For the last week of Rafael Garcia’s life as he battled a brain tumor, friends and fellow firefighters shared precious stories with his family. They talked about the popular Miami firefighter and paramedic’s courage and character, his sense of humor, his dedication to being a good son, husband and father-to-be.
Those are the moments, though shared in sorrow, that his parents, wife and family hang on to now, the memories they will eventually share with Garcia’s son, due in May.
“We cannot begin to imagine what you are going through,” said Rev. Robert Vallee, who married Rafael and Maeghan in 2011 and led Thursday’s funeral service for Garcia. “All we can do is cry with you, pray for you and thank you for the amazing gift of your son who you loved and raised so well.”
Garcia, 28, who died of a brain tumor diagnosed just days ago, was memorialized in verse and hymn and recollections at a Mass Thursday at St. Kevin Roman Catholic Church, drawing hundreds of friends and an endless stream of uniformed officers — his professional family — from across Florida, even canines from search-and-rescue units.
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“It was a great turnout because he was that kind of guy. He touched a lot of people in a short time,” said Gioanna Grieco, public education officer with the Miami Fire Department. She was on the panel that interviewed him for his firefighter position about five years ago. “I remembered when I interviewed him, I knew immediately he was awesome, a really special person.”
During Thursday’s service, Garcia, known to family and friends as Ralf, was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant, a first for the department. Miami Fire-Rescue Chief Maurice Kemp said when he typically prepares to speak about a fallen firefighter, he reviews their personnel folders. But for Garcia, there was no need. More than a dozen fellow firefighters offered anecdotes unsolicited, each capturing what made the firefighter so beloved.
Almost two weeks ago, Garcia began having severe headaches. Doctors discovered a mass in the cerebellum region of the brain. He was rushed into emergency surgery on Sunday. Two days later, he was taken off life support. His organs were donated to save three other lives.
His wife, Maeghan, is seven months pregnant with the couple’s first child, a boy. They had chosen the name Mason James. She has now changed their son’s name: Mason Rafael.