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. 














Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Surviving



I was sitting here the other day looking at Melissa's license plate.  "Survivor".  She was a survivor for awhile...I'm still surviving.

Or working on it.  

I still find it hard to believe that she's been gone over seven years.  How do you survive a loss this great?   It is a roller coaster for sure.  The stages of grief...shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  They go in no particular order.  I would say for me personally, the shock wore off after the first anniversary. I think the whole first year is denial.  You can convince yourself that they are "out of town".  Just gone for a while.  Then reality hits.  She was not coming back.  I would never hear her voice again.  She would never come bounding through the front door again, leaving all of her stuff by the front door.  I would never hear that booming voice, her laughter.  

Surviving is a daily routine.  Get up.  Get dressed.  Smile.  Think positive.  Maybe get out.  Talk to SOMEONE.  Put something on the calendar to look forward to.  Take medicine.  Make a "to do" list. Put anything you've done that day on the list and check it off (see above).  

I guess I was thinking about this (surviving) the other day because a couple of weeks ago two good friends lost their daughters...I want to be there and I want to help, but it brings everything back.  But I want to help them.  

The depression creeps in and I just want to curl into a ball under the covers.  But I can't...because like Melissa, I'm a SURVIVOR.  So I get up, get dressed.  At least.

I am still here, miraculously.  Really.  That smile on my face is a mask...smiling on the outside, dying on the inside.  Yes.  Even after seven years.

But here I am...and thank God for basketball to get us through the winter.  And early sunshine.  And my grandsons.  And Donny.  And Nick.  And Mere.  And the friends who still come around.  I do have a lot to be thankful for...

Surviving is directly related to keeping busy...which I work on daily.
I have pictures to prove it...

Went to Louisville for the Notre Dame/Louisville game.  Stayed with Ross & Lindsay Kayser. These are their two precious daughters, Paisley & Chesney.  And at the time another on the way - she arrived a week after we were there!

Stopped in to visit my good friend Mary - a friend from my freshman year at Carroll.  They are big Cardinal fans - this is me and her husband Frank.

Me and Muffett McGraw.  Head Coach of Notre Dame.

On the way to Notre Dame for the Pink Game.  Andrew, Max & Kathryn's dad came with us. It was Valentine's Day - so I bought the kids books - Andrew finished his book that day in the car!

Big Notre Dame fans!!!

with Kathyrn after the game.

Drove home in snow - this is what we came home to.  The kids loved it!

Make Thank You notes for Kathryn.  Andrew free-handing the ND leprechaun!

The finished product!

Went to an italian restaurant after the game.  Thought it would be a pizza place, but it was a little fancier than that...Max's first question "Why do I have two forks".  A teachable moment.

Can't get enough of ND.  Wish we could have taken them to the Grotto.

Max & PopPop

Grandpa (Kathryn's grandpa) walking the boys to the arena.

This beautiful owl  flew over our heads when we were sitting in the hot tub.  Couldn't tell what it was until I turned the porch light on - and he stayed on the wire!

Was going to share this at our Compassionate Friends meeting, but stayed home because of the weather.  Melissa loved to write - this was for her creative writing class in high school.  My favorite.

Went to see Andrew's Inventor presentation.  He chose the inventor of the typewriter. I listened, but I don't remember who it was...

Proud of Andrew!

After all this - Donny lost his job.  Worked hard getting resumes out for a month.  Just got a job and started this week - a small company in Centerville.  Hopefully it will work out.

If you haven't registered for the 5K - it's coming soon.  Sunday April 17.  Hope you can be there.


Friday, January 8, 2016

A New Normal

This was posted on a FB support group that I go to.

Really covers what this "new" life is.  A "new" normal.

