Friday, July 22, 2016


Melissa is never far away.  She shows us in a lot of ways.

If you've read this blog for awhile, you know that we started getting signs not long after she passed away.  Songs, butterflies, and now hearts.

The first time she sent me a heart was the fall of 2014.

I try to take a 4 mile walk every day.  Whenever I walk, I talk to Melissa.  Seems that when I get to Delco Park, I can hear her.  We have discussions.  Sounds crazy, but it's true.  It's like there's some kind of portal there, or a vortex of energy.

The first time I realized it, I was talking to her.  She was sending me music - can't specifically remember the songs, but the words of the songs were talking to me.  Sometimes that's how she talks to me.

This summer has been rough.  It's like the first year.  Kind of laying low.  I go out occasionally, but just to meet a friend.  The only group thing I've done this summer is the Compassionate Friends Conference.

Last week on my walk, I was talking to her, telling her that I needed to hear from her.  Immediately there was a song on the radio that said what I needed to hear (unfortunately, I can't remember the song - I should have written it down as soon as I got home!).  Right after that, I heard her say, "Mom. Change the channel."  So I did.  The first station I came to was playing the song Lightning Striking Again by Lou Christy.  The song Sam sends to Randy.  It was kind of eerie.  Then she said "Mom, Sam is with me."  I looked up, and there was a cloud (no lie) that looked like an arrow.  Weird...and I thought "what is the arrow pointing to?"  and it was pointing to a heart shaped cloud!  Unfortunately I didn't have my phone with me ( I usually take my walkman), so I couldn't get a picture.

Two days ago I was on my walk.  Hot morning, the most beautiful blue sky...just like the sky in Scottsdale the entire week we were there.  Only thin, wispy cirrus clouds in the sky.  Another walk where I was talking to Melissa, crying, asking her to show me she was with me.  I was almost to Wilmington Pike and I looked up and there was the puffiest, most perfectly shaped HEART cloud!  The only cloud in the sky at the time!  Again, I didn't have my phone, so I couldn't take a picture.  The cloud came apart and was complete gone in about 20 seconds.  But it was there.  And so was she.  Makes me smile and cry at the same time.

I am missing her SO much this summer.    I am so thankful for Donny and my wonderful friends.  Not sure how'd I'd get through without them.

Love you and miss you Melissa.  Every single day.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Am I Crazy?

Trying to stay away from FB for awhile.  Too much negativity and politics.  FB was one of my last gifts from Melissa, so I won't leave permanently, but I need to stay away for awhile.

I have been struggling this years out and that roller coaster is on it's way down.
Celebrating our 40th anniversary and my 60th birthday this summer was hard without her.  ANY holiday is hard because she would be here.

One good thing - we decided to attended our 4th Compassionate Friends Conference. This year it was in Scottsdale, AZ. at the Fairmont Princess Resort (how appropriate for Melissa, huh?).  It was amazing - not sure how many acres it covered, but it was at least as big as our neighborhood.  Four pools.  Several restaurants (that we could barely afford!) and a separate building that was the conference center.  It was huge.

First day we had an expensive lunch on the resort - decided to go off the resort for dinner - found a fun restaurant - Carlos Obriens Mexican Pub.  Food was good, the company was better.

first night out - Carlos O'Briens Mexican Pub

Mange & Mary and Randi  & Carolyn went to the conference too.  Great to have friends to share the week with!

Second day, we headed up to Sedona.  We'd heard a lot about it and it was worth the trip.  Took the Pink Jeep Tour.  We all have bad backs, so we took the mildest one.  Not too much bouncing, they said.  When we got to the outside of town we were off roading-basically.  VERY bumpy.  But a beautiful view of Sedona!

Took tons of pictures - but these pretty much show what Sedona is all about.  Really need at least a week to see everything.  Drove by Al Pacino's home - sat not too far off the road.  We were surprised!

