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 mess...it 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.
NINE YEARS LATER.
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 years...so 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...