my feelings in a way that I wasn’t able to otherwise. When I saw the response that I received, I was completely blown away. I decided to start an actual blog and I could not believe that so many people wanted to read MY words, that they found comfort in what I had to say. Honesty, I still can’t believe it. I remember seeing that my blog posts had gotten tens of thousands of views – some even from people outside of the U.S.- and thinking, “Seriously?!” I NEVER imagined that I could have that kind of impact.

 

Then at some point, my grieving process changed. I no longer wanted the attention. I no longer wanted to be recognized at the grocery store or at the gym as “the poor young widow” who lost her husband at 28 years of age while pregnant with their first-born child. It became overwhelming. It had nothing to do with everyone else and everything to do with me. It was the same love and support that I had been receiving, even from complete strangers, from the beginning. But somewhere along the way, it became a repeated reminder of the life that I had lost. Of the life that I was supposed to have and that would never be. I remember several occasions where I had to paint a smile on my face and try my best to utter a sincere-sounding “thank you” when all I was thinking in my head was, “If one more person gives me their condolences, I am going to lose my damn mind!” I didn’t want condolences. I didn’t want any more monetary donations or gifts. I just wanted Ralf.

 

I continued to write a few more blog posts after I started feeling that way. After all, writing it out is my way of working through my feelings. Unfortunately, however, I allowed a couple of negative comments to affect me so much, that I decided to fall off the grid for a while.  I realize now that I was too vulnerable at the time. My writing and my blogging originally stemmed from a need for support and understanding because I was experiencing something so excruciatingly painful and I felt alone. When I came across negativity, I was in too fragile of a state to realize I couldn’t let the opinion of a couple of complete strangers keep me from doing something that I love to do and that so many other people appreciate – to write.

 

My resolution for this new year is to make more time for the things that I love to do, and to make them matter – and continuing to write about my experiences and feelings as a widowed mother does both. If I can touch just one person who is hurting or going through something similar, then I have succeeded.

 

So much has changed over the last year. My beautiful boy continues to grow and amaze me every day. I have a new man in my life who adores us both, and who understands my struggles because he too experienced the loss of a spouse. I have a new job and home in a new town. Many wonderful and exciting things came out of 2016, but I will forever be in the process of healing. I’m okay with that, because it’s a testament to just how much I loved and will always love what is lost. This beautiful, crazy, unpredictable, and challenging life continues – and I want to make every minute count.

 

Since I deleted the old site (soaringthroughsorrow), I was unable to reactivate it. So, I had to come up with a new name. I was brainstorming all weekend and of course, all the names I thought of were unavailable. Last night as I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, I found myself singing “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts, as I so often do, and it came to me. This was the song that Ralf and I danced to on our wedding day. The first line says, “I set out on a narrow way many years ago, hoping that I’d find true love along the broken road.” Life is a very broken, twisted, winding road full of great times and hard times. But if you are blessed enough to find true love along the way, it’s all worth it.

 

Happy New Year to everyone reading this! I hope you find what you’re looking for along  the broken road. Stay tuned…

A House is Not a Home 

It’s a little after 3:00 in the morning and I’m lying in this cold and empty bed alone. I can’t sleep.

After you passed, I thought I wanted to stay here in this house. I was convinced that it was home, that it was where I was supposed to be. It was the place that I wanted to bring Mason to because this is where you and I dreamed of raising our family. Little by little, as the time has passed, I’ve realized this house is not my home – YOU were my home. This is where WE were supposed to raise Mason TOGETHER. Without you, this is just like any other building. 

You and I had so many conversations about so many different things over the years. We talked about what we wanted for each other should something ever happen to one of us. You always said you wanted me to live my life, to find my way to happiness again. For a while I was torn because we never talked about what we would do with this house. Stay in it forever? Sell it? Rent it out? Until one day recently when I had a huge “aha” moment- I guess you were there whispering some common sense into my ear, as you always did. I realized you would have wanted me to do whatever was easiest and felt right for me and for our son.

