The other morning I got a text from one of my husband's friends to start off the New Year. "We Miss Joel" it said simply.
Yesterday I received an email from one of his nurses where he did his therapy after his stroke. She was telling me she was inspired by his amazing attitude and humor during one of the hardest times in his life.
That was my husband.
He never complained. He walked into a hospital to have metastatic cancer removed from his lung. He left that same hospital paralyzed completely on one side of his body due to a massive stroke he suffered after surgery. The day he came off his sedation, and I had to tell him what happened, he never once complained. He just asked when he'd get to start therapy. It was never a "poor me" or even a "how could this happen?" It was let's get to work and beat this. That was always his brave, fighting attitude until the very end. It inspired me in every way.
Both the email and the text made me cry. In a good way. Because it let me know my husband wasn't forgotten. Oh how, I want him to never be forgotten.
Whenever you lose someone, one of your greatest fears is they will be. It has become my mission, to honor him and his life daily. I don't ever want his death to be in vain. I want everything he was and what he stood for to endure.
That's pretty easy in this house. It was our home. His things are still sprinkled about. His chair is in the corner. His pictures on the shelves. I "feel" him here. Stories about him abound in this home and laughs are shared constantly about him in this home. I love it. It's healing for me and it's important for my children.
Outside of these four walls is a world that has gone forward, at lightening speed, without Joel in it. It's natural for others but our lives never did. Joel was a part of us. He will always be a part of this family. He will always be the hero of this family.
I had the privilege of being with Joel for 10 years, married 8. He was born and raised in NYC. I was born and raised in Oklahoma. Quite the different upbringing but many of the same values. From the first moment we dated, he treated me like his wife. If he didn't take me home from a date himself he would send me home in a cab, because he didn't want me to have to ride the subway alone. He would constantly look through my pantry to make sure it was full enough and if it wasn't groceries would magically appear. It would drive him crazy that I wasn't one to keep cash on me, so he'd always be stuffing $20's into my purse when I left the room to make sure I was covered. Once we moved to Oklahoma, we carpooled to work together. He would drop me off at the front door, then text me later to make sure I'd made it to my desk safely. I've never felt as loved and protected as I did with him in my life.
He was a total goofball. I'll never forget waking up one morning to hear about the "rap" video he and my little sister made late one night after I'd gone to bed, just to be goofy. He put a ton of watches all up and down his arms and a foil "grill" on his teeth to look the part.
One of his favorite things was getting all of his out of state buddies together so he could beat them mercilessly at XBox live. Many times after I'd go to bed (he was a night owl) I would hear him in the living room yelling and laughing with his friends as he played.
He loved to eat. Oh man did he love to eat. We would sometimes be sitting at home late at night and he'd say: "Do you know what sounds good? A chocolate cake!" Next thing I knew he'd be headed to the store to buy it, only he'd come back with ice cream and other treats to go along with it. As much as he loved to eat he loved to cook. He had every Calphalon pot and Pampered Chef item known to man. He loved to have people over and cook for them. Really he just loved to be surrounded by people in general. Constantly.
He loved to do things for people. If he heard someone had a need, he wanted to meet it if he was able. His heart broke when other people were going through difficult things. He was born with a cleft palate, which many people don't know. He had extensive surgeries and you could barely tell. Due to what he'd endured he had a huge soft spot for kids with deformities or disabilities. He would see a child out somewhere and look at me and tear up. I've never known someone with a bigger heart.
As he fought cancer he inspired everyone around him. I still hear from nurses and doctors who say the same thing. "He was one of our favorites" "He never gave up" "He had an amazing attitude" "He was a fighter" And they're right. He was all of those things and he was even more.
This entire blog started because of him. I started writing because of him and kept writing because of him. He would tell me how proud he was and always encouraged me to keep going-keep writing.
He trusted me to be our voice. I continue to be our voice.
I love my daughter and I love her story. But if there had never been a story of Joel, there would never be a story of Ellis. I love that thought. I love how their lives and stories are woven as one. Her life exists because his did. You can't have one without the other.
It is this families greatest joy to carry on the legacy of who he was. It carries on through me, as I continue to tell the world about him and how he lived. It carries on through his son, who loves fiercely and takes care of others just as he did. And it carries on through his sweet baby girl, who has the same fighting spirit her Daddy did.
Because of a man named Joel a baby girl named Ellis came to be. And because of them both, I am a better me. A better me indeed.