Monday, January 22, 2018

Today was a good day.

Sometimes I have to say it out loud.  What I am beginning to realize is it is OK to have a good day.
When I look back on the last nine years, often I go through the 30,000+ pictures I have on my laptop. I look at pictures from early 2009.  My memories of "after Melissa" are foggy.  I remember crying.  Every day.  For a couple of years.  But when I look at the pictures, I see smiles.  On ME.  It's not what I remember.

Somehow, we found a way to survive each day.  And to convince everyone around us we were ok.  LOTS of good things have happened in the last nine years.  A scholarship in Melissa's name, Breast Cancer Fundraisers, but most importantly, friendships.  Old friendships that made it through the most difficult of to deal with a bereaved parent.  There is nothing you can say or do to fix us.  Just being there and letting us grieve any way that gets us through each day...but still being there.  We were blessed with friends that hung in with us....and still do.

But just as important are the new friendships we've made.  And old friendships rekindled.  Donny's teammate from Wilmington and his wife, who lost their daughter two years after Melissa passed away - Mange and Mary.  I like to believe we helped each other on the hardest of days - with the exception of vacation planning.  Mary did most (all) of that.  We'd never been on a cruise before we met them.  After Melissa died, I wasn't sure if I ever wanted to to anything "fun" again.  Didn't seem right.  I found out that not only can we have good days, but we could have fun again too.  And it was OK.

We met Randi and Carolyn through Compassionate Friends and are so much alike that it's hard to believe we've only been friends for a little over six years. (Their son Sam was in the service and was killed in Baghdad.)  They don't live close by, but we get together as much as we can.  And we laugh.  AND we cry.

I met a Katrina and her mom at the Compassionate Friends National Conference in Orlando this past summer - sitting by the pool.   Her brother died six weeks before the conference.  And she lives in the Dayton area.  We just got together last week.

I am posting today because of a new friend.   I know for sure Melissa had a hand in this.

A couple of years ago I talked to the UD Women's Basketball team about Breast Cancer and about Melissa.  Shauna Greene was an assistant coach then, and is currently the Head Coach.  I ran into her at a Fairmont game last year, re-introduced myself.  She asked me if I would talk to the team again before their Breast Cancer game.  OF COURSE.  I LOVE to talk about Melissa and share information on breast cancer awareness.

Not long after that, Tom Archdeacon wrote an article in the Dayton Daily News about one of the players on the women's team, JaVonna Layfield.  It was about her friendship with Steve McElvene. Steve played on the UD Men's team.  He passed away suddenly the summer before of a heart ailment.  Similar to my brother Steve.  The article talked about their friendship, and after just re-reading the article - how determined she was to go live life to the fullest.

I guess what I saw in the article when I read it THEN (which was almost exactly a year ago - 1/21/17)
was someone hurting.

This is Melissa's connection:  Some of you might remember the story of when Melissa lost her son JP.  The day after she lost him was a Monday.  John had to go to work, Donny went to work, and I was planning the funeral.  She was home alone and decided to go to the local Catholic church.  She sat in the back of church and cried through the entire mass.  When mass was over, the few people that were there all passed her by without saying anything....then the priest walked passed her and turned out the lights in the church.  She later wrote (I think in a blog post) that she would have received more compassion at the local pub.

The point is, if someone is hurting, the absolute LEAST we can do is reach out.  Maybe those people in the church weren't sure WHAT to do, so they did nothing.  (not so sure about the priest????)  If you at least reach out, they know that someone cares.    If they turn you away, at least you tried.

So, back to JaVonna.  The story brought back memories of MY brother Steve, who died of the same thing.  I remember how I felt.  And after Melissa passed away, I knew how much it helped me to talk to someone who truly understood.    So I sent her note - through the head coach.  I don't remember exactly what it said, but I ended it with "if you ever want to talk, or have coffee..." and I gave her my home and cell numbers.

I didn't expect to hear anything, but had to follow my daughters advice.  REACH OUT.  It can't hurt and maybe you might help.  You have to at least try.  So I did.

Fast forward to October 2017 (three months ago).  I received a text message...from JaVonna!  It was a pretty long text, about " Coach gave us an assignment to write a letter to someone who we do not talk to everyday (maybe years) but has been some sort of Inspiration to us..."
Wow.  Don't think THAT has ever happened to me before.  I know it hasn't...
Pretty much brought me to tears.

We communicated a little more, and I finally said "my offer still stands.  I would love to take you to lunch sometime..."

We met the next day.  Had a very nice conversation, got to know each other a little better.  She is an AMAZING young woman.  Will be graduating with honors from UD in May and know exactly what she wants in life.

