“Yes, Please!” by Keith

When a friend contacts you and asks you if they can name a room in the High School in memory of your daughter, how fast can you say, “Yes Please!”

Patty and I never want to forget Michelle. Over the past 17 and a half months it has been our primary focus. We love her. She is special. Her life had value and purpose. We want to remember it. To proclaim it. To share it. Thanks to the generosity of others, we are able to fulfill this commitment.

Rick and Kim Halbauer purchased the naming rights to one of the HHS rooms at a fund-raiser. Rather than immortalize themselves with their prize, they turned to Patty and I and offered to have Michelle remembered. “Yes, Please!”

When they sent me the picture of the plaque, the tears filled my eyes. It marks another imprint to preserve her memory. It is joined with an empty seat in the Performing Arts Center, photographs in local dance studios,  her name on a scholarship in the senior awards program, a parade of classmates with flowers before Homecoming, Nutcracker girls holding her picture, coverage by journalists, high five fridays across the country, requests for add’l yellow bands,  Gifting Back with talented artisans, Johnson’s Commitment to Character Award, HHS Choir Michelle Chalk Award,  tri-state schools she never attended that want to honor her memory, bows around town, what has become known as Michelle’s signature collage, people visiting her grave.  I could go on & on. I know there are countless others I am forgetting. Forgive me for that. Please know that we love and appreciate all of you for helping us shine her light. Anything to remember Michelle. To help us keep her memory alive.

“Yes, Please!”

hhs-roomgratitude6back from vegas

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January 13, 2014

In some ways it was an ordinary day. In other ways, it was not.
This was the day I knew I had breast cancer.
There was no confirmation of it from a physician….yet.
But I knew on this date after my annual mammogram that this was going to be the time.

I was always called on the phone and told I needed to come back for more images, or an ultrasound. For years.
This time was no different….called to come back, more images, ultrasound, and ultimately and added procedure I had never had yet….a biopsy.
That word alone was scary to me.
But the biopsy confirmed for the doctors what I already knew in my heart.
And I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

5 years ago on January 29.
And I remember when the word got out, the community rallied for me and my whole family. It was unfathomable to me and Keith that so many people in this town and beyond this town, were doing so much for us. Car pooling our kids, meals, cards, earrings, banana bread left on our porch, prayer shawls, blankets, etc. But most of all prayers. Keith and I were clinging to our faith in God with every ounce of strength that we had in us. Which some days was not very much. And that’s when I knew. That if I couldn’t pray for myself through my fear, that others were doing it for me and my family. And it’s exactly what we needed. Prayer and lots of it.

According to my oncologist, my cancer was “big, bad, and ugly.” My mom, Amy, and Keith were in the exam room with me for this of just many appointments and scans. And I sat up on the exam table, looked at my 3 people who were with me, and saw some trepidation. And out of nowhere came my words to Dr. Cody, “I can do this!” Keith said he remembers the doctor twirling around in his chair and telling me, “You HAVE to do this.”
Strength was coming from above and from Patty’s Prayer Warriors. And still to do this day we are grateful for that time in our life for so much care shown to my entire family.

After many tests and scans, the treatment began. 2 harsh chemos, and 2 targeted drugs. Every 3 weeks. Six times. Got it. During that time, I met the bestest of friends. A whole corner of young women in the same boat as me. And this is going to sound crazy….but we looked forward to chemo days. We laughed, we cried, we ate (hello donuts & pickles & tacos), we gained weight, and didn’t care. We are still the best of friends to this day.

4 weeks after chemo, I had my bilateral mastectomy on June 30 and I was bound and determined to go to the 4th of July parade to see my girl in it for Ft. Thomas Jr. Cheer. Drains and all, I went. Tired when I got home but I did it.

4 weeks after my mastectomy, I had 25 rounds of targeted radiation. 5 days a week for 5 straight weeks. Every morning. My mom and dad drove me to every single appointment. And there were days I know Dad would have rather been in bed. But he did it for me.

After radiation, I was allowed to start my Tamoxifen pill. And I continued on a targeted drug therapy, called Herceptin, for another year. Every 3 weeks. I considered this my safety net. I loved it. I was still getting ‘something’ into my body to ward off and keep away nasty cancer cells.

So after it was decided my slight burns on my right quadrant that was radiated were healed enough, I was given the go ahead to pursue reconstruction. Keith will often times remind me how bad chemo was for me, and I know it was. But I will never forget the pain of the breast tissue expanders. Ever. I think I uttered words from a vocabulary that I had never used before. This part ended up being more procedures and surgeries than I anticipated but I did it.

