Saturday, January 2, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

It's September and I'm already thinking about the upcoming seventh anniversary.  I won't post this until then, but I need to write when I'm thinking about it...

I know it's cliche, but it seems like yesterday.  And when I think that I haven't seen that beautiful face for SEVEN years, it seems like a lifetime.

It happens every year, I know what's coming.  (although I do have a doctor's appointment in Nov. Last year my doctor suggested an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety just for the months that are so hard to get through - October - March.  It really helped).  Mood swings, depression, anti-social feelings.  I know that I have made progress in the last seven years.  When I look back on posts at each anniversary, things have changed.

What I can do
This might sound strange, but one thing I had a hard time doing was putting an (!) at the end of a sentence.  How could I possibly be excited about ANYTHING.   When I look back, I'm amazed at the things that I accomplished so soon after Melissa's death.  Organizing a fundraiser (with Angie and a lot of other people) that raised $24,000.  Walking 60 miles WITHOUT Melissa. Twice.  Working.  I did a lot, but on the inside I was dying too.
Today, some of the things that I struggled to do six years for one (Ok - I'm not a good dancer, but I used to LOVE to dance) I want to do.  My body just stops me.  Except when I hear the song HAPPY by Pharrel Willimas.  Isn't that strange?  Happy?  I think Melissa is getting into my head and saying "It's ok mom.  It's ok to be happy!  Go ahead and DANCE!"  Donny and I were taking a walk a while back - sometimes we walk and talk, sometimes we take our walkmans (we're old) that song came on and I was literally dancing and singing while I was walking.  Made Donny smile.  He likes to see me happy.  Just like Melissa and Nick.
I listen to the words of music a lot closer than I ever did before Melissa.   Recently, on another walk, I was thinking about her.  Purple Rain by Prince  came on (she loved Prince) - the first words in the song are "I never meant to cause you sorrow, I never meant to cause you pain.  I just want to see you dancing in the purple rain" is her way of communicating with me!   It's like she wants to talk to me, so she does it through a song.

What I can't do
I've made a lot of progress here... in the beginning, I couldn't go to the grocery store without crying.
Socializing, unless it had to do with an event in Melissa's memory, was hard.  I do socialize more now, but I still have a hard time with crowds.  Big parties. (again, unless it's about Melissa) Maybe because mingling and making small talk is hard.  All I want to talk about is Melissa.  I enjoy going out with a friend or two where we can have a real conversation.  That's a good thing, I think.
Really, there aren't a lot of things that I can't do.  I try really hard to make this new life as normal as possible.

I have a couple, as far as Melissa goes.  I wish I would have talked to her about what was coming.
How she felt.  How I felt.  At the time, the only time I could tell her how much I was going to miss her was when she was sleeping.  I never wanted her to think  that I was giving up on her...if we talked about dying, I was giving up.  So we never had that discussion.
Funny thing is, she never brought it up either.  The discussion was always about her going back to work when she got better.  Although I was just reading her last post the other day. I really think she knew what was coming, but just didn't want to talk about it. At least to me.  She never wanted to see me cry.  And I never wanted to see HER cry.  As all parents know, if your kids are happy, YOU are happy.  If your kids are hurting... know.

This is her post:

During the last five months while I was enduring these last five months of Ixempra, my mom would cheerfully nod and say, "I think this is the "Big One" you were talking about. This is the last one you have to get over. But I would always respond the same. "No Mom, sorry." In a way I was trying to show her to show a little respect to the disease. Cancer isnt going to make me go through all of that THAT for THIS. I sadly knew there was at least one more visit we were going ot have to make on this journey, and it wasnt a place most people think they're going to make it out alive without proper flowers or some respectable casserole dish.

The other thing I wish I would have done differently...the last day she was home, she got up that morning and wanted to take a shower.  She knew she was probably going back to Hospice.  She couldn't go without the oxygen...she had a long enough cord, but she didn't have a lot of strength at that point.  She stood in the bathroom and started undressing while I was pleading with her - you don't have enough have to have your oxygen.  Then she got sick.