I've told her a few times that she reminds me of Melissa.  On the court, JaVonna is a basketball machine.  Melissa was good, but she was a better rugby player!  Melissa and JaVonna were (are?) alike on the bench- funny as that sounds.  She's not there often - but if she's not hurt - she's cutting up and laughing and just having fun.  That was Melissa.

Melissa (eventually) knew what she wanted in life too.  They have the same outlook on life too.  Both very caring about others.  I've only talked to JaVonna a couple of times - last time for three hours, but she really made an impression on me.   She was talking about her great grandparents being in their late 80s last time we met.  Then I asked her how old her grandparents are (I shouldn't have asked!) - I could be her GRANDMOTHER!!!!  Her mom is Melissa's age.

But you know what, it didn't make a difference.  I like her.  And I feel like we are friends.  One of my best friends, Ruth, was 40 years older than me.  I love having friends that are older AND younger than me.  Keeps things in perspective.

The one thing I LOVE..she calls me Mrs. Fort.  I've told her she can call me Pam, but she told me once "that's the way I was raised"...I like that too.

And the other thing I love?  She wears her FORT bracelet when she's warming up - takes it off and one of the assistant coaches wears it for her during the game.  Shauna wears hers at every game too.

Melissa is on the court with them, and she would LOVE that.  Her mom sure does!

At the UD women's game with the boys!

JaVonna shooting foul shots (get a better picture from the scoreboard AND the score!)

After lunch 

The moral of this (story) post...REACH OUT.  Don't hesitate  or second guess yourself.  Make the phone call, send a note, take some food.    It might make a difference...and a new friend.

Love you miss you Melissa.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Nine Years Later

Nine years ago today, Fort was sleeping right now.  She slept a lot the last few days.  And she didn't want anyone to know that she was back at Hospice.

She was home until a couple of days past Christmas.  She WANTED to be home for Christmas.  So she was.  I think Christmas was Friday that year.  The Sunday following, Andrew was baptized.  Melissa was his Godmother.  But she was too sick to go.  So I stood in for her.  We didn't stay away too long, didn't want to be away from her for too long.

That night, Angie spent the night (because it was Sunday night, John had to go home because he had to work the next day).  I remember that night...she kept pulling the canula off, and she couldn't breathe without it.  Either Angie or I would get up and put it back on her.    We had to keep reminding her to take deep breaths.  It really didn't matter though.  She would be heading back to Hospice the next day.  Monday.

She got up that morning and wanted to take a shower.  We have a full bath (walk in shower) in the family room, but she was on oxygen and couldn't take the oxygen off long enough to take a shower. But she was determined.  She went into the bathroom and stripped. Naked.  She stood there begging me...but she couldn't do it without the oxygen.  Then she threw up.  She was standing above the toilet and threw up from a standing position.  Then she tried to clean up the was the hardest thing (to that point) that we'd been through.  All she wanted was a shower.  And I said NO.  I cleaned her up and the Hospice Nurse was there not long after.  She said Melissa had to go back to Hospice.
I still regret that day...the last thing she asked of me and I told her No.

When the ambulance came to pick her up, she told me and Angie to "keep it on the DL".  I think she knew...and she didn't want anyone to worry.

She slept a lot those last few days.

Pauly & Elizabeth came to visit to tell her that they were engaged (FINALLY)...she was SO happy.
She told them she would be at the wedding (and she was.  But that's another story).

John, his mom & dad, Nick, Mere, Andrew and me and Donny were there around the clock.  She had a few visitors that week.

New Years Eve, we were all asleep and she got up to go to the bathroom and she fell.  The nurse asked why she didn't ask for help.  "Everyone was sleeping.  I didn't want to wake anyone up."
She could do it herself.  That was the Theme of Her Childhood.  She told me that when she was in the hospital when I tried to help her with something.

You might wonder why I keep telling this story over and over (every year).  It's because I'm afraid I might forget something.  I don't want to forget.  Even the hard parts.

So I remember the nurse coming in the night before.  She told me I could lay with her.  John wasn't in the room at the time, but I didn't want to take John's place.  That was HIS place.  Not mine.

Friday night, Nick, Mere & Andrew came to visit.  She perked up anytime Andrew was around.  She did that night too.  When they left, Nick stood in the doorway (after he kissed her good-bye) and said "See you in the morning Fort".  She said "I love you Nick."  That was the last thing she said.
She fell asleep after they left.

I slept on one side of her bed, John was on the other.  I remember holding her hand, memorizing it...because I knew.

My dad stopped by that night to tell me that he was leaving for Florida in the morning.  I told him he couldn't leave.  It was going to be soon.  But he said "She's not going to die".  He was in denial.  So was Donny.

But that night, I tried to stay awake as long as I could.  I didn't want to miss one moment...and I wanted to remember EVERYTHING about her.  Her hands seemed so small....and I remember at one point, a tear rolled down her cheek.  I have always wondered...was she crying because she was leaving us, or was it tears of joy...she was seeing JP for the first time since HE left us.

