Ten years ago today my mom passed away. Although her health had been going downhill, somehow it was still a shock. Maybe it was because I talked to her 20 minutes before she died and she sounded so strong and full of life (spunky even!), more so than she had in several weeks. Maybe it’s because she was only 58 years old. Maybe because she was my best friend and I couldn’t imagine living life without her. Whatever the reason, it shook the foundation of my life as if I were Neo in the Matrix and had just taken the red pill. In many ways, it still greatly effects me to this day…ten years later.
In the midst of the chaos of those first 24 hours…emotional turmoil due to the loss but also due to family strife (grieving sometimes brings out the worst in people)…I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to do something to memorialize my mom. Being a web designer, I wanted to purchase a domain name in her name for a future memorial website. So the very next day that’s exactly what I did. I knew I couldn’t do anything with it for a while. The pain was too raw…too fresh…too hard. That first year I spent most of the year creating jewelry that my mom had planned to make for the family for Christmas and learning all about scrapbooking so that I could make scrapbooks for my siblings of Mom’s life. That was my first labor of love in her name. It was an outlet for my feelings and a way to do just one more thing for her.
The scrapbooking project alone was painful, yet healing in a way. It helped me to remember stories of my mom and to just relive her life. I scanned many pictures to replicate for the scrapbooks and included a CD of those scanned pictures in the scrapbook itself so that everyone would have digital copies they could print from if they wanted additional photos. I knew this could be a foundation for the website later.
But true healing is a journey and it takes time to move on…to heal…to process. It reminds me of a quote from Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, who is talking about moving on after the loss of his wife:
Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breath in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breath in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.
I know it may sound trite to say ‘time heals all wounds’..but there are aspects about that saying that are true. I gave similar advice to this quote to someone who lost one of their close relatives unexpectedly a few years after I lost Mom. You simply put one foot in front of the other and tackle one day at a time and eventually those days become weeks, those weeks become months and those months become years. You may have to exist just minute by minute, hour by hour for a while. That’s okay.
As I said, even ten years later I think that process is still going on for me. Gone are the days of bursting into tears on a routine basis, but that doesn’t mean tears aren’t shed. Gone are the days where I feel like I can never move on…like I don’t *want* to move on because somehow that’s losing another part of her….like letting go is a betrayal. But those times are replaced by sadness that she never got to meet Stephen or the moments where I think, “I could really use my best friend right now.”
Those first five years were some of the hardest of my life and not just because my Mom was gone, but also because I lost my best friend at the same time. I know that’s so cliche, but she was the person I talked to about everything in my life, who gave me support and I supported her the same way in return. Talking to her several times a day on the phone was not unheard of, in fact it was the norm. There were lots of family changes those first 5 years and in many ways I was very very lonely…sometimes I still am. I’m not one who makes true friends easily. That might come a shock to some people because I’ve always been considered an extrovert, but while superficial chit chat may come easy to me most people don’t get to know me deeper than that. People still judge books by their cover. When you grow up not in the right ‘class’ or move into a well established small community, you just never get past the friendly acquaintance stage. When you go to a secular college and are more interested in God and political conservatism than popular culture, you just don’t fit in. So while I say my Mom was my best friend, in many ways she was my only true friend outside of my husband. Speaking of which, my husband was my lifeline during this time. He had already lost his Mom the year before I met him and I had helped him navigate those emotional waters for years, never thinking he would have to do the same thing for me so soon. Yet his Mom was only 40 when she died, so you just never know what is going to happen.
After about 5 years, I finally wanted to work on Mom’s website, but in true Mindi fashion, I didn’t just want to go and buy a template or use blog software. Oh, no, no, no, no, nooooooo. I wanted to give it all I had and be able to say I did it all myself! I’ve designed plenty of websites but I’ve always been the designer and Richard the coder. And while by many people’s standards I would probably be considered an expert at such things, I definitely didn’t have the breadth of knowledge I would need to make my vision a reality. So I set out to teach myself everything I need to know to create Mom’s website from the ground up without any packaged software help. I don’t know why it was so important to me to go about it this way, but I think it became a quest to place all my love and devotion for my mom into creating this thing from scratch, all by myself. I didn’t want to ask anyone for help, didn’t want to use someone else’s design or code…nope. All myself. It had to be completely MY gift of love to her.