***

WHAT IS NORMAL AFTER YOUR CHILD DIES?
Normal is having tears waiting behind every smile when you realize someone important is missing from all the important events in your family's life.
Normal is trying to decide what to take to the cemetery for Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Valentine's Day, etc.
Normal is feeling like you can't sit another minute without getting up and screaming, because you just don't like to sit through anything anymore.
Normal is not sleeping very well because a thousand what if's & why didn't I's go through your head constantly.
Normal is continuously reliving that horrible day of learning of your child's death through your eyes and mind, holding your head to make it go away.
Normal is having the TV on the minute you walk into the house to have noise, because the silence is deafening.
Normal is every happy event in your life always being backed up with sadness lurking close behind, because of the hole in your heart.
Normal is telling the story of your child's death as if it were an everyday, commonplace activity, and then seeing the horror in someone's eyes at 
how awful it sounds. And yet realizing it has
become a part of your "normal."
Normal is coming up with the difficult task of how to honor your child's memory on their birthday and holidays, and survive these days. And trying to find the balloon or flag that fit's the occasion. "Happy Birthday”? Not really.
Normal is my heart warming and yet sinking at the sight of something special my child loved. Thinking how she would love it, but how she is not here to enjoy it.
Normal is having some people afraid to mention my child.
Normal is making sure that others do remember her.
Normal is after the funeral is over everyone else goes on with their lives, but we continue to grieve our loss forever.
Normal is seeing other families who are "whole" and thinking of how lucky they are. And thinking back on memories of when we were a whole family and knowing that it will never be that way again because our family chain was broken.
Normal is weeks, months, and years after the initial shock, the grieving gets worse, not better because with every passing day, you miss them more.
Normal is not listening to people compare anything in their life to this loss, unless they too have lost a child. Nothing compares. Nothing.
Losing a parent is horrible, but having to bury your own child is unnatural... a complete nightmare that you never wake up from.
Normal is taking pills, and trying not to cry all day, because you know your mental health depends on it.
Normal is realizing that you do cry every day.
Normal is being impatient with everything and everyone but someone stricken with grief over the loss of their own child.
Normal is sitting at the computer crying, sharing how you feel with chat buddies who have also lost a child.
Normal is not wanting to hear that my child is in a better place because although I know she is in heaven, I will never understand why my beautiful child was taken from this earth. It makes absolutely no sense to this grieving mother.
Normal is being too tired to care if you paid the bills, cleaned the house, did the laundry or if there is any food... too tired to even get ready to go to the doctor to find out why you’re so tired.
Normal is asking God why he took your child's life instead of yours.
Normal is knowing you will never get over this loss, not in a day nor a million years.
Normal is having therapists agree with you that you will never "really" get over the pain and that there is nothing they can do to help you because they know that only bringing your child back from the dead could possibly make it "better".
Normal is learning to lie to everyone you meet and telling them you are fine. You lie because it makes others uncomfortable if you cry. You've learned it's easier to lie to them than to tell them the truth that you still feel empty and it's probably never going to get any better -- ever.
And last of all...
Normal is hiding all the things that have become "normal" for you to feel, so that everyone around you will think that you are "normal"

***

It's a new life.  Not one I ever thought I'd be living.  Not the "normal" of the past.  Just learning to live though each day.  One day at a time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Happy Birthday Melissa...#38

38 years ago, almost to the minute (right now) Melissa Marie was born.

The day started out a lot like today.  Woke up in labor around 3 a.m. Laid there until about 5 a.m. when I finally woke Donny up. It was time.

It was unusually warm early that morning.  The calm before the storm (the blizzard of '78 was on it's way).

Melissa was born @ 1:19 p.m.  Beautiful.  Healthy.  We were so happy.

Never, ever did we think we would outlive her.  It's not supposed to be that way.

We had 30 (almost 31) of the most amazing years.  I wish I could remember every minute.  Thank goodness I was a picture taker.  So was she.  That is where is find most of my memories.

Yesterday I was taking down the Christmas stuff, doing after Christmas cleaning.  We have a corner cupboard and I was looking in the cabinet at the bottom of the cupboard and found a decorative box that someone had given her.  She kept her cards in it.  I added a few things after she passed away.  Her calendar that she kept in her purse was there.  All filled out, highlighted in different colors for different events (just like her dad does) even had events on the calendar in January.  She always planned ahead.

I also found something my sister had written.  Well, it was written in her handwriting.  I googled the first couple of sentences and tried to find who the author is, but no author was listed.  So I'm not giving credit for the whole thing to my sister.    It was written to Melissa.

This is a little long (like my last post - after I posted and Donny read it, his only comment was, "wow. that was long"... I had a lot to say after 7 years.)  Anyway, finding it yesterday was like a gift to me.  Not only is today Melissa's birthday, it is 3 years today since Sue died.  Synchronicity.  It happens a lot.

The Visionary

Unfortunately, there are many that cannot see, through just life and circumstance, they happen to be blind but then there are others who are visionary and they're a rare breed and so very hard to find.

Visionaries see past obstacles that others would otherwise see, they don't let mere boulders get in their way.  They know that life is for the living and they don't let trivia ruin their day.

And like little children splashing in a puddle, which, after all, is little more than a dip filled with rain, you show others how to make the most of their difficulties, you show others how to live, how to start again.

