Thursday, January 5, 2017

Gifts from Melissa...on her birthday

The gifts should be going to Melissa...not me.

But I am so thankful for these gifts.

Yesterday, John's parents went to his house.  His wife told them that there were several boxes in the basement with "Melissa" written on them.    We got the first round yesterday.

Second round today, Melissa's birthday.

Less than a year after Melissa passed away, I asked John if there was anything of Melissa's that he didn't want, we would like to have.  He sent us a box of her t-shirts.  I was so thankful.  I guess I just assumed that he gave away the rest.

I had no idea.

When his parents asked if we wanted the things that were in the basement, well, there was no question.  Treasures.  All treasures.  She was just like her mom.  She saved everything.  I did something right.  (we are not hoarders, just save things that are mostly sentimental.)

There are a couple boxes of pictures.  Lots of pictures.  A wedding keepsake book "Our First Year", you know, like a baby book where you write about your first year.  Every page is not complete, but there are a lot of things (that I'll share here) that I didn't know.  These are the things I am most thankful for...her writing.  

I have been wanting to ask John if I could make copies of JP's scrapbook that Melissa made, I didn't want to take it from him, I just wanted copies.  I have it now.

There is a bag (you know, the ones that comforters come in-I save those too.  Melissa inherited that), that is full of teddy bears...and the newspaper with JP's obituary. 

We haven't gone through everything yet, and there is more to come.  I need to take my time.  So we do what we have done for the last eight years.  We went to the girls basketball game.  We got out of the house, didn't think about everything that has gone on this week.  That's how we cope.

There is so much more.  

What i love about this...a picture of her and Nick in a frame with butterflies!!!!

One of her creations. 
The pink scarf she made (when she learned to crochet...it's about 6 ft long.  I'm wearing it right now...had to wrap it around 6 times...I have a picture of her wearing this. The frame is something I made for John a few Christmas's ago - all pics of him and Melissa. (I made the same thing for Donny and Nick - ea with pictures of them with Melissa). And the blue blanket...it was the blanket JP was wrapped in when he was born...

JP's scrapbook


the rugby ball signed for Fort. There was one for J Mac and one for us.  Now we have both.

and their wedding keepsake "Our First Year".

I know she would be ok with me sharing some of the things written in this.  Made me laugh...and boy to I need to laugh...



This is how each page is set up.

I'll share a couple of the pages...

Falling in Love

How we met - I know Haps was involved, I'm sure beer was there too - My first real memory was sitting at the Bar with John, Pauly & Lou at 2:00 a.m.  I asked if I could crash on the closest couch - 
JOHN WON!!!

First Impressions - Infectious laugh, sensible shoes, awesome sense of humor, highly intelligent

First Date Details - Julie & Kevin's wedding at the same place we're having our reception!!  I remember beer & beads, dancing and fun!!  (2nd date was the AF Museum the next day!!)

How We Spent Time Together - Mostly weekend long dates ( I was still living in Dayton). 
Haps, basically.

Favorite Places - Haps, Rugby games, Haps

Most Romantic Moment - When we "got lost" and ended up looking over the skyline of Cincinnati and we told each other "I love you" and John prefaced it by telling me it was a "Big MATZA BALL"

*****

Ok, you get the idea.  I'll share more later.  

What a treasure we have received.

I have to thank John's parents, and Lisa too.  All of these things could have been disposed of.  But she was gracious enough to make sure that we got them.  Thank you.

And speaking of John's parents...when they brought her things to the house yesterday, we went through a couple boxes, because they thought there might be some of John's things, which we did find.  Then John's dad pulled a frame out of one of the boxes, it was their Marriage License.
He said "Well.  Here it is.  It's official."  And the puzzle went off!!!!!!!!  (I've told the puzzle story many times here.  It's one of the signs we get from Melissa-one of the ways she communicates with us.)  The puzzle did not go off just once, but the entire time they were here.  They were here for about an hour before Donny got home from work, and when he got home, it continued.  It was like Melissa, John & JP all wanted to be in on the conversation.  It was truly incredible.  

What John and Melissa had was true love.  True love with a tragic ending.  

and before I end, I need to tell the story of the day you were born, Melissa.


