11/13/18

In a world where you can be anything, be kind.

 

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Some days…

Most of my blog posts are not very uplifting. It’s why I choose to blog rather than just make a facebook post. Because that way, if you don’t want to hear or read the sadness, you don’t have to. This is my journal of sorts. I encourage those who want to, to peek in at our family’s life. If not, no worries. I do this for me.

Some days suck. Lots of days suck. Some way more than others. Today I find myself feeling melancholy. It comes on and hits like a ton of bricks, out of nowhere. Wasn’t I fine just an hour ago? I want to go to the cemetery to sit with her but it’s so daggone cold. Last year, the cold didn’t bother me. I went anyway. Nothing could keep me away.  So why is it different this winter? Am I used to her being dead and don’t feel the need to go….even when it’s cold.? God, I hope not.

This week brought 2 evenings of grief support groups. Monday was a holiday grief session ….basically to learn how to brace yourself for what’s about to come. Keith and I took my mom to this meeting with us. Because now, Keith and I have a double dose of grief….. losing my Dad just a bit over a month ago. And hoping to help my Mom navigate her way through these days. Then Tuesday was our STARS group that we’ve been going to for over a year now. We have made great friends with our leaders and 2 other couples. All 4 of us couples have experienced the unthinkable. The loss of a child. 3  were sudden with no goodbyes (ages 20, 15, and 15) and 1 was a long, drawn-out, horrid leukemia goodbye….on a little girl, age 6.

It’s what our life has become. Grief support sessions. On the ride home, I asked Keith, “Will we ever be happy again?” For I fear not. I fear this is it for the rest of our lives here on earth til we join Michelle in heaven, and see her standing next to the face of God. I think about it every day.

I remember when I’d daydream about going to Hilton Head. It’s a vastly different  daydream now. May you never have this daydream.

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Michelle on the beaches of Hilton Head – summer before 4th or 5th grade.
My sweet, sweet girl.

Fifteen.

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Fifteen

She will forever be fifteen.

It was fifteen months ago.

The list of experiences we are denied from having with her is long.
The emptiness we feel in our hearts and in our lives is vast.

We pray. We receive counseling. We cry. We console each other.
We wake up each morning wondering how we will find the strength to get through the day.
We stumble through the day wondering the meaning of anything we encounter.
We lay our heads down at the end of the day, asking God how many more days we must endure.

We are sensitive to the tragedies of others.

Through our own experiences, we know their pain and the road they walk.

Everyday there is a reminder that Michelle is gone and our family is forever incomplete.

Everyday we are reminded that nothing is guaranteed, and everything can change in an instant.

Everyday we aim to choose the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Everyday we struggle against the worldly vices of Doubt, Despair and Indifference.

We lean on the memories of her. The bittersweet memories of her.

The ones that force us to stop and ponder every detail so that we may never forget.
The ones that make us smile, and the ones that make us cry.
The ones that remind us of how much she meant to us.
The stories from others, that affirm to us how special she was.

If the bargain could be made, we would give up everything we have, to be reunited with her.
Then the realization that someday, we will leave behind everything and will be reunited with her.

We long for that day. We welcome that day. We embrace the promise it would bring.

That is how we have spent everyday of the past fifteen months.

~Keith

Crazy Hair Day

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One thing that Michelle loved was Crazy Hair Day during Red Ribbon Week…..until she didn’t love it anymore.
She loved it up until her cousin passed away from an accidental heroin overdose. And then Michelle took Red Ribbon Week much more serious.

In the early years of her schooling, these pictures show how I fixed her hair. And it was the exact same style….every.year. She and I had fun doing it. I miss fixing her hair………whether it was crazy, a bun for Nutcracker, curls for recital, or straightened just for the day.

But when Jacob died. She no longer thought it was fun to fix her hair crazy, to dress in PJs for school, or wear mix matched socks. In fact, she told her Student Council just that in 8th grade when she served as VP. She wanted to do more serious stuff that week, she told me. She was even thinking about telling Jacob’s story to the Student Council. But I think with busy schedules and quick meetings, she never got the chance. My girl had many missions. She grabbed onto a cause and didn’t let go. Not all of her lofty ideas and goals would come to fruition. But it didn’t matter to me. It was that the thoughts were in her heart. And Michelle’s heart was a great place to be.

{Red Ribbon Week concluded on Friday and I thought this would be a fitting blog post.}

 

23

23.

23 caring, kind, sophomores.

23 classmates and friends of Michelle.

Some are friends from JES years, some (along with their moms) were on Michelle’s 8th grade DC bus, some she cheered with for many years, some she had classes with at HMS, ans some, acquaintances.

