Unfortunately I received heart breaking news a few days before Christmas. On the 23rd I went to physical therapy with Coach. I got home and was laughing with the kids in the kitchen and their constant banter. I sat down and checked my email at my laptop on the island.
I got an email from an address I didn't exactly recognize. I read the words a few times. It didn't register. It was like I was reading it, but the words weren't sinking in.
Remember my childhood friend, 'JB', who was in an accident when he was 10 years old? His older brother, Joe, and I have stayed in touch. Mini and I stayed with he and his wife in Minneapolis about 4 years ago when we were there for Irish dancing, she was trying to win a 1st place and we were criss-crossing the States. We had a great visit and shared a bunch of laughs. Joe was there when I was christened with my childhood nickname, ERNIE. Joe and I had chatted off and on over the years, but since that visit we made a point to stay in touch more regularly.
In January of 2021 his dad passed away. He was in his early 90s. Joe emailed me letters that he found at his folks' house that my brother, Pat, and I wrote to him when he was in basic training. Pat's letter was all about how he was taking a computer class at Radio Shack with my dad and how he was getting good grades in school. My letter was a bit different - poking fun at myself, etc.
I texted Joe and was like PAT TAKING A COMPUTER CLASS? NERD ALERT. blah, blah. We LOL'd our butts off.
I shared some of my memories of his dad. One of them: his dad used to call his mom MOTHER. Joe texted back: I CALL GINA MOTHER WHEN I WANT TO ANNOY HER. He texted me that he wanted me to come visit that summer so we could get caught up.
He got me. He grasped my family of origin dynamics. He saw the big picture, said it like it was, and enjoyed joking around with me. He was crazy about his two daughters and was over the moon that they'd both found future husbands (he walked one down the isle about a year ago) that were great men. He and Gina rode bikes - like ACROSS states. He sent me photos of scenery they stumbled across. We'd been neighbors and we shared funny memories, but now we were friends. He was in my corner. My cheerleader. He liked my spunky approach to things.
When Yellowstone got cancelled, I asked him if he was up for visitors -remembering that he'd wanted me to come out in the summer. We were revamping our summer vacation. He said sure, then asked SO HOW MANY WOULD THAT BE? He and Gina live in a huge home - they intended to downsize and accidentally fell in love with the place and the view. They bought it and were always thrilled when the rooms were used.
Well, how many ? - that was a loaded question. I asked him if he had a minute to chat. We talked for over an hour. I filled him in on the soon to arrive Harry and Larry. He said, BRING THE BOYS, SURE. THE MORE THE MERRIER.
Ultimately Coach and I decided that we didn't have time to squeeze in a trip to Minnesota and we opted to just go to the beach a few hours away for a few days instead.
About 3 years ago, Coach's former employee took his own life. Joe and Gina had Coach and Coach's work friend stay at their house when they drove in town for the funeral. There was a blizzard. It took Coach 12 hours instead of 6 to drive there. Joe texted and said TELL HIM THE FRONT DOOR IS UNLOCKED. JUST PICK A ROOM UPSTAIRS.
This October as I was driving, Joe texted me. He and Gina had been biking out on the east coast, enjoying the fall colors. She hopped a plane to get to work and he was going to drive to Chicago and see us on Saturday. That was the weekend that we were going to see Ed at IU and tailgate. We wouldn't be home. Ugh. I was so bummed. I called him and we spoke over bluetooth. While we talked he said he was literally changing course. He'd skip Chicago. Wait till the weather was nice enough for he and Gina to bike the lake shore. He said: I MEAN I GUESS I CAN TRY TO GIVE YOU MORE THAN 2 DAYS NOTICE KID.
That was the last time I spoke to him. The email that I had such a hard time deciphering was from his elderly mother. Gina came home and found Joe dead on the floor of his office the day before. An apparent heart attack.
He was 57. Perfect health. Rode bikes. Worked out. Just retired last year from the air force and would've had regular physicals. I'm in disbelief. So hard to wrap my brain around it. When I called my folks and my siblings, everyone assumed that I was trying to say that JB died- the younger brother who is not in the best of health, not JOE! How could Joe die suddenly?
My kids hovered around the island while I sobbed uncontrollably. I paced and sobbed. Called Coach at work and sobbed. Called Delilah like an hour later when I thought I was calm, and sobbed. When Coach got home from work, I sobbed again.
I told the kids at least he got to meet his grandbaby, as I sniffled. His daughter was due with a baby around Dec. 1st, I thought. Still, that ticked me off. He should be here to watch the baby grow up. He was SO YOUNG. NOOOO. THIS ISN'T HAPPENING.
Me and Joe. 9/24/17
I walked to my folks' house on Christmas Eve. My mom told me that they'd called Joe's mom that morning. His daughter had not had her baby yet. I sobbed some more. I must've had the due date wrong. The other daughter is engaged, not yet married. More tears. He should be here. This is all wrong.
When Mini didn't win a 1st, Joe
took her to his chipper out back. He
told her this was a great way to get
rid of her frustrations. He had her
feed some branches into the chipper.
Mini remembers it so well. Joe: THERE,
THAT FEELS BETTER, DOESN'T IT?
Christmas Eve mass I was super emotional. I broke down again this morning when Marie emailed me his obituary. It says he was a story teller and he never let the truth get in the way of a good story . It also talked about his love of life and living life to the fullest and how he was charitable. It reminded me: he contributed to my kids' Global Humanitarian Club last year after I posted it on Facebook.
I don't know yet when the services are going to be held, but I hope to go - even if I have to pull Mini and Curly out of school to babysit in my absence. Marie also wants to go.
I'm so sad for Joe's family, especially Gina and his girls. I also feel like I've lost the last chunk of my childhood. There are other brothers (there were 5 total), but I've not kept in touch with them. Maybe we will reconnect. Still, nothing will replace him.