...It was a balmy morning.  My contractions started around 4 a.m.  We left for the hospital around 5.
A little later in the morning it started snowing (and didn't stop for three days).  My labor was not bad, and did not last long.  You were born at 1:19 p.m. ( and I now have your birth certificate to prove it-or a copy that YOU had...along with your driver's license and UC ID's - always wondered what happened to those).  
Anyway, back in those days, we got to stay in the hospital for two or three days to rest before the REAL work began.  The day we took you home, our car (a Gremlin X) wouldn't start.  So Rick Kayser, your dad's best friend and college roommate picked up your dad and came to pick us up at the hospital.  I sat in the front seat, holding you (no car seats necessary in those days), Rick drove and your dad sat in the back seat.  A couple of weeks after we got you home, the Blizzard of '78 hit.  And we all survived.  

January 5, 1978 was the happiest day of my life. Little did I know that there was so much more happiness (and heartache) to come.  

I love you Melissa Marie Fortener McLaughlin "FORT".

Celebrate your birthday with your family in heaven, and we'll celebrate with the rest of your family (and some friends) at China Cottage.

Happy Birthday Pretty Girl!


















Monday, January 2, 2017

REFLECTIONS..life, death, friends-Eight Years Later

Usually the anticipation is much worse or much more exciting than the actual event.  Whatever the event happens to be.

In my case, the anticipation of going through another holiday without Melissa is grueling.  In the fall (her favorite season) the depression starts creeping in.  The smells, the sounds, everything about the fall reminds me of Melissa.  And Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Ugh.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we are making people aware of breast cancer...and I hope from  all the fundraising for breast cancer research they at least find something to make it a treatable disease (if not a cure!)

And then the holidays.  A couple of years ago, it did get a little easier.  I could put up a few decorations and listen to Christmas music.  I sent out Christmas cards.

This year has been harder than any in the last eight years.  My 60th birthday, our 40th anniversary, two things that Melissa would have been in charge of.  And anyone who knows me knows me knows the election put me over the edge.  I needed a break from Facebook (although I did go back today to post that I was updating the blog...seemed like I needed to today).  Too difficult to see COMPLETE families and all their happiness.

But I had no idea that this week, the one I dread the most, could get even worse.  I mean, what could be worse than only having memories of your beautiful daughter, and getting through the EIGHTH year without her?  Then two days later, what should be her 39th birthday?

God DOES give you more than you can handle.  I know that personally.

On Saturday, New Years Eve, I took the boys to a movie.  Our tradition is usually BW3, then they spend the night at our house.  Donny picked us up after the movie and when we got in the car I asked him if we were going right to BWs.  No, he said, I'm not sure you'll want to go.  Jennifer called.
One of my best friends from high school.  Her daughter Jody died unexpectedly.

This was from one of our Mother/Daughter weekends.  Karen, me, Jody & Melissa.


The only good thing is I know what to do in this situation.  I've had a lot of mentors (friends who have shown me how to do this).  I didn't go over that night, but did the next morning, then in the afternoon.  It helps me when I know I can help someone else.  In this case, I have a lot of experience.

So last night, I can't sleep.  I went to bed, but just couldn't get to sleep.  So I got up, came downstairs and sent Jennifer a text. It was 1:26 a.m.  Didn't get to sleep until around 3:30 a.m.

We had decided to celebrate Melissa's birthday Monday since we would all be home.  Our tradition for her birthday was China Cottage.  She loved it.  So we will always go for her birthday.  Nick, Mere and the boys and my nephew Matthew were meeting there at 11:30.  Andrew called at 10:30 and said his daddy and mommy weren't up yet - so I told him to wake them up - we were meeting in an hour.
So we get there right at 11:30 - Nick and Mere aren't there so I called Nick to make sure Andrew woke them up...no answer.  So I called Mere. She answered and said they would be there soon...and she sounded upset.    While I was talking to her, another call was coming in from Murphy, NC.
our son in law John's parents were calling.  I thought for New Years.  We stay in touch during the holidays mostly.

I missed the call and when I called back John (our John's dad) answered...he sounded like he was crying, and gave the phone to Diana.

Our son in law John had died.  WTH????????? How????  What happened?????

I won't go into details here, because at this point I don't have all the facts.   But I will say that it was in the news in Cincinnati.

