Wednesday, January 26, 2011

and the MELISSA "FORT" McLAUGHLIN Keltic Pride Award goes to...

NETTI!!!!!! Congratulations Netti -
WELL DESERVED (and Fort would love it!)

just had to add a few pics of Fort with her rugby friends (this is one of my favorites...recognize the green jacket?

Both pictures are on my refrigerator - I LOVE these pictures - she was always so happy with her rugby friends!

Team B Positive will be participating in the Donna Breast Cancer Marathon on Sunday, February 13!

Then preparing for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk in Atlanta (same one Melissa, Shannon, Julie and I did in 2007). With Melissa, our team name was "The SEVEN BOOBS", we are now officially Team B Positive (Pam, Sharon, Julie, Jen, Angie, Annie and far). If you are interested in joining us in the walk OR joining us in Atlanta to cheer us on, let me know, it is an INCREDIBLE weekend. Will get you the info. We are tentatively meeting on Sunday Feb 20 to start getting dates on the calendar for fundraisers. Will post dates when we have them!
....and speaking of Susan G. Komen, I have officially submitted my application/video for consideration for the National Spokesperson for the 2011 3 Day Walks. Kind of hard to tell what they are looking for...(a professional public speaker?)...haven't been able to sleep since I submitted it. Why would I be the PERFECT candidate for this position???? My brain hasn't stopped answering that question - there are SO many things I want to share about her and her fight with breast cancer. She NEVER thought it would win. I feel like this is my opportunity to continue her legacy and her battle. I want to see a cure in MY LIFETIME. It's interesting...even after TWO YEARS, there are some things I am just not ready to do (parties). UNLESS it has something to do with Melissa (or a Breast Cancer function!). Somehow I can escape my comfort zone when I can talk about her. It's so easy. Just the thought of travelling around the country and not only sharing HER story, but hearing others stories (EVERYONE has a story at these walks - every single person that walks has been affected by breast cancer - a loved one, a friend, a co-worker. I am not alone. Melissa was not alone. It doesn't make it easier, it just MOTIVATES me to do something to help bring and end to this devastating disease. I don't NEED this job.
I WANT this job. FORT would want it - SHE would be the PERFECT candidate actually.
So I'm doing it for her. In any event - TEAM B POSITIVE is ready to begin the journey for 2011 - LET THE FUNDRAISING BEGIN!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

109 Years of Greatness...Mother/Daughter Weekend

And of course...BUTTERFLIES!

Fort and her friends...(Thanks Stacy!)

(Not only did Stacy share photos of Fort, she took some incredible photos of butterflies! I had to share those too!)

In January 2008, Melissa & Stacy turned 30, Pauly turned 40. Not sure WHOSE idea it was, but they decided to celebrate ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF GREATNESS. (no humility with THOSE three!) And so it began. Every year, the second weekend in January (except 2009), they have celebrated - starting again in 2010 - ONE HUNDRED SIX YEARS OF GREATNESS and this year ONE HUNDRED NINE YEARS of GREATNESS. And they ALWAYS include FORT, and they always include us. She has the most incredible friends.
Last year, Stacy put together a CD, a mix of songs that she thought Fort would like(if you read Melissa's profile on the blog, she says that she LOVES Stacy's mixes.)
So Stacy continues. She told me last year after giving me the CD that she would tell me why she chose each song. I got THAT this year. It's several pages long with a paragraph about each song and why she chose it and why it reminded her of Fort.
I'll share a few here (hope you don't mind Stacy!):


Would you be the wind to blow me home
Would you be a dream
On the wings of a poem
And if we were walking through a crowd
Well you know I'd be proud

"Fort always said that she loved my mix tapes that I made her in college because I always had artists that weren't common. I always remembered that and when I made her mixes, I would make sure that ev ery song was one that she had never heard of. I found this artist randomly a few months after she passed. I started a list called "Songs Fort Would Like", and every time I heard a song that I liked and thought she would like too, I would add it to the list. Most of the songs on this CD were from that list". (OH-I received ANOTHER CD of songs from Stacy this year - this one is called "II" - the first CD was called "ONE YEAR LATER")

Closer I am to Fine - Indigo Girls

(I KNOW she loved this song - it was always playing in her car!)

I'm trying to tell you something 'bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing that you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously; its only life after all
(boy do the words in THIS song fit Melissa!...listen to it sometime!)