How does all this relate back to my girl, Michelle. She was only in 5th grade, but it was the year she grew up fast. She became even closer (if that’s possible) to Keith because Keith was playing not only the Dad role, but Mom too. But she was mine through my illness too. There wasn’t anything she would not do for me. I can remember apologizing to her for not being able to do certain things that I once could because of my stamina and fatigue issues. In typical Michelle fashion, she would say, “Mom, it’s okay. You have cancer.” These words from my precious girl of just 5th grade.

The next years were years of healing, still fear, and trying to get back to our lives. I went to my oncologist every 3 months for labs. They would check the tumor marker, CA27-29, and that number had to come back below 38. And if it did, there was no metastasis. And every time, it was a good number. And such relief came to us. Until it was time to go back for another. We started a tradition of praying a family rosary, the night that the good results came back.

I’ll never forget my last results in June before Michelle passed that August. We were all in Hilton Head. It was a Monday. My online chart was messed up and so I couldn’t just log in and find it in mychart. So I was not-so-patiently waiting for Dr. Cody’s nurse to call me with that CA #. Keith, Michelle, and I were in HHI TJMaxx. Keith was off over in the Men’s Department, and Michelle & I were looking at purses. (Surprised?) And my phone rang. It was the office. And Laura was on the other end telling me my number was low and all was well. I don’t know if I did, but you wanna just sink to your knees in thanksgiving. And I would always say, “God, thank you.” I got off the phone, told Michelle, and she said, “C’mon, let’s go find Dad and tell him.” And we did.

This past Wednesday, I had my 5 year labs and once again, my number was all good. Keith and I have learned that many things in this life are not in our control. And we try to remember to prepare ourselves. We did just before we left the house for my appointment because we have come to find …. you just never know.

To all who have prayed and continue to pray for our family, thank you for your prayers for all of these journeys in our lives over the past 5 years.

Thy Will Be Done.

 

picmonkey collageabcMy Red Bank Road Warrior Sisters.

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One of my biggest fans.

Grief is a battlefield

As I sit here, I’m hit with the realization that I’ve lived a calendar year without Michelle. I used to miss her when she would sleep over at a friend’s house. Just 1 night.

Now.
17 months.
519 days and nights.
12,456 hours.
747,360 minutes.
44,841,600 seconds.

As I look back at the year 2018, I see each monthly calendar laid out like a battlefield. Each square, an enemy stands. And each square, Keith and the boys and I fought. Fought to get out of bed, to go to work, to go to school, to eat, to sleep, to live, to breathe….to be.

And I feel tired.
Tired physically and mentally.
And as I look back at the whole year, I see why.
Because each square, each day of the calendar, was a hard-fought battle.
Grief is a beast, my friend told me.
Grief is exhausting.
Unfathomable.
Unbearable.
Still.

To my sweet, sweet girl: My new year’s resolution will forever and always be the same. To do all things to honor you and your name. And to do my best (with the help of many compassionate people) that the world never forgets who you are.

Mommy and Michelle - 8

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Dec. 30: Feast of the Holy Family

My reflections from 7:00 am Mass at St. X in Cincinnati this morning.
All of the readings and Father’s homily resonated with me.
So much that I had to share. If anything, for my own documentation. To be reminded of this on a day that I need reminding of God’s powerful love for all who he created. I wish that I had a recording of the whole Mass. The readings read and the homily spoken. Because I can’t possibly capture and write here for you all that Father spoke of on these 3 readings. Especially after chemo, I find myself not being able to say things right or properly document in written words. I know what I heard, understood, and I’m grateful to be able ‘to keep all of these things in my heart.’
So this is just one re-cap. And then I posted the readings for you.
Fr. Patrick described Mary’s angst when they realized Jesus was lost. Similarly, there was a time in Hilton Head when we lost Michelle on the beach. Father described it as a prelude of what was to come. Jesus was found in the temple and would ultimately serve God in Heaven. No, we didn’t find Michelle in a temple. Although we did go to church that evening. But I can vividly remember that angst I felt when I thought she was gone.
Now, she serves God in Heaven. Much sooner that Keith or I ever thought. But Father said today that our children are gifts from God and that one day, they are to be returned to Him.

1SM 1:20-22, 24-28 The First Reading
In those days Hannah conceived, and at the end of her term bore a son
whom she called Samuel, since she had asked the LORD for him.
The next time her husband Elkanah was going up
with the rest of his household
to offer the customary sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vows,
Hannah did not go, explaining to her husband,
“Once the child is weaned,
I will take him to appear before the LORD
and to remain there forever;
I will offer him as a perpetual nazirite.”
Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him up with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
Hannah left Samuel there.

1 JN 3:1-2, 21-24 The Second Reading
Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
And so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

LK 2:41-52 Gospel
Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
of Passover,
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.

