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 know...you'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 much....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."
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...