Had an early dinner on a patio with a beautiful view, then stopped to see the Chapel of the Holy Cross - it closed 5 minutes before we got there.  Didn't get to see the inside, but great pictures of the outside.  Guess we'll have to go back!

Took a walk every morning around the resort with Randi & Carolyn.  Lots to see - including a guy whose job was to bring his Harris Hawk to keep the grackles away.  Grackles are very annoying birds. (Similar to crows.  Females are brown - the scouts.  Males are black.  They like to steal food - even  right from someones hand!)  Whenever Jeff is there with his hawk, the grackles stay away.  We learned a lot about hawks and grackles!  Very interesting!

Jeff with his Harris Hawk, Ragnar

Found a fake Western Town, had some fun there too...

When we were having lunch in a courtyard one day, a hummingbird landed in the tree above us and sat long enough for me to take a picture...

The sessions were wonderful again.  I went to "Am I crazy or is this grief?",  Daughterless Mothers - a friend I made at the last conference was back in this session - Karen from Pittsburgh. We exchanged information and I'm sure will connect.   She has a surviving son and two grandchildren as well.

me & Karen from Pittsburgh

In between sessions, we got some much needed pool time...

Randi & Carolyn

Curt (Mange) & Mary

me & Donny

After last session - heading out to eat

There were some other good sessions that I missed, one was presented by a Cardiologist who lost his son.  His session was about physiological effects of grief.  How grief affects our health.  Randi said there was so much information he wants to go again.  Next year.  I'll be there too.  Sessions for parents who lost children to Chronic Illness/Disease (I went to that one), Homicide, Suicide, Accidents.  Also sessions for men only.  TCF has been a lifesaver for us.

On Sunday morning, we did the Walk to Remember, the attended the closing ceremony.  Met a lot more bereaved parents and heard a lot more stories.  Met a Mom & daughter from Bellbrook.  Their son/brother died in a car accident.  David.  He's buried at David's Cemetery close to Melissa.  
His sister actually went to JFK(in Kettering) then they moved to Bellbrook, where she and her brother graduated.   Interesting story from them.  A few months after he died, his mom got a message on FB from a girl who said she just had a baby and thought it could be his.  Turns out it was, and he is 6 years old now.  They get him every weekend.  Every bereaved mother's (of son's) dream.  

Jenna & Karen (from Bellbrook) & me

Donny, me, Bettie-Jeanne & Jim.  They stayed with us on their way to the conference.  They drove from Connecticut to Arizona.  Great stop, great visit.  Their daughter April died in a tragic car accident.  Holly is Bettie's service dog.  Bettie was the presenter of the session - Am I Crazy?

A medal for Melissa.  Hanging in her tree already.  
We did it for you Fort ... and all the children of friends taken too soon.
And our grandson, JP, and my siblings...Steve & Sue.

On our last day, after the walk & closing ceremonies, we drove to Tempe, AZ to see Sun Devil Stadium.  Arizona State (I think).  Interesting stadium nestled in between two HUGE rocks.  We just drove by and unfortunately didn't get a picture.    Then we stopped at ZIPPS Sports Bar.  A couple of the items on the menu stated something referencing their "midwest backgrounds".  Hmmmm...Donny & I both thought maybe they were from or went to Akron (the Zips)?  We'll never know.  

When we left the restaurant, the temp went up about 5 degrees - 111 is HOT.  As beautiful as it was, we were ready to head home.  Flew into Columbus, OH.  Got home around 1:30 am....and Donny had to work the next morning!


Not sure if I ever mentioned it here, but besides butterflies and music, Melissa sends me hearts.  Started a couple of years ago when I was having a really bad day, and she told me she was going to send me a heart that day....a BIG heart.  (yes, I talk to her.  Strangely enough, she comes through loud and clear when I walk through Delco Park.  Maybe there's some kind of portal there?  Who knows.)

Anyway, I got several hearts last week...

Looked out the window on the way to AZ...and whadda ya know...a heart cloud!

