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In Memory of Melody by David Vantress

I miss my friend
Saying goodbye to the woman I love

By David Vantress
Star-Times Sports Editor

You know, life can be a strange thing.
One minute you're making plans for the future, planning a wedding,
looking forward to a life of happiness with the woman you love.
The next minute, you're attending her funeral.
That's the situation I found myself in last week as I lost my beloved
fiancee, Melody, to liver cancer at the young age of 49.
It was all the things you expect something like that to be.
Horrible, heartbreaking, nauseating. Like a nightmare, except you're
wide awake.
And you can't wake up from something you're wide awake for.

We found out a few months ago that Melody was sick.
But we thought we had time. We thought we were going to be able to
beat it.
Oh, how wrong we were.
I got the worst phone call of my life Sunday afternoon, on the road,
about 20 miles south of Mauston.
Somehow, mile marker 89 on I-90 north will never be the same.
Melody was in the hospital in Anderson, Indiana. Her cancer had
taken a drastic turn for the worse.
She was dying.
I talked to her on the phone for a few minutes late Sunday night. She
was already heavily medicated with painkillers and in and out of
"Hold on, baby," I told her, choking back the tears. "I'm coming."
"Okay, baby," she said as she faded off to sleep again. "I love you."
The only questions now were when she would pass away, and
whether or not I would make it to her side before that happened.
I wasn't able to leave until early Monday afternoon. As I made my
way southeastward as fast as my old car - and the speed limit -
would allow, somehow, someway, forces were lining up in my favor
for a change.
The Monday-afternoon Chicago rush-hour traffic was not as bad as
usual. I only had to hit the brakes a few times on theway.
And it didn't rain - a miracle in itself lately.
I arrived at Melody's bedside a little before 8:30 p.m. Most of her
family was there.
"I'm here, baby," I whispered in her ear as I gripped her hand tightly.
Her eyes opened wide; she tried to say something, but she couldn't.
"It's okay, honey," I said, not even trying to fight back the tears any
more. "I don't want you to go. But it's okay. I'll always love you."
Her eyes closed again - for the last time. She hung on for a few more
hours. It was very painful to watch: Every breath was a struggle.
All day long, I had been silently praying for a miraculous recovery.
Now, my focus changed. I prayed for God to end her suffering.
At about 11:30 p.m., my prayers were answered. As I sat there
holding her hand, Melody's breathing became more shallow and
quiet, and then, finally, mercifully, it stopped altogether.
She was gone.
The last week has been a waking nightmare: watching her big,
loving, heartbroken family plan her memorial service.
Going to her visitation, seeing how many other people loved and
cherished her - and finally, saying the last goodbyes at her funeral
and burial on Friday.
I don't know how I am going to go on without her, I really don't. But I
have to try.
Melody and I, as proper denizens of the high-tech 21st century
world, met online. And I fell in love with her right away.
She was funny, charming, beautiful, supportive - everything one
could ask for in a partner.
She loved people, she loved to read - and she got to do a lot of that,
being with me. She read all my columns, and was not afraid of
critiquing them or gently offering suggestions in her caring, loving,
supportive way.
She read the novel I wrote last year and loved every word of it.
Melody loved making the trip up here from Indiana. She was
supposed to come at the beginning of May, and we were supposed
to go house hunting.
But she didn't feel up to it.
I had some crazy ideas for us. I wanted us to get married at halftime
of a Mauston football game, and I was just about ready to ask Coach
Taake for his blessing for this little endeavor.
Melody listened to my quirky little idea, nodded, smiled. "I think we
can do that, honey. But can we have a real wedding first?"
Sure, I said. I was fine with that. I would have done naked
handstands on the 50-yard line if she had asked.
I'll always treasure my memories of the last time Melody came to
Mauston, in February. She came to the office, met my coworkers.
Everyone loved her. What a surprise - not.
And then we went to a Royall girls basketball game. She helped
keep stats and held onto my camera as I chased down Coach
Mossholder for quotes after the game.
Guess what? Covering a Royall girls basketball game won't ever be
the same, either.
On the way home, we talked about the game, and she gave me her
thoughts on what I should lead with.
