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Missing Maggie


Maggie Rittler

Missing Maggie

It’s not the phone call from your dad that you expect after relaxing for two weeks in Stone Harbor on the Jersey shore.

Maggie is on the way to the hospital in an ambulance, Timm found her unconscious in a bathroom at a movie theater.

In my mind there are a lot of reasons people pass out places so I wasn’t concerned.

The next call 45 minutes later was the take your breath away blow.

Maggie has died.

I had to ask my dad to repeat that phrase 3 times before my brain would comprehend the words. They simply didn’t compute in my mind. I had just seen Maggie’s last post on Facebook. She couldn’t be dead. That made no sense at all.

The Fit

Maggie came into our lives in 1989. My brother Timm had gone to Israel to study for a couple of years. While there he met Maggie. She was unexpected in our family. Looking back as you get older you realize that true love often comes in the most unusual places but at the time it seemed strange to me that my brother had found his future wife halfway around the world.

Maggie didn’t exactly fit the Rittler family mold. She was from New Jersey. Vegetarian at the time. She said “et” in sentences. She wasn’t a conservative. But for all of these differences (which were good for my family) she fit Timm.

Early Halloweens in our family I would grab a sheet, cut out two eye holes, and go trick or treating as a ghost. Minimum effort for maximum candy reward. Timm, on the other hand, would build a replica wooden airplane that he would fit in and wheel around Summer Hill wrapped in a scarf and donning a hat like the Red Baron. For him it was about the craft and creating.

So it was no surprise that Maggie would be the same. She was about the craft and creating. Her craft was most often words but could be so many things. Their home has been a project in craft & creating from the start. Each room uniquely crafted by Timm & decorated by Maggie.

But written words were where she excelled. At the viewings, on facebook and at the memorial service the most consistent words I heard were “I received this note from Maggie…”

The Unexpected Maggie

The first week after Maggie died was a blur. You don’t expect a sudden death. You don’t realize how many things need to be done. At least for Elise and I it was a gift. To do something felt good. It gave breaks from sadness that we needed while grieving.

At the funeral home, the funeral director gently asked questions about arrangements and plans. I was struck by one question in particular. He said sometimes when younger people die you will list “unexpectedly” on the death notice at the beginning to note that it was sudden. He asked “Would you like to put unexpectedly at the top of the death notice?” This stuck with me.

Maggie was full of unexpected things in our lives. To me the most unexpected thing was her ability to create unique relationships with each person she encountered.

Before Timm and I were both married our future wives were thrown together as roomates in my parents house at Deep Creek lake. They were quick friends and partners navigating life in our family. Their relationship grew over the years into a deep friendship. One of Elise’s favorite things about our frequent time at the lake was time with Maggie. Maggie was ever a deep encourager to Elise as she was to so many.

For my older boys, Caleb & Josh, Aunt Maggie was a  champion and a friend. When they were both very young Maggie suggested, in that way that she did that left you no choice but to comply, that they refer to her as “Tall & Beautiful Aunt Maggie.” They happily complied and the title was soon shortened to TBA (Tall & Beautiful Aunt).

For Seth and Riley, and many others, Aunt Maggie was a moment maker. Maggie would create unique experiences. Most notable was the annual ginger bread house party that Maggie hosted for our kids and the other cousins at Christmas every year. Seth could hardly stand sitting through church on ginger bread house Sunday. If you know Seth you know the supreme importance of food in his life. Aunt Maggie’s ginger bread party was like a national holiday in his mind. A day to be preserved above all others.

And for me I’ve been given two sister in laws that I love. One on each side of our family. For me they aren’t sister in laws. Just sisters.

Maggie and I shared one particular trait that I treasured: we both created our own unconventional, non-conforming way through life. Over the years Elise and I learned not to be surprised by anything Maggie did. Maggie had a kaleidoscope like way about her. If you knew her for any length of time you saw her change and grow into different areas and interests. I loved that about her.

Even in faith we shared a slant. Profoundly influenced by Jesus but unwilling to simply be religious. Maggie inspired people to take chances, risks & challenge their views. It wasn’t enough to have an answer. Maggie was a thinker & passionate about her faith.

Maggie’s relationships were unexpected, deep & wide. As the week after her death unfolded more and more of these relationships made it so obvious that Maggie loved people.