We were getting ready to check out of our room at the resort.  I went to turn out the light, and right next to the light switch.  ANOTHER heart.  Can't believe I didn't notice it all week!

Checked the weather when we got home - see the heart in the radar?

Yesterday I took my morning 4 mile walk.  Again, I was having a conversation with Melissa.  Asked her to talk to me...having a hard time lately.  She talks to me through songs.  Right away, a song came on that spoke to me (can't remember what it was this time)...after that she said "mom.  change the station.  So I did.  Lightning Striking Again (by Lou Christie) came on.  That's a song that Randi gets from Sam.  Then Melissa said "Sam is with me mom."  I looked up and there was a cloud that looked like an arrow - and it was pointing to another cloud.  A heart.  Unfortunately I didn't have my phone with me - or I'd have taken a picture.  I would have stopped someone with a phone if someone else would have been out!  No luck.   

Am I Crazy?  Nope.  Grieving.

She isn't far away.  Ever.


Haven't posted pics of the boys in awhile...they are growing like weeds.  Took them to COSI
when I had them Wednesday.

my scientists.

Melissa would have so much fun with them...they miss Aunt Fort too.


Ending on a sad note....a classmate (from Carroll High School) and a friend, Barb Gruenzel, died of breast cancer last week.   She has been on this journey since before Melissa was diagnosed. She was a teacher in Kettering (Southdale) and was supportive of me when Melissa was on this journey.

RIP Barb.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Fort - Hall of Famer!

What a proud moment it was for me and Donny this weekend.  Our daughter being inducted into a Hall of Fame...just like her dad was!  Her talents were recognized by her peers...what an honor!

She was introduced first by Pauly then by Jamie.  Here are some excerpts from the introduction:

"On the field, Fort had effortless talent.  Her God-given size and hand-eye coordination meant she rarely dropped a ball.  Starting her career at number 8, she eventually moved to lock and embraced life in the tight 5.  She was powerful and learned solid technique, serving as a lifter in one of the most beautiful lineouts in all the Midwest!  In college she was well known for the "Fortener Fake" and perfected her dummy pass over the years.  As her skills came together, she received an invitation to play for the Ohio Select Side and as a starter, helped the team roll to a number of tournament victories.

Although Fort was certainly competitive, she never took herself or rugby too seriously which is what made her such a fantastic teammate.  She was always positive, always optimistic, ALWAYS funny, and generally kind, even as she delivered crushing stiff-arms.

She helped lead Cincy-Dayton to 2 Midwest Championships and appeared in all 3 National Championships"


"Playing second row as  Fort did is a thankless job...and one of the most under appreciated positions on the field.  You won't lead the team in tries or tackles.  You don't win bitch of the pitch or man of the match.  You are placed in a ridiculous and laughable position in the scrum and generally only hear about the score off the set piece.  All of this being said, if you ask a prop about their second row, you will hear a list of what the second does right.  You hear stats like strong, solid, tough.

It is the last three characteristics that made me nominate Melissa.  Fort was all of these things in spades.
She made good decisions around the pitch and her teammates were well aware of her presence.
She continued to fight to play while possessing the most severe excuse I've been around to no longer dress for the game.  She wanted a jersey, and to be on the field, so she did, long after she was told she couldn't."

Strong, solid, touch, brave, generally kind with a stiff arm, carries the team spirit, inspires her club years beyond her prime to be better.  I think we can all agree, Fort is a Hall of Fame Kelt."


We are so grateful that she was recognized...she LOVED rugby and she loved the Kelts.  She would be embarrassed for sure, and humbled to be recognized with this honor.

I am embarrassed to admit that after 20 years, I still don't know the game as I should.  She would get so angry (not really) with me that she had to explain it over and over.  And when I would forget someone's name she would roll her eyes "MOM.  How many times to I have to tell you..."  I am trying to do better understanding the game (I think I do) and remembering names.  She would be proud of me.  But not as proud as we are of her.