Her breathing was getting labored around 3 a.m., around 4 everyone came in.  We were all awake, and waiting.

It was so peaceful when she took her last breath...that's all I remember.  John's dad looked at the clock...5:18 a.m.

We had a lot to decide in the next hour...which funeral home to call (because we had never talked about that - she wasn't GOING to die.  She was going back to work!)

I remember getting home that morning, around 7 a.m.  Diana and Angie walked in behind us.  They asked what they could do.  "Take the tree down."  And I vacuumed.  My daughter just died and I was vacuuming.

After that I slept.  My friend Shelly called my doctor to get something to help me sleep.  When Shelly got to the store, they were closed.  So she called my doctor back and she called something into another pharmacy.  Shelly picked it up and brought it to me.  I think I slept for the next 24 hours.

The next week was a whirlwind.    So many of our friends were there for us...and Melissa's friends.

I remember more about that week, the funeral, people who travelled from all over the country to be here.  Donny just found a list in the corner cupboard - a full page to write thank you's to.  Where people travelled from to be here.

We are forever grateful for the compassion and love we received then...and still are.


Here I am. Still crying.  I thought I had gotten to the point where I could retell the story without crying, but I can't.  At least ^ that part of the story.

The part I can retell are the memories...of her LIFE.  Not her death.  It's taken a long time, but as much as I miss her, I'd rather tell and HEAR stories of her LIFE.  (except on her anniversary...those memories come back pretty strong this time of year...)

So much has happened in nine years, and I can do so much more now than I could then, even four or five years ago.

I have almost 30,000 pictures on my laptop.  When I scroll through those pictures, I am amazed of everything that we've done in the last nine years.  I'm sure it's not any more than most people do in nine years, but nine years ago, I really thought I'd never want or be able to do much of anything ever again.  How wrong I was.

We were determined to keep her memory alive.  That was what got us going in the beginning.  With the help of lots of friends - we had a fundraiser to do the 60 mile walk again. (Red Carpet- you know who you are!) Then, Angie planted a seed about having a fundraiser for a Scholarship in Melissa's name.  The summer after she passed away, we started work on that.    I remember crying every day for the first two how in the world did I manage to help plan an event for 500 people???
We were a lot alike, me and Melissa.  Give her a project, and she would run with it.  Hmmm...maybe she was like her mom?  But I know I got my strength from her.

In the last nine years, we've done some traveling too.  We made new friends through Compassionate Friends, and reconnected with old friends who now belong to the "Club No One Wants to Belong to".

Recently, we've gone out with some friends we haven't seen in awhile (oh, 8 years or so).  It's still hard during the holidays, but we did it. And it was ok.

I think the most important thing we've learned in the last nine years is that we are NOT ALONE.
Unfortunately.  The best thing we have done is to be there for others who are now walking this walk.
Believe it or not, we don't always know what to say when someone we know loses THEIR child.
But we don't hesitate to call.  There is nothing we can do to ease their pain.  But we call.

Tomorrow, nine years later, we are going to a basketball game.  Not feeling very social right now, but I know that I need to get out.  Do something, especially this time year.

And on Friday, Melissa's 40th Birthday, we'll celebrate her birthday at China Cottage.  It's tradition.
(Her last big birthday - 30th - we had a huge party at BW3.  We are thinking about having another celebration there, and making it a fundraiser.  Will let you know if that happens.)

We miss our beautiful daughter EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But we also realize how short this life can be.   We'll remember her by celebrating her life,
sharing her life, and enjoying life.

I'm still a work in progress.  I think Melissa would be ok with that.

Love you and miss you pretty girl.
My Melissa Marie.

Going to try to attach a video here.  She did it all the time, I've never tried it.  The quality  isn't great, but you can hear her voice...I need that STILL.  It's Melissa with Andrew...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

One Year Later...Johnny Mac

I remember this weekend a year ago as vividly as I remember this WEEK nine years ago...and can't believe it happened all over again.  

When I look at these pictures of John, I struggle to grasp the fact that we will never hear his voice or his laugh again...I still struggle to understand how it happened.  And why.

I talked to some friends who are police officers, who I respect immensely.  I would trust them in any situation to make a snap second decision. And I understand that they need to protect themselves.
What I don't understand is that the officers in this case HAD to know that he was despondent.  You could hear it in his voice on the 911 call.  Do Police Departments not have someone (a counselor?) they can call to handle situations like this?  They obviously didn't know the back story of what was going on, but are they trained to have a conversation with someone who is despondent?  

