The days from Thanksgiving until today mark a time full of difficult memories for me, my mom and my sister. The memories are of my stepfather, Ralph. He died 15 years ago today after suffering a massive heart attack at home. The suddenness and the shock of his death saturated our lives for a long time after. He was the glue that held our little family together. Ralph brought a great deal of happiness to our lives and to the lives of everyone he met. He had one of those personalities, you know the kind that just puts you at ease immediately. His jovial laugh, Rhode Island accent and sincere smile made him immediately likable to everyone he met.
Thanksgiving was the last holiday we celebrated together. My sister was studying in Spain that year. It was a quiet holiday weekend. I lived at home though I had graduated from college earlier that year. I left for work the Monday after Thanksgiving. I always gave my mother and Ralph a hug and said, “I love you.” Ralph worked at home on Mondays. I worked in a small office at the university I graduated from. Most Mondays I would call Ralph to chit chat. This Monday was no different, except when I called my uncle answered the phone and urged me to come home immediately. My uncle also worked from home on Mondays and he and Ralph usually met for coffee. My uncle found Ralph on the sofa, unresponsive. He called 911 and tried his best to resuscitate him. It was too late.
The rest of the day is blur. I had never lost anyone I was close to until that day. Our lives have never been the same especially my mom’s. Ralph was a wonderful man who brought so much joy to our family. He had no children of his own and always loved us as though we were just as special. He was careful not to take the place of our father, but became more of a mentor to me during my awkward, frustrating teen years. Ralph listened and offered advice. He always reminded me that I was perfect just the way I was.
Ralph was a big man who loved to smoke and eat. I mean he genuinely loved smoking and eating. He ate rich Italian cuisine. He smoked anywhere from a pack to three packs of cigarettes a day. He lived his life exactly how he wanted to (and don’t think for one minute that this doesn’t anger me at times when I think about how his life ended too quickly). His death shook me up. It reminded me that we are not immortal. I knew then that I had to start taking care of myself or I too would risk heart attack and other health issues. I was a smoker at the time Ralph died. I quit 13 years ago. My weight issues have taken longer to rectify and my shift to a healthier diet didn’t begin right away, but it was constantly on my mind.
I miss Ralph and still think of him often. I wish Carlos could know him. I can only imagine the close relationship the two of them would have. I know that he would have loved my husband. I also think he would be proud of me for how I’ve changed my life over the past few years.
I ran this morning like I do most Friday mornings while Carlos is at school. The weather has been pleasantly surprising me on my run days. It was crisp and cool but the sun was shining bright. I have been experiencing great runs lately and today was no different. My legs wanted to move and my breathing took no time to get under control. I sped around the reservoir at a comfortable yet noticeably faster pace than usual. I completed 4 miles in just under 40 minutes which is a record of sorts for me since I broke my rib back in September. I thought a lot about Ralph on my run. December 2 will always be a day I remember. It will always be a day that reminds me to tell my family I love them, to hug my husband and son as much as possible, and to appreciate life.