From Ashes to Beauty

You were never supposed to happen to me.

This is a love that was not part of my plan.

But then life happened the way it did.

It shattered.

Into a million jagged pieces on the floor.

Fragments of broken dreams that could never fit back together the way they once did.

And they don’t.

But that’s the point.

Somehow you helped me revive the remnants of my heart, by intertwining them with yours.

You gave me the courage to dream again.

To hope for the future.

I can’t promise you that it will be free of pain, but I can promise to hold your hand through every challenge and rejoice with you through every blessing.

I can’t promise you that loving each other will always be easy, but I can promise to always fight for us.

I can’t promise to be the perfect wife, but I can promise to always have your best interest at the core of every decision I make.

I can’t promise that I’ll be here for the rest of your life, but I can promise to love you, to cherish you, to be loyal to you, and to honor you for the rest of mine.

And together, hand in hand, we shall continue to build beauty from our ashes.

 

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Photo by Michelle Guzman

An Unexpected Bond

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.

So happy.

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.

I truly believe he will.

Imperfect Love

I posted this picture on Instagram last night. It was taken by a friend on the night we celebrated turning 21 (our birthdays are just five days apart). The picture gained a lot of likes and comments, one of them being “true happiness” – and it made me realize that there was more to this picture that I wanted to share.

First of all, if we look incredibly happy – one too many vodka cranberries may have had something to do with it. (I mean, 21st birthday celebrations usually involve alcohol, right?)

Secondly, while it was mostly an epic night, it ended with Ralf and I getting into one of the worst and dumbest fights of our entire relationship. (Yes, once again, vodka cranberry. If you asked me today what the fight was about, I couldn’t tell you.)

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. They simply do not exist. If that’s what you’ve been searching or waiting for, you will never find it. I promise you that.

We were truly happy – most of the time.

Then there were times that I wanted to wring his neck or that he wanted to throw me off of our second story balcony.

And now, I’m very happy in my relationship with Vinnie, but it isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. There are days when the very ugly parts of grief surface for each of us, and it takes a great deal of patience and understanding.

Don’t look for someone to love you perfectly. When you find someone who will love you despite your own ugly imperfections – that’s who you should hold on to.

The one who will still see your beauty and your worth even when they are buried under irrational, unwarranted anger brought on by too many vodka cranberries.

The one who will see past your irritability and depression caused by grief and wait for you on the other side with open arms.

And if you’re lucky enough to find that, remember that the length of your time together is impossible to predict.

So cherish it.

All of it – even the unpleasant moments. Because working through the hard stuff is when your relationship will have the potential to grow the most.

Fight and argue if you need to; air out your dirty laundry.

Then,  remember that you must always fight for each other.

💙,

Maeghan

 

 

Love After Life

We never met while you were here on this Earth, but I feel very connected to you. You were the love of the man who now holds my heart. Like him, I have suffered the loss of a great love of my life.

I completely understand how he yearned for you, cried for you after you left – and how a part of him always will. I understand how even now he can be having a completely “normal” day and suddenly see your eyes in the face of a stranger or hear your laugh in the line of a song and be swallowed up in grief all over again. I understand how he may feel guilty at times because his mind occasionally has trouble justifying his right to be in love and feel happy again, even though his heart of hearts knows that happiness is what you would have wanted for him. I understand that while his soul overflows with pride and gratitude every time he gets to witness and share in another milestone with Mason and me, that there is an underlying, eternal ache for all the missed moments that he should have had with you and Anthony. A pain that is ever present but that he has learned to live with because he’s had to.

I understand that I will never be you, because, how could I be? You were the only you there could ever be. And from what I’ve been able to gather from stories, pictures, and my own imagination, you were special and beautiful both inside and out. I understand that he doesn’t need or want me to be you, either. His heart has grown despite his suffering and has made additional room for me, with your space completely intact forever. As it should be.

You were you and left too soon. It was completely out of your control.

I am me, and I’m still here. And while it’s impossible to know for how long, I hope to honor your legacy by giving him all the love you planned to. I know that I can, because it’s the same love that I envisioned giving to Ralf until old age. But like you, he had to leave sooner than anticipated.

We move forward into this unpredictable life, but you are and always will be a part of our story.

So will Anthony.

So will Ralf.

And what a crazy, tragically beautiful story it is.

I hope we make you proud.

My Expanded Heart

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

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

It was hard, and oftentimes still is.

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

You think you’ll never be truly happy again.

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

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

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

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

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

And now, Vinnie is with me, too.

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

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

 

concert shot

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.

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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.