Friday, December 30, 2016

Mothers and Daughters

One of the (many) reasons this time of year is so difficult - this is the time of year you see Mothers and daughters EVERYWHERE.  Shopping, lunch, dinner...just the holidays in general.

So this week, this happens...

Boy do I get this.  You cannot possibly understand this unless you have lost a child...but I felt the same way.  I wanted to be with Melissa too.  I've heard of broken heart syndrome.  Your heart feels like it's going to explode...they are together forever....

I'm beginning to realize that the holidays will never get easier.   I often wonder how my mom got through the holidays.  She had 32 Christmas's without her son, my brother.  She and my dad hardly ever talked about my brother, but my mom always put his stocking up at Christmas.  Looking back, it seemed natural.  There were four kids.  Not three.  And it was the ONE way my mom kept my brother alive.  She couldn't talk about him, but she wanted him there.

Christmas started with the Fortener's the week before Christmas - great party, but not a good day for me.  It was a snowy, icy day.  I slipped on the ice in the morning, twisted my knee.  FELL on the ice in the afternoon unloading stuff from Donny's mom's car, landing on my elbow, jammed into my shoulder.  It's hell getting old...

The Fortener Christmas is now at the VFW - too many people for one family's home.  Works out perfectly.  Melissa LOVED the Fortener Christmas...she loved the chaos.  I know she would approve of the move to the VFW.  The kids have lots of room to open presents and play.  

Andrew is almost as tall as GG!!! (We have a picture of Nick with Grandma Rado that is just like this!)

Santa & Mrs. Claus always make a stop...

Roz, the kids and in laws

Roz's grandkids (that were able to make it)

Roz's great grandkids (that were able to make it)

Me and MY grandson.  I love this picture of me and Andrew!

We took the boys to Carillon Park this year - this is the second year the bell tower was lit up like a Christmas tree and this year the museum and park was lit with Christmas lights, there was a train ride (that we stood in line for an hour for, in 20 degree temps, only to find that it was an open train ride. You straddled a bench and sat front to back - only 12 people on at a time - we FROZE.  But the kids loved it.)  Then we hurried to the museum to get out of the cold.  It was awesome.  I can see this being a new tradition...

even I enjoy a carousel ride occasionally...

They had a WWI exhibit in the museum this year.

Santa's chair - but Santa was absent, so they tried it out!

The boys spent the night a couple days before Christmas and decorated cookies and gingerbread men.
Andrew has a little more patience.  I think Max decorated one.  He has more patience throwing a football up and catching it - endlessly.  


Our new family tradition is celebrated Christmas Eve.  Nick, Mere, Andrew, Max, me, Donny.
Pretty laid back.  Dinner, gifts, games.  Nick spent a lot of time putting things together this year.  He got Donny a FireStick and set that up, they got me a new camera (with detachable lenses!) It's really nice.   
Ready for the BUCKEYES

new earrings

grill stuff

a mug from Andrew...with HIS artwork.  My favorite!

Family photo (taken by the boys)


Andrew with this years "Andrew Book" (I make each of them a book every year.  Everything we do from Christmas until the next December.  Kind of a yearbook for each of them.)

Donny with his new "Marty Moose" mug with EggNog

Max & Mommy (playing YAHTZEE!!!!)

Can't remember who, but someone gave this to Melissa her last Christmas. The angel is from one of our Compassionate Friends Memorials. The gift box on the right was from Tiff. Still has the gift in it that Tiff gave Melissa that Christmas.

A gift from my (long time) friend Carol.  This is so true.

I know I have talked about our connection to the Franz family.  How Melissa said we were "Franz wannabes".  It's true.  They are an amazing family.  I played softball with all of the Franz sisters (and several of their girls as well), Donny played softball with the Franz brothers.  Mark was my age, Mary is Donny's age.  They have included us in most of the events in their family...weddings, graduations, birthday parties, baby showers.  We really feel like we are part of the family.  This Christmas, Bobby (the youngest of 11) made these framed momentos for every member of the family.  And he included US.  It's official.  We ARE part of the Franz family!  Thank you so much Bobby!!!!
(guess I should explain the significance of 4582.  When Scott was little, he told his mom "I love you 4582."  Because that was the biggest number he could think of!  Now it's the "Love you" signature of all the Franz's.  And us.  Because we're one of them now.  I 4582 that.