I can’t do it anymore. I can’t continue to turn the key and be reminded of the first time we opened that front door after we closed on the house, or how frustrated you got installing those fancy new locks after we had it painted. I can’t walk in every night and look up and see that picture of us in front of the firetruck on our wedding day and remember how you surprised me and rang the doorbell and I opened to find you holding that huge frame that you couldn’t believe you spent so much money on. I can’t sit alone on the couch that you loved so much – the one I would often find you and Charlie napping on when I would come home from work on your days off (even though you were so adamant about “Charlie not being allowed on the furniture”). I can’t climb those stairs every day, lined with all the pictures of us on our wedding day with our families and closest friends, our faces painted with smiles filled with hope for a future that was taken from us. I can’t continue to get in this bed every night and be reminded of your final words to me the last time I saw you conscious – “I miss our bed”. I just can’t anymore. 

As much as it hurts to say, the life you and I shared in this house is no more. You will live in my heart forever, but staying here will never change the fact that you are gone from this earth. Yes, packing up and leaving will be difficult, but nothing compared to what I’ve already lived through. I’ve finally realized this is another huge step necessary for moving forward. Sometimes, when it’s really quiet and I close my eyes, I can almost feel you nudging me and hear you telling me to keep going. I’m listening. I’m ready. 

Love Out Loud

Those of you that have been following my story from the beginning, when Ralf was in the hospital and I started posting on Facebook, have already read the words below. If you attended his funeral mass, you heard them read so eloquently by my father-in-law before he gave his beautiful eulogy. What you don’t know, however, because I didn’t mention it at the time, is that the “meat” of this post – which you will notice in bold now- was actually written several months before Ralf’s passing. I took them from an email that I wrote to him after we’d had a really stupid fight over something so insignificant – something that couples unfortunately do at times. I realized that I was being ridiculous for being upset with him, and so I wrote my feelings down. When I made the Facebook post, I just added some introductory/concluding remarks and changed all the you’s to he’s.

I am SO happy that I can say Ralf read these words, that he knew how I loved him. I believe he still does and always will. Even on my the days when I feel like the grief hits me all over again like a ton of bricks, that brings me so much comfort and peace.

Don’t ever assume the people you love know how you feel about them. TELL them. SHOW them. Love them out loud. Even if they do already know, it’s nice to be reminded.

Kiss at Dani's Wedding

As I sit here, trying to cope as best I can, I struggle to find the words to express what I am feeling. Everyone tells me how “strong” and “amazing” I am being, but the truth is the only thing that is keeping me going is Ralf’s baby, whose heart is beating inside of me. I am only trying to do what I know Ralf would have done for me.

From the moment I found out that we were having a boy, I kept telling Ralf I had this funny feeling our baby was going to be a little carbon copy of him. I believe that more than ever now. I know so many people have been witness to the genuineness and pure love that was Ralf, but no one will ever understand the level of intimacy he and I shared on all levels. I will not sit here and tell you he was perfect, because perfect does not exist. But I can tell you without a doubt in my mind or an ounce of hesitation that he WAS the ideal man that every woman dreams of finding one day. A man that put his woman’s needs ahead of his own. A man that treated his woman with the utmost respect. Who listened to her and did whatever he could to make her feel understood, even when she sounded crazy to the rest of the world. A man that found beauty and humor in all of his woman’s little quirks and imperfections and did his best to make her feel like the most attractive creature alive (even on days when she felt anything but). A man that owned up to his mistakes and apologized from the bottom of his heart. A man that made his woman feel loved, and appreciated, and cherished every day. Even on the not-so-great days. He was the kind of man that most women never find.

Although I feel he was taken from me too soon, I feel honored and privileged to have been able to share my life with him and call myself his wife. A love like ours is one that comes along rarely, and why God chose me, I will never fully understand. But I am so grateful. Don’t take pity or feel sad for me. I was the lucky one. He was the love of my life and my heart will always be his.

I love you Ralf. Know that your son will be raised with so much love and support. I will make sure everyday that he knows who his daddy was and what an amazing and loved man he was. I have no doubt that you will be there in spirit every step of the way. Rest easy, in peace and without any pain.