"As with all rugby teams, Thursday night is the official kick-off to the weekend and every Thursday night started with a party that is simply known as "beers'. Throughout the season, the party would rotate between houses of the girls and boys team. At the end of the rugby season our junior year, everyone was sick of hosting the weekly party so we decided that we would hold "beers" at The Greenery. The Greenery was a local hot-spot for underage kids who could easily buy quarter draft beers, over consume on aforementioned beerws and make-out with random co-eds on the packed dance floor (editorial comment: I decline to comment as to whether Fort or I spent any time there our freshman or sophomore year). That particular Thursday night, The Greenery featured karaoke - bad idea for a bunch of drunken ruggers who had little to no shame when it came to embarrassing themselves. We spent the entire evening switching turns at the microphone, performing duets and even slow-dancing to our friends horrible renditions of slow songs, including "Islands in the Stream" performed by Fort & Julie. My most favorite memory of that night was watching Fort & Casey karaoke to this song by the Indigo Girls. The irony is that very few ruggers-nay, males in general-would ever admit to listening to Indigo Girls, let alone know a song well enough to karaoke. Casey broke that mold, I suppose. But watching the two of them sing will always flash in my head when I hear it!"

WELL. So Fort had a lot more fun than I THOUGHT at OU....I LOVE to hear these stories. I love the pictures. So many memories - I have all the time in the world to listen if you want to share. Thanks Stacy, for the CD, them memories and for being such a good friend to Fort. I know she loved you.

Just found this photo a couple of days ago. I'm pretty sure it was taken on our last Mother/Daughter weekend together. Went every year with all my friends from high school and THEIR daughters. Always the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday (so we would all have a day to recouperate). I LOVE this picture of Melissa - she is SO beautiful and looks SO HEALTHY in this picture. I still don't understand....

Fort & Stacy (taken at the Chili Cook Off 2007)Stacy said "I can't remember who had my camera, but we took like 10 shots before we both agreed that we liked this one!"

(Athens 2007) Stacy says "Jami and Fort deep in conversation. I have a feeling that Fort was starting the conversation with "you know"...(she must have done that alot!)

"The Girls" Stacy, Alisa & Fort (St. Patty's Day 2007) "Old" friends from OU!

"My kids first friend!" (Stacy said Melissa always said she wanted to be her kids first friend - and of course had to get her picture with them to prove it!)

I don't know about you, but I'm already ready for spring. But Drew loves to get outside and help shovel snow. I need sunshine...

Drew & PopPop working hard!

Drew & PopPop taking a break from shovelling snow!

Mmmmmmmm...Hot(warm) chocolate after shoveling snow..NOTHING better!

Drew & Max (put them on a chair together, give them FOOD, they will actually sit still for a couple of seconds for a picture!)


Well, just a note about the 2011 3 Day Walk in Altanta. Our team has been established - we are officially TEAM B POSITIVE. So far our team consists of me,Sharon,Angie, Julie (who is Shannon's sister and walked with me, Melissa & Shannon in 2007). Maybe Annie (Melissa's roommate from OU sophomore year) and maybe Jen (who is already running her SECOND marathon for Fort in February in Jacksonville!).
So this week, Susan G. Komen sends out what is probably a mass email, and I'm guessing to everyone who has registered for a walk in 2011 (in one of the 14 cities around the U.S.) They are looking for a NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON. Donny immediately looked at me and said "you should do this". Then we got an email from John M (John's dad) he responded to the email that I should do it too.
So I looked at the online application. I'm not qualified in the respect that I am NOT a PUBLIC SPEAKER. I'm pretty sure those are the most important questions in the survey. But what could be more important than LIVING it? I have "public speaking" experience. I'm a public speaker EVERY day, just to a much younger audience.
But I have a PASSION about this - and I don't know about YOU, but if I am passionate about something, I have NO PROBLEM talking about it. Speaking at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies would be scripted. Talking to Media would not, but they include training with information that needs to be shared.
I think the PERFECT person for this position would be MELISSA. But she is not here so I want to do it for HER.
Have to submit ANOTHER video to YOUTUBE (not public this time, just so they can access it)...have that set up for Thursday. I'm a little nervous - but it's about MELISSA. If it's about my daughter, I can do anything. If I get a call, I would be ECSTATIC. If I don't, I'm still registered to walk in Atlanta, and will continue to do what I can to raise AWARENESS and $$ to find a cure for this horrible disease.
Wish me luck....

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Melissa (FORT)!!!!!