The Champion

There is the champion that is the victor. The winner. The conqueror. This champion is a noun. Maggie wouldn’t fit as this champion in a competitive sense.

But Maggie was a different kind of champion. This is the champion that fights for a cause, fights for people, fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. This champion is a verb.

In Maggie’s life you could so easily see this champion through her children. Maggie loved everything about Ellin, Emmett & Henry. And while so many of us fear our children not fitting in, Maggie feared that her children would feel like they have to fit in. She encouraged them to be their own people. As musicians, artists, fighters, poets, readers, soldiers. She embraced them for who they were.

And Maggie was the champion of my brother. Timm, the cabinetmaker,  couldn’t build something that Maggie didn’t value and love. Maggie loved Timm and what he created. She followed him to woodworking conferences enthused about their artisan life.

What more does anyone want for their brother, son or father than an adoring wife?

Not the end

In the first few hours following Maggie’s death we were in shock. Wandering around Stone Harbor after dinner that Friday night we called friends & family. We shopped aimlessly; stunned. Not really doing anything. Waiting for more news. In my fantasy mind I was expecting a third phone call from my dad that would go something like this: “There was a mistake in the confusion. Maggie is ok.” That call didn’t come.

There really wasn’t any more news. Maggie’s death is still unexplained and unexplainable. In moments like this all the cliche things that people say when people die suddenly make sense. In all other contexts they seem trite and silly.

It’s been a month since i received that phone call. And our family moves on with a hole in it. I’m sure the hole will heal over time. But for now it’s just something missing that hurts.

Emmett shared profound thoughts with Maggie’s childhood friend Ginger:

I don’t understand all of this but I don’t think I need to right now.

I do occasionally get a glimpse of joy in all of this. Henry has begun sharing more and more conversations that I’m sure would have been quiet whispers between he and Maggie. Emmet, while stoic at times, has stepped up as a young man called by duty to help and be with his father, brother and sister. Ellin, the young woman, cares for those around her as her mother would: with confidence and grace.

And Timm grieves. In his own way. In his own time. I’m reminded of the scene in the gladiator when Maximus talks to his friend about his wife and son: “they will not return to me but someday I will go to be with them, but not yet.” This pain, while as real as it can be, is temporary. Someday he will be with his Maggie again.

And as for Maggie herself:

Even in death Maggie was the master of the unexpected.

Written by

I am the CEO of Blue Ocean Ideas, a creative agency in Baltimore, Maryland. My job is to clarify the strategy and take care of my team. I am married to the beautiful Elise Rittler and we have four great kids. When I’m not at Blue Ocean Ideas or with my family I am riding a bike, running, playing ultimate frisbee, eating, or sleeping. There is a little more about me here.

18 Responses to “Missing Maggie”

By Cathy - 3 September 2012

Loved this…she feared that her children would feel like they had to fit in. Inspiring. Thanks Greg – beautifully written.

By Mark Ulrich - 5 September 2012

I have tears in my eyes reading this. Your words are so eloquent. I am one of The Rittlers next door neighbors. I wish I knew Maggie better than I did. I do feel a deep sense of sadness for her family, left behind. Also, that she didn’t get to see her children grow up, fully. Timm, who has ALWAYS been the ideal neighbor, I feel for so much. The children, I don’t know, losing your mother, so suddenly, I can only imagine the pain and confusion. I pray for them all…

By Frank P Crane - 3 September 2012

Gregg, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to write this. I’ve felt the loss of not having known Maggie, yet deeply loving hte family she married into. Your words have made me feel like I know here. You must have picked up your sister-in-laws’s way with words. (excuse me, “sister’s way…”) At times like this I long for eternity where there will be no more separations and plenty of time to catch up on people I missed in this life. Love you and yours, Frank

By Kathy Shanteler - 3 September 2012

I am a friend of Nancy Huestis-Carpenter who shared this page with me. Today is the two-month anniversary of losing my husband — unexpectedly on an airplane when we were flying home from our family vacation. This is a beautiful memorial to your brother and the rest of the family for your sister-in-law. Thank you for taking the time to share this with everyone.