Really, the last thing she wanted from me was to take a shower.  And I said no.    If I could do it over again, I would find a way.  I wasn't thinking about getting a chair, or it will only take a minute.  I was worried.  And I wish I could change that.  She NEVER asked for anything.  And the one thing she asked for, I didn't give her.

So I guess I should forgive myself for that.  I was doing what I thought was best at the time.  But it was such a little thing....she never asked for much.

And I hope that my friends and family will forgive me for all the times they offered to help, or take me out, or talk...and I couldn't.  I can't explain the depth of the grief I was experiencing.  It takes your breath away.  It consumed me.  It was difficult to watch everyone's life go on when my world stopped.  I didn't WANT my life to go on...without her in it.  I know I worried a lot of people.  Mostly Donny and Nick.  But I needed to get through the only way I knew how.  I needed to do it on my own...for awhile.  Until I realized that I couldn't do it alone.  And  good friends who lost their son just five weeks after Melissa introduced me to Compassionate Friends.  A life saver for me.

And I guess this is a good place to say I forgive anyone who tried to give me to get through this.  Although I can say I had an idea of how to do this because my brother died when I was 17 and I watched my mom and dad and how they handled it, I had NO IDEA how painful the loss of a child could be.  I only knew from a siblings perspective.  I knew that I needed to remember that I was fortunate to still have a child!  Nick and I talk about that.  I want him to know that if he ever feels like I am neglecting him, to tell me.  You cannot compare losses.  Every loss is different.  Losing a child is not like losing a grandma, grandpa, mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, dog.  I've lost them all.   There is NO comparison.

What I do know (now) is that if your only loss is one of the above, that is a GREAT loss to YOU.
Maybe that's all you have to compare it to.  You feel like you know.  I try to understand that now.

We can't compare the loss of children either.  Some of us got to say goodbye.  Some of us had harsh words the last time we talked to our child.  Some of our children took their own lives.  Some of them made bad decisions...BUT.  The end result is the same.  The pain is the same. Whether they had cancer, took their own life, took drugs, made bad decisions, we loved our children the same.

So I forgive you if you said something  (in the beginning) that hurt me.  Because in the last seven years, I've learned that people never intend to say anything hurtful.  They just don't know.  And I hope they NEVER know.

Remembering , Reflecting, Celebrating
This year, on January 3, I will reflect.  We don't celebrate her death.  I will read her blog, get out the scrapbooks, go through the tubs with all of her things from her last Christmas here.  We have gifts, clothes, things she wrote.  I will touch, smell, hold, remember.  And cry.  I don't do that as much.  Oh, the tears still come - but I never know when.  But crying is good.  It makes me feel better.  Because when I cry, I am remembering.

We DO celebrate her birth.  She was the best thing that ever happened to me (and of course it was the same when Nick was born, then my grandsons).  She was a beautiful, happy baby.
She was smart and funny.  Always.

We had our ups and downs, like all parents do with their children.

But we always had a good relationship.  A relationship that turned into a friendship.  BFFs.
She was the person that I confided in.  She gave me great advice.  She didn't always listen because, although she was never diagnosed, I'd say she had ADD.  If you ever talked to her on the phone, you could tell that she was always doing something else while she was talking to you.  Hmmm...when I think about it, so do I.  Maybe she watched me more than I knew...

She made me laugh.  I can only remember her crying a couple of times...when she lost her son, JP, and when the cancer came back the first time...she was so afraid of what the doctor was going to say.  We cried together that time...and I told her "if it's good, we'll celebrate.  if it's bad, we'll just find out what's next!"  I can't think of another time she cried.  She was always positive. At least with me.

We loved going to lunch together.  She hated shopping.  Again, like me.  I shop when I need to shop. Get what I need. Done.  She was the same.

What surprised me a LOT was her last Christmas, when we had our family Christmas picture taken and a couple of people told her she looked like me.  Her response was "Finally."  Wow.  She wanted to look like me.

