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February 23, 1996 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-02-23

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Oa rbara


A mother,
a beloved daughter,
and the struggle to survive.

111 sually the trees here
are straight, steady,
unyielding. They stand
huddled together by a
lake, blanketed with
snow. Their thin
branches stretch up,
heavenward, in a
graceful gesture, as if
Sometimes, though,
the quiet outside is
broken as the wind
pushes through. That's when the tops of
the trees begin to tremble, then bend and
fold over like bowed heads. Despite their
appearance it becomes clear in unexpect-
ed moments: they are fragile.
Barbara Mellen stands at the glass
window covering much of the back of her
Bloomfield Hills home. It is a secluded
residence, surrounded by trees and with
a lake in back. It is a house of many

The Mellens' son, Zachary, had his bris
here. He is a handsome, dark-haired boy,
now 2 1/2, who likes to stuff things in the
toilet. (Only childless couples are befud-
dled by the toilet locks throughout the
Mrs. Mellen has a studio here, where
she created oil paintings of lush color and
stark lines. One shows her now deceased
mother, Helen, "a combination of elegance
and sensuality."
This was the house where the Mellens'
daughter, Jennifer, celebrated birthdays
and got ready for the prom and played her
music, loud. It also is the home where,
at 19, she died.
It has been five years since Jennifer's
life ended. Her mother thinks of her every
day, constantly, and divides her own days
in two: "life with Jennifer and life with-
out her."
Yet many memories of her daughter are
sweet and vibrant. Jennifer's indepen-
dence and her determination, her capacity

for nurturing. The way she loved ice cream
and chocolate and raspberries, especially
raspberries. The way she would under-
stand an almost unspoken need: Jennifer
once surprised her mother with a bottle
of White Shoulders perfume, because it
had been Helen's favorite.
Mrs. Mellen will take these memories,
and Jennifer's photographs and letters
(kept in a fireproof box) when she goes
from this home. She and her husband are
building another, not far away. It will be
less secluded and have a large back yard
— perfect for a little boy like Zachary.
It is time to leave.


arbara Mellen was 25 years old
when she became pregnant. She
was about to become Jennifer's
mother, about to have a child with
whom she would be forever in love.
Barbara Mellen was born and raised in
Detroit. At 12, she moved with her fam-
ily to Huntington Woods where her father,

a builder, had designed and constructed
his own home.
Barbara's mother, Helen, was a guid-
ing force in her daughter's life. She was a
strong, beautiful woman who liked to read
the New Republic back when most women
never ventured beyond Family Circle.
Although Helen's mother, Tillie, would
be there for Barbara throughout her life,
it was a nightmare when Helen died. Bar-
bara was 17, and the loss continues to
haunt her to this day.
She will never stop missing her mother.
At 17, Barbara began dating her future
husband, John. She graduated high
school, attended Wayne State University
and the University of Michigan (she holds
an undergraduate degree in interior
design and a master's in art therapy)
and worked for a time. She was 20 when
she and John, today a radiologist, were
In 1971, Barbara learned she was going
to have a baby. "I was never happier in

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