Celebrating Melinda Oliver; Mom, Wife, and all Around Groovy Chick
I met with Melinda Oliver today, August 2, 2017, to interview her for Celebrating Women. I knew she was a blessing to the women around her, to her family and friends, and to the athletes she coaches. I also knew she was a beautiful free spirit, but I had no idea how strong and brave she has been and remains. I am inspired all over again, and I hope you will be too.
Let me introduce you to Melinda Oliver, an amazing woman and mom to the lovable Josh Miller. Melinda became pregnant at 22 years old after a life of being told that she would be sterile due to a diagnosis of Addison’s disease at 11 years old. Addison’s is an adrenal disorder. The adrenal glands in an affected person don’t produce enough hormones. It is a rare disease that affects 1 in 100,000 people according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Because of this diagnosis, she has had to take therapeutic steroids which she takes still. After the euphoria of being pregnant against all the odds, Melinda’s baby miscarried in the womb. Despite the doctor’s warnings that if she were to get pregnant again, she might lose her life, Melinda refused the tubal ligation they suggested. She reasoned that “God has a plan for my life and if He wants me to be a mom, then I will.” God did indeed have a plan, and at 23years old she became pregnant again, with the light of her life, Josh Miller. “I always knew Josh would be special.” During her pregnancy, Melinda recounts noticing people with Down’s syndrome everywhere she went. “I felt God was preparing my heart by letting me see these individuals in everyday situations, just living their life.” After 33 hours of labor, Josh was born, but both mom and baby were critical; at one point both died and were revived.
They were in ICU and NICU for days. “The doctors were very ugly to me about Josh. They suggested that I not look at him, never hold him, and instead institutionalize him immediately. They called him “mongoloid,” but I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. “I wasn’t allowed to hold him for three days until I threw a fit and started pulling IV tubes out declaring that I was going to see my baby!” She did get to hold Josh then and fell in love all over again.
“My mom, Joy, was my rock. I don’t think I would have made it without her help. She immediately found the Down Syndrome of Dallas Guild which was a priceless resource. They brought a mother with a Down’s child to visit me in the hospital. “I was encouraged, and I felt more prepared for the journey with Josh. We wasted no time and immediately got Josh into therapies that would help him as he grew. We practiced infant stimulation and water therapy, and he had to have a brace for his hips that kept his knees up beside his torso. He had to take the brace off for water therapy, so it is no surprise that swimming was his favorite activity.
Melinda’s mom, Joy
Marriage is hard, and having a child can stress any relationship. Josh’s dad loved him and tried to help however he could, but the pressure was too great, and they divorced for a while, but later remarried.
“We moved to Colorado. Josh loved skiing, hiking, and swimming and we did so often. We had a good life there.” Melinda was a DJ in Colorado and hosted a radio show on KDNK in Carbondale Colorado until tragedy struck.
While the trio was hiking near their home, her husband Donny slipped and fell off of a cliff. “There were no cell phones; no one was around to help us. Josh and I hiked through the woods and snow till we found someone to help us.” Donny did not survive the fall and Melinda, and Josh had to move back to Texas. They had to start all over basically because the people they had entrusted to help them with the move kept their belongings. “It was a devastating time in our life. We lived in government apartments, on welfare for a while, and we lived with my mom for a while.”
Melinda was not a quitter though. She worked for others at various jobs and eventually began her own business; Word Processing by Melinda.
Between 1988-1998 her business supported her and Josh and even grew to the degree that she had five employees, but with the advent of electronic filing and digital transcription machines, her business began to drop off forcing Melinda to close her business and go to work at the doctors’ offices she’d contracted with previously.
While successful in business, Melinda recounts that she “floundered” in love. “I felt I needed a man.”
(Having been divorced myself, and understanding how painful and even sometimes embarrassing that can be I offered to leave that out. This wise and beautiful woman said “No, I don’t mind if you add it all. All of those things are what brought me to this place in my life.” I’m always inspired when a woman is brave and lays her masks aside.)
Melinda is now married to Mike, whom she regards as her partner, her friend, and her true love. They have fun together traveling, being active in Special Olympics as coach and volunteer, and just ‘doing life’ together. He loves Josh and Josh considers Mike, his dad. He also considers Melinda’s three stepsons Michael Jr., Todd, and Matthew his brothers.Two of the three boys are grown and no longer live with them but they are still one big happy family.
Melinda had a stepfather as well. “Hershel was my dad,” she declares. “He married my mom when I was four years old. I don’t have a lot of memories of my ‘sperm donor.’ I’ve only seen him a few times as an adult, and none of those were pleasant.” Her dad died in 2004 of heart disease after being extremely sick. “I was his pumpkin. He was a hard working man of few words. He was a salesman. He was strict and sometimes hard on me, but he taught me by example my life’s motto; ‘never give up.’ He would say “you gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with it.” Melinda misses her dad very much as does Josh, who was very close to him.
Melinda’s mom was her “rock” and her greatest supporter. She passed away in 2015 of a rare form of cancer and not a day goes by that she isn’t missed.
Her mom and dad were a part of one of the most defining moments in Melinda’s life in the late 70’s. Their family home was in lower Greenville, and Melinda had only recently moved out to her apartment. Her mother and father were home during an invasion burglary that changed all of their lives forever. The atrocities were so vile, the violation so horrifying that neither could go back into the house again. They used a great deal of their savings living in hotels while they sought a new home and left their belongings because it was too much of a reminder. “Dad was never the same after that. It tore him down. Mom, she just dealt with it. She was so positive and just kept going.”
Melinda says that is when everything came into perspective for her; “Life can change so fast. Appreciate it.”
Josh is a shining light in Melinda’s heart. She beams when she speaks of him. He is a fun loving, gentle soul who loves to travel. He loves live shows, dancing, and singing, although not so much in front of people as he doesn’t like to be the center of attention. “Oh, he really enjoys funerals,” Melinda says with a perplexed but amused look. “I don’t know if it is because it is like going to church or why he likes them but he does. He sings and praises The Lord.” Josh enjoys church. They have attended Cedar Lake United Methodist church for seven months and Josh was baptized in April of this year. He is now 37 years old, and since my mom died, we have focused on spending time making memories. A lot of our trips are working off of her bucket list.” The life span of a typical Down’s person is now 60 years old, but when Josh was born it was considered to be 30-40 years. The fact is though, none of us know how long we have so it is important to make the most of the time we are living in right now. “When God gave me Josh, He showed me what was important in this life.”
If you are the parent of a child with Down’s syndrome, a caregiver, or just want more information Melinda suggests that you check out the Down’s syndrome of Dallas Guild or The ARC, for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Another great resource for those with Down’s and other special needs is the Special Olympics, where Josh is an athlete in bocce, bowling, and tracks and field, and Melinda coaches. These and other resources are available to answer questions about health, wellness, and care of people with Down’s syndrome.