So I bought numerous books and looked at various free online tutorials. I’m a research queen and I made it my life’s mission for a period of time to learn everything I needed to know to create mom’s site. It was like I put myself in school, scheduling large chunks of time out each day to go through a chapter or two of whatever book I was working on. I took the tests and did all the projects for each chapter and was feeling pretty good about what I was learning. At the same time I started working on creating my own business…I had become so engrossed in Mom’s last passion (creating jewelry) that it became my passion as well. I had registered a business name with the state of Ohio, bought a domain name, and was working on setting up all the tax accounts I would need to start a business.
Then I found out I was pregnant. It was such a blessing and honestly for reasons I won’t go into, the timing was totally a God thing. We had just been through something traumatic where we had to make some pretty heavy decisions that tore my heart out and I feel God blessed us for being faithful to his plan and not ours. Doing the God thing isn’t always easy for us humans.
Least to say everything else I was working on in my life, stopped. Nothing was more important than preparing for the baby and between that and my husband working very long hours for a project he was on, there wasn’t time for anything else. I spent all my time and creative energy moving rooms around, painting full length murals on all four walls of the nursery, making lists upon lists and lists of my lists! There were doctor’s appointments and NSTs and Ultrasounds and trips to Riverside Methodist Hospital for “genetic counseling” and special ultrasounds to check on our little one since I was “Advanced Maternal Age” (i.e. 35) and refused to do an Amniocentesis to check for genetic abnormalities due to the risks it brings. In some ways life stopped while a new life was beginning.
Life has been new and exciting since we’ve had Stephen. Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been struggles and frustrations along the way, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything…I wouldn’t trade Stephen for anything. Having Stephen healed my heart a little more..no, no one can take the place my Mom had, but being a Mom myself now gives me new ways that I connect with my Mom even with her gone. It has given me a new place to pour out my abundance of love that had no where to go when she died. Some joy I thought was lost and would never return came in the form of Stephen. As Stephen became a toddler and now a preschooler, I began to reflect on the things I wanted to do again…on projects I didn’t complete, on things I wanted to accomplish. It’s like coming out of a fog…a happy fog…but a fog none the less.
So late last year as it hit me that Mom will have been gone ten years this year, I knew I wanted to do something to mark the anniversary. Something dedicated to her memory. At first I looked into other things to memorialize her for all to see. Things like an engraved plaque or bench at Franklin Park Conservatory or, better yet, Dawes Arboretum. Mom loved her flowers and trees and especially loved Dawes…we went there plenty of times growing up as we lived not far away for many years and she also grew up in the area as well. I was disappointed when I looked into these types of memorials and found out they are not permanent. They’re not exactly cheap donations and I had no idea that they only lasted for x number of years and that they weren’t even obligated to give you the item (plaque, bench, whatever) when they took it down after those years.
Eventually I came back to doing the memorial website. But with an active 3 year old and a plan to start home preschool soon (we’re in week 4 as I write this!), I knew I could no longer hold onto the idea that I could create the site from scratch by myself. So I decided to go with blog software I knew, find a theme I could adapt to my vision as closely as possible and go from there. So for the past 4 months, I have spent many hours working on the site…obsessing over it, tweaking it. The perfectionist in me is still not happy with it…I have things I want to adjust and I ran out of time to put all the content I want up there. But then I thought, maybe that’s good…all the framework is done and her life story is told, but I can add more photos and more stories as the memories flood in. I’m also more than willing to put up other family or friend’s stories they would like to share, so feel free to use the ‘contact me’ link at the bottom to send me anything you would like to share with everyone.
If you got to the end of this post, thanks for reading. I’m a lover of words, I got that from Mom. 😉 And if you want to find out about a great woman, maybe you’ll be willing to read a little more and check out my mom’s story. It can be found at http://www.melodyhardwick.com
Thanks for listening. I love you, Mom. I know you’re up there dancing and singing with the angels.
