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 tests...how 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 on...to 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!)
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.