Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy Birthday Melissa…Forever 30

It's almost the end of the day…Melissa's 37th birthday.  She never made it past her 30th birthday. But we still celebrate and remember.  We always will.

For some reason, this year has been harder than the last couple of years.  Not sure why, but might be because the dates/days are the same as 2008.  I remember what happened-vividly-each day those last couple of weeks.

We never got to celebrate her 31st birthday.  Just missed it.  By two days.  Although several friends and relatives sent her birthday cards a few days early that I got to read to her…she loved that.

I woke up this morning around 4 a.m.  Right around the time I woke up 37 years ago on this day.  In labor that time.  Donny remembers that I woke him up around 5, because I wanted to be sure that I was in labor.

Everything was packed and ready to go, including a deck of cards, just in case  it would be awhile.
Didn't have to wait very long-she arrived at 1:19 p.m.   During my favorite daytime show - All My Children.

I remember calling my mom at work (because in those days you went to the hospital with just your spouse, not your entire family)  When she answered I said "Hi Grandma".  When she finally realized it was me, I think she was a little shocked.  I was making a phone call less than a half an hour after giving birth!  Of course now we get minute by minute texts right up to delivery.  How things have changed!

Melissa was a beautiful, healthy baby.  Lots of dark hair.  A good sleeper right from the start.

She survived the Blizzard of '78…we have a certificate from Channel 7 to prove it!  She was just a couple of weeks old.

When I woke up this morning, I remember thinking about that morning 37 years ago.  When we left I remember thinking about how our lives were about to change.  Our house would no longer be quiet.  Peaceful.

Then I thought about the days before she passed away.  How our house would never be the same.  And it wasn't.  The silence was deafening.  Not peaceful at all.

I remember in vivid detail the day she was born….and the day she died.  I wish I could remember everything in between just as vividly.  Thank goodness I was a picture taker, and so was Melissa.
They tell the story of her life.  The in-between.

In a way, having the anniversary and her birthday only two days apart was a blessing in disguise.
The two days where memories come flooding back, and the pain is more intense.  For us, it softens during the summer.  No holidays, anniversary or birthday.  And sunshine.

Thank goodness for pictures - they remind me of the wonderful life she lived.  I want to focus on her life…not just her death.

There have been lots of tears in the last month, but some smiles too.  She left us with a lot of great memories.  And we love that her friends remember too.  And share their memories.

As long as someone speaks her name, she will live on.

Happy Birthday Melissa Marie…Fort…we love you and miss you…and we will always celebrate your birthday.  Your life.


2nd Birthday celebration

OU Friend Shannon's son with balloon for first balloon release - they released their balloon in Boston!

Melissa's last celebrated birthday.  A big party.  Just what she wanted.  

Fort and Grandma

Group shot.  Melissa's 30th birthday party

Fairmont friends

Family shot

37th Birthday - January 5, 2015



Happy 37th Birthday Melissa…FORT

Forever 30

(((((Love you)))))

Friday, January 2, 2015

Six Years later...

Like Melissa, I write.  I make lists, keep a calendar, write in a journal, and write on this blog.  I found a stack of my journals the other day and found my journal from 2009/10.

Writing is cathartic.  Reading my entries from that time made me realize how much progress I have made in the last few years.  My post on the blog on January 3, 2010 was from my entry in my journal.  It was about everything I learned the first year without my beautiful daughter.  Melissa.    Things I could do after a year, and things I couldn't do.

Some things have changed in six years…I couldn't go to the grocery store.  Too hard to look at the things that she liked.  And the greeting card aisle…seems like the cards that jumped out at me all said "TO MY DAUGHTER".  How could I go through life and never buy another card that said "MY DAUGHTER".  I cried every time I walked past those cards.
Now, I still buy those cards.  I wrap them in plastic with tape and I take them to her.  I can't stop.  So I don't.

I couldn't read anything but headlines in the newspaper.  And the obituaries.  Looking for other people who lost children.  To remember that I wasn't the only one.
I still read the obituaries.  Daily.  But I can focus a little more (not a lot, but some) on other articles.  I actually read two books (fiction) while we were in California for a week.  Couldn't do that six years ago.