Obviously he's seen our home decor.  This fits right in.  


This was the first Christmas (since before we had kids) that we woke up on Christmas morning just the two of us.  It was odd.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  And it was ok.  Nick & Mere spend Christmas Day with her family (it's her mom's birthday too).

We don't normally go to his sister's for her family's Christmas, but we did this year to see her son Andy off - he was deployed to Turkey the next morning.  Eight months.  Keep him in your prayers.

Andy with his puppy.

When we got home, Matthew (my nephew, sister Sue's son).  We're his family on his mom's side now.  Had a nice visit - he actually had Christmas Day off!  (told me his last paycheck, for two weeks, had 151 hours.  Crazy.)

Matthew having some eggnog with Marty Moose...

And while I normally close with pics of Andrew & Max, I'm changing it up - there are plenty of pictures above.  

Finally got good news from my dad.  He's coming home.  To Dayton.  To live.  I've found a place in Beavercreek about 5 minutes from us.  Reminds me a lot of Victoria Landing (although he won't have a balcony and his view won't be the Indian River), there is a pond is we can get him a room on that side of the building.  The girl I've been talking to said "we'll put dolphins on a wheel so he can see dolphins jumping" I like that she remembered that from my first visit.  I think it will be a perfect fit for dad.


So while the holidays just aren't the same without my beautiful Melissa (her booming voice and laughter)...we made it through.  This was our 8th Christmas without her.  How is that possible.

Now we have next week.
January 3.  Eight years since I last saw my pretty girl.

January 5.  She should be 39 years old that day.  

I am meeting some good friends on Jan 3 for coffee.  They knew Melissa and loved her like we did.
Then I will reminisce.  I will go through the tub of things we kept from that Christmas.  There isn't much celebration in this day.

But her birthday is different.  We will ALWAYS celebrate that day.  January 5, 1978 was the day our lives changed forever.  We were so blessed to have her, even if it was only for 30 (almost 31) years.
China Cottage was the tradition, and as long as China Cottage is open, we will celebrate her birthday there.  She love it.  

The missing never goes away.  

Every day is one day closer to seeing her again.

I'll be back next week.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

7 years, 11 months, 5 days

and it still seems like yesterday.

This has been a very difficult year.  I am really struggling right now.  I miss Melissa more every day.
Eight years ago this month she was in the hospital...pretty sure this weekend was the weekend she went to Hospice (for ten days).  Those days are so vivid - from the day she went into the hospital, to the day they moved her to ICU (for 3 days), then to Hospice  (ten days), home for Christmas (10 days) then back to Hospice for 5 days.

So many positive things have happened in the last 8 years....Melissa's Scholarship fund has helped multiple students at Fairmont - $1000 scholarships have gone to 10+ students (3 going to students who participated in the Fort 5K) and now Lacy (the head girls basketball coach at Fairmont) has taken over the FORT 5K, all the proceeds go to the girls basketball program.  Melissa would love that.    The girls basketball program gives an award in Melissa's honor - The Melissa Fortener McLaughlin B POSITIVE Spirit award.  Cassie Sant was the first recipient - she went on to play for University of Dayton, then semi-pro in Europe.  She is now an assistant coach at Fairmont.  Cassie was a junior at Fairmont when Melissa played - she got to see Cassie play her sophomore year - she saw the potential in Cassie...I remember her talking about it.  She never got to see her play her junior year.  By the time the Firebirds season started that year, Melissa was in the hospital.  When she was getting ready to come home from Hospice, she told me she wanted to go to the Fairmont girls game the next day (she came home on a Friday).  She had a visitor that morning and slept the rest of the day...we never made it to that game.  After Melissa passed away, probably a week later, we went to the Fairmont game at Miamisburg.  It was the only thing I could do...go to basketball games.  Nothing else mattered.  It was the last thing SHE wanted to do.  So we still go.

