A couple weeks ago, I received a text from an old friend telling me that her brother had suddenly passed away. She told me that her pain was like nothing she had ever experienced and at times it felt unbearable. She felt as if like she was drowning in her own despair. She told me that it was hard for her to even pretend to know the devastating grief and pain I must endure each and every day. My reply to her was, that if this is the greatest pain she ever felt, then her pain was as deep as mine. Grief is Grief. Whether you lose a parent, a sibling, a child.
Reading her words made me think about my children and their journey through all of this. I knew that the pain they felt from Joeys passing was so profound, it cut down deep into their soul. I saw it on their faces and heard it in their cries when I arrived at the hospital that horrible day. I remember collapsing into my brother’s arms, begging him to tell me this was all a bad dream. When they saw me, they ran up to me and hugged me as they collapsed into my own arms. At that moment I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God! They’ve had to do this twice! Once with their father and now with me!” I needed to be strong for them. I needed to comfort them. I needed to put their shattered lives back together. While feeling my own soul drift away from me and still reeling from the shock and pain of my shattered heart, I shushed them wiped their tears and asked them to be brave. “We are strong. We will get through this.” What else could I say? What else was there to do?
I asked each of them if they wanted to say something about their brother at the service. I was not sure if it would be too hard for them to speak but I did not want this moment to go by without them saying their proper goodbyes. They both agreed and thus began them writing the last few words they would say to their big brother. I didn’t ask either of them what they had written. This wasn’t a time for proper grammar or punctuation, but rather a time to honor Joey. I wanted it to be all about them and their love for their big brother. When it was time for them to speak, I could not have been prouder. Their goodbyes were filled with humor, admiration, sadness but most of all, love. They spoke about being known in school as ‘Joeys little brother or little sister.’ They talked about his sense of humor and his love of sports. They expressed remorse that he wouldn’t be around to witness his sister get married or watch his niece and nephew grow up. They both promised that they would tell their children who their Uncle Joey was and teach them that whenever they see a butterfly, that would be Uncle Joey saying hi.
I am proud to say my children kept their word. Aubrianna was only 1 and a half, Ares was 4 months and Hayden was only a dream in his momma’s heart when Joey passed away. He would come along 3 years later. Even though they were too young to have memories of him, my heart skips a beat when Aubrianna tells me that she dreamt of her uncle Joey and that he was teaching her how to kick a soccer ball. Or whenever we see a butterfly both Aubri and Ares yell out in excitement “Look Abuelita, there’s Uncle Joey!” With Hayden, I can’t help but believe that he met his uncle Joey up in heaven. His mannerisms, his smile, his ability to throw a ball remind me so much of him! I’ve watched him walk up to a 3-foot angel I have on a high ledge in our kitchen with a huge smile on his face. He stops, points at it then starts babbling and waving to it! He’ll look over at me as if he’s saying “Look Abuelita, there’s Uncle Joey! He told me all about you!” My heart is full.
Though our Joey is gone, his spirit, his laugh, his love will continue to live on. He exists in the minds of my children, in the hearts of my grandchildren and on the wings of a butterfly.