I wish I had known that was going to be the last time I would really
see her. I wonder if she knew how much I loved her, how much she
meant to me, how glad I was that she came into my life, even if it
was just for a brief shining moment.
This past week, for me, has been an object lesson in one of life's
most painful realities: None of us know how much time we have on
this earth. So we have to make sure those we love know how we feel
about them. Don't wait. Tomorrow might be too late, because
tomorrow might never come.
This past week and a half has also taught me some more positive
things: among them, just how many people in this wonderful small
community care aboutme.
< Thanks to everyone who has offered a kind word or a hug at a time
when I needed it the most.
And thanks especially to my co-worker, Jesse Hirsch, who went
above and behyond the call of duty that dark Sunday night.
Let me tell you about what Jesse did. Sunday night, after I got the
call that Melody was dying, I was racing around here, trying to make
phone calls, pack a bag, get my head together - and deal with my
three kids at the same time.
My kids weren't doing anything wrong, mind you. They were just,
well, being kids. Which means they weren't listening or complying
with my efforts to have them sit quietly and watch a movie while I got
things done.
At my wit's end, in tears, I called Jesse, who I am guessing has
about as much experience with kids as I do as a professional athlete.
Jesse agreed in a New York second to come over and take my kids
to McDonald's for awhile so I could get some things done.
But then he got really brave. He took them to his place, and while I
was going to be happy with an hour to make some calls and pack a
bag, Jesse kept my tribe for more than three hours.
I'm sure you will read all about it soon. I can't wait to read about it
myself. Thanks from the bottom of my broken heart, Jesse.
Everyone has been wonderful.
I'll get through this somehow. I have three wonderful kids, supportive
friends and co-workers, and a job I love.
But right now, I also have a void in my life that you could drive a
semi through. It's an ache, an emptiness, a longing - it's hard to put
into words - and I am accustomed to having words for everything.
I guess you have to lose someone close to you before you can really
comprehend just how horrible this feels.
Through my grief, through the dark fog of the most unbelievable
anguish I have ever felt, through the raging rivers of tears that have
fallen from my eyes over the past week and a half, I've tried my best
to console myself with thoughts about how this is God's will, or that
she has gone to a better place.
Is it helping? A little. Does it still hurt? A lot. Will it ever stop hurting?
Probably not.
Signs are everywhere. Last week in Indiana, after Melody passed
Monday night, it rained pretty much nonstop Tuesday, Wednesday,
and Thursday.
Friday morning, I looked outside, and the day was sunny and bright.
It was like she was saying, "No more tears."
No more tears. I'll get right to work on that, honey.
Anogther sign came Saturday morning, when I woke up. There was
a baseball tournament to cover, but I wasn't sure my heart was in it
I pulled the covers back over my head and tried my best to drown
out the day.
But somewhere, somehow, Melody was talking to me.
She was saying, "Get your butt out of bed and go cover your game.
I'm going with you."
So off I went. And when I got there, I truly felt like it was where I
needed to be.
I've been reading up on the seven stages of grief, and I think I've
passed through the first phase, which is shock/denial.
Well, maybe there's still some denial there. Okay, maybe there's a
lot still there.
But I am finding myself moving into the anger stage: although I'm not
quite sure where to direct it: maybe at doctors who might have
missed this, maybe at a God, who I have always struggled to believe
in to begin with, that allows human refuse to walk the earth but
somehow needs to take away my Melody.
It's going to be a long journey. I can see that.
All week long after Melody died, everywhere I went in her hometown,
I was confronted with memories: places we stayed, shopped, ate,
walked, talked.
Late Friday night, as I eased off on the gas pedal to take the
Mauston exit off I-90, it started all over again.
On the right: the Mauston Park Oasis, where we usually stayed
when Melody came to visit, and the miniature golf place where we
played a few times with the kids.
On the right after I made the turn onto Route 82: Hearty Platter,
where we usually ate.
And it goes on and on.
And I have a feeling it's just getting warmed up.
Goodbye, Melody. I miss you, but you can rest now, baby. I love
you. I'll see you again.

Copyright © 2005-2008 All Rights Reserved Bev Swanson