Nick & Mere had just gotten a call from Pauly.   Pauly, who runs the Kelts Breast Cancer Fundraiser every year.  He had heard from another Kelt.

How can this be happening????  How can this be real?????  How can this be true????
It's not possible.

But it did happen.  It is real.  It is true.  It is possible.

John was exactly the kind of guy Melissa was looking for...he was really smart and they could have an intelligent conversation.  That was really important to her.  And he loved her.
He loved her so much that he married her even though she had cancer.  Even though they had lost a child.  He took his wedding vows seriously..."til death do us part".  He was by her side until she took her last breath.

A few years later, John met and married someone.  He deserved to be happy more than anyone.  It was hard to see him alone (and I'll be honest, it was hard to see him with someone else too), but we just wanted him to be happy.  And he seemed to be, for awhile anyway.

Grieving is something you HAVE to do.  You can't hold it inside because it will eat you alive.

I know some people are probably tired of me talking about my daughter, but I will honestly say if I didn't I wouldn't be here.  I talk about her to keep her alive (in my mind anyway).  That's all that matters to me.  And I've made it 8 years dealing with her death this way.

I wish we would have kept in closer touch with John.  We just never knew.  Do we stay in touch, or is that too much?  We were new at this,  just didn't know what the boundaries were.

I wish we would have told him how much we loved him because he loved our daughter.  He was her "schmoopie".  They both had booming laughs.  And voices.  And John loved to cook.  He wouldn't let Melissa cook (unfortunately, her mom wasn't a very good cook).  But he loved her anyway.

Sometimes life is just too much.  To be honest, I have no idea how I get through each day.  Especially now.  Some nights I lay awake and my brain just won't stop....I miss my daughter, I worry about my dad, Nick, the boys, if Donny has a headache or he doesn't feel good I worry.  I can't lose them too.

This is not the life I planned.

I (we) raised our kids to be productive citizens. Kind.  Caring.  Loving. Healthy.  Active.  All the things that are important to living a good life.  We paid our bills on time.  We help others.  We vote.
We're active in the community (more so now since Melissa's been gone.)  I'm taking care of my dad.
I am by no means perfect, but I am also not a risk taker.  I was the kid who was always afraid of being caught.  Thats what kept me from being a risk taker.   And of course I have the Catholic guilt thing too.  Oh - and we did the marriage thing in the "right" order too - we got married.  We bought a house.  We had 2 kids.  They both graduated from high school and college.  They both got married and had good jobs.  I worked for 40 years before I retired.  Donny is still working.

What the hell.

In the last nine years I've lost my mom, my grandson, my daughter, two best friends, my sister and now my son in law.  Donny's lost his job twice.

What year is going to be the year that things go right?  I really beginning to believe that there is some kind of curse on us (me).  I'm really getting tired of constantly picking up the pieces.  I don't know if I can do this anymore.

I write that a lot in my journal.  "I can't do this any more"

And then I get a call from the mother of one of my former students (who completed suicide), and needs a friend to have coffee with; my friend who just lost HER daughter; my friend who lost her only daughter.

My husband needs me.  My son needs me.  My grandsons need me. My dad needs me... My Compassionate Friends need me (and boy do I need them)....

So where I'm going here is the only reason I'm here is I'm not here for me.  Helping is what heals me.
But, Oh, I am so tired.  How much can one person take?

We are finding comfort in the fact that John is with Melissa and JP.    The first time they have been together since October 19, 2003.   The day JP was born.  I remember that day so well.  The day I could do nothing to help my daughter.  I couldn't take her pain away.

It's just after midnight and I'm on the countdown to 5:18 a.m.  It will be 8 years at 5:18.
Right now I was sitting in a recliner on one side of Melissa's bed and John was in the recliner on the other side.  Didn't sleep much that night either.

Never in my worst nightmare would I believe that I would be sitting up 8 years later grieving the loss of her husband.  NEVER.

I am not afraid of death.  I don't fear death.  For me anyway.  Death will deliver me to my daughter and my grandson.

It giveth and it taketh away.