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Michelle on her Baptism Day with Fr. Kroger. Our little gift from God. Precious in His sight and ours. We were not promised the length of time we would have with our sweet girl on this earth. God gave her to us for just a moment in time it seems. And now she is back with The One who gave her to us. Not the timing we wanted. Not what we planned. But… ‘Thy Will Be Done.’

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Michelle on her Confirmation evening. The Holy Spirit more alive than ever before in her.

 

 

Good times, good friends…by Keith

Every year, on the first Friday in December, my friends from college get together. Like most situations like this, there are people that will show up every year, and some that occasionally attend. I look at the group picture from this year and see a couple dozen guys that showed up.

Over the past week I’ve been thinking about that night … and Michelle. A couple of things keep bouncing around my head.

For most of us, this evening is the only time in the year we will see each other. Despite these limits, the attitude and greetings we express with each other, you would swear we share each other’s company more frequently. Typical conversations include inquiries into jobs, family, and what we have been up to over the past year, but I think the bulk of the talk is the retelling of stories that are over 30 years old.

It was these stories that made me think about Michelle.

Often the telling of a story was initiated by someone that was not present during the event. It was usually a favorite story of theirs and they would begin it as it was told to them, even if it was told to them 30 years ago. They would draw in others to add details, especially if it was someone closely related to the events. Most of the evening I would passively witness and listen to men in their 50s trying to remember things from so long ago. What was also odd, as some of the stories I remembered differently, and some of the stories were about me that I could not recall very well. The 80s were a wonderful time, and a possible blessing for many, it was before cell phone cameras and social media.

These are common question Patty and I have about Michelle. As we move forward in time without her, how much of her will we remember? Thirty years from now will we have a hard time remembering her fifteen years? If we do, will it be a blessing or a curse?

I’ve hear one counselor describing grief like a circle, and in the circle we draw our memories of what we miss. Over time the memories may fade, but as we recall them we re-draw them. Sometimes we may add more detail that we re-called. Sometimes we add detail that we imagine should be there. That last one is why we tend to remember the good times more than the bad. We choose what we remember. As life goes on the circle grows, and we are granted more space to draw more memories. Our memories of Michelle stay in that same space of her 15 years. They don’t shrink. They don’t fade. They just become less than the whole.

Patty and I hate phrases like; “Get over it” and “Move on”. We don’t want to get over it or move on. We want everyone to know about our wonderful daughter, who’s life ended much too quickly. At the same time it scares us to think that 30 years from now our memories of Michelle may fade. Thankfully we have technology to help us. We have photos and videos. We also have each other. We have captured and saved what others have shared with us. We also take the time to record and share our memories. Maybe technology will be our saving grace to not forget Michelle.

Several times throughout the evening I would be on the receiving end of the question, “How are you doing?” I’ll share a secret about parents that have lost a child. When we receive this question, we usually evaluate the person and environment. If we give you a short answer, like “fine” or “okay”, then we are lying and we just have determined it is not the right time or place to be honest. We don’t mean anything dishonest in the answer. We just have learned that it is the answer most people want to hear us say, and it just makes things easier for both of us.

If the situation is optimal, we may choose to give the real answer. We are miserable. We are depressed. We are chronically sad. Our lives are adrift. Forever in our lives there is a moment that we will wish to travel back in time to before, and prevent the bad thing from happening. That is our obsession, and it casts a shadow over everything else going on around us. Nothing else matters. That is a message that is hard to get out in most social situations. That is why the lie of, “okay”, is just more convenient.

Most people want to hear that we are doing “okay”, so when we give them that answer, they are happy and we move the conversation into another direction. I don’t change the conversation. Parents don’t get tired of talking about their children just because they are no longer alive. It is usually the misconception of the other person that they will trigger us if they stay on the subject.

At this gathering of college friends, there was one friend that showed more interest in my wellbeing. I gave him the practiced reply; sigh … shrug … “I’m doing okay.” Instead of changing the subject, he looked through my veil and saw my sadness. He then asked, “What can I do to make you happy?”

It took me by surprise. Over the past 16 months I have not prepared a response. Finally I said, “You can’t. Nobody can give me what I want.” That is the harsh reality of this situation. It cannot be fixed. Not here. The only thing Patty and I want is to be reunited with Michelle. We would give up everything we have to make this happen.

We believe that we will be reunited with Michelle. We don’t know when, but it will be under circumstances where we do give up everything we have. When the end comes, we give up everything.

