Thursday, December 31, 2015

A letter to Melissa

The other day when I woke up I was thinking about what I would write for the seventh anniversary.  The more I thought about it, I thought it was time to write a letter to Melissa. (I've done that before - in a personal message on FB.  Just to her).  Later that day I had a message from Angie, her best friend from high school...and what do you know...Angie had the same idea.  It is beautiful, and says so much of what I would say.  Donny wanted me to share it on the blog.    My post will be in the next day or two.

A letter to Melissa....

Year 7
I'm pretty reflective all year long, but especially in the month of least since you left us.

I remember distinctly about 9 years ago when we sat side by side on the bleachers watching a Fairmont High School volleyball game.  There were 2 little old women in the stands sitting together and you said "That will be us someday."  I realized when you said it that there was a good chance we'd never get to be those little old ladies...but oh how I wish that would have come true.  Most say that with time the pain gets easier, but I think that you just get more used to it.  The further away we get from you being gone the more it seems to hurt.  I'll get to all the positive things I've learned in a minute, but just let me get through the part where I tell you why it's hard.  Because as much as I know that there is far more to be grateful for than sad over, there is still a blaring reality to the hole that's been left in your absence.  I don't want you to eternally be 30.  I want you to get old with me and talk about wrinkles and gray hairs and the aching body parts.  But even if we can't be immortal, I know our friendship is.

It's the simplest of things I miss the most...picking up the phone to call you about the most random of stories or for your advice.  Your voice when you'd answer and just say "What's up?"  The way you'd get distracted during a phone call and just plain ignore me.  When I think of a memory and just want to call you and say "Remember when?"  I miss your stories the most.  The ones I'd get to hear first...then I'd hear you re-tell them a few times...getting a little grander and more expansive each time.

I have lots of friends, some I've even made since you left...but no one will ever hold a candle to you.  You were my female equivalent to a husband.  We had all kinds of ridiculousness but loved each other in spite of it ...  and yes, I take full responsibility for being the bigger drama queen.  What I wouldn't give though to have you here to argue about something pointless?  You know, like tampons. This isn't a reflection nohow I feel about any other relationship in my life, it's just to be noted that you  were it for me.  The one that only comes once in a lifetime.  Every time I think about you it resonates that you were one of a kind.  There's no one in the world like you.

Lots of amazing things have happened since you super, mind-blowingly amazing.  I have a son, Bennett.  You would adore him.  His strong-will.  His social skills.  His chubby cheeks and stomping feet and a toothless smile that will light up a room.  He's a show stopper and a wrecking ball and he's all mine.  I want to share him with you.  I imagine the two of you in a room and I can't imagine anything but laughter and happiness because you would adore his spirit and he would love your energy.  It's so hard to explain you to him in are not the type of person who can easily be explained.  You had to be known for a person to really understand who you were.

I met my match in a man, Allen.  Unconventional circumstances, but unlike any love I've ever know. He makes me feel whole, like I've found the piece I was missing.  We get each other.  We have the same goals.  We have adventures.  There is chaos.  He is great with Bennett.   But we are happy and it is easy.  There's no challenge too great if we work through it together.  You would like him.  He's my best friend now... not the same as you, but he's good at trying to understand my loss of you and just lets me cry and tell stories about you.  I think he understands how special you were and how much of me is tied to you.  You have no idea how much I value that.  If someone can't try to understand who you were and how much you meant, they can never understand me completely.

My biggest to forget.  I think for each year that passes that somehow I'm getting closer to losing memories or forgetting the little things about you that drove me crazy and that I adored.  I don't want your story to be any less strong from the day after you died to 20 years from now.  I can't comprehend that 7 years have passed.  That any of us have actually kept on living without you here.  But we have.  Because that is just how life works.