We loved John like a son.  When he remarried, it was awkward for us...because we didn't have a "connection" any more.  We stayed in touch, but after he married, we weren't sure what to do.  
The most important thing to us was that he was happy.  No one deserved that more than John.  He loved our daughter and took his marriage vows seriously.  Til death do us part...he was with her and loved her until she took her last breath...and after, as we found out later.    

So when he found someone, (as hard as it was to see him with someone else-for me) we were happy for him.  

If I knew then what I know now...I do have regrets.  I wish we would have stayed in touch with him more.  I wish we would have called more. I wish we would have talked about Melissa with his wife...I'm sure she was not comfortable when we were around.  Maybe we could have made her understand that we weren't a threat, and neither was Melissa.   I wish we would have gone to dinner the week of Melissa's anniversary & birthday (like he wanted)...but I put it off until the 10th.  He seemed ok with that.  I wish I knew that things weren't good.  But we didn't know.  

We love(d) John so much, I hope he knew that.  

The only consolation is they are all together.  But I'll be honest, it completely sucks to lose an entire family (and probably 2 or 3 more grandchildren)...Nick & John were like brothers.  Andrew & Max will never have cousins on their dad's side.  It's boring when they come to our house now.  They have no cousins to play with.  Melissa loved Meredith too.  She finally had a sister.  

As hard as this week is (first, my friend Jennifer's daughter Jody's anniversary is the 30th.  Then John's anniversary the 1st, then Melissa's anniversary the 3rd, then her birthday, the 5th.  Jody's birthday is the 6th...we plan on keeping busy this week.  Basketball of course.  I'm not feeling especially social, but we will get out, just to be doing something.  More than we could do a few years ago.  

I know I get a little overwhelming with pictures on facebook this week, and I know her friends will always remember (John's too)...but it's how I get through this week.  I miss them both so much, and I need to do something.  

and now...a stroll down memory lane...

We love you Johnny Mac.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Life Lessons

Every single day life lessons happen.  Are we listening?  Do they just pass us by and do we let them? Or are our eyes and ears open and do we apply those lessons?

This last couple of weeks have been overwhelming.

Last summer, I agreed to go back to work as a long term sub.  In the library at an elementary in Kettering.  At the time, it was a good decision.  Dad was home, five minutes away, in a safe place.
I know what the fall and winter brings, and keeping busy is good.

I forgot how much I loved working in the library, and working with kids.  Keeps you young. I have really enjoyed working again.  Great kids, great staff.

But I also didn't anticipate how the little bit of time away from my dad would take a toll on him.
He has asked me more than once how much longer I'll be working (and I'm only working part time in the mornings!) What I learned here is even though Dad is home (Dayton) and in a safe place, he requires a lot of tlc.  The only thing he wants now is to have someone to play cards with at 4:00 every day!  Some days there is someone there to play, but more often, he sits in the pub and waits for someone to show up.  So I need to be there.  He's 87.  I want to spend as much time as I can with him.
Plus I take him to doctor appointments, do his laundry and make sure he always has beer in his refrigerator!  He is a full time job.  And I love it.

Last week, I took him to his doctor appointment. We were going to go to lunch after his appointment. As we were leaving his place, the receptionist told us the Podiatrist was going to be in that day.  Only there for an hour.  Once a month.  And dad needs to see him when he's in.  So no lunch that day, straight back to his place.

When we got there, with five minutes to spare, as dad was walking in the door (shuffling his feet) he tripped on the rug at the front door.  I tried to grab his coat, but just couldn't catch him.  As he was falling, he hit his head on the chair and went down on his left (and worst) shoulder.  He tried to catch himself with his left hand.  All I heard him say was "SHIT!"   I'm surprised that I didn't pass out after I looked down...his left ring finger was literally hanging off!  It looked like a compound fracture. Blood everywhere.  I quickly covered up his hand (but not before he looked) and told him NOT to look.  He just looked at it and then looked away.  No panic.  No fear.  Nothing.  He was bleeding profusely.  When the nurses got there, I got up with a handful of blood in my palm.   She kept pressure on the finger until the squad got there (20 minutes later!)  I'm usually very pleasant when I visit my dad...they saw a WHOLE other side to me that day!

He was transported to Soin , took almost 3 hours to stop the bleeding.  The x-rays show it was dislocated - at the joint above the ring.  It was like a pea pod snapping.  Awful.  They splinted his finger, then transported him to another hospital where there was a hand surgeon, who had to open it back up, flush it out, and pop it back together.   Dad was a trooper.  Never complained about anything.  We were in ER from 3 pm - midnight.  He went home that night.  We were as exhausted as he was!

Two days later, I took him to Liberty Twp to see the orthopedist.  Looked good. (well not really, looked disgusting.  And as much as I want to post the pictures of his hand - which OF COURSE we took pictures.  I do what FORT would do.  Take pictures of disgusting things.  Only she would post them.  I'll think about it.)