It's not just the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but her choice of friends...
I'm sure she knew that her rugby family would stay in touch and always be there for us.  They stand by their motto "Once a Kelt, ALWAYS a Kelt."  Somehow, we are lucky enough to be part of this family.   They love us like they loved her.  And the feeling is mutual.

After the ceremony, the celebration continued with a social at Haps.  We heard new stories about Fort.  We love that.

I met Hooky - he told me about the time he was getting ready to go into the game and he had forgotten to take his wedding ring off.  He was looking for the bag to put it in and couldn't find it. Fort was standing there and he went to hand it to her.  Before he could ask her to hold it for him, she said "YES HOOKY!  A thousand times YES!"  She was so good at coming up with funny responses spontaneously.  Hooky said he thinks of that whenever he thinks of Fort.  I'm sure it makes him smile like it made ME smile!

We talked to Tex (also a Hall of Famer) for a long time.  One of the things she told us was that Fort came to visit her the night of the wake (the viewing).   In the dream (visit) she said "Fort, what are you doing?  You're dead."  Melissa said "I know.  I have a lot of people to thank."  and then she was gone.  That was no surprise to us.  Melissa was so good about writing thank-you's (even if they were a year later).  Only this time she couldn't write, so she visited.

Donny & I both talked to Amy for a long time too...she is the new owner of Fort's car.  She couldn't say enough what an impact Melissa made on her life.  It was so nice to talk to Amy too.

I talked to several players that never knew her, but knew all ABOUT her.  We also met several players who have received the Kelts Fort Award.  She will never be forgotten.  Even after we are gone.

Pauly posted a thank you the next day and his comment said something about being "drunk & stupid"...  I don't remember the whole post, but I can identify.  I had a few shots and some beers (Donny was the designated driver and Jen was taking care of me) so I don't remember every story that was told - but I do remember meeting Scott Blackburn (who I see at EVERY fundraiser, he ALWAYS wears his green FORT shirt, and I always say "do I know you? Have we met?" - just like Fort accused me - I forget things.  But not Scott anymore. :)   And a couple of others whose names I will not forget...Erin, Katie, Jamie, DJ, Magic...thank you all for sharing your stories and listening to me.  Even if I didn't make sense sometimes.

Wish I had new photos to share, but being this is a rugby post, I need to post some rugby pics...

Pure love.  

Congratulations FORT & Pauly!  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

May...and Remembering Fort

It's been a busy month...and awhile since I've posted.

In the beginning (seven years ago) I NEEDED to post more often.  I needed to talk about Melissa. All the time.  Please don't  misunderstand.  I miss my daughter EVERY single day.  Every minute of every day.  It's evident if you've ever been to our house.  I'm a little embarrassed to say it's a shrine to our daughter.  Pictures, articles, sentimental items in every room.  We all handle this grief differently. Some people can't look at pictures...for a long time.  I'm just the opposite.  I need to see them every day.  I need her around me every day.  Fortunately,  Donny feels the same.  (we DO  have photos of Nick, Mere and the boys around the house too! We love them equally!)

May is a busy month.   When I look back in my personal journals, I am seeing a pattern.  My journals are for the days that I am struggling.  I don't want to burden anyone, so I write.  I feel better when I write down my feelings.  Mostly bad, I hate to say.   I struggle in the fall.  Melissa's favorite time of year.  I struggle from November through January (the holidays, the anniversary, her birthday).  And May.

I couldn't figure out why I was so down a couple of weeks ago until I pulled out my journal.  Every year in May I write in the journal.  Mother's Day.  Another holiday.  Donny & Nick ALWAYS pull me out of the doldrums.
It's been awhile since I've gotten a dozen roses...

Nick and the boys help too...

and I'm Pammom to Matthew...

Mother's Day is hard too because MY mom is not here....her birthday is May 12.  She died on May 20.  No wonder it's a rough month.