Until then, for Patty and I, happiness is elusive. That is going to have to be “okay” for us, and for those that care about us. There is nothing that anyone can do for us that has not already been done. We can’t have Michelle back with us, but we can carry Michelle forward with us. That is our mission and purpose for whatever remaining time we have. We don’t want to forget about Michelle. We want to help others remember her. We want others to know about her. We are proud of our heavenly daughter, we miss her and we look forward being with her again. It is a parent thing. You never stop being a parent.blog122018e.jpg

A new tradition…

Keith, Thomas, Robert, and I decided we wanted to embark on a new tradition that will help us to continue to be able to honor Michelle and shine her light for others to see so that she is never forgotten in the hearts of many.

What came into our thoughts was wanting to give back to the schools that Michelle loved so very much. Johnson Elementary and Highlands Middle. She will forever be 15 years old and an 8th grade graduate to me.

We decided a great way to  keep her memory alive was through each of these school libraries. So today, Keith and I delivered the first 2 books donated by us in Michelle’s honor and memory.

To Johnson, we chose The Nutcracker story.  Michelle debuted in The Nutcracker for the first time when she was in 5th grade. She was in the Party Scene as a Party Boy. She went on the next 2 years to land the role as Soldier. And ended her Nutcracker career with the Cincinnati Ballet as Lead Soldier (a prestigious honor generally reserved for Academy Students which Michelle was not. The Kids Cast Director later told Keith and I that it was a no-brainer: Michelle had earned this role by her dedication and purpose and love for the production.) She was also a  Dragon Carrier that final year. And I’ll never forget her telling me about the relationship she built with the kind, older man, who held her part of the Dragon Stick until it was handed off to Michelle for the Dragon run of the production. She told me how kind he was and that they eventually began to call each other by name. That was our Michelle.

To Highlands Middle, we chose The Mark of Athena. This was the summertime book Michelle was reading when she passed. It still sits on her dresser where she last placed it. A dog-eared page marks page 456 of 574 total pages. There were 2 pages left on page 456 and then the next chapter began. This book was important to her because she and her friends loved the series. Jeannie and Sydney introduced her to the author. Michelle told me they would often discuss plot twists at lunchtime.

Both books seemed very fitting as our first 2 to donate in Michelle’s honor. Each book has a sticker plaque in it about Michelle. And it’s our hope that whoever checks these out of the libraries will take a moment and remember what a special gift Michelle was to so many.

To the schools, thank you for allowing us this one small way to keep our girl’s light shining.

We are blessed in our sorrow.

BookDonation

I wish…

I wish I had the pleasure of meeting George HW Bush. That’s what kept going through my mind as various people rose to speak about this great man.

He was so much more than a President of the United States. The stories of his life before and after this prestigious position he held is what captivated me.

The story his friend told of when he wept in the middle of the ocean when he realized his men had not survived …and he did. He wondered why God let him live. After hearing about the life he went on to live, and his impact on so many, I understood why God ‘let him live’. His job on earth was not finished. He had more to do here.

And then the stories from his grand-daughters. Jenna said something to the effect that when her Grandpa was with her, he was fully present. That you would never know there was an important summit coming up or meeting with a dignitary. He played with them and was in the moment. And he was just their Grandpa.
Or Barbara, how she got to spend 2 weeks with him alone during the last part of his life on earth, just the 2 of them, and she cared for him. And what a special time that was for her. One she cherished. I continue to say one of my greatest gifts was being able to take care of my Dad the last couple months of his life. I bet my siblings would say the same.

~~
And when GW spoke. My tears were streaming. He recalled his Dad’s last words on this earth were… “I love you, too”. And why this resonated with me so much is because when I would get to tuck Dad in his bed, I’d kiss his head like I always did, tell him I love him, and very weakly he would say, “I love you too.” A Dad’s love for his child. Whether he was once the President of the United States or an ordinary, yet extraordinary, man like my Dad.
And the other thing GW spoke of that resonated with me… He said his Dad’s greatest hardship in life was the loss of Robin. As you know, GWH had been through ALOT in his life, so the signifcance and depth of that statement shows the enormity of the loss of a child. The loss of his beloved daughter, Robin.

And then the closing, final words:

“And we’re going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So, through our tears, let us see the blessings of knowing and loving you — a great and noble man, and the best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”

Powerful.

purple dress

…holding her Poppy’s finger. Then, and for eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief is exhausting

There’s no rule book and everyone grieves differently.

For me, I cannot shut off my thoughts. Which means sleep does not come easy.

But tonight is a new low in my sleep patterns since Michelle died. Laying here now, I can’t stop thinking of her and I realize I’ve been up for a straight 24 hours. Minus maybe a few minutes of drifted off sleep. Only to be woken by harsh reality.

This beautiful face. I feel like it’s been eternity since I’ve seen Michelle.

And yet, the next time I DO see her, it WILL be for eternity.

Wait for me, baby girl. I miss you fiercely.