Duluth family seeks help after sister's sudden death

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DULUTH — A Duluth family is asking for the community's help after a family member died suddenly with no savings to pay for funeral expenses.

Melanie Anne Hanson, the mother of seven and grandmother of three, died on Tuesday from the effects of a stroke, said her younger sister, Angel Ricker, 39. Hanson, who worked as a housekeeper for the Benedictine Living Community of Duluth, was 41.

She hadn't been able to plan for future expenses, Ricker said.

"She struggled with mental health the majority of her life," Ricker said. "She couldn't work full time because it was just too much stress. She had too much anxiety. That's why she didn't have life insurance. She just didn't have enough work time."

Although the chances of suffering a stroke increase with age, strokes are becoming more common among younger people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in seven strokes occur in adolescents and young adults, ages 15 to 49, the CDC reported last year.

Hanson had shown no hint of ill health before July 27, the day her youngest child celebrated his 14th birthday, Ricker said. When she went upstairs to use the bathroom, her son heard a noise, she said. Unable to rouse her, he called 911.

Hanson had suffered a severe stroke to the left and middle of her brain, Ricker said. The family was told that if she did recover, it would be a long process.

"I thought ... she would pull through, and I would have to teach her everything again," said her youngest sister, Faye Kannenberg, 36.

But the extent of the swelling on the brain was too much, Ricker said, and Hanson was pronounced brain dead on July 30. The family said goodbye to her on Tuesday after arranging for her organs to be donated.

"Melanie wouldn't want anyone else to feel this bad," Kannenberg said tearfully as she explained the decision. "And if somebody else could have a miracle, then we would want them to have it."

Before moving to Duluth when Melanie was in her early teens, the family lived in a tough neighborhood of Racine, Wis., and the kids often were bullied, Kannenberg said. As the oldest, Melanie tried to defend her siblings and often took the brunt of the abuse.

"She was very, very protective," Kannenberg said. "She was my closest sister and my guardian angel."

Their mother moved the family to Duluth in hopes of finding a safer environment, Kannenberg said. But for Melanie, the pattern continued even into her adult years.

"She knew a lot of pain in her life," Kannenberg said. "She just never picked the right guy."

But her sister also was a strong, sensitive and caring person, Kannenberg said, and in the past year had found God.

"She wanted her life to be better," Kannenberg said. "She wanted to leave something behind for her children when she was much older. ... We were really off guard for this. ... It wasn't supposed to happen yet."

Ricker started a "Go Fund Me" online campaign to raise $7,500 for expenses related to the funeral, she said. In reality, the family is only looking for some help, she said; they fully expect to pay some of it themselves. But they are short on cash. Their mother also suffered a stroke, in June, and hasn't been able to work. Ricker, a legal secretary in the county attorney's office, is starting law school in two weeks and has money tied up in that. Kannenberg, mostly a stay-at-home mom who lives in the Twin Cities, has a part-time job at a child care facility.

As of Friday morning, the online campaign had raised a little more than $2,000.

But the response is meaningful beyond the money, Kannenberg said.

"We never thought anyone would have taken any notice," she said. "To see the support is just really comforting."

To help

The online giving site for Melanie Anne Hanson is www.gofundme.com/melanies-funeralcremationbanquet