Social gatherings.  We go, but it's still hard.  Especially during the holidays.  Complete families.  If not all together, at least a phone call away.   There are still times, six years later, that I just don't want to attend a function that is a large gathering.  If we do, I tend to find a spot out of the way where I can sit and talk to one or two people.  I'm not really antisocial.  I do enjoy meeting a friend or two for breakfast or lunch.  Big groups still make me anxious.

New Years.  I still have a hard time saying "HAPPY New Years".   The month of December is nothing but remembering what happened each day that month in 2008.  This year, the dates fell on the same days as 2008.

I am writing this on Friday, January 2.  It was a Friday in 2008 too.  Melissa slept most of the day.  I had asked everyone to send her birthday cards.  Told her we would be celebrating her birthday on the weekend since it fell on a Monday that year.  I remember reading her all of her birthday cards to her that day.  Put them on the shelf in front of her so she could see them.  They all made her happy. We still have those birthday cards.  I remember that night, Nick, Meredith and Drew came to visit. She was wide awake.  Held Drew, played with him and talked.  They left pretty early, around 7.  Nick stood at the door and said "Love you Fort.  We'll see you in the morning"  She said "I love you Nick."  That was the last thing she said.  She fell asleep after he left.  John and I slept on either side of her bed.  I remember Donny standing at the foot of her bed and she looked at him, without saying anything.  He said "Mom will be right here.  She's not going anywhere".  I remember watching her sleep.  Looking at her hands.  They looked so small to me…they were so soft.  I wanted to remember every freckle.  Every crease.  I wanted to remember the color of her eyes, and her laugh.  Her voice.  Her breathing.  Because I knew that night was the last night I could do that.

A couple of days before that, I remember going home to take a shower.  Donny, John and John's parents were with Melissa.  I remember coming home, walking through the house and screaming at the top of my lungs….crying…knowing that she would never walk in this house again.  How could I live without her??????? (Two of my friends who lost a child, Roxy & Alicia, stopped by Hospice to talk to me.  They couldn't tell me how to do it, just listened and hugged me.  Just knowing I wasn't alone was, in some strange way, was comforting).

That night, I tried not to go to sleep.  It was the last few hours that she would physically be with us.  How could I sleep through that?  I did drift off a couple of times.  Once I woke up, and there was a single tear sliding down her cheek.  I wish I knew… was the tear because she was sad she was leaving us, or was the tear because JP was greeting her?  I wish I knew…

Tonight I will more than likely have a hard time going to sleep.  I feel like I need to be awake right at that moment…when she took her last breath.  I remember when the nurse came in and checked for a heartbeat.  She shook her head, then took the oxygen mask off Melissa.  John's dad looked at the clock and said "5:18".  I will never forget that moment.  I remember her last breath like I remember her first breath.

So how in the world have I (we) made it six years?

Donny just walked in the door and said there was something at the front door.  He brought it up and it was a gift in a Christmas bag.  From friends we haven't seen in a few years.  Dave and JoNell.   Inside the card was an article from Guideposts.  The article read

"When you have to bury your children, it doesn't matter how long they've been gone, you never stop missing them.  My husband, Myles, and I lost both our daughters.  Linda's alcoholism brought her life to a tragic end at age 45.  Renee passed away at 48 after a long fight with breast cancer.  It's been more than eight years since our girls died, but some days grief still hits me so hard, it's as if I just kissed them goodbye for the last time."

There was more to the article, but I think you get the gist.  Inside the bag were also two breast cancer t-shirts and Peanut Butter Fudge.  The best fudge ever.

JoNell's timing was PERFECT.  I am sitting here writing about Melissa's last few hours, and whether she knew it or not, the timing was perfect.  I needed to know that someone remembered that January 3rd was Melissa's last day on earth.    And someone did.

