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VOLUNTEER VOLUMES: Vol. 2, Ch. 4 - Melena

The story of Melena, aka: @mjk_1975

Melena endured tragedies 52 years apart, losing her father and her brother in similar fashion. She turned to Tennessee athletics as an outlet and has relied on the big orange to see her through some of the darkest days of her life.

"May 22, 2022 at 1:03pm, I was next to check out at Walmart when I received a call from the Sheriff’s Dept. asking me I was related to Dan Keeling. I said, "yes, that’s my brother". Then the words came, “We found his boat” and I collapsed knowing what that meant, because my father drowned when I had just turned 5. I could not move. Walmart employees were trying to give me medical attention and a sweet lady behind me offered to check me out after declining medical attention. I let her help and called my sister.

By the time I got to my car, the TWRA called notifying me too. I pulled in my driveway. I don’t know how I got there, and called his children. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do--ever.

I was once that child. I lost it when they found him. I vaguely remember screaming and my daughter taking my phone away. Life for me stopped. They found his boat at 11:00 am, and divers found him at 5:00 pm. I clung to the fact he was in the water such a brief time, unlike my dad. It took over 12 hours of dragging the Obion River in January icy conditions. However, a few days later learned that my brother had been in the water for at least 24 hours. I again lost it. After dad died, my brother was that father figure to me. He was 3 years older than me.

He had an infectious laugh and always made sure everyone had a good time. I adored everything about him. He never missed sending me flowers at Christmas, or calling for Mother’s Day or my birthday. Sometimes after we talked I would just cry because he was so sick. Prior to his death, he had a kidney transplant. His oldest son gave him a kidney. After 16 1/2 years, it failed and he began dialysis. He was in and out hospitals. It was beyond hard to watch.

All he ever talked about was wanting to go fishing. He loved bass fishing. My sister and I do not get in water. Having said that, we knew his time was limited due to his health, however, God called him home doing what he loved. I was in such horrible shape I could not work. Couldn’t really do anything.

My boss and some others told me to get grief counseling. I would refuse knowing what has happened cannot be changed. No one loses their father and brother 52 years apart like this. Counseling would never help me. In my grief, I turned the TV on for some noise. I flipped a few channels and came upon the Vols magical 2022 baseball season. I left it for noise. I had never watched a baseball game before, but somehow it drew me in.

he next game I got my sister to watch and that led to her husband watching. I think sister was happy to see some life in me. Truly, it became my therapy. I’ve not missed a game since. It even later drew in some girlfriends from high school and one’s hubby. My dear friend in Texas would text and talk basketball so I started watching it. Again, I had never watched a basketball game. It too became therapeutic. I had watched pro football until it got political. That’s when I caught a game or two of college football but wasn’t really a fan. But I always rooted UT because I hated Alabama like everyone else, even though I didn’t watch the games.

But here I was now watching every single game. UT baseball saved me in my darkest hour and each sport continued to revive my spirit. And then I found VolTwitter and learned to laugh again, and I mean laugh. I tag along faithfully to as many accounts as I find. I learned about the players from watching and VolTwitter, and love these kids. I enjoy watching them excelling, getting drafted, etc.

It took a while, but I found my way through the most horrible experience, and unbearable grief. I went to my first college football game at Nissan Stadium last year. I Had the best time. My bucket list has shifted from wanting to travel to all things UT. My dad died at 30, my brother at 60. I turn 60 this November. I’ve still got some living to do.

I tell people, find something that gives you joy to get you through dark days, this life, and dedicate yourself to it to keep you going.

I was born in west Tennessee. I grew up in middle Tennessee, but always wanted to come home. I made that change--finally. I have a house on the lake and sometimes open my blinds to see a lone fisherman in the early morning hours. It’s my angel and it’s heartwarming. Not a day passes that I do not miss him.

Follow Melena on Twitter: @mjk_1975


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