One week later, he's fallen two more times!  And (knock on wood) no broken bones.  THAT is amazing.  Someone posted something on FB not long ago about the 10 Good Things About Drinking Beer.  One was it builds strong bones.  My dad is living proof of that!!!  He LOVES his beer.

So Life Lesson of the last week?  I already HAD a full time job.  I need to think things out a little better before making a decision.  (However, I also taught my own kids, when you commit to something, you don't back out.  I'm there as long as they need me. We're not quitters!)

Another Life Lesson I learned from my daughter.  If you knew Melissa, you know the story of the day after she lost her son.  It was a Monday, John had to go to work, Donny went to work, and I came back to Kettering to make funeral arrangements.  She was alone that day.  Decided to go to the closest Catholic Church for mass that morning.  She sat in the back of church crying during the entire mass. When mass was over, not one person stopped to ask if she was ok.  Even the Priest walked by her...and turned the lights out in the church.  Not one person stopped to ask if she was ok.  She wrote about it in an article for the Cincinnati Weekly.  She said "I could have been in the local pub and gotten more compassion"....

What I (and a lot of other people who know the story) learned from that...if someone is hurting, take the time to AT LEAST say "Are you Ok?"  That is the least I can do.  And follow up if you can.

I had the opportunity to do that last winter.  I didn't know this person personally, but I knew she was hurting.  And we had something in common.  So I got out of my comfort zone, sent her a note.  I never heard anything.  But that's not why I did it.  I just feel like everyone needs to know that someone cares.  I'm pretty sure she's has LOTS of support, but we had something in common.  And I know how important it is for me to have someone who truly understands.  So I reached out.
I recently heard from her, and my note DID help.  We're friends now.

If you THINK someone needs a hug, hug them.  If you think someone needs an ear, listen.

Another thing I learned.  After my sister Sue passed away,  friends of ours showed up at our front door with enough food for an army and two coolers full of drinks.  They didn't call, they just showed up.  

When you tell someone "Call me if you need anything", I guarantee they WILL NOT call. Just do it.
Trust your instincts.  Be there. Listen.

I finally got out for a walk this morning (after a trip to the dentist...I have a terrible toothache. Never had a toothache in my life.  Awful - but not as bad as shingles! Found out I have an abcessed tooth.  Need a root canal.  UGH.  Something else I've never had)  Beautiful day today, and I thought a lot about everything that's been going on in my life lately.  I have learned so much in the last nine years alone.  I think I wasn't paying attention to Life Lessons before Melissa.  I pay attention now.  I learned from friends who didn't say anything.  They were just there.  I learned from HER friends who weren't afraid to share stories.  I know how much that helped me.  I learned from THEM.

I thought about this too.  So many good things have happened in the last nine years.  And this is selfish to say, but I would give them ALL back to have my daughter back.  But I know I can't.  So I have to appreciate all the lessons, and all the kindnesses, and all of the stories.  Melissa's legacy is helping kids with college expenses.  I share her breast cancer story.  If her story inspires someone, her  death was not in vain.  Her legacy lives on.

This time of year is a struggle for me.  Fall was Melissa's favorite time of year.  She loved everything pumpkin spice (candles especially - I was so afraid she was going to burn her house down she had so many candles burning!).  She loved the fall for rugby.

She went into the hospital the Monday before Thanksgiving.  All I can think is "it was the beginning of the end".    It's PTSD.  The memories come back every year.  I kept spiral notebooks in my purse and wrote everything down at every doctors appointment.  When she was in the hospital I wrote down things she said (she was pretty funny most of the time) I didn't want to forget anything.  Sometimes I get them out this time of year and remember.  There were some good times even when she was in the hospital and Hospice.  She made us laugh all the time.

This year, we are remembering Johnny Mac too.  His birthday is Saturday.  His first birthday to be with his family, Melissa & JP.  But his first without his family here.  And Thanksgiving.  And Christmas.  We miss them terribly.  And I hurt for his mom, dad and his sisters.

This journey is a roller coaster.  One minute I am reclusive and can't think about celebrating anything (yesterday)...and today,  I get a chance to get out and take a walk, and think about all the lessons I've learned and "have I really learned anything?" if I don't do anything with what I've learned?  But I think I have.

I have a good friend who told me the other day that a neighbor lost her son a few years back.  She took peanut butter cookies to them when it happened.  And she's done it every year since on the anniversary.  What a great idea.  Those parents KNOW that she is remembering their son.  Nothing more a parent wants, that their child is not forgotten.  I learned something else this week!

I've learned that when you help someone else, you help yourself (sounds a little selfish, doesn't it?)
But it's true.  It's healing.