This photo was taken right before we walked out the door to go to the hospital...we had NO idea if we were having a boy or a girl - and NO idea what our future held...
(here we go...tradition in my family - tell the story of the day you were born -
so I have to do it every year on January 5 AND March 3!)
It was around 5 a.m. when I felt a contraction. Decided it was FINALLY time (went to Ryan's on New Years Eve and did a lot of walking, hoping for a baby BEFORE midnight, but to no avail!). When we left, it was earily WARM. No snow on the ground. A beautiful, WARM January morning. When we got the hospital, they said it might be awhile, and we had a deck of cards to keep us busy while we waited. It was an EASY labor, actually. Hard labor for maybe half an hour...then there she was,
a BEAUTIFUL dark haired, 7lbs. 5 oz. baby GIRL. 1:19 p.m. she arrived. (always had to tell her it was right in the middle of ALL MY CHILDREN...she laughed at that!)...
January 5, 1978. In those days, they actually let you stay at the hospital for a couple of days. In those couple of days, it started snowing...A LOT. And when the day finally came to take her home...our car wouldn't start. So we called in Uncle George (Rick K). He brought Donny to the hospital, I sat in the front seat with Melissa in my arms (no car seats required in THOSE olden days)...and our first stop was by the Fortener household - (Melissa was the first grandchild on the Fortener side and they lived about 2 minutes from us) - and I held her up to the window for ALL (seven brothers and sister and the new Grandma & Grandpa) to see!
We had her home for about a week when the Blizzard of '78 hit.
Fast forward 30 years.....I'm back in the hospital with her, and she STILL makes me smile AND laugh now. When she first got to the hospital, she had a canker sore on her lip. One of the docs came in and called it "herpes"...she HATED that. Asked me to run to the drugstore to get something to clear it up. So of course I did.
Went to Walgreen. When I was there searching for her request, I walked by a display that had one of those Inspirational books sitting on it (not where it should be), but it was calling my name...TO MY DAUGHTER WITH LOVE. I picked it up and started reading it and was standing there crying KNOWING that I found it for a reason and it was for her. There were even places in the book that I could fill in...which I did.
Now, mind you, Melissa was NOT into "MUSHY" things. Especially something like this.
But I bought it anyway, gave it to her when I got back to the hospital. Not sure if she ever read it, but she HEARD it. A couple of days before she passed away, I read the entire book to her. She might have been sleeping, but I KNOW she heard it.
It's one of those books that says everything you want to say, but can't put into words.
Just wanted to share a few things from that book (interesting that I was writing as if she would be around for a long time ... she even had ME convinced...)
Memorable milestone:
First tooth - YES it was a milestone because you were 13 months! I though it would never happen!
College Graduation - completed in 4 years - and you paid for 3/4 of it yourself!
Marriage to John- although it wasn't the beautiful wedding I dreamed of for you - it was EXACTLY what you and John wanted that made it PERFECT - then a fun reception to celebrate!
FIRST PROFESSIONAL JOB - @ University of Cincinnati - we were SO proud of you - this was the job you'd been waiting for and UC is lucky to have such a GIFTED (YES gifted!)employee!

THINGS I LOOK FORWARD TO AS OUR RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES TO BECOME STRONGER AND EVEN MORE LOVING.....(this is where I thought things were getting better and she'd be home!)....
Lot's more "dates" - the weeklong "hospital date" was one I hope not to repeat - I look forward to weekend shopping excursions - maybe movie dates - more dinner dates. You have made me SO PROUD, and I want to spend more time, but not take away from your "John" time or friends are WAY too busy..."

Wow. We were SO blessed to have her for almost THIRTY ONE years...but had so much more to do....
First celebration of her birthday...

awww...Nick LOVES his sister...especially when it's her birthday!

Photos from her 30th birthday party (the last one we got to celebrate with her...) ALWAYS had a photo of her making a face...remember the one of Drew this Christmas sticking his tongue out?...just like Aunt Fort!

We celebrated Melissa's 33rd birthday with another balloon launch...

Angie had something to say before we released the balloons...and she said it perfectly:

"Maybe a year before Fort died she went to see a healer in Indiana. It was her second time there. The healer was very inquisitive with her on the second visit as to how she was showing her thanks to God for the time she'd been given. This healer was asking her in terms of how often she went to church. I remember Fort calling me after this visit and hearing how down she was because it made her question what she had been giving back (the puzzle just went off...she's here) and at the time all she could see was that she hadn't been going to church or donating her time to one. I remember feeling outraged because it was so obvious to me that Fort's life was her gift to God. The way she got out of bed every day and went to work without ever using cancer as an excuse. Her undying belief that she would live and beat this disease. The message she gave us all by simply being her positive, hilarious, unique self and never letting her circumstances get her down. Her outreach to thousands through her blog, the courage and determination she showed in getting her dream job just months before she got sick, the strength and shear will of walking 60 miles to fight for a cure, the beautiful scrapbooks she left behind that are now our treasures.