Those without vision look at a mountain and see that it is too far to climb, but visionaries blink, go ahead and reach the summit, never stopping to wonder if they've got the time.

Visionaries live to inspire others, instinctively, they take the higher and wiser ground, they have a built in sense of grit and determination, although it's a kind of inner peace that they've found.

(the next part, I'm sure, is authored by Sue)

Because, Melissa, you are indeed a visionary and maybe this is something you've never been told, not only are you a very special person, you're the sweetest girl with a heart of gold.

You are always so happy and optimistic and your face is set with a natural and permanent smile and I wanted to let you know that you've inspired me, because even I feel down (once in awhile).

But then your courage and determination raise me up.  Your happiness makes me soar to greater heights and I'm so glad that you're sharing your vision, because you're making others see remarkable sights.

And with that vision I dream of a world where people are inspired and care for one another,
I dream of what could be possible, I see the potential for every man, child, girl and mother.

So I would just like to thank you for giving me your truly remarkable insight, you've given me your vision, your inspiration, your knowledge.  You've even shared some of your almighty might.

And your parents have done a splendid job, because they have helped you become who you are. You have definitely excelled in your life.  And you are now a shining star.

Because stars send out their love and light to us, no matter what distance may keep us apart, they are there to inspire us, to give us vision and yes, they are always, very much, within our hearts.

***

Happy Birthday Melissa Marie!

***

In memory of my beautiful daughter, Melissa Marie
and my amazing sister, Sue.

Love and miss you both so much.






Saturday, January 2, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

It's September and I'm already thinking about the upcoming seventh anniversary.  I won't post this until then, but I need to write when I'm thinking about it...

I know it's cliche, but it seems like yesterday.  And when I think that I haven't seen that beautiful face for SEVEN years, it seems like a lifetime.

It happens every year, I know what's coming.  (although I do have a doctor's appointment in Nov. Last year my doctor suggested an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety just for the months that are so hard to get through - October - March.  It really helped).  Mood swings, depression, anti-social feelings.  I know that I have made progress in the last seven years.  When I look back on posts at each anniversary, things have changed.

What I can do
This might sound strange, but one thing I had a hard time doing was putting an (!) at the end of a sentence.  How could I possibly be excited about ANYTHING.   When I look back, I'm amazed at the things that I accomplished so soon after Melissa's death.  Organizing a fundraiser (with Angie and a lot of other people) that raised $24,000.  Walking 60 miles WITHOUT Melissa. Twice.  Working.  I did a lot, but on the inside I was dying too.
Today, some of the things that I struggled to do six years ago...dance for one (Ok - I'm not a good dancer, but I used to LOVE to dance) I want to do.  My body just stops me.  Except when I hear the song HAPPY by Pharrel Willimas.  Isn't that strange?  Happy?  I think Melissa is getting into my head and saying "It's ok mom.  It's ok to be happy!  Go ahead and DANCE!"  Donny and I were taking a walk a while back - sometimes we walk and talk, sometimes we take our walkmans (we're old) that song came on and I was literally dancing and singing while I was walking.  Made Donny smile.  He likes to see me happy.  Just like Melissa and Nick.
I listen to the words of music a lot closer than I ever did before Melissa.   Recently, on another walk, I was thinking about her.  Purple Rain by Prince  came on (she loved Prince) - the first words in the song are "I never meant to cause you sorrow, I never meant to cause you pain.  I just want to see you dancing in the purple rain"...music is her way of communicating with me!   It's like she wants to talk to me, so she does it through a song.

What I can't do
I've made a lot of progress here... in the beginning, I couldn't go to the grocery store without crying.
Socializing, unless it had to do with an event in Melissa's memory, was hard.  I do socialize more now, but I still have a hard time with crowds.  Big parties. (again, unless it's about Melissa) Maybe because mingling and making small talk is hard.  All I want to talk about is Melissa.  I enjoy going out with a friend or two where we can have a real conversation.  That's a good thing, I think.
Really, there aren't a lot of things that I can't do.  I try really hard to make this new life as normal as possible.


Regrets
I have a couple, as far as Melissa goes.  I wish I would have talked to her about what was coming.
How she felt.  How I felt.  At the time, the only time I could tell her how much I was going to miss her was when she was sleeping.  I never wanted her to think  that I was giving up on her...if we talked about dying, I was giving up.  So we never had that discussion.
Funny thing is, she never brought it up either.  The discussion was always about her going back to work when she got better.  Although I was just reading her last post the other day. I really think she knew what was coming, but just didn't want to talk about it. At least to me.  She never wanted to see me cry.  And I never wanted to see HER cry.  As all parents know, if your kids are happy, YOU are happy.  If your kids are hurting... well...you know.