The Cincinnati Kelts continue their annual Breast Cancer Fundraiser - half the money goes to Breast Cancer Research, half goes to Melissa's Scholarship Fund.  We are so grateful for that.

One of her cousins (Sean Cramer) holds an annual sand volleyball tournament and donates the money for breast cancer research in Melissa's name.

So many positive things...and I am struggling.  Our lives have changed so much.  We have a lot of new friends through Compassionate Friends.  Re-connected with one of Donny's college football teammates (his daughter died of ovarian cancer two years after Melissa) and have become good friends with another couple who lost their son in 2007.  He was killed in Baghdad.

We have the boys as often as we can, but they are growing up and their lives are getting busier and busier.

Taking care of my dad long distance.  I wish he would agree to come back to Dayton.  His family would love to have him back here.  All of us.

Helping my friend Ruth's husband Bruce whenever he calls - we stop to visit him a couple of days a week. He's 93, a WWII vet who has an amazing memory.  We love hearing his stories.  (Ruth was like a second mom to me.  She died of breast cancer in 2011.)

Keep in touch with my good friend Jackie's daughter, Elizabeth.  She's come to visit a couple of times (and stayed with us! I love that!)  Jackie died a month before Ruth - uterine cancer.)

Cancer sux.

And trying to keep my sister Sue's son Matthew close.  He calls me Pam-mom.  (my sister Sue died on Melissa's birthday in 2013.)

I am tired.  I am angry.  I am sad.

I want my daughter back.

And I am so thankful when friends check in.  I'm not always good at reaching out, but I'm pretty good about returning calls.  And meeting with one or two friends for coffee.  Still not comfortable with big groups.

Unless I'm talking about Melissa.

Which brings me to the reason I am posting today.

At the Fairmont/Wayne game last night, there was a girl sitting across the aisle from us that looked familiar.  Donny recognized her right away - Andrea Hoover.  She played for UD a couple of years ago.  Donny thought she was sitting with the new coach for UD Women's team.

After the game, we were getting ready to leave, and the coach's little boy was in the aisle...a good way to strike up a conversation.  I asked her if that was indeed Andrea Hoover, she said "yes".
Then I asked her if she was the new coach at UD.  She was.

I started telling her that a few years ago, I came to UD to talk to the women's team about my daughter Melissa...her eye's grew wide and she said "I was THERE!  I was an assistant coach then!  I remember you!"

Then she said "I would love for you to come and talk to the team again this year before our Pink Game in February."

I sat there and told her Melissa's story again, and she listened.  Again.  I am so thankful when I have a captive audience to tell Melissa's story.  One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year.  If I can encourage ONE person to be proactive and get to the doctor early if they find themselves in Melissa's situation, if I can keep one mother from losing her daughter (or son) by being proactive...

I sometimes wonder why I am still here.  What is my purpose?
It's keep Melissa's story alive and to help other parents who will walk this path.

Two things that help me heal.

B POSITIVE...  I'm trying Melissa.
I love you and miss you EVERY single day.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Missing my Melissa....

Struggling terribly this year...and these holidays.  Eight years coming up and it seems like yesterday. Still.

Nick & Mere include us in her family's Thanksgiving (thankful for that)...they always do a nice job.  Food was great.

Donny's nephew Andy is being deployed to Turkey soon.
Went to see him before he left.

Back to volunteering a couple mornings a week with a friend at the last school I was at...hoping being around the kids will make the holidays a little brighter.  

Staying off FB for awhile longer...I'll be in touch.

Enjoy the holidays.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Life is good

Wow.  I can't believe the last time I was here was in August!  I think I have been avoiding it because what I REALLY want to write about is politics.  Like Fort, I have some pretty strong convictions about that, and she WOULD write about it and move on.  I need to think about whether or not I want to go there HERE.  (I do, but I'm guessing I'd lose a few friends in the process.)