But all of these parents and kids have one thing in common. They are not forgetting Michelle. In fact, they are carrying Michelle through their high school years with them. These kids and their parents are Keith’s and my beacon of hope.

They don’t have to do anything. There are no obligations set forth in stone for them to continue to honor Michelle. Some background on August 1, 2017: when I was in the Emergency Room seeing Michelle the night she died, I prayed to God. Looking back I cannot fathom I had any types of organized thoughts to be able to pray. Thank you, Holy Spirit. I told God to give me all the grief. I would and could take it. IF I could know she was safely and joyfully in Heaven with Him. If she was ‘good’, I would take all the suffering on earth of missing her immensely. I also prayed to Michelle that very night when it was all so fresh, only very little time had passed since she died. But I spoke to Michelle and I told her, “I will never let anyone forget the person you were as long as I’m still on this earth.” I guess I was almost declaring a mission right then and there. Again, how did I have any organized, formulated thoughts? So back to ’23’….my thoughts are that God was going to help me with this mission. But deep down God was telling me, “Patty, do you know what you are getting yourself into? Because that is a monumental task!” And so you know what, God gave Keith and I MANY to help us continue to shine Michelle’s light.
These 23 kids are a HUGE part of it.

They remembered her at HoCo 2017.
They threw her a very memorable Sweet 16 Birthday party sending sky lanterns with messages to her up into the skies.
….And they didn’t forget her again for HoCo 2018.

After persevering through the day on Oct. 20, always sad because it’s another high school rite of passage that Michelle won’t get to experience, it was about 7:45pm and Robert told me someone was knocking at the front door. Keith had gone to visit some friends and so I opened the door, turned on the porch light, and what my eyes took in, was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a very long time. From my front porch, lined up all the way down our front sidewalk and to our driveway, were 23 amazing kids who came to our house to let us know they did not forget Michelle. There were 4-5 cars or vans with headlights … in our driveway, the neighbors’ driveways. It was so beautiful. I was so taken aback, I’m sure I just stood for a minute in awe and I finally took the first roses from the 2 girls standing right in front of me and then a big hug. This continued, single file, a rose and a hug. 23 kids. 23 roses. Roses of various beautiful colors. Each had a yellow ribbon on the rose, and each friend wrote a message on the ribbon. 23 hugs. And more than 23 tears.

I’m thankful for these pictures shared with me by ‘the moms.’ I love them so much. But what I can tell you is they do not do the scenic view for me any sort of  justice. Forever in my heart, I can look out our front door in the dark of the night, and envision 23 kids standing with roses, making their way up to me one by one. It’s captured in my heart and won’t ever escape.

When Michelle died, the hole it left in mine and Keith’s heart was HUGE. For some reason, I can’t help but think that God is helping repair that hole by these acts of kindness of 23 kids and their parents. Of course it goes without saying, no one will ever take the place of our sweet, sweet girl. And Keith and I will never ever be healed. But God has placed these kids and their families into our life for a reason. And we truly don’t know what we do without them.

Thank you, 23. Thank you parents of 23. We love you.
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Highlands High School Class of 2021, a class act. Of Kindness.

 

She was a giver…

Sponsorship Help: Written 10/1/18, Seemed appropriate to post 10/15/18 ~ my 50th birthday

As I sit here waiting and preparing myself to go to my Dad’s Funeral in a bit, I’m reminded of lots of things. In the forefront of my mind, of course, is saying goodbye to Dad. Today is the 1st day of the month. That means Michelle has been gone for 14 months. Today is also the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Reflecting back, I don’t remember the month of October at all last year. But what I DO remember that relates back to what I’m about to get at, is my Dad and Mom driving me to Christ Hospital every single day for 5 weeks, accompanying me to my radiation treatments. And I know there were days it was too early, and days that Dad didn’t feel the best himself. But he took care of me anyway. Putting his needs aside. Similarly, Michelle did the exact same thing….she took care of me every step of my cancer journey. Never selfish. Always mindful of my health. Now my Dad and Michelle are rejoicing in heaven with Jesus, Mary, all the angels and saints.

