I ran into Melinda (literally) at a Christmas party for chronically ill kids at the Children’s hospital Mike was being seen at in Texas. She was scooting around in a wheelchair and we ran into each other as she spun around. She whispered something like, “bitch” under her breath and took off in the other direction. She left an impression. I asked around about her. This was back before HIPPA laws.
She was absolutely beautiful. She was 15 years old with long dark hair, fair complexion and a very spunky spirit. I was told she had Cystic Fibrosis. Mike wasn’t hospitalized as much back then but 2-3 times a year so I got to know Melinda because she was in quite a bit.
Melinda would tell me about how she didn’t like being in the hospital because there was no one at home to take care of her little brother when she was inpatient. She worried about her mother too. She needed to take care of her also. Melinda was the caretaker in the home. She never mentioned her father.
She was so sick. I wanted to motivate her. I adored her. I wanted her to get better. We would talk about treatments and things. One time she was particularly sick and she said to me, “Do you . . . do chest PT . . . for your son?” She was having a hard time breathing and talking. I replied, “Oh, yes every day. At least two times a day. More when he is sick.” “Good,” she said, “because no one ever did it for me and now I am like this.” My heart broke. I started to do her chest PT when I was there to visit.
I never ran into her mother all the times I visited Melinda. I found out that her mother was a prostitute and things started to make sense. I really didn’t know much more than that because Melinda didn’t talk about her much. We talked about dreams that Melinda had and things she wanted to do. She wanted to learn to play piano. She liked music. A secret admirer gave her a keyboard for Christmas along with a warm jacket because she was worried about going home for a few days because it was so cold.
Teresa Ris and I would decorate her room for whatever holiday she would be spending in the hospital. I know we decorated for her sweet 16 and I think also for St. Patrick’s Day. She always enjoyed that so much. It seemed like I was always finding kids that needed help while Mikey was in the hospital. The women in my neighborhood were great about rallying resources to meet their needs or give them a little treat. I wondered if Lyn Prz and Teresa Ris would ever tire of my requests but they never did. Bless those women.
I remember the day I was pulled aside by a nurse and told that Melinda was in end-stage CF. I didn’t understand what that meant. She wasn’t going to get better I was told – she was nearing the end. I would go visit her every day after I took Mikey and Katie to school. The day came when I got a phone call that Melinda didn’t have much more time. I had 20 – 25 women at my house. We were talking about starting a service league in our area. I motioned for Teresa to come over and I told her what was happening. I said I had to go. Teresa took over and I left.
Melinda was struggling for every breath when I got there. It was heartbreaking. She was sleeping/not conscious. When she woke up she told me she had a bad headache. I looked on her table and I saw a pile of pills. I called someone in and they said she hadn’t taken them. I insisted they crush them and put them in her feeding tube. Shortly after that a woman appeared with a man. In short order with all the wailing I realized it was Melinda’s mother. I didn’t know who the large man with her was but he made me nervous. He just sat in a chair in the corner and didn’t say a word.
I left that day and came back the next day. By then Melinda was struggling even harder. The mother and the man were still there. Melinda was in and out of consciousness and it was hard to hear and understand her when she would talk. When she would wake up and try to speak her mother would start wailing and yelling and telling Melinda to speak up. Her (Melinda’s mom) I love yous were heartfelt and often. It was obvious Melinda was trying to communicate something. She would point at me no matter where I was in the room. I knew she wanted to talk to me and I so desperately wanted to talk to her. I came closer. This mother was so distraught. She wouldn’t budge from Melinda’s side. I was sitting on Melinda’s right side and she could barely raise her finger and she pointed at me again. With great effort she raised her chest and got enough air to expel, “I yove yew”. Maybe it was just wishful thinking but I believe that was for me but as I moved closer her mother grabbed her and said, “Oh, baby, I love you too . . .”
I didn’t want to make a scene. The man scared me. I wanted to take nothing away from this distraught mother.
I said nothing. NOTHING
And that is why I am telling you this story.
My heart was bursting in pain. I loved Melinda and I never told her. I was trying not to cross any lines with her (these are the excuses I used to console myself). I treated her like my own daughter but she wasn’t mine. I would go visit her and we talked about everything of secondary importance but not what was most important. I never witnessed to her verbally. I never told her I loved her.
I left the hospital shortly after that, as it was time to go to school and pick up Mike and Katie. I never saw Melinda alive again. There was a short obituary in the paper. It gave the address of the funeral home and hours of visitation. It also listed the church where her funeral service would be held the day after the visitation. I got in my car planning to be at the visitation when it opened. I got horribly lost in Ft. Worth. It took me an extra hour and a half to get there. I found the room that her visitation was said to be in. The room was empty. But at the front of the room was a casket and there was Melinda – just like I met her – all alone.
I looked around and couldn’t even find a funeral director. This place was desolate. I walked over to Melinda. She looked so peaceful and as beautiful as ever. She had on a beautiful red velvet dress that was about 2-3 sizes too small. My heart was broken. I was sick with thoughts of should haves. I told her I loved her and said good-bye.
The next day I went to the funeral. You can’t even imagine my relief to see the hospital chaplain there conducting a beautiful service in coordination with another pastor. Melinda had picked out all the hymns and Bible verses herself. I was so relieved. Melinda was in heaven and I know I will see her again.
So . . .It is me that I spoke about in my last post. I know what it is like to love someone and hold back telling them until it is too late. IT HURTS. I have never regretted telling someone I love them. There have been times when telling someone that has led to misunderstandings but I have no regrets. But each time I have held back - the regret is unsettling. I am very fortunate that I will get to see Melinda again and when I do I will grab her in my arms and give her the biggest hug ever and tell her how much I LOVE HER!
There is another reason I share this story. Part of this is to help spread CF awareness. Shortly before Mike passed away he told his sister, “I didn’t think it would be like this. I thought they would find a cure by now.”
Melinda passed away at 16 years old. My son passed away at 31. Please help us find a cure so no one else has to endure this dreadful disease. We are getting closer. Thank you for your help. Thank you to all those who continue this fight against Cystic Fibrosis. So much progress has been made. Donations to CF help bring more tomorrows for these kids.
I miss my little Mikey. I am healing. I hope to post more about that tomorrow.
Blessings to you! Love it forward - while it is day :)