Just got back from visiting dad in Florida.  It's hard to go six months without seeing him, so I'm working on getting him back to Dayton.  So far I've been unsuccessful.  Winter would not be a good time anyway, so hopefully we can get him back in the spring.  He says "I'll come home for a visit."  If I get him back here, it will be for good.

Anyway, the visit was great.   He looks great in the pictures.  But in six months time he has slowed down a lot.  Walks slower (and a little more bent over, just like his mom and sister did) and takes more time responding to questions.  Partly because he can't hear what we say because he won't wear his hearing aides!  (I'm taking remember that maybe someday I'll be 86 and I hope Nick is patient with ME).

I remember my mom talking about visiting her mother in a nursing home in Philadelphia.  My mom took a picture of her and pinned on her shirt was a picture (cut out of a magazine) of Rice a Roni.
My mom's brother, Uncle Addie, lived outside Sacramento, CA.  Near San Francisco.  I'm pretty sure Uncle Addie was grandma's favorite.  He was the oldest.  Smart and funny.  Grandma wanted everyone to know about her son.  So when she found the picture of Rice a Roni (a San Francisco treat!) in the magazine, I'm sure it reminded her of him.

The reason I tell that story is because my dad is doing the same thing.  He was pretty  close to Melissa.  After she died (of breast cancer), he started donating to any charity that had anything to do with breast cancer (whether they were legitimate or not).  One of the charities had a Breast Cancer Pin of the Month.  He was paying $30 a month for a Breast Cancer pin (and he got a big wooden case to display them in as well)!  Plus, if you made a donation, you had a chance to win a million dollars.
UGH.  Hard to make my dad understand that it wasn't a legitimate charity if they were (supposedly) giving away a million dollars (of donated money).  Anyway, he loved those pins.  One was a pink shaped ribbon that looked like a flip flop.  He wore it every day for almost a year until he lost it.  I remember how disappointed he was.

A few years ago, I made "Fort buttons" for some of the breast cancer walks we participated in.
An "in Memory of Fort" button.

When we got to his place last week, he was wearing it, right in the middle of his shirt.  He wears it EVERY day.  (I wonder if he wears it to bed!!!)  Makes my heart happy.

Fort & Grandpa 

Grandpa & Fort...still.

We didn't want to disrupt his routines, so we went to see him mid afternoon every day.  Took him out to dinner every day and on Sunday, took him on a "Sunday drive", just like he did with us when we were little.  He really enjoyed that.  We drove down A1A to Sebastion.  Captain Hiram's, one of his and mom's favorite places on the Indian River.  

We took him to the VFW to visit his friends.  He doesn't get there as often as he used to (which was EVERY day)...but they haven't forgotten him.  In fact, he's like Norm in CHEERS.  Dad walks into the bar and everyone looks up and says "IRRRRVVVVV"!!! That makes my heart happy too.

Dad and his friend Betty at the VFW
and of course dad was invited to sing @ Karaoke!

We were able to get together with my new friend Emily (I wrote about Emily a few posts back) - she 
found Melissa's blog when she read the article Melissa wrote for the Cincinnati Weekly.  Didn't take her long to realize that she and Melissa attended Ohio University at the same time - and had a lot of things in common.  She sent me a beautiful letter via FB messaging after she learned that Melissa passed away.  She and her husband and boys moved to Melbourne a couple of years ago.  When she realized my dad lived there, she sent me a message.  We met for the first time about a year ago.  They had us over for dinner on our last visit - we took them out to dinner this time.  Wonderful family.  Three adorable little boys...and I know a LASTING friendship has been made.

Dad and his buddy Ryan - he loves this little guy!  Emily & Ryan have visited dad a couple times too!