This journey is not over.  It won't be over until I see her again.  I know that it won't always be easy.  But we find joy wherever we can find it. Our grandsons kept us busy in the fall with their football games.   Basketball mainly this time of year.  I can concentrate on the game and not think about what time of year it is.  We are not very social this time of year because it's just hard.  So we go to as many games as possible.  Girls, boys, ND, WSU, UD.  The last thing Melissa wanted to do was go to a Fairmont girls game.  But she never got the chance. A friend visited and she slept the rest of that day.  So we go for her.  I don't think we've missed a game in 9 years.  In the beginning, it was the only thing we COULD do.  

So, yes, I am struggling.  Even after nine years.  The pain is still there.   But we find ways to carry on. And she reminds us often that she is still around.

In fact, when I got home from my walk today, a butterfly flew in front of me.  I don't know about you, but I don't see too many butterflies in late November.  Not in Ohio anyway!  She was letting me know that she is still around....(and I was thinking about posting today, I think she was ok with that too.)

Love you pretty girl...and miss you EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Ok.  I thought about it.  I'm going to post the disgusting picture of my dad's finger.  It will be the last picture, so don't scroll all the way down if you don't want to see it.  I'll leave a little extra space before you get to it.  I'm telling you, it might make you pass out. YES.  It's THAT bad.  But some people love that kind of stuff (Melissa).  And this is HER blog.  So I HAVE to.

I'm going to ease into the pictures with some fun ones first...

We took the boys to NC to see their cousin Chris's football game.  Their FIRST college football game.  

So while they were working on dad's finger, I didn't want to be in the room. So I went out and called Nick.  While I was talking to him, I looked up, and there were lockers.  Melissa, Courtney & Sam were all there.  (Courtney & Sam are with Fort.  Their parent's are friends of ours.  The #10 is Sam. Long story, I'll explain in another post someday!)

Dad after they popped it back in place.  He'd been in the hospital for 9 hours at this point! He looks pretty good in his dress!

Thanksgiving at his place.  He's getting around much better with a walker instead of a cane!

Dad and his girls. it is.  Don't scroll down if you can't stand gory...It kind of looks like a Halloween hand...

SEE...I TOLD YOU!!!!! 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

14 Years Later....

Every year on my kids birthdays I would share with them the day they were born....they loved hearing the story of the day they were born.  Now I try to share that with my grandsons - My memories are not as vivid as their mom's, but I remember their births too.

Today is the day our first grandson was born.   And it was his last day on earth....But I remember that day as much as I remember my own kids births.

When Melissa told me she was pregnant, my reaction wasn't what it should have been for a grandma who was finding out that her first grandchild was on the way.  I was scared.  Melissa found out she was pregnant when she went to have the port put in for her chemo.  They did routine bloodwork/urinalysis and asked her right before she went into surgery if she knew she was pregnant.  At that point, they had to change the protocol for the anesthetic since she was pregnant.  She got really sick after the surgery (it was outpatient).  She was going to spend the night with us, have her first chemo treatment the next morning and then go to work.  John didn't come up because it was outpaitient surgery.  After she came out of surgery, she wanted me to call him to come up and spend the night.  She told him that night she was pregnant.

We took her to her first treatment, which was supposed to last for 3 hours.  After 15 minutes, she came out and said something was wrong with the port and she had to go back to the hospital for an ultrasound.  I wanted to go with her, but she insisted that it wouldn't take long and she was going to work right after.  So I didn't go.  She WAS going for an ultrasound, but it was to see how far along she was in her pregnancy.  Right after the ultrasound, she drove to our church (Ascension) and talked to the priest there.  She told him she was pregnant, AND recently diagnosed with breast cancer...and she had to make a decision.  Terminate?  Or not?  The priest there told her that whatever decision she made, God would understand.  Really, her life was at stake.  She had to put off her chemotherapy (because they couldn't start chemotherapy until she was in her second trimester) for a couple of weeks.  So they changed the protocol.  They would do a mastectomy first (and remove lymph nodes) and when the drains came out, they could start the chemo.  She really wanted to keep the baby, so did John.  So everything changed.  She had two drains that she had to empty every day.  When the fluid was down to 2cc (or something like that) every day, the drains would come out and she could start chemo.  Unfortunately, cancer did not stop growing while she was waiting for the drains to come out.
The cancer was in 9 of the 19 lymph nodes they took.  Not good.  But she wanted to keep the baby.

It took awhile, but as the weeks went by, we got more excited about this baby.  He was the light at the end of a long tunnel.  (On a side note, when Melissa was in the hospital a month before she passed away, she had a surprise visit from her rugby friend Lola.  I was there that night.  When Lola walked in the room, she said "I am SO glad you are here!  I've been wanting to tell you something for a long time!"  She told Lola that she was the ONLY person who was excited when she found out she was pregnant.  Not even her MOM was excited with that news.  I should have been...She was so happy that she was able to tell Lola that.  I'm so glad that Lola came to visit - I would have never known that either.)