And I know that her friends will remember, and some of my friends will remember, and if you are reading this you might remember next year.  Because as long as I am on this earth, my job is to make sure Melissa is not forgotten.  I think I'm doing a pretty good job of that so far.

My thoughts are all over the place right now…feeling sorry for myself because I don't have my daughter, but also thinking about some other people I've met who are probably feeling just like I am right now.  I recently met (over the phone) a woman whose son took his own life.  January 3. Same anniversary as Melissa.  He was a Veteran. Had PTSD.  Another new friend whose daughter took her own life.  His daughter's birthday is January 5 (same day as Melissa's).  It will be a year January 7.  He is almost 90 years old, and I can see the pain in his eyes…where WE were six years ago.  It doesn't matter how old you are when you lose a child.  The pain is the same.

So why am I still here?  How have I (we) survived six years?
#1 - we have to take care of each other.  we are still grieving, and we understand that we don't know when it will hit, and we accept the fact that it will always be there.  Maybe not as often, we just don't know when.
We have a son, two grandsons and a daughter in law who we love just as much as we loved Melissa.  I want to see my grandsons grow up.  I want to enjoy time with my son before I join Melissa, whenever that might be.

Friends who still come around, and accept the fact that we are not the same, have helped us survive.

Sometimes (quite often actually) I wonder what my purpose is in life now.  There are still times that all I want is to be with Melissa.

Then I meet a parent (or parents) at Compassionate Friends meetings who recently lost a child.  I see myself in them.  Six years ago.  I've been where they are.  I remember meeting parents at my first meeting who had been there for 2, 3 or more years.  They were talking.  Laughing. Smiling.  Everything I couldn't do.  Didn't want to do.  But they gave me hope.  And that's what I can do.  Give these newly bereaved parents hope.  Somehow, you will survive.


So far, this has been about me.

But I want it to be about Melissa.   Her life.

Not long after she passed away, a friend of hers gave me a poster that Melissa made for her while they were at Ohio University.  It said

On the day you were born,
you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life in such a manner
that when you die,
the world cries and you rejoice.

I think this so perfectly describes Melissa and her life.   While I would love to say that she was perfect in every way (of course she was when she was born) she was not perfect.  She and her brother fought constantly.  Typical sibling rivalry.  How I miss that NOW.  But they loved each other.  She was messy.   Messes didn't bother her like they bothered me.  She would clean her room once a month and it always looked great when you walked in the room.  Unless you looked under the bed.  Or in the closet.  Or in her brother's room (where she put everything she no longer wanted or needed!).
Melissa was a loyal friend, she was honest.  She would never intentionally hurt anyone.  I think she would do anything for a friend.  Or a stranger.  She was creative - which came in handy because she never had any money to buy gifts, she always made them.  (and those are the things that I treasure the most!)

Oh, how we rejoiced the day she was born.  She was light of our lives…and her grandparents - and all of her aunts and uncles.  I was going through a binder with some cards that I found from her.  This one was SO her - it was an anniversary card.  On the front it says

Mom & Dad
Today is the perfect time to celebrate the many blessings
you've received in your life together…

(on the inside)

…starting with ME, of course!  Aren't I wonderful?! You two really lucked out to have such a great kid!  Hey, no need to thank me--it's my pleasure to bring magic to the family!  Wherever I walk, roses bloom!  (Oh, by the way, Happy Anniversary!)  Anyway, I think it all started when I was born, and suddenly the world seemed a little brighter…

and her note, in her handwriting in the card:  Hope you guys have a great day! Enjoy your gifts on the houseboat.  Thanks for putting up with my crap  & ; most of all yelling, "It's quarter til!" When it was only 6:20.  I don't know how I'll keep a job when I'm gone for good!  I love you guys!  Melissa Marie


Wow.  That card said it all.  It was funny at the time, but SO true.

The world did seem a little brighter with Melissa in it.

Working on focusing on her life, not her death.

She was a bright light in our life…missing her more today than yesterday.

Six years later.


Memories of Melissa Marie…

What a wonderful life.

(love you and miss you pretty girl…)