Often we don't realize how small this world is, or how often our lives are intertwined with complete strangers without even knowing. And sometimes when those connections are made, they can change our lives in an instant.
It was a routine hospital visit that led to one conversation and now a special bond that cannot be broken for two military moms.
It began as any another day at Munson Medical Center for nursing assistant Cindy Schwartz-Walters. Going about her day in her usual manner: with a smile. But it was one patient in for routine knee surgery, who would change Cindy's life forever.
"This wonderful lady came in with this twinkle in her eye and a smile," said Signe Ruddy. "And she was checking on me, taking care of me. She told me her name and smiled at me, and I was feeling healed and wonderful and she was asking me all the appropriate questions."
Among those appropriate questions: Is there a qualified person to help during your recuperation?
"I have someone very well qualified," said Signe. "Cindy goes, 'oh, who's that?' I said 'my son -- he's very well qualified. She says, 'well, what does he do?' And I said he's a pararescue combat officer in the Airforce... and her face just dropped. She said, 'oh, honey.'"
And one answer that would lead to a conversation neither of them will ever forget.
"Signe says, 'Oh you have a son in the Airforce?' I said, 'yes, I have a son in the Airforce,'" said Cindy Schwartz-Walters, Munson Medical Center Nursing Assistant. "Then, I said no... I HAD a son in the Airforce."
Behind that twinkling smile: tragic loss. Just 13 months ago, Cindy's son, Technical Sergeant Matthew Schwartz was on his 6th tour in Afghanistan. That's when an explosive device hit his vehicle and took his life.
Matthew died on January 5, 2012 leaving behind a family, a loving wife, three beautiful girls. Matthew Schwartz was just 34 years old. January 5th is a day Cindy cannot get out of her mind.
"I kept hearing the explosion, and then I kept thinking about who is taking care of him?" said Cindy. "Was he alive? Was he able to talk to anybody?"
But it turns out, the answers Cindy so desperately searched for were right in front of her -- sitting by the bedside: Signe's son, Ryan.
"She said where did you say your son was stationed in Afghanistan? And I said the Helmand Province," said Cindy. "He sits up and he goes, 'I was in the Helmand Province.' And Signe says, 'what was your son's name?' And I said, 'Technical Sergeant Matthew Schwartz.' The tears were coming down his face and he got up and I went to brush them away and comfort him and tell him it's all right, it's all right. Matt's in heaven. He's in heaven."
Ryan, who's unit was tasked with the recovery and medical treatment of personnel in combat environments, knew Matthew.
"He's holding me really tight," said Cindy. "And he's going, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.' And I told him, 'it's all right, it's all right.'"
And It was Ryan's unit that pulled Matthew out.
"What Ryan doesn't know is that we were told by the Pentagon that the group who went to rescue my son was not the normal group that would go," said Cindy. "But they knew Matthew and went against their orders and went anyway."
"I cry when I think about her losing her son and I get fearful for my son a lot," said Signe. "Part of it that it heals me and comforts me is to know how strong mothers are and how this woman, her sparkle in her eye and her living on even though she's had the most drastic thing in her life happen."
"I feel such a blessing," said Cindy. "I probably had the biggest smile every day of my life when I would go to work because... to finally meet someone who was there is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful."
Sharing photos, tears, laughs, memories, and now a special bond that keeps one mother's son feel closer to her heart, and the other, a little closer to home.
"Signe and I were talking about that when Ryan gets ready to leave, I think that God brought us together to hold onto each other and be there for each other," said Cindy.
"I respect what our boys do," said Signe. "And if we lose our boys, we really haven't. We have them with us always in our heart. They're with us always."
And upon meeting Ryan, Cindy's love for her son is reinforced in the form of every soldier serving our country.
"Everytime I see one I hug them," said Cindy. "And I always say thank you my son. Because I think of every single one of them as my son."