As we begin Breast Cancer Awareness month, there were 2 charities that Michelle made it her mission to follow and help if she could.
–One is Chicks and Chucks. Michelle met Cathy “Chick” Halloran for the first time when we went to pick out my wig. Instant connection. Michelle loved seeing Chick at Church and ultimately chose Chick to be her Confirmation Sponsor. They had both some funny and serious talks through the course of that preparation. When Michelle loved, she was all in, with her whole heart. This was the case with Cathy.
–The other is The Karen Wellington Foundation and takes a bit more explaining. Some great friends of ours nominated us to be recipients of a trip provided by this foundation. In the summer of 2015, our family went to Steamboat Springs, CO. In typical Michelle fashion, she soaked every moment up while we were there and it was truly the adventure that the foundation intends for it to be. She never forgot that. And so in April of her 8th grade year, she went to her Student Council Sponsor, and told him that she and another student wanted to do an impromptu, quick fundraiser for the KWF. Her sponsor did not say no. I remember driving her to Michaels to get some subtle decorations for the school and some pink ribbons for the kids who donated. She was always late coming to the car after school because she would collect the money boxes around the school and lock them up in the office. The last day of school she came home with a few checks, some cash, and a lot of coins. She wrote a letter and included the donations just like she received them and our dear friend delivered her envelope to the KWF. $127.98 will be an amount to forever remain in my memory.

So I decided to honor both of these charities. And here’s where you can help me if you want. For those of you who may not know, I work for a jewelry company that designs very meaningful styles. KEEP Collective has a new Inspo Bracelet, “Strength”, that is specific for this month of awareness. With your $19 donation, one of these bracelets will be included in the pouch I’m preparing with lotion, lip balm, etc. My goal is “15” pouches to Cathy Halloran so that she can give a pouch to a newly diagnosed patient that comes into her boutique. And “15” pouches to the KWF that they can give to trip recipients with their trip announcement.

If you’ve read to this point, thank you.
If you would like to make a donation of $19 for a bracelet of Strength to go into my pouches, please let me know. Your name will be included in my note to the recipient. You can pick which charity or I can decide. It’s up to you. You can donate by PayPal to pchalk@juno.com and I will create a bulk order. Personal checks are acceptable too.
In addition, KEEP is donating 20% of this bracelet to Bright Pink, a non-profit organization focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in women. To show my appreciation, at the beginning of November, I am giving away 2 Vera Bradley little hipsters in their Breast Cancer charitable pattern.
(1 for each charity represented).
As always, my family and I are very thankful and grateful to all of you.

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Michelle with Chick of Chicks and Chucks
Michelle taking it all in at Steamboat Springs, CO, courtesy of The Karen Wellington Foundation, as well as, at least 4 very generous families.

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Sponsorship Goals.

 

If the walls could talk…

If the walls could talk, oh what stories could be told.
This will be a little different than my usual blog posts. But nevertheless, one that has me reflecting back in time. And of course when I reflect back in time, my thoughts always go to when our kids were young…..

While Johnson Elementary desperately needs a new building, and I’m ultimately thrilled this is finally happening….. it gave me pause to reflect when this sign went up in our school yard.

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It is bittersweet to me. Yes, I’ll admit it. I tend to become attached to things, objects, momentos, people, and buildings. All 5 of us (The Chalk Family) walked these hallways. Heck, even my Mom and Dad did too as they attended countless Grandparents’ Days. Our kids and Keith and I, made memories here. We built long-lasting friendships. Little did we know when Thomas began Pre-school here in 2001 how important those friendships would become and how much we would lean on many JES families and teachers and staff. Our kids thirst for knowledge in their early years flourished here, they formed their social circles, and participated in many, many extra-curricular activities through the years.

When Thomas was in 3rd grade, I was so blessed to be asked to serve on the PTO. For 7 years I was able to work with a great principal and a great board, who became my friends…in order to make decisions and raise funds to better our little school. And when Robert began 1st grade, I even decided to substitute teach here in these walls. These were literally the best years of my life I would venture to say.  My kids were young, I was a stay-at-home mom, and I was able to be up at the school alot. I loved the interaction with our JES community.

In January of 2014, my time on the PTO board and substitute teaching had to come to an abrupt end when I was diagnosed with cancer. I remember it being a very difficult decision to give all of that up. Most of my duties involved Staff & Student Appreciation. So there was alot of intrinsic value to me in showing kindness to the great people at Johnson. They deserved it. But ultimately, I knew it was the right decision. Especially since one of my great friends took over the position for me.

We had great years in this school building. I say we because of the countless Open Houses, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and Hullabaloos that Keith and I participated in as parents.  Thomas learned to talk better at the preschool, he sped through Math Facts in a Flash early on in 2nd grade, and got a slip in 5th grade for writing on a wall. Remember I said, “If these walls could talk!” To his credit, he was on various medications for his migraines and to say it altered his personality and academic behaviors was an understatement. Nevertheless, a memory within these walls. Michelle was a Daisy here. Read the Geronimo Stilton books in 3rd grade for her Author Study. Took on a leadership role in 5th grade and thoroughly enjoyed getting to make some decisions for the student body. And Robert grew up quickly within these walls and halls. He was only in 3rd grade when I was diagnosed. He grew as a person academically and learned to adapt in social situations. He was my little man helper during those PTO days of mine and his favorite thing was helping me with the AR Store. Oh I could go on and on as a proud mom of all the Awards Days, Spelling Bees, accolades, and other proud Mom moments.