I remember a Mom's Weekend at OU.  Angie's mom and I both wore blazers.  Melissa and Angie took them from us and put them on and made fun of us!  And later she WANTED to look like me.
She borrowed clothes, shoes, jewelry from me all the time.  Well, I use the term "borrowed" loosely.  She never asked.  She just went into my room and would slyly walk out the door with a guilty look on her face.  I'd say "Ok.  What do you have".  She never could lie either.
Secretly I loved that.  I liked that we had the same taste.  We were a lot alike in so many ways.

The hardest thing for me now is shopping at Christmastime.  So many mothers and daughters together.  It still hurts.

But for all my friends with daughters (which is almost all my friends)...I love seeing you together.
I sometimes feel like my friends relationships with their daughters got stronger after I lost Melissa.
That's a good thing.  I just can't help but wish I still had her.  I miss the Mother/Daughter things.
Every day.

I said earlier that it seems like a lifetime that I last saw her beautiful face.  Sometimes.  When I remember so vividly everything that happened that last month of her life, it seems like yesterday.  How can seven years have passed?
It seems like a blip on the radar.

But then I go through pictures of the last seven years.  I have made progress.  I do a lot more than I did the first couple of years - although looking back (through the pictures) I did a lot even then.
Fundraisers, marathons (1/2), 5Ks, vacations, conferences, new friends, Andrew and Max.  And taking care of my dad.  A lot has happened in the last seven years.

The last seven years reminds me of my favorite movie, It's a Wonderful Life.  I was devastated by the loss of my daughter.  There were many times that I felt like I had no reason to live.  I didn't have a Clarence- a guardian angel, but I did have Donny, Nick, Meredith, my grandsons, The Compassionate Friends, new friends and a few old friends to remind me that I did have something to live for.  I have a purpose.

I will ALWAYS miss Melissa.  Until the day I die.  But I have a choice.  I can keep her memory alive until I see her again.  For eternity.

Here's a few things that happened in the last seven years....

Lots of fundraisers....Firebirds for Fort, Cincinnati Kelts Breast Cancer Fundraiser and 
 Fundraisers for the Komen 3 Day Walk

5Ks, Marathons (1/2 marathons), 60 mile walks...
This was the Making Strides 5K...

Andrew participated to remember Aunt Fort too!

first FORT 5K (was called B Positive the first year)

Susan G. Komen 3 Day, 60 Mile Walk
Team B Positive
I carried the flag that said "MY DAUGHTER" in the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

Donna Marathon in Jacksonville...

Cheered for the "Fort"team the first Donna, participated in the second!

Did the Flying Pig Marathon in honor of my friend Jackie.
(I have to be honest.  I cheated in this one)

First Fairmont sponsored event in memory of Melissa.

Air Force Marathon in memory of Melissa

Jen carried this rugby ball in memory of Melissa at the Donna Marathon in Jacksonville
...FULL Marathon.
Handed it off to me and Donny when she crossed the finish line. Amazing.

Courtney Clifford Memorial 5K

Attended three Compassionate Friends Conferences...Boston, Chicago and Dallas
This was the Walk to Remember at Boston Commons

Participated in the annual Relay for Life at Delco Park

In the last seven years, I lost my sister and two of my best friends...
My sister Sue...

my friend Jackie

my friend Ruth

We also lost two members of our "other" family, the Franz's.  Mark and Elissa.
I know that Melissa was waiting for them with a beer in her hand (for them!) She always said she was a "Franz wannabe".  I know they are celebrating together.

Mark is on the left.

In the last seven years...I closed a building (Moraine Meadows)
We had an autistic student who, when seeing the new library for the first time, said
"It's Library Heaven"
It was.  Melissa loved it too.

I started a "new" job in the building I started in - Greenmont

and made new friends - one in particular (Angie Kessel) who
knew how important butterflies were to me...

and speaking of butterflies...

Our house (and yard) are full of them.

I retired in the last seven years...

and saw a lot of Fairmont girls basketball games...and got to see them win the 
State Championship game

also saw seven Fairmont basketball players receive the 
Melissa Fortener McLaughlin B Positive Spirit Award

and got to see Melissa's cousin Lindsay play for Fairmont.  
Melissa would have LOVED that.  We saw Lindsay play when
she was in grade school.  Melissa would be so proud of her!

We awarded twelve $1000 Scholarships in Melissa's name (so far)
Kelly Hart was one of the recipients.