By greg - 3 September 2012

I’m so sorry about your husband. I’m glad I could share our story with you. Words really aren’t enough at times. But they help me to process things.

By esther - 3 September 2012

Beautiful…sound’s like she will be eternally with those she touched.

By Anne Anthony - 3 September 2012

What an inspiring memoir of a deeply inspirational person. Her legacy lives on and who she was is influencing who I am. May I love my husband and children as she did hers. Thanks so much for sharing, Greg. I continue to pray for all of you.

By lisa erdman - 3 September 2012

i only hope that when i go to meet my Maker, i have someone that speaks this way about me. i wish i had known her…she sounds eccentric & amazing & just eclectic in her own way…beauty in the ashes.

By greg - 3 September 2012

Eccentric, amazing & eclectic would be a pretty good summary of Maggie. I smiled as I ready your comment because I’ve been thinking of the phrase “out of the ashes” in the past week as I’ve been thinking about Maggie. Something about the idea of life coming from death is very comforting. Thanks!

By Ginger Cowan - 3 September 2012

Greg, I cannot thank you enough for this. Every time you “create” I see why Maggie connected with you so well. Thank you for helping Maggie to live on through sharing her story. It’s obvious to me that people will now continue to love her even if they didn’t have the fortune of knowing her in person. There is a hole in the world and in our hearts. So thankful she is with Jesus and we will see her again! Many prayers continue to go up for all who are so deeply affected by missing her daily presence. Love “et” prayers, Ginger

By Erin Neikirk - 3 September 2012

Thanks for sharing…it’s a wonderful way to continue to celebrate and appreciate Maggie. It’s so healthful (for you & family) and helpful for those who didn’t know her well. We continue to lift you all up in prayer…

By Edna Bailey - 4 September 2012

What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady. Thank you for sharing that–even those of us who didn’t know her well, but remember her. We were members at TPC at the time Henry was born and prayerfully followed his struggle to live. I appreciated then, Maggie’s updates, and her strong faith. Since that time, we’ve lost contact with many of our friends from those TPC days, and I was shocked and saddened when I read Timm’s tribute to Maggie on FB last month. What an amazing lady–my prayers continue for all of her family. Thank you so much and may you feel God’s love and peace in wonderful ways through these days of grieving and healing.

By John Wynn - 4 September 2012

Excellent piece dedicated to an excellent woman.

By JoWynn Johns - 4 September 2012

Greg, your essay about Maggie is beautifully crafted. I have in my mind a vivid image of her on her wedding day–so tiny and beautiful. Last year she showed me around their idiosyncratic and artful house when they hosted the family on Easter. At my mother’s memorial service luncheon, Maggie recommended a Buddhist story book she had been reading with her children. Except for my mother, Maggie was the only Rittler who ever said “Buddhist” to me. It took me by surprise. I read the book. Clearly the Rittler family has been blessed by her presence and her influence will continue. For that I give thanks. I’m holding all of you in my heart.

By Lori Neikirk - 4 September 2012

Greg, what a beautiful tribute to your sister-in-law and friend, Maggie. You have quite a gift with words, yourself, and I think Maggie would have been very touched by them. Please know we are keeping each of you in our prayers every day.

By Greg Garvin - 4 September 2012

Beautiful reflections, G. Makes me want to love my family more… as many of our conversations have done. Thank you!


By Ted Neikirk - 6 September 2012

Greg, your reflections paint a beautiful picture of the unique and wonderful person that Maggie was, as well as the special place that she will always have in Tim, his family and your lives. Lori and I continue to pray for you all as you grieve and deal with her present absence from your lives.


By Kristina Leone - 26 September 2012

I am so glad that Mags had the support of such a loving family. All the love/joy/support she gave to her friends… to me, at the most difficult times of my life, as well as the best times were returned to her, many times over it seems, because she was so unconditionally loved by her family. I couldn’t ask for more for my friend. I was able to share in her joy, the day she married Timm, and heard the joy in her voice when each of her 3 beauties were born. I believe , her strength of spirit and witness of her Christlike love lives on in the hearts of all who were blessed enuf to know her & be loved by her. I thank God for the impression she continues to make, on our hearts, even now. God bless & keep us all, as the people she saw we were/the best we can be, until we see her smiling, contagious smile again. Amen 🙂

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