I thought I could get through this week quietly.  Reminisce and remember on January 3, celebrate her life on January 5.   Now I sit here wide awake.  There is no sleep in me.  How can I help my friend who just lost her daughter?  How can we help John's parents?  We KNOW what the future will be for them.    Death is natural, none of us are getting out of here alive.  But can't we just go in order of how we came in?  That would make it so much easier.

Fortunately, we have been blessed with some pretty amazing friends.  Your friends might not always be around...even for a couple of years.  But they show up (in a phone call, a text, a message) when you need them.  Our phone has been ringing off the hook today. Lots of messages of love.  It has really helped.  Sometimes we forget how many friends we have until something like this happens.  Thank you for the phone call, the message and for just being there.  I guess that's why we're ALL here.

So, this year, on the eighth anniversary, it's not just about Melissa.  It's about John & Melissa.

This is what I picture when John arrived in heaven...

and this...

John, lining up Melissa's medication.  He was so good to her...

Brothers.

He did love his food!

Happy together...at last.

I just love him....

fun with the Kelts!

Breast Cancer Fundraiser

My COMPLETE family (well, almost.  Minus JP & Max)

Last family photo

can you tell how much fun they have? it was like this EVERY time!

love love love this one

John and Max (the wiggly one!)



WE LOVE YOU J MAC.  Give my pretty girl and JP a hug and a kiss for us.


***************************

The Cincinnati Kelts are an amazing organization.  An amazing family.
They have held 13 Annual Breast Cancer fundraisers in Melissa's memory.  They have raised over $50,000 for Melissa's scholarship fund and Breast Cancer Research. And they have been a second family to John and our family.

The Kelts are in the process of raising funds to buy land for a pitch (field).  If you would like to remember John, a donation to the Kelts in his memory would be greatly appreciated.

Checks can be made out to and mailed to:

The Cincinnati Kelts Foundation
222 Hilltop Lane
Wyoming, OH 45215

Thank you so much.

"Once a Kelt, Always a Kelt"





















Friday, December 30, 2016

Mothers and Daughters

One of the (many) reasons this time of year is so difficult - this is the time of year you see Mothers and daughters EVERYWHERE.  Shopping, lunch, dinner...just the holidays in general.

So this week, this happens...


Boy do I get this.  You cannot possibly understand this unless you have lost a child...but I felt the same way.  I wanted to be with Melissa too.  I've heard of broken heart syndrome.  Your heart feels like it's going to explode...they are together forever....

I'm beginning to realize that the holidays will never get easier.   I often wonder how my mom got through the holidays.  She had 32 Christmas's without her son, my brother.  She and my dad hardly ever talked about my brother, but my mom always put his stocking up at Christmas.  Looking back, it seemed natural.  There were four kids.  Not three.  And it was the ONE way my mom kept my brother alive.  She couldn't talk about him, but she wanted him there.

Christmas started with the Fortener's the week before Christmas - great party, but not a good day for me.  It was a snowy, icy day.  I slipped on the ice in the morning, twisted my knee.  FELL on the ice in the afternoon unloading stuff from Donny's mom's car, landing on my elbow, jammed into my shoulder.  It's hell getting old...

The Fortener Christmas is now at the VFW - too many people for one family's home.  Works out perfectly.  Melissa LOVED the Fortener Christmas...she loved the chaos.  I know she would approve of the move to the VFW.  The kids have lots of room to open presents and play.  

Andrew is almost as tall as GG!!! (We have a picture of Nick with Grandma Rado that is just like this!)

Santa & Mrs. Claus always make a stop...

Roz, the kids and in laws

Roz's grandkids (that were able to make it)

Roz's great grandkids (that were able to make it)


Me and MY grandson.  I love this picture of me and Andrew!

We took the boys to Carillon Park this year - this is the second year the bell tower was lit up like a Christmas tree and this year the museum and park was lit with Christmas lights, there was a train ride (that we stood in line for an hour for, in 20 degree temps, only to find that it was an open train ride. You straddled a bench and sat front to back - only 12 people on at a time - we FROZE.  But the kids loved it.)  Then we hurried to the museum to get out of the cold.  It was awesome.  I can see this being a new tradition...





even I enjoy a carousel ride occasionally...

They had a WWI exhibit in the museum this year.

Santa's chair - but Santa was absent, so they tried it out!