As with all families in the military, the family was without the father part of the time and Melody was a strong woman dealing with doing everything at home when needed without the aid of family. The other military wives became her surrogate family. After coming back from a combat zone, Gary was never the same and their marriage would eventually fall apart.
Melody moved herself and her 2 young children back to Buckeye Lake, Ohio to be close to her family and to find a fresh start. Melody settled back into life in Ohio and her old stomping grounds, reconnecting with family and friends. Melody even joined a Christian singles club and on May 26th, 1974 she met William Sherman Hardwick Sr. at one of their events. He saw her from across the room and asked her to dance. Bill was also divorced and had 3 children from a previous marriage, ranging in age from 10 to 13.
Bill and Melody had a fast and furious courtship and before they knew it they were talking about making a life together. Melody had always wanted a big family so she was up for the challenge. Less than three months after they met on the dance floor of a Christian single’s club event, Bill and Melody were saying their “‘I do’s”. Melody’s children, now ages 5 and 6, served as the flower girl and the ring bearer in a small, mostly family, ceremony.
At this point, only Melody’s children were living with the newlyweds, but that would all change one night when Bill’s ex-wife, who had primary physical custody of their three children, would show up on their doorstep one night and ask Bill and Melody to take the children. Melody opened her heart and her home to this new family unit, her very own version of the tv show, The Brady Bunch.
Blending two families together isn’t always the easiest thing, and it certainly presented a unique set of challenges with such a large family, but together Bill and Melody navigated these uncharted waters. Life was busy raising a newly created family of 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls, but that didn’t stop Bill and Melody from wanting their own child as well. It wasn’t long before they found out that their family of 5 would expand yet again to include a new child of their very own. In the summer of 1975, Bill and Melody welcomed a little girl into the world, rounding out their family to three boys and three girls, ranging in age from newborn to 15.
As their family expanded it seemed like their living quarters shrunk so they had several moves in their first few years of marriage. Eventually they rented a mobile home in the country. Their landlord owned several mobile homes and a house on the property that he rented out and he was looking for someone to help manage his properties. This opportunity seemed to be a great fit for them and appeared to be an easy enough responsibility, but the stories they could tell you would make your hair stand up on end! There certainly was nothing boring about their new life in the country!
The new rental house still had a decent sized yard but was heated with a wood burning stove, which meant Bill had to split a lot of wood and they had to store it up for the winter. They lived here comfortably for a couple of years before their youngest and her husband decided to move back up to Ohio in March of 1997 from North Carolina to be closer to family. They moved in with Bill and Melody temporarily and put most of their belongings in storage until they could find a place to rent. It was cramped quarters but it was great being able to reconnect and spend a lot of time together. Melody was unhappy with their landlords at this point and was looking to move. They decided that they would all try to find one house to rent that they could share and split the rent. This would save Bill and Melody some money and allow their daughter and son-in-law to start saving for a down payment on a house.
By August they were moving back into town in a older house directly across from the fairgrounds. This became an advantage at times when going to events, but parking was often a problem. The house had a small yard but Melody still found ways to plant flowers and enjoy her hobbies. In fact she started a small crafting group at her church during this time and they would spend time once or twice a month getting together and making things to give away to their families or learning new crafts from one another. The smaller yard meant less time doing yard work though and a house on traditional heating meant Bill no longer had to split wood all the time.
This was a fun time in her life spending time in the evenings often playing games together as a family and getting to know her new son-in-law on a deeper level. There was a lot of laughter in the house. During this time Melody and Bill also celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Unbeknownst to Melody, Bill and their daughter and son-in-law had cooked up a plan to surprise Melody to mark the occasion. That Sunday morning Bill had arranged for a surprise vow renewal ceremony at their church and there was an anniversary party planned for later that day. Melody and Bill and all of their family and friends celebrated, played games and danced to the music Melody and Bill grew up on.