So as her pregnancy progressed, she monitored even more closely because it was a high risk pregnancy.  They decided to have an ultrasound to find out what they were having - and in the meantime we had a baby book - trying to pick out girls names.  They had a boys name - John Patrick.
And JP it WAS.  We were so excited.  He was scheduled to be delivered the week between Christmas and New Years.  The light at the end of the tunnel.

Then, on October 18, Melissa was in her friend Karen's wedding.  We were at the wedding and reception.  I remember that at the reception she was having some back pain.  She was in a chair leaning against John...NEVER did I imagine that she was in labor.

We got home from the wedding (it was in Cincinnati) around midnight.  Right after we went to bed, turned out the light, the phone rang.  I could hear the ambulance in the background...and John was screaming..."the baby's coming, the baby's coming!!!!"  Somehow we found out what hospital they were going to - and I don't know how, but we found it.  When we walked into their room, Melissa was holding the baby.  Crying.  She said "I'm sorry Mom...."  Oh my God.  My beautiful daughter holding her son....he was beautiful...dark hair, all his fingers, all his toes.  Perfect.  And he was gone.
It was all a blur, but I remember every detail.  John & Diana drove in from NC, Nick was there, I think Angie, Stacy were there.  It was awful.  He was born just after midnight, early Sunday morning, October 19, 2003.  She didn't want to leave the hospital, she kept telling me "I can't leave him here mom..."

So.  The next day, we planned his funeral.

Today, he is buried with his mom and dad.  And for the first time in 14 years, he gets to celebrate his birthday with both his mom and dad.

We love you JP!  Someday we'll celebrate with you.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Two New Friends

October 2005, the Cincinnati Kelts held their first annual Breast Cancer Fundraiser to honor Melissa's (Fort's) fight with breast cancer.   In the fall of 2007, Melissa decided to do the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk in Atlanta.  3 Days/60 Miles with her good friend from OU, Shannon, and her sister Julie.  She raised the money ($2300) to do the walk, but with all of her medical bills, couldn't afford a flight to Atlanta, so I told her I'd take her to Atlanta and cheer her on.  The walk was the Saturday after the fundraiser.  She called me the Monday after the fundraiser..."Mom!!!  They raised enough money - you can do the walk WITH me!!!"  "Melissa.  I can't walk 60 miles next weekend!"
"I'm on chemo.  If I can do it, you can do it."  So I did.  We did.  All thanks to the Kelts.

Twelve years later, the Kelts are still organizing the fundraiser, and it's growing every year!  

This year the weather was perfect - a little warm really.  They had multiple baskets for the raffles, a 50/50 drawing and a Silent Auction.  

The first and most important thing I want to say is THANK YOU to the Cincinnati Kelts, and 
NETTI specifically.  Paulie has always been the "Master of Ceremonies", but according to Paulie, NETTI  was the organizer.  Every year it gets better.  THANK YOU so much Netti (and mom Karen!) for all the work you put into this.  

And thank you too for introducing us to Tom Sweeney.  This is the FIRST story.  I'm pretty sure we've met Tom before.  And I remember meeting his wife Mary Ann too.  She always made sure to talk to us at the fundraisers.  She loved Fort.  When Melissa was first diagnosed, Mary Ann took the time to talk to her about HER battle with breast cancer.  As we know now, it's good to talk to someone who truly understands.  Someone who's walked the walk.  Tom told us last night that there were many times when Melissa called Mary Ann when she was having a difficult day.  Mary Ann would meet her and talk to her.  I didn't know that.  Melissa never wanted me to see her worry.  It's comforting to know that she had someone to call that helped her.  We were very close, but neither of us wanted to see the other cry.  We had to be strong for each other.  So she called Mary Ann.  

Mary Ann's cancer came back a couple of years ago.  She passed away July 23 of this year...just three months ago.  And her husband Tom was there.  I talked to him for awhile and he told me that before Mary Ann died, she had a list of things for him to do.  She told him to go the fundraiser and "tell Fort's parents that I'm with her!"  It wasn't easy for him to be there.  But he came because it was on his list of things to do.  

Paulie always gives a speech before the drawings.  Last night it was about Mary Ann.  And Tom.
Their connection to the Kelts was Haps Irish Pub.  Haps is where the Kelts hold all of their socials after their matches.  Tom & MaryAnn were always there.   Paulie got to know them after a few of the socials when everyone left.  He would sit at the bar and talk with them.  They became part of the Kelts family too.  Once a Kelt, Always a Kelt.  They were at Melissa & John's reception too.  Tom talked about that last night too.  