As for the good, there is so much.  I know you already know all of these things I'm telling you but it helps me to write it down.  It makes me feel it more.  I'm so grateful for all that your life and death have taught me.  You taught me that attitude and perspective make all the difference in the outcome.  You taught me that the little things that stress us out, are just that.  Little.  I see the bigger picture so much better now.  I am quick to apologize and don't hang on to anger.  Life is too short for that.  You've taught me that now is the time to be living.  Right now.   Since I lost you, I haven't been least not in a way that I once was.  I believe I will never find that low place again because I paid attention.  I learned from you. I know you were mad, but I hope you see that I'm sorry and somehow it all turned out okay and I'll never be back there again.  I promise that.  My life was forever changed because you were a part of it.  You are with me every single day and so many of my choices comes from what I've learned from the way you lived.  I know I was lucky to have had you.  I just selfishly wish I had gotten more time and that we could be those old ladies at the volleyball game.  I'd give just about anything for an hour of your time just to catch up.  But I know that would never be enough.  There is a hole in me that will never be filled but I've always been at peace with why it happened this way and all that you gave to so many of us.  In the end, I'm just grateful to have had you by my side even if only for a short while.

Yesterday, I went to the Fortener family Christmas.  It's so nice to be invited to your family functions still.   Your mom told me, "You're the closest we can get to having Melissa there."  That's an honor.  I'm so thankful for your Mom, we have both needed each other many times and we use one another as our substitute for you.  I know she will never let me forget a thing.  She gave me a mug with your picture on it.  I treasure it.  It says Best Friends Forever...and I know that's what we will always be.
I miss you in the deepest way a person can be missed.

I couldn't have said it better.

Thank you Angie, for being such a good friend to Melissa.  Then AND now.  We love you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


This time of year is not easy.

It starts with the Monday before Thanksgiving.  That's when Melissa went into the hospital for the final time.

When Melissa was first diagnosed, I was able to go to almost all of her appointments.  I really don't think I missed any.  I took a spiral notebook to every appointment to take notes...doctors names, phone numbers, medications, nurses names.  You name it, it was in the notebook.  Looking back, they were really a diary of the last month of her life.

When I am up to it, I go through the notebooks - even wrote down things she said and did.  I wanted to remember everything.

The last six Christmases were difficult.  Always put a small tree up and a few other decorations.  For the boys.  It took four Christmases to get the stockings out.  Five Christmases to look at ornaments, listen to Christmas music, watch Christmas shows.

This Christmas has been different.  Seven years coming up January 3.  My doctor, God love her, said "you don't have to suffer during the holidays.  You can start on an antidepressant in October and take it until March.  Just to get through the roughest months."  So I called in October, when I started spiraling.  I can feel it coming.

Not sure if I really like what it does to me...kind of makes me emotionless.  No ups.  No downs.  Just level.  And able to get through the roughest couple months of year for me.

This is not the first time I've gone through this.  In the past, holidays were overwhelming for me...all brought on by ... ME.  Decorate, bake, Christmas cards, buy gifts, wrap gifts and work full time.  I was crazy.  And depressed.  And I would yell.  And scream.  Literally.  Finally was able to get on an antidepressant and life was good.  I remember Melissa asking "Mom.  Why are you not yelling this year?...OH  I're on drugs, aren't you????"  It was a good Christmas.

And this last month has not been bad.  I've gotten more done this year than in the last eight years.  And everything is done.  And it's still five days till Christmas.  

Today, Donny went through pictures - I'm making a slide show for the Fortener Christmas (which for the first time ever we've rented a hall - the family is getting too big for anyone's house!)

Going through pictures was pretty emotional today...but I accomplished the one thing I set out to do today.  The slideshow is ready.  Came across some pictures I thought I'd share here.  A blast from the

This is Melissa with her cousins Jessica and Becky, from my side of the family.  She was probably about 3 here.  

Melissa, Nick and Melissa's best friend from high school, Angie.

Christmas family picture.  She was probably in college here.  Just keeps getting prettier...

The only three girl cousins on the Fortener side (out of 14).  Stephanie, Kim, Melissa.

A typical Fort expression...disgusted? frustrated? angry?  You never knew...