Me, Jonathan, Emily & Ryan

Our last night there we decided to take dad to a place that is just a couple of blocks from where he lives.    We've seen it on the water and were curious - it's always busy and looked like fun.  It's called Squid Lips - now our favorite place in Melbourne!  It's right on the water, has a sandy area with picnic tables and indoor seating.  Perfect for us.  Plus music daily!  We all enjoyed it and the food was great too.

I didn't even notice this sign.  Dad did.  That's exactly what he did...grabbed a beer.  Couldn't run like hell, but that was ok.  He was perfectly safe right where he was!  And he knew it.  I called multiple times the week of Hurricane Matthew.  The weather channels estimate was landfall somewhere close to Melbourne.  The staff at Victoria Landing assured me that the building could withstand a Cat 4 hurricane, the windows are hurricane proof, they had plenty of food, generators and extra staff on hand.  I told dad to eat the ice cream in his freezer in case the power went out. "Our power isn't going out" he told me, more than once.  Then I told him to get a flashlight and put it next to his bed, in case the power went out in the middle of the night and he needed to go to the bathroom.  "Our power isn't going out" he told me again.  I also told his phone and I probably wouldn't be able to talk to him for a couple of days.  All I can say is "Father Knows Best".  I was up until 4 a.m. watching the weather channel.  It came very close to land in Melbourne, but never made landfall.  I was exhausted in the morning.  But I called dad around 10 to see if I could get through.  He answered the phone and said "I heard a little wind last night, but slept through it."  Hmph. He slept through a hurricane and I was up all night worried about it!!!!  I guess I should listen next time.  Had an interesting conversation with Emily & Kevin about their preparations for the hurricane too.  They live on the barrier island (not far from where we stay on the beach).  They had a mandatory evacuation and ended up going to St. Petersburg for the weekend.  They packed up anything they didn't want to lose (their kids wanted to take all of their toys), Kevin took a couple of tubs to work, and they took all their pictures off the walls.  Fortunately, they had very little damage.  Their was a lot of debris on the island, which is going to take months to get picked up - there were huge piles of debris up and down A1A - all the way to Sebastion. In dad's neighborhood, lots of debris and an uprooted tree.  And Victoria Landing's power never went out.  Father knows best :)

Monday night special - a double order of fish & chips for $1 more!  Delicious!  Dad & I shared :)

Dad & his buddy Ed at Happy Hour at Victoria Landing. Ed is a Navy man too!

Cincinnati Kelts 13th Annual Breast Cancer Fundraiser

Netti & Pauly did it again.  This fundraiser seemed to be the best attended yet.  Hoping that the Cincinnati Enquirer does the story - it's supposed to be in the works as we speak.  Don't know when it will be published yet.    
Another successful fundraiser and a surprise to boot...Pauly presented me with Fort's Hall of Fame Jacket.  Very emotional.  She would be SO honored (embarrassed, but honored!)

Donny & Kat.  Her dad has made the breast cancer ribbons for every fundraiser! Thanks Kat's dad!

Pauly, me, Netti.  The best organizers EVER.

Fort's blazer.  Someday I'll tell the story about Fort &blazers.

The Boys...

Fort often ended a post with something about Andrew.  So I try to do the same...only now it's Andrew & Max.  

That's Max in the middle.  They were lining up right in front of us.  I love unposed pictures!

Pamma & Max

Our friends Carolyn & Randi came to Andrew's game.

of course so did Pamma & PopPop

Funny story about Max.  He's been texting me a lot lately on his iPad.  Yesterday he texted me and said "I'm on the bus."
Last week we were texting back and forth and I was saying goodbye and I said "I love you SO much" and Max said "I love you more than the supermarket"...?????
Not sure what that means, but yesterday he texted the same thing.  I guess that's a lot.  I HOPE that's a lot.  Silly boys....

I was up for every sunrise on the beach.  Great way to start the day.

As beautiful as the sunrise is on the beach - I think it's more beautiful over the mountains. I stopped at  7 a.m. to take this photo.  It was on our way home from Florida, in the mountains in Tennessee.  
Life is good.