Purchased a bench in memory of Melissa for Fairmont.  It's outside the Athletic office (she wanted to buy a bench in memory of classmates who passed away.  It never happened. So we did it for her.)

In the last seven years, continued to take vacations with my Moraine Meadows family...

...and remodeled our kitchen.  One of the hardest things for me to do in the last seven years was change anything around the house.  I wanted everything to be how it was when she was here...just in case she ever came home.   Really.  I'm sure she'd be ok with it...

reconnected with some "old" friends.This is Marianne.  We went to grade school together.  She's been a good friend the last seven years...

and Carol.  We went to high school together.  She lost her son, her only child, a year after Melissa.

Mange and Mary.  Donny's teammate and fraternity brother from Wilmington College.
They lost their daughter Courtney to ovarian cancer.  We've gone on several cruises with them.

Randy and Carolyn. Their son was killed in Baghdad,  and Bob and Penny. Their son completed suicide.  They are our Compassionate Friends too.  This was at the Conference in Chicago.

We remember all our kids at the annual Compassionate Friends picnic

In the last seven years, we gained a grandson (Max)

We remember Melissa with balloon releases for her birthday

and FORT bracelets...thousands of them.

Friends remember Melissa.  My friend Christy painted this picture for us.

and I spend LOTS of time with my grandsons...

Looking back...although it seems like yesterday, a lot has happened in the last seven years.
I have made progress.  With the help of my family, the Compassionate Friends and good friends
who stuck with us...we are still here.

I wish she were here...and she is in a way.  She's here because we continue to keep her memory
alive.  We always will.

Instead of closing with the boys (which she would always do), I want to close with some of my favorite memories with Melissa...

This was at Hospice.  A few things that I LOVE about this picture...She is smiling. Because Drew is visiting, I'm sure.  She is wearing a Fairmont t-shirt.  And she has her favorite blanket from home, which is still on the back of my couch...year round.

This was on the 3 Day, 60 mile Komen walk in Atlanta.  My intentions were to cheer her on, not walk 60 miles with her!  The Kelts had a fundraiser the week before and raised enough money so I could walk with her.   Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I could walk 60 miles in three days (with no training).  But she believed.  So I did.  It's one of my favorite memories.  We were close, but got even closer that weekend.  Literally.  We had to sleep in a two man pup tent each night!  It was a blast!

The pictures above and below were a train excursion that she planned to Washington D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  Again, I did not have plans to go on this trip. The day OF the trip, she called me at work.  At noon.  "Mom!  Someone cancelled for the trip to D.C. today.  Do you want to go?"  I needed to be at the rail yard in Cincinnati at 3.  I needed to pack. Get money.  The cost was $500.  A great deal.  When I told Donny, he said "how much is it going to cost?"  I told him $200.  He said "That's great!"  So I was going.  Again, we had a blast.  There were 3 rail cars attached at the end of Amtrak.  A dome car (with a dining room and living room) a sleeper car and a porch car on the end.  A friend of her boss's owned the porch car (bottom picture) and each day he would invite two people over for either lunch or dinner.  We were invited for a dinner.  An elegant,  5 Star dinner.  He had a server that wore white gloves.  We could have anything to drink that we wanted.  And dessert on the porch (in a moving train) after dinner.  It was incredible. When we got to D.C. they detached our three cars and left us in the train station for three days.  The train station is right next to the Capitol, and close enough to the Mall that we could walk to the Smithsonian and the museums.  We got to see the Holocaust museum.  My friend from high school, Patti, picked us up one of the mornings and took us to breakfast.  It was a great weekend.  Both of these trips were after she was diagnosed....I am so glad I decided to go.  Some of my best memories were from those two weekends.

Oh...and after Melissa passed away, I told Donny it was really $500.  I can't lie either.

Our  best gifts from Melissa were handmade.  She was so creative and so talented...

Found this in the attic last Christmas.  Her Christmas present to us.

Two Christmas's ago, Donny found a box of her things that she brought home from college.
This was in it.

It's how we signed our letters to each other.


Love you,

Miss you

Till we meet again!

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