Melissa bought this shirt for Mere for Christmas.  Mere is a hugger.  Just like Nick.  Melissa, not so when Mere came into the family, she needed to get used to those hugs.  Melissa was really good about finding perfect gifts for everyone.  This was PERFECT for Mere.

This photo was taken in September.  We went to Cracker Barrell and found this Santa Suit.  Had to get it for Drew.  It was a 12 month and barely fit him!  (he was 5 months old at the time).  Looking at these pictures is hard....this was only three months before she passed away.  She looks so healthy here...How could she go downhill so fast....

The pictures above and below were taken at Hospice.  Tried to get a family photo.  She looked pretty good here. Up, dressed, walking around.  How could she possibly be in Hospice????

Wearing one of her many Fairmont t-shirts.  Every coach from every sport at Fairmont gave her a t-shirt.  She wanted her dad to ask our friend (Jonnie) who worked in the Athletic office if she could get a couple Fairmont shirts when she was in the hospital.  She hated the hospital gowns.  All those shirts were made into a quilt for the fundraiser.  One of her good friends from high school, Tracy, won the quilt.  This shirt is on the quilt!

Enjoying a visit from Drew.  She loved his visits.  Always brought a smile to her face.  And that blanket?  It was her favorite.  Still keep it on the couch.  Year round.  Always will.

She finally got to come home from Hospice.  December 19.  The day we brought her home (a Friday) She told me she wanted to go to the girls basketball game at Fairmont.  I really didn't want her to go...too many germs.  What in the world was I thinking?  She wasn't going to get any sicker than she already was.  Plus, when the doctor came in, she said "Can I go to a basketball game?"  The doctor looked at me and said "She can do anything she wants to do.  Just needs to take her oxygen."  I got that "I told you so" look.  So we were going to take her.  But a friend came to visit the next morning, and she slept the rest of the day.  It was the one thing she wanted to do, and we never got to do it. That's why Donny and I started going to the girls games.  It was the only thing I could do in the winter for the longest time...several years as a matter of fact.  That year, Tim Cogan, the girls coach at Fairmont, started the Melissa Fortener McLaughlin B Positive Spirit Award for the girls basketball program.  Cassie Sant won the award that year. She went on to play for UD, then professional basketball overseas.  We still follow the Firebirds and the girls basketball program has taken over the FORT 5K.  Melissa would love that.

A visit from Aunt Sue (her Godmother) and Grandpa.  At the time, I thought she looked good.  When I look at the pictures now, I realize how thin she had gotten.  Just couldn't see it then. But she always had a smile on her face.

A friend of mine from Moraine Meadows asked her mom to come over to take pictures.
Our last family pictures.  Treasures. (Thanks Linda!)
She was getting ready - putting on makeup. I love this picture.

Last complete family picture.  

Someone said to her (about this picture) "You look like your mom!"
She said "Finally".
It took her her entire life, but she finally looked like me. She WANTED to look like me. Never would I have imagined she would feel that way.  I miss her so much....I love this picture....

Christmas morning.  Happy with her gifts.  It was a simple Christmas.  Just a few gifts (didn't have time to shop, wrap or bake that year)and just us.  She said "This is my best Christmas ever."
Mine too.

Fast forward seven years....

Nick & Max at his Kindergarten Christmas Program

Max & Pamma

Took the boys to see Santa

Max and Andrew are both readers.  Melissa was too when she was this age.  She kind of got away from her love of reading when she got to middle school and HAD to read.  Nick was a good reader, just didn't like to read (as I remember!)  Being a retired librarian...nothing makes me happier!!!

I can't believe it's been seven years.  How can that be possible?  How can it be that I haven't heard her voice, hugged her, seen her in seven years?  So much has happened, but it feels like yesterday.

I miss her so much.  Every single day.  Over 2500 days.  

She was my best friend.  My confidant.  My beautiful daughter.  I feel so blessed that she called me Mom.  

All that's left are memories.  

Make some memories with the ones you love.  Take pictures.  Write things down.  Enjoy the holidays.    

I think this Christmas will be a good one.  I'm trying anyway.  And always remembering Melissa...