The boys spent the night a couple days before Christmas and decorated cookies and gingerbread men.
Andrew has a little more patience.  I think Max decorated one.  He has more patience throwing a football up and catching it - endlessly.  


CHRISTMAS EVE

Our new family tradition is celebrated Christmas Eve.  Nick, Mere, Andrew, Max, me, Donny.
Pretty laid back.  Dinner, gifts, games.  Nick spent a lot of time putting things together this year.  He got Donny a FireStick and set that up, they got me a new camera (with detachable lenses!) It's really nice.   
Ready for the BUCKEYES

new earrings

grill stuff

a mug from Andrew...with HIS artwork.  My favorite!

Family photo (taken by the boys)

Max

Andrew with this years "Andrew Book" (I make each of them a book every year.  Everything we do from Christmas until the next December.  Kind of a yearbook for each of them.)

Donny with his new "Marty Moose" mug with EggNog

Max & Mommy (playing YAHTZEE!!!!)


Can't remember who, but someone gave this to Melissa her last Christmas. The angel is from one of our Compassionate Friends Memorials. The gift box on the right was from Tiff. Still has the gift in it that Tiff gave Melissa that Christmas.

A gift from my (long time) friend Carol.  This is so true.


I know I have talked about our connection to the Franz family.  How Melissa said we were "Franz wannabes".  It's true.  They are an amazing family.  I played softball with all of the Franz sisters (and several of their girls as well), Donny played softball with the Franz brothers.  Mark was my age, Mary is Donny's age.  They have included us in most of the events in their family...weddings, graduations, birthday parties, baby showers.  We really feel like we are part of the family.  This Christmas, Bobby (the youngest of 11) made these framed momentos for every member of the family.  And he included US.  It's official.  We ARE part of the Franz family!  Thank you so much Bobby!!!!
(guess I should explain the significance of 4582.  When Scott was little, he told his mom "I love you 4582."  Because that was the biggest number he could think of!  Now it's the "Love you" signature of all the Franz's.  And us.  Because we're one of them now.  I 4582 that.

Obviously he's seen our home decor.  This fits right in.  

CHRISTMAS DAY

This was the first Christmas (since before we had kids) that we woke up on Christmas morning just the two of us.  It was odd.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  And it was ok.  Nick & Mere spend Christmas Day with her family (it's her mom's birthday too).

We don't normally go to his sister's for her family's Christmas, but we did this year to see her son Andy off - he was deployed to Turkey the next morning.  Eight months.  Keep him in your prayers.

Andy with his puppy.

When we got home, Matthew (my nephew, sister Sue's son).  We're his family on his mom's side now.  Had a nice visit - he actually had Christmas Day off!  (told me his last paycheck, for two weeks, had 151 hours.  Crazy.)

Matthew having some eggnog with Marty Moose...

And while I normally close with pics of Andrew & Max, I'm changing it up - there are plenty of pictures above.  

Finally got good news from my dad.  He's coming home.  To Dayton.  To live.  I've found a place in Beavercreek about 5 minutes from us.  Reminds me a lot of Victoria Landing (although he won't have a balcony and his view won't be the Indian River), there is a pond is we can get him a room on that side of the building.  The girl I've been talking to said "we'll put dolphins on a wheel so he can see dolphins jumping" I like that she remembered that from my first visit.  I think it will be a perfect fit for dad.

***

So while the holidays just aren't the same without my beautiful Melissa (her booming voice and laughter)...we made it through.  This was our 8th Christmas without her.  How is that possible.

Now we have next week.
January 3.  Eight years since I last saw my pretty girl.

January 5.  She should be 39 years old that day.  

I am meeting some good friends on Jan 3 for coffee.  They knew Melissa and loved her like we did.
Then I will reminisce.  I will go through the tub of things we kept from that Christmas.  There isn't much celebration in this day.

But her birthday is different.  We will ALWAYS celebrate that day.  January 5, 1978 was the day our lives changed forever.  We were so blessed to have her, even if it was only for 30 (almost 31) years.
China Cottage was the tradition, and as long as China Cottage is open, we will celebrate her birthday there.  She love it.  

The missing never goes away.  

Every day is one day closer to seeing her again.

I'll be back next week.