I'm not sure if she knew it while she was here but I like to think that now as she watches over all of us she can see her touch in all of our lives. The way her mom gets out of bed everyday, even when she doesn't want to, and goes to work and lives her life and continues to tell Melissa's story to everyone she encounters. How her Dad got the running back coaching job at Fairmont and the first person he went to tell was Fort. The way Nick & Meredith are raising two beautiful boys and never letting a day go by without saying Fort's name outloud for them to never forget. How Johnny Mac surrounds himself with the rugby family and her family and has continued living his life just like she would have wanted. And on days when each of us complains or wants to quit, we hear Fort's voice saying "SUCK IT UP", and we get over ourselves and remember how much worse things could really be. Or how when we see a butterfly or a rainbow we say "Hi Fort!" or "Thanks Fort". There isn't a day that goes by in my life when I don't think of her...and even when I cry and get sad I only let it last for a moment because I know she is exactly where she is supposed to be...and after I cry, I smile because her gifts surround me and I carry her in everything I do. I know that we all do. And now two years later we send our love to Fort in heaven, still knowing that she is here with us every single day. We miss you. Thank you for the many gifts you left us, but most of all for just being you."

(it was beautiful and appropriate and ANOTHER treasure for us to keep, Angie. THANK YOU...we love you so much!)

Celebrating with another Balloon Release for her birthday...she STILL draws a crowd!

Marcy & Molly (my friend Mariannes two BEAUTIFUL daughters)...they shared all the pictures they took at the balloon release - THANK YOU! (Molly actually released a balloon for Melissa LAST YEAR on Butterfly Beach in California - she's in the book!)

Today we are celebrating Melissa's 33rd birthday at her favorite (traditional) place China Cottage (for lunch). Then Nick, Mere & the boys will come over for pizza and birthday cake so Drew can sing Happy Birthday to Aunt Fort (with candles AND LIGHTS OUT!)...then we're going to see the Fairmont Lady Firebirds DEFEAT the Centerville Elks. One of Melissa's last requests when she came home from Hospice was "I want to go to a basketball game"...I told her there would be so many people there "YOU MIGHT GET SICK!" (WTF...she had CANCER!!!!!)...she then proceeded to grab the doctor -
"You said I could go to a basketball game, didn't you?" And the doctor's response?
"SHe can do ANYTHING she wants to do - she has two hours worth of oxygen, so if she wants to go - take her." We never did. She had visitors that day, and even their short stay wore her out. She never got to a game that year. So we are making up for it...and it's OUR GIFT to her. I'm pretty sure she's at every game now anyway.
If you are in town, we'd love if you would join us - kind of her BIRTHDAY PARTY.
The game is @ 7 @ the Trent Arena...and OH! Her senior year against Centerville -
she scored the winning basket on a layup to BEAT THE ELKS - AT THE BUZZER!!!!!
Gotta be there.

If you can't make the game (PARTY), give yourself a gift from FORT - go back and read some old posts in the blog. I do it all the time...makes me laugh(aLOT) and cry (a little) sure to go back to the original too...
"The bond between a daughter and her mother grows ever stronger day by day. From the moment they begin their life together and with every hour they share along the way, it grows stronger, deeper, surer. Forever" (even after they're gone....)

Happy Birthday Pretty girl....I love you and miss you SO much!

Monday, January 3, 2011

TWO YEARS later....

After the last post about THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, Jenny, a friend of Fort's from Fairmont and OU, sent me an email with this attached. She said Fort made it for her for her birthday their freshman year at OU. She's kept it all these years - said it's one of her favorite quotes. I thought it was appropriate for today. (Melissa could find the best quotes - and she LIVED by them - so apparent now...)

..or as Donny said "760 days" without Melissa. STILL seems like yesterday.
I went back to read my journal entry for January 3, 2010. Believe it or not I've come a long way.
I wrote "A WHOLE year. I don't understand it. I miss her voice. Her laugh. Her phone calls. Her and Nick arguing...about ANYTHING (OH HOW I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR THAT AGAIN!) The whole in my heart grows every day without her. The pain is still there."

Well, none of that has changed. But what HAS changed?

The grief now comes in waves (sometimes TSUNAMIS)- usually when I am by myself (especially in the car)...Music, pictures, new found treasures can all set the waves in motion.
Someone once told me (about a year ago), "One day you will wake up and she won't be the first thing you thing of" (she was very close to her mother, and that was how it happened for her)...That hasn't happened yet. I think about her EVERY DAY.
I still cry every day. (not ALL day, but EVERY day).
Holidays are rough. EVERY holiday.