Donny is blessed to still have his mom here!  

This month was hard too because we lost a good friend - Mike Geary.  He was the husband of my good friend Jackie who passed away five years ago.  Donny and I stayed in touch with Mike on a regular basis after Jackie died.  Three years ago he was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis.  While I know Jackie is happy to have him with her, we are missing him as we KNOW their kids are missing both their mom AND dad.  

This was the program at Mike's memorial service.  The picture of Jackie and Mike was taken at the Scholarship Fundraiser we had for Melissa in 2009.  Ben (their son) said he and Elizabeth loved this picture because they both had genuine smiles in this photo.  I couldn't agree more.  We miss them both so much...

This is their grandson, Oliver.  Jackie never got to meet her grandson.   I had to opportunity to watch Oliver for a few hours when Elizabeth got back into town.  He is adorable - and smart too.  This child has travelled the world already!  Will be seeing him in a couple of weeks again for a day or so, until they move to their next residence!

So this was the beginning of the upswing of May.  I needed this. 

Applications for Melissa's scholarships (we give two $1000 scholarships) are due April 15.  The awards ceremony is always in May.  Giving these scholarships is so important to us - Melissa will be remembered as long as we are able to award these scholarships, and thanks to the Kelts and their yearly fundraiser, they will be awarded long after we are gone!    Nick presented the scholarships last year and this year (Angie and Andy Aracri, two of Fort's high school friends) have helped us with this in the past.  

The 2016 recipients of the Melissa Fortener McLaughlin Scholarships are
Adam Duffy (attending The Ohio State University) and
Emily Hughes (attending Capitol University in Columbus)

Another May event that we always look forward to is the Komen Race for the Cure in Columbus with our good friends Randy & Carolyn.  Last year was the first year we participated with them, and it's going to be an annual tradition for us!  

I've heard people comment in the past that so much fundraising and research goes toward Breast Cancer...why not other cancers?

Attending this event kind of gives you an idea why.  Over 30,000 people participated in this 5K!  It's is the biggest Race for the Cure event in the U.S.  That's a lot of people!!!!  All affected in some way by breast cancer...a grandmother, mother, sister, DAUGHTER, friend.  And MEN are affected too!
My hope is that SOME DAY, with all the money that is raised for breast cancer research, if not a cure, they will make this a TREATABLE disease.  Something that those affected can live a long life.  
We know that early detection is the key to surviving this awful disease.  Unfortunately not everyone is diagnosed in the early stages.  (MELISSA).  

And when they find the cure OR make this a treatable disease, my hope is that it will transfer to other cancers - whatever cure or treatment they discover will work for other cancers too.  

I'm not sure how much was raised today - but I'm guessing it was a bundle. 
We will walk and we will run until we find a cure.  As long as we live.

'nuf said

can you find Fort in the picture? Left side above the ribbon!

oh...and Fort was there.  OU flag flying in BUCKEYE territory.  Imagine that.

But that is not the best sign we got this weekend.  We got to Columbus last night - stayed @ Randy & Carolyn's condo a block from Short North.  Went to dinner and had a few beers and were talking about how we would have never met had we not lost our children.  (their son Sam died 10/10/07-this is important for the next story - in Bagdhad).  How we met and how we are there for each other...and right then, the song "Lean on Me by Bill Withers came on! - 

"Sometimes in our lives, 
we all have pain, we all have sorrow. 
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tomorrow.

Lean on me when your're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.

Synchronicity.  Happens to us all the time.

So today, we are finishing the walk.  Closing in on the finish line...I look at my watch to see what time it is, and I said outloud "It's 10:10".  Donny, Randy and Carolyn all looked at me at the same time...Ten Ten.  SAM.  (Sam's # in football was 10.  He died on 10/10.  They find dimes all the time.  Now we find them too.  Sam letting us know he's around us too.

Can't think of a better ending to this post.