A few weeks ago, my mom sent me a text saying that she’d been cleaning out her filing cabinets and came across some really nice pictures of Ralf and me. She asked if I would like to see. Then, she took pictures of the pictures with her phone and sent them my way.
There we were.
Just 18 years old, freshly graduated from high school, filled with hope and anticipation for the future that we already knew we wanted to build together.
So in love.
And, completely clueless of what was to come.
Mason sat next to me on the couch as I scrolled through the images. In his precious little voice he asked, “What you watching, Mommy?”
I returned his question with another question.
“Mason, who are these people?”
“Mommy and Daddy in Heaven,” he replied with a shy smile.
“That’s right, Baby.”
I took the opportunity to talk to him about his father. I explained to him, as I have many times before, how much we loved each other and how excited we were to have a baby. Mason listened intently as I told him, yet again, the story of how his Daddy in Heaven was a fireman who drove a black RAM and knew how to operate a big boat.
Then I explained that Daddy in Heaven was called to be with God while Mason was still in Mommy’s belly. He loves to hear about how the doctors took him out of Mommy’s belly, how his Yaya placed him on Mommy’s chest for the very first time, and how she fell in love instantly.
He smiled so innocently, paused reflectively, and said something I was not quite prepared to hear.
“I want him to hold me.”
My heart dropped into my stomach.
“Oh, Sweetie. He wants to hold you, too. And I believe one day he will.”
I pulled him in close, squeezed him tight, and reminded him – for probably the millionth time that day- just how much Mommy loves him. Then, a few minutes later, the front door opened and in walked his Daddy on Earth. Mason screamed in excitement and ran into his arms.
And he was held.
Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we plan or even hope for, but we must be grateful for the unexpected blessings that come our way.
I know with all my heart that Ralf watches and rests in peace knowing that his son is so loved and cherished. Until the day he can finally hold him in his arms, just like he always wanted to.
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.
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?
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.