The other thing Paulie said was Tom & Mary Ann were the most amazing people...their goal was to meet two new people every time they went to Haps...and he suggested that we all do that too.    We met a LOT of new people last night.  I really got to know Tom last night, and met a few of his friends too.  Last night was in honor of Mary Ann.  She would be honored I'm sure.

So Paulie's speech leads right to the second story of the night ... two of the new people we met.
Two girls walked into the bar (no, this is not the start of a joke)...saw our nephew Brandon - he was wearing his FORT'S YAYA'S FOR TATA'S shirt.  They walked up to him and said "Do you know FORT???  How do you know Fort???"  He told them he was (is) her cousin.  Then he brought them over to me.  They went to Ohio University with Melissa.  Randomly walked into Haps for a beer, and into a fundraiser for FORT.  SYNCHRONICITY.  When they introduced themselves - Katie & Emily,
Katie said "I was roommates with Shannon Kerr.  Do you know Shannon?"  Shannon & her sister Julie were the ones Melissa & I did the 3 Day-60 Mile walk with in Atlanta!  Katie is going to visit Shannon in Boston next week.  Wow.  Small world.

Without a doubt, the fundraiser is growing.  Someone last night told me there were people there from all the rugby clubs in Cincinnati - the Kelts, Wolfhounds & Queen City.  Plus a lot of other people! A lot of volunteers - I tried to talk to most of them (mostly to find out if they knew Fort), but also to introduce myself.  I'm Fort's mom.  She would LOVE this.  I know she and John were there...I brought them...


The recipients of the Melissa Fortener McLaughlin Scholarship 
(this is where 1/2 of the proceeds go from the Kelts fundraiser!)

Paulie & Nettie - THANK YOU NETTI for all of your hard work!!! We love you!!!

Nettie's hard work...getting donations for the raffles & Silent Auction and making some great signs!

Donny & Nettie with one of the items for the Silent Auction!

The People... (notice all the different FORT shirts...I love it!)
This is Nick (not MY Nick) I love his suit.

Randi, Mike, Brandon, Donny

Erin & Hooky

Brandon, Randi, Mike

Tom Sweeney is in the red shirt.  This is where he and Mary Ann always sat.  If you zoom in on the picture, you can see the orb to the right of him.  Mary Ann?  I think so.

Brandon, me, Katie & Emily, Melissa's friends from OU.  My two NEW friends...

Donny, Crazy Legs, me

Mike and the outback crowd.  Lots of orbs outside last night!!!

me, Carolyn, Donny & Randi (our Compassionate Friends from Piqua)

The food...walking taco, pigs in a blanket and lots of sweets!

Karen, Netti's mom.  Her better half.

Carolyn, getting her tickets ready for the drawing...

The new FORT hoodies.  They look great! (Oh...and the guy with all the tickets...I don't think he liked me....all those tickets and he didn't win anything.  Sorry about that!

However HULA won two baskets...and the $500 and the $100.  Donated $350 of that back to the fundraiser.  LOVE these guys!

Not sure if you can tell, but it was a GREAT night.  Thank you to Nettie, Paulie, Katie for ordering all the hoodies, and all the Kelts who volunteered...and to the Wolfhounds for your donation to the fundraiser!  You are an amazing group of people & I know why my daughter loved you!


After getting home at 1 a.m. from the fundraiser, we got up at 8 a.m. to go to our grandsons football games in Springfield.  Didn't look like it was going to be a very nice day - looking at the radar the rain and storms were on the way.  No rain in Max's game - ended in a tie, 0-0.  All defense.  

Some of you know that Andrew has a fear of storms.  A real phobia.  He's been pretty good so far this year, but today was not good.  He can look at the radar and even if the radar shows there's no storms close by, he looks at the sky.  There were lots of ominous clouds today, and it WAS kind of a scary looking sky.  He really wanted to be in the car, or under cover.  Nick got permission to be on the sidelines with him (he just wanted his daddy close by) - Andrew played from the first play to the end of the game.  In the fourth quarter, he played offense AND defense.  He had one sack.  But most importantly, he faced his fear.  And for today, he conquered his fear. 

They lost the game, but he won his "competition" with the weather.  We were so proud of him.

Andrew with his other grandpa - Pops.

Andrew - #84

Busy weekend.  Again.  I'll be posting again this week.  Thursday would be JP's 14th birthday.
It's been a tough couple of weeks.  Thank goodness for the Kelts (who kept us busy this weekend), our grandsons (who keep us busy EVERY weekend)  and antidepressants.  I need them all the next few months.

Oh.  And remember what Paulie said...(really what Tom & Mary Ann say) Meet two new people everywhere you go.  You never know how they might change your life.