This is her post:


During the last five months while I was enduring these last five months of Ixempra, my mom would cheerfully nod and say, "I think this is the "Big One" you were talking about. This is the last one you have to get over. But I would always respond the same. "No Mom, sorry." In a way I was trying to show her to show a little respect to the disease. Cancer isnt going to make me go through all of that THAT for THIS. I sadly knew there was at least one more visit we were going ot have to make on this journey, and it wasnt a place most people think they're going to make it out alive without proper flowers or some respectable casserole dish.

***
The other thing I wish I would have done differently...the last day she was home, she got up that morning and wanted to take a shower.  She knew she was probably going back to Hospice.  She couldn't go without the oxygen...she had a long enough cord, but she didn't have a lot of strength at that point.  She stood in the bathroom and started undressing while I was pleading with her - you don't have enough strength...you have to have your oxygen.  Then she got sick.

Really, the last thing she wanted from me was to take a shower.  And I said no.    If I could do it over again, I would find a way.  I wasn't thinking about getting a chair, or it will only take a minute.  I was worried.  And I wish I could change that.  She NEVER asked for anything.  And the one thing she asked for, I didn't give her.

Forgiveness
So I guess I should forgive myself for that.  I was doing what I thought was best at the time.  But it was such a little thing....she never asked for much.

And I hope that my friends and family will forgive me for all the times they offered to help, or take me out, or talk...and I couldn't.  I can't explain the depth of the grief I was experiencing.  It takes your breath away.  It consumed me.  It was difficult to watch everyone's life go on when my world stopped.  I didn't WANT my life to go on...without her in it.  I know I worried a lot of people.  Mostly Donny and Nick.  But I needed to get through the only way I knew how.  I needed to do it on my own...for awhile.  Until I realized that I couldn't do it alone.  And  good friends who lost their son just five weeks after Melissa introduced me to Compassionate Friends.  A life saver for me.

And I guess this is a good place to say I forgive anyone who tried to give me advice...how to get through this.  Although I can say I had an idea of how to do this because my brother died when I was 17 and I watched my mom and dad and how they handled it, I had NO IDEA how painful the loss of a child could be.  I only knew from a siblings perspective.  I knew that I needed to remember that I was fortunate to still have a child!  Nick and I talk about that.  I want him to know that if he ever feels like I am neglecting him, to tell me.  You cannot compare losses.  Every loss is different.  Losing a child is not like losing a grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, dog.  I've lost them all.   There is NO comparison.

What I do know (now) is that if your only loss is one of the above, that is a GREAT loss to YOU.
Maybe that's all you have to compare it to.  You feel like you know.  I try to understand that now.

We can't compare the loss of children either.  Some of us got to say goodbye.  Some of us had harsh words the last time we talked to our child.  Some of our children took their own lives.  Some of them made bad decisions...BUT.  The end result is the same.  The pain is the same. Whether they had cancer, took their own life, took drugs, made bad decisions, we loved our children the same.

So I forgive you if you said something  (in the beginning) that hurt me.  Because in the last seven years, I've learned that people never intend to say anything hurtful.  They just don't know.  And I hope they NEVER know.


Remembering , Reflecting, Celebrating
This year, on January 3, I will reflect.  We don't celebrate her death.  I will read her blog, get out the scrapbooks, go through the tubs with all of her things from her last Christmas here.  We have gifts, clothes, things she wrote.  I will touch, smell, hold, remember.  And cry.  I don't do that as much.  Oh, the tears still come - but I never know when.  But crying is good.  It makes me feel better.  Because when I cry, I am remembering.

We DO celebrate her birth.  She was the best thing that ever happened to me (and of course it was the same when Nick was born, then my grandsons).  She was a beautiful, happy baby.
She was smart and funny.  Always.

We had our ups and downs, like all parents do with their children.

But we always had a good relationship.  A relationship that turned into a friendship.  BFFs.
She was the person that I confided in.  She gave me great advice.  She didn't always listen because, although she was never diagnosed, I'd say she had ADD.  If you ever talked to her on the phone, you could tell that she was always doing something else while she was talking to you.  Hmmm...when I think about it, so do I.  Maybe she watched me more than I knew...