But when the school day is done, it is what it is. Just walls. Just halls. Just a building. In my heart, we all know it is the wonderful families, staff, teachers, and administration that make Johnson Elementary the awesome school that it is. But I still wish I could hear what those walls had to say all of those years……

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With love, Dad.

My dad was laid to his rest on October 1. Just exactly 14 months to the day we lost Michelle.

We’ve used the phrase Live Free Like Michelle for awhile now. But this morning I found myself saying, ‘Live free, Dad.’ …..Free from sickness, disease, and heartache.

Most men don’t have to see 3 grandkids and a son-in-law go before him. But Dad did. And that’s where his heartache came in. My Dad was steadfast love, strong, tall, brave, gentle, talented, and a hard-working provider for my family. Until he wasn’t. And that’s when his sickness and disease came in.

I was absorbed in my own grief this past year. I wasn’t able to drive to all of the doctor appointments that my brothers and sisters did. But I think Dad understood my heart was broken and I was frozen and numb and useless to them.

And in July I was already mentally preparing myself for Michelle’s one year anniversary. I was in Columbus with my besties mid-July when my sister texted Dad went to the ER by ambulance after a fall in their home. I wasn’t *too alarmed. There has been other times we called the ambulance for Dad. As an aside, one of the great medics who was with Michelle, was also the one who came for Dad that night. Dad told me they spoke about Michelle.

So that was in mid-July and then on Keith’s birthday, July 27, the doctors finally discovered why Dad had been feeling so lousy. Cancer. August 1 was coming and this, too, was staring me in the face. Mentally, I had to ‘get through’ til August 2. I don’t know why. I just did.

And then there was a moment when I realized I would never stop grieving Michelle. The year was past now and I was still just as hurt. So being absent for the past year, I was now being given a gift by God and Michelle. And that gift was time.

I got 2 months of time to be able to care for my Dad (and Mom) in their own home, along with all of my siblings and Keith, too. You see, the previous 4 deaths: Dean, LeMaur, Jacob, and Michelle were all sudden. We had no time to prepare and no time to say goodbye.

God knew. And Michelle knew. And I got 2 months with Dad.

It was an honor to be able to do what my siblings, mom, and I did for Dad. It’ll forever be in my heart. The gift of time I’ve learned is a great gift.

~Things that caught my eye over the course of 2 months ‘living’ back at Mom and Dad’s house. The house that built me.~

Spiritual Warfare, by Keith

Spiritual Warfare

One afternoon I was listening to a podcast of Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN. She was discussing the sorrows of Mary. Specifically she was helping her listeners imagine what Mary experienced during the Passion of Jesus. She watched his suffering. She witnessed her son abused. What must she have felt?
In the early days shortly after Michelle’s death, I could feel an oppressive spirit. A feeling of all the oxygen sucked out of the room. A feeling of despair. A feeling of doubt. A feeling of darkness. A feeling of rage. A feeling of hopelessness. Looking back on that time, I see it as an invitation to give in to a temptation. To lash out at God. “Why God? Why did Michelle have to die? What did she do wrong? What did we do wrong?”
My answer came in the form of Michelangelo’s Pieta.

A woodcarving of this famous sculpture is on display at Saint Xavier church. When we attend the 7am mass, we usually sit near it.
Gazing upon the Pieta I can imagine Mary asking similar questions to God, and then I quickly correct myself and ponder, “Would Mary question God?” I don’t think so. The mother of Jesus would feel sorrow, but not despair. She would grieve, but not doubt.
I think it was the prayers of so many people that helped Patty and I get through those dark days. Those praying for us, if they knew it or not, they were engaged in spiritual warfare for our souls. They won. We doubled down on God. We do not know his plan. We may not even be capable of understanding his plan. We do trust that he has a plan, and it is a good plan, and we have our part to play.
Through our trials, we have an opportunity to get closer to God. Through Patty’s cancer treatment, our prayer life increased and so did our Faith. Through Michelle’s death, our desire to be reunited with her increased our Hope in the promises of God. And while caring for Patty’s father, we are constantly reminded of the 3 theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. The greatest being Love, particularly in this instance …our family’s love.

Patty and I often wondered, “What was Michelle’s guardian angel doing? Why didn’t he protect her?” The obvious answer is, “It was not the Will of God.” It does not mean he was off duty. To the contrary, he probably provided her comfort and protection along the journey.
I believe in God and angels. There may even be angels among us. They are servants of God, as too we should be. I believe that Michelle is among them now, and serves God according to his will. I live my life now in hopes to be with her when my time comes.