I am in a good place.  A great place, actually.  After two years of pain I really did not think this place I am currently residing in was attainable again. I am happy.  Truly, happy.  Why am I so happy?  Very simply;  it’s because a little girl repaired a hole in my heart…

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A signature of my blog posts over the past two years is their brutal honesty.  I don’t withhold anything in my writing.  Every emotion felt was, and remains to be, fair game for me to share.  Those feelings, almost universally negative, seem caught in an orbit centered around the loss of Rees.  Over the past two years a constant stream of fiery emotions bombarded me from their orbit, always seeming to make a direct impact on me.  One of the most frustrating aspects of this bombardment is the randomness of the strikes.  There was/is no discernible periodicity to their pummeling of me.  As a result, I found myself constantly on guard, an eye ever looking skyward, anxiously waiting for the signs of the next onslaught…

The anxiety created by constant fear is incredibly unnerving.  It resonated within me at a fundamental level, and it was so ingrained that I felt I could not excise it, no matter how hard I tried.  Regardless of the good we did through the foundation, or the length of time that separated me from the loss of Rees, the fear of emotional bombardment remained unchanged.  I hated living in fear of my feelings.  For almost two years I wanted to regain a fundamental sense of happiness that I could barely remember having existed in myself before we lost Rees.  The asterisk I wrote about in “My life*” seemed like the new normal to me and the time before Rees’ death felt like the exception.  I really didn’t think I could ever feel the peace I had before October 27th, 2012 and found myself resigned to living a diminished life.  For almost two years I truly experienced just that: A diminished existence.  That is until, in one moment, everything changed and I was reminded of the beauty of life and its ability to conquer death.  That moment was when I first met my third little girl, Melina Arya Specht.

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Melina Arya Specht. 10lbs 1oz.

They say having a baby “changes everything”, and while I really don’t know who the heck “they” are – it turns out that adage is completely true.  The moment my daughter Melina entered the world I experienced something I had not experienced, in any form, for the first time in 23+ months:  pure, unadulterated, bliss.  The joy in seeing her take her first breaths after emerging from the watery environment that nourished her for 9 months proved to be the metaphoric antithesis of the events that took my little boy from me.  In her first moments of existence I was instantly reminded of what life is all about in the first place… renewal.  Her literal birth became a figurative re-birth for my sense of hope:  Her arrival a renewal that I could never have predicted. One singular moment creating an atmosphere that vaporized the fear orbiting me.

That fear seemed to reach a crescendo right before her birth.  Throughout the length of Samantha’s pregnancy we both took on air of “wait and see” – not believing that we would actually meet her…always waiting for something bad to happen.  It was incredibly stressful and made those nine months feel like an eternity.  From the moment we found out Sam was pregnant, we just felt like we could not possibly be happy again.  Nowhere was this feeling more evident than in my hesitance to repaint Rees’ nursery for her.  After we found out Melina was a girl, I knew I would have to change the nursery from Mets orange and blue to something new, befitting our new little princess.  The problem was since I had so much doubt and fear, I was afraid that I would paint the room only to suffer another loss – and be left with yet another painful reminder.  I didn’t want to do it and put it off until I absolutely had to get the room done in order to surprise Melina (our former Au Pair whom Melina is named after) when she arrived the end of July.

Painting that room was one of the most cathartic things I have ever done in my life.  There was something deeply symbolic about covering the blue on those walls with the pink hues that would now define it.  Before I started I felt like I would be erasing Rees in a way, but the opposite proved true – covering over the blue proved to be a reminder that life goes on, and that life is for the living.  I wasn’t erasing Rees, I was coloring in a new page in the book of life.  What also helped is that we kept the orange trim in the room as a gentle reminder (and incredible time saver!!! – I hate trim!!!).  After completing the room, I found we opened the door again and it no longer served as a source of sadness – in fact it became the opposite; a source of hope.

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Even after painting the room, and placing her name above the crib I still found I just could not believe we were having a little girl.  I was so afraid that something terrible was lurking just around the corner.  It didn’t help that at the time I should have been getting ready for the birth of our daughter I was spending time with my friend Arty Miller, who would lose his short battle with Lymphoma merely weeks before she was born.  The pain from the loss of my friend only served as a reminder of how fragile life was – and gave me extra cause for fear that we wouldn’t meet our little girl.  The loss of my friend, the fear of the loss of the baby and the fast approaching two year anniversary of Rees’ passing proved to be a potent combination that lead to almost crippling fear.  The confluence of those feelings put me at the lowest I had been since Richie’s death.  My usual optimism was almost completely wiped away from fear and sadness.  I was just waiting for the next round of bad news…

That all changed early in the morning on October 16th, 2014.  As soon as I heard the first cry of my fourth child, a feeling washed over me like a scouring tide removing all the debris littering an unkempt beach.  In one moment all the fear I had was wiped away, replaced with a feeling a pure joy no doubt magnified by the stark contrast to my previous disposition.  Hearing her cry was the most life affirming moment I have ever experienced.  The smile on Samantha’s face, unburdened by the pain that dwelled in her for 23 months, was the most beautiful thing my eyes have ever gazed upon.  Right there, in that moment, life was ours to hold and embrace.  The smile on my face, caught in my first selfie with Melina, is all I need to see the effect this little girl had on my soul.  Nothing could be more perfect than that moment.  Nothing.  It is a point that I know will flash before my eyes when my time to reunite with Rees is at hand.  Life conquers death and love is eternal.  I experienced both at once.

because I'm Happy...

because I’m Happy…

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and so is my love…

I sit here today a happy man.  Despite all I have lost, I find myself happy for what I have now.  Melina has given me a reason to appreciate what is a part of present, while Rees and Arty give me something to smile about in my past.  Melina is a brand new life, a new hope, and I revel in the fact that she will grow up knowing her brother without having to share the acute pain the rest of her family has endured.  Melina is in an enviable position, she will have the perspective of knowing the impact her big brother is having without ever having to have experienced his loss first hand. I talk about perspective with the students who I share Rees’ story with all the time, and even through that introspection, I failed to realize that Rees’ death fixated me on the idea that death ends life.  Melina’s birth flipped my perspective again, helping me to recognize that from death comes life.  Indeed, both approaches are completely true; the only difference being how you view it…with one exception: Life always finds a way.  Life always wins.  Her birth reminded me of that important distinction.

I initially found myself disappointed by the notion that I would never have a little boy to play with again – I have come to realization that a little girl was perfect for us.  I wont ever find myself comparing her to Rees.  I will never make the subconscious comparison to her disposition vs. his.  Our little girl is the perfect fit for healing our family. I truly believe that Rees had his hands in sending us a little girl the whole time.  While I do wish that she had a chance to meet him, based on the amount of time I catch her staring at her brother’s portrait on the wall (and the familiar smile it elicits), I suspect she already has.

staring at her brother...

staring at her brother…

In the end, I get to have another “Daddy’s girl”.  I get (God willing) another walk down the aisle.  I get the opportunity to terrorize another potential suitor.  I get a chance to be a superhero protector again.  I get to smile.  My heart is ready to have fun again.  My sadness has taken a back seat to hope again.  I get to be me.  I get to be Daddy again.  I get to be tickled pink, for the rest of my life…