She made me laugh.  I can only remember her crying a couple of times...when she lost her son, JP, and when the cancer came back the first time...she was so afraid of what the doctor was going to say.  We cried together that time...and I told her "if it's good, we'll celebrate.  if it's bad, we'll just find out what's next!"  I can't think of another time she cried.  She was always positive. At least with me.

We loved going to lunch together.  She hated shopping.  Again, like me.  I shop when I need to shop. Get what I need. Done.  She was the same.

What surprised me a LOT was her last Christmas, when we had our family Christmas picture taken and a couple of people told her she looked like me.  Her response was "Finally."  Wow.  She wanted to look like me.

I remember a Mom's Weekend at OU.  Angie's mom and I both wore blazers.  Melissa and Angie took them from us and put them on and made fun of us!  And later she WANTED to look like me.
She borrowed clothes, shoes, jewelry from me all the time.  Well, I use the term "borrowed" loosely.  She never asked.  She just went into my room and would slyly walk out the door with a guilty look on her face.  I'd say "Ok.  What do you have".  She never could lie either.
Secretly I loved that.  I liked that we had the same taste.  We were a lot alike in so many ways.

The hardest thing for me now is shopping at Christmastime.  So many mothers and daughters together.  It still hurts.

But for all my friends with daughters (which is almost all my friends)...I love seeing you together.
I sometimes feel like my friends relationships with their daughters got stronger after I lost Melissa.
That's a good thing.  I just can't help but wish I still had her.  I miss the Mother/Daughter things.
Every day.

***
I said earlier that it seems like a lifetime that I last saw her beautiful face.  Sometimes.  When I remember so vividly everything that happened that last month of her life, it seems like yesterday.  How can seven years have passed?
It seems like a blip on the radar.

But then I go through pictures of the last seven years.  I have made progress.  I do a lot more than I did the first couple of years - although looking back (through the pictures) I did a lot even then.
Fundraisers, marathons (1/2), 5Ks, vacations, conferences, new friends, Andrew and Max.  And taking care of my dad.  A lot has happened in the last seven years.

The last seven years reminds me of my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life.  I was devastated by the loss of my daughter.  There were many times that I felt like I had no reason to live.  I didn't have a Clarence- a guardian angel, but I did have Donny, Nick, Meredith, my grandsons, The Compassionate Friends, new friends and a few old friends to remind me that I did have something to live for.  I have a purpose.

I will ALWAYS miss Melissa.  Until the day I die.  But I have a choice.  I can keep her memory alive until I see her again.  For eternity.

Here's a few things that happened in the last seven years....


Lots of fundraisers....Firebirds for Fort, Cincinnati Kelts Breast Cancer Fundraiser and 
 Fundraisers for the Komen 3 Day Walk

















5Ks, Marathons (1/2 marathons), 60 mile walks...
This was the Making Strides 5K...

Andrew participated to remember Aunt Fort too!

first FORT 5K (was called B Positive the first year)



Susan G. Komen 3 Day, 60 Mile Walk
Team B Positive
I carried the flag that said "MY DAUGHTER" in the Opening and Closing ceremonies.



Donna Marathon in Jacksonville...

Cheered for the "Fort"team the first Donna, participated in the second!


Did the Flying Pig Marathon in honor of my friend Jackie.
(I have to be honest.  I cheated in this one)


First Fairmont sponsored event in memory of Melissa.


Air Force Marathon in memory of Melissa


Jen carried this rugby ball in memory of Melissa at the Donna Marathon in Jacksonville
...FULL Marathon.
Handed it off to me and Donny when she crossed the finish line. Amazing.



Courtney Clifford Memorial 5K


Attended three Compassionate Friends Conferences...Boston, Chicago and Dallas
This was the Walk to Remember at Boston Commons

Participated in the annual Relay for Life at Delco Park




In the last seven years, I lost my sister and two of my best friends...
My sister Sue...

my friend Jackie

my friend Ruth

We also lost two members of our "other" family, the Franz's.  Mark and Elissa.
I know that Melissa was waiting for them with a beer in her hand (for them!) She always said she was a "Franz wannabe".  I know they are celebrating together.

Mark is on the left.


In the last seven years...I closed a building (Moraine Meadows)
We had an autistic student who, when seeing the new library for the first time, said
"It's Library Heaven"
It was.  Melissa loved it too.


I started a "new" job in the building I started in - Greenmont

and made new friends - one in particular (Angie Kessel) who
knew how important butterflies were to me...




and speaking of butterflies...



Our house (and yard) are full of them.