Through the Compassionate Friends, I have found that these are all NORMAL feelings. I am NOT ALONE. I am no different than any other parent who has lost a child. The pain will never go away.

What I HAVE learned (two years later), is that Melissa taught me a LOT of things.
Take one day at a time.
Appreciate each day.
Be a friend.

In the last year, a lot of GOOD things have happened:

* The first Melissa Fortener McLaughlin Scholarships were awarded.
* Stacy & Pauly included Fort in their birthday celebration (It started with
Fort (30) Stacy (30) and Pauly (40) as One Hundred Year of Greatness...
then 103 Years of Greatness, 106 and this year 109 Years of Greatness and
we are STILL invited...thank you.
* We received a BEAUTIFUL book, MADE by Angie "What I Learned from Fort" (we will treasure it ALWAYS)
* Stacy put together a CD called ONE YEAR LATER - I still have it in the CD player and listen to it all the time...
* In February, Jen S. (one of Fort's rugby coaches from after college) ran in the
Donna Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville, Fl - carried a pink & white rugby ball ALL 26.2 miles, then handed it off to Donny & me when she crossed the finish line (the story here is Fort talked Jen into doing a marathon (both of them) - while they where doing a 5k breast cancer walk/run - so Jen was determined to do it!)
* Donny was hired as the Running Backs Coach at Fairmont High School - working with the new Head Coach, Andy "Rock", one of Melissa's best friends in high school.
* Ive received letters from Annie, her roommate from her sophomore year at OU (they lived in the Convo ONE YEAR together!) - sharing her memories -storied I'd never heard...and Annie is thinking about joining us on the 3 Day Walk in Atlanta in October too!
* Had a surprise visit from ANOTHER of Fort's rugby friends - E Black. She was in town visiting from Washington - GREAT surprise. We reminisced, talked, laughed and cried...and I almost made her miss her flight! She left a torn rugby jersey "that reminded her of Fort!"
* Sharon & Karyn (a newly PREGNANT Karyn) did the 3 day walk in Atlanta for Fort
* In October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month - Fairmont High School Octogon Club sold300 FORT bracelets (proceeds going to the Scholarship Fund) 80 year old DAD even sold 40 FORT bracelets to his friends at the VFW & Polish Club, NOW trying to sell them in Florida to his friends there!

AND the Kelts held the SEVENTH Annual Breast Cancer Fundraiser, raising OVER $4000 - with half the proceeds going to the Scholarship and half to Susan G. Komen (for the 3 Day Walk October 2011 - TEAM B POSITIVE!)
* At the fundraiser - I spotted someone with a FORT tshirt on, asked to have my picture with him...turns out it was ROYAL N. - the recipient of the 2009 Melissa FORT McLaughlin Keltic Pride Award...AND a friend of mine on FB (how embarrassing)SORRY ROYAL - but I'm glad we met (again)
* FACEBOOK - Fort put me on Facebook while she was in the hospital - I'm pretty sure it was her way of keeping me in touch with all her friends...she let me choose HER friends to be MY friends (remember Pauly?)...I loved that. Still do.
* Watching Melissa fight her battle with cancer helped ME help others who are going through the same thing. I don't know everything, but I KNOW that it is a battle that can be fought while continuing to live a positive, full life...and being a part of contributing to POSITIVE things like the 3 Day Walk (raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness/Research, and JACKIE'S BOOKS (a fundraiser which raised almost $2000 for Books for Children's Hospital in Dayton)...
* Fort's story was on a national television show (all 90 seconds of it) The Balancing Act
* Susan G. Komen called again THIS year, and asked to share Melissa's story for their 2011 Fundraising Campaign for the Atlanta 2011 3 Day Walk.

Butterflys....LOTS of butterflys!

* I am thankful for all the treasures she left behind (and we are still finding...mostly cards with messages - that I share here)

* And I am blessed with not only MY friends, but with Melissa's friends who continue to stay in touch, and continue to share their stories about Melissa. It is HONESTLY the reason I get through each day.

And where would I be without Donny, Nick, Mere, Drew, Max & John...AND my sister Sue. Probably not here. They continue to be there for me EVERY day. I just hope that I can be there for them when they need me...I am working on that.

A lot of positive things have happened in the last year. I continue to miss her
EVERY SINGLE DAY, and the pain is still there. But good things are happening.

THANK YOU for accepting me for who I am now, and THANK YOU for continuing to talk about Melissa and remembering her.