I retired in the last seven years...

and saw a lot of Fairmont girls basketball games...and got to see them win the 
State Championship game

also saw seven Fairmont basketball players receive the 
Melissa Fortener McLaughlin B Positive Spirit Award


and got to see Melissa's cousin Lindsay play for Fairmont.  
Melissa would have LOVED that.  We saw Lindsay play when
she was in grade school.  Melissa would be so proud of her!

We awarded twelve $1000 Scholarships in Melissa's name (so far)
Kelly Hart was one of the recipients.

Purchased a bench in memory of Melissa for Fairmont.  It's outside the Athletic office (she wanted to buy a bench in memory of classmates who passed away.  It never happened. So we did it for her.)


In the last seven years, continued to take vacations with my Moraine Meadows family...


...and remodeled our kitchen.  One of the hardest things for me to do in the last seven years was change anything around the house.  I wanted everything to be how it was when she was here...just in case she ever came home.   Really.  I'm sure she'd be ok with it...

reconnected with some "old" friends.This is Marianne.  We went to grade school together.  She's been a good friend the last seven years...

and Carol.  We went to high school together.  She lost her son, her only child, a year after Melissa.


Mange and Mary.  Donny's teammate and fraternity brother from Wilmington College.
They lost their daughter Courtney to ovarian cancer.  We've gone on several cruises with them.

Randy and Carolyn. Their son was killed in Baghdad,  and Bob and Penny. Their son completed suicide.  They are our Compassionate Friends too.  This was at the Conference in Chicago.

We remember all our kids at the annual Compassionate Friends picnic

In the last seven years, we gained a grandson (Max)

We remember Melissa with balloon releases for her birthday

and FORT bracelets...thousands of them.


Friends remember Melissa.  My friend Christy painted this picture for us.

and I spend LOTS of time with my grandsons...

Looking back...although it seems like yesterday, a lot has happened in the last seven years.
I have made progress.  With the help of my family, the Compassionate Friends and good friends
who stuck with us...we are still here.

I wish she were here...and she is in a way.  She's here because we continue to keep her memory
alive.  We always will.

Instead of closing with the boys (which she would always do), I want to close with some of my favorite memories with Melissa...

This was at Hospice.  A few things that I LOVE about this picture...She is smiling. Because Drew is visiting, I'm sure.  She is wearing a Fairmont t-shirt.  And she has her favorite blanket from home, which is still on the back of my couch...year round.

This was on the 3 Day, 60 mile Komen walk in Atlanta.  My intentions were to cheer her on, not walk 60 miles with her!  The Kelts had a fundraiser the week before and raised enough money so I could walk with her.   Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I could walk 60 miles in three days (with no training).  But she believed.  So I did.  It's one of my favorite memories.  We were close, but got even closer that weekend.  Literally.  We had to sleep in a two man pup tent each night!  It was a blast!

The pictures above and below were a train excursion that she planned to Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Again, I did not have plans to go on this trip. The day OF the trip, she called me at work.  At noon.  "Mom!  Someone cancelled for the trip to D.C. today.  Do you want to go?"  I needed to be at the rail yard in Cincinnati at 3.  I needed to pack. Get money.  The cost was $500.  A great deal.  When I told Donny, he said "how much is it going to cost?"  I told him $200.  He said "That's great!"  So I was going.  Again, we had a blast.  There were 3 rail cars attached at the end of Amtrak.  A dome car (with a dining room and living room) a sleeper car and a porch car on the end.  A friend of her boss's owned the porch car (bottom picture) and each day he would invite two people over for either lunch or dinner.  We were invited for a dinner.  An elegant,  5 Star dinner.  He had a server that wore white gloves.  We could have anything to drink that we wanted.  And dessert on the porch (in a moving train) after dinner.  It was incredible. When we got to D.C. they detached our three cars and left us in the train station for three days.  The train station is right next to the Capitol, and close enough to the Mall that we could walk to the Smithsonian and the museums.  We got to see the Holocaust museum.  My friend from high school, Patti, picked us up one of the mornings and took us to breakfast.  It was a great weekend.  Both of these trips were after she was diagnosed....I am so glad I decided to go.  Some of my best memories were from those two weekends.

Oh...and after Melissa passed away, I told Donny it was really $500.  I can't lie either.


Our  best gifts from Melissa were handmade.  She was so creative and so talented...

Found this in the attic last Christmas.  Her Christmas present to us.


Two Christmas's ago, Donny found a box of her things that she brought home from college.
This was in it.

It's how we signed our letters to each other.

Melissa:

Love you,

Miss you

Till we meet again!