Joseph Kelly, A Son Remembered

Anniversaries mark not only the happy times in life.  They also mark days or hours when lives are changed forever.  Twenty-eight years ago on September 4th, I received the phone call that every parent dreads.  “Joe is dead,” said the voice on the other end of the line. He had been killed in a motorcycle accident, and if I let myself remember, the shock still sends waves of disbelief through my heart.

But on this day, I want to introduce Joe to those of you who never knew him. I remember him on April 29, 1983, his last birthday on earth. The picture I snapped was of Joe holding his adoring little brother.  On the table is a frosted cake and a vase of red tulips and lavender lilacs.  “What is your ambition,” I asked, “now that you’re twenty-one.”

After a quick but serious pause, he said, “I don’t really have any plans.  But I’ve always wanted to reach twenty-one.  I’m a man now, and that’s enough.”  In retrospect, his words seem prophetic.

Joe, the youngest of my first three children, was a sensitive youngster with a tender heart.  At age seven, he railed at his older brother for wrecking a spider web, reminding him how long it took the spider to make it.  He defended younger children being threatened by playground bullies, a protective trait he never lost.  But there are too many memories to write here.  That would require a book.  So I will content myself with two.

Joe was about ten years old.  The children, I thought, were asleep, when I heard someone crying.  Going to the boys’ room, I found Joe sobbing softly in his bed.  Coaxing him downstairs to the family room, we sat before the fireplace where the dying fire still glowed red and gold.  Snuggled in my arms, he explained the reason for his heartbreak.  “I was thinking,” he said, “that someday we won’t all be here.  We’ll be away from each other, and nothing will ever be the same.”  I don’t recall what words of comfort I offered, but I will never forget what he said.

The day following his funeral service, his girlfriend, a beautiful, silver-haired blond girl came to see me.  This is one of the stories she told.  “Joe and I had a special tree,” she said, blinking hard to keep her tears in check.  “It was in a little park near Lloyd Center.  One night Joe took me for a walk there because it was our anniversary.  We’d been going together for six months.  He told me to look up, so I did.  I saw the stars coming out, but he wanted me to look more closely.  Then I saw the twinkle of something tied high in the branches of our tree.  ‘What is it,’ I asked and he smiled.  ‘Something for you.’  He’d been carrying a round leather case with him.  He opened it now and took out a fishing rod.  Putting the sections together made it long enough to reach into the tree.  When he brought the twinkling object down, I saw it was a golden promise ring hung from a ribbon.”

My Joseph was a romantic. He was handsome, kind, and funny.  He could tell jokes that made you laugh.  He could relate a story so poignant it would make you cry.  So today as I brought flowers to the place where his ashes are interred and looked at beautiful young face smiling from the photo beneath his name, I still could not believe he has truly departed from this world.

What do you say to a loved one who passed on?  Can he or she hear what you say?  Can they see your face as you say it?  Nevertheless, I turned my gaze to the clear blue sky and asked that however far he has traveled in that mysterious realm that awaits us all, that he return to greet me as I cross that boundary.  I could almost see him, a glowing figure surrounded by a nimbus of light, a vision to sustain me until that wondrous day.

As I write these lines, my classical radio station begins Danny Boy, one of the songs played at Joe’s service.  A message?  I’d like to think so.

Published in: on September 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm  Comments (35)  
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35 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a beautiful tribute. My thoughts are with you, Alice.

    • Jean, thank you for reading and responding to my memories of Joe. Your words are appreciated.

  2. I can think of no greater loss than that of a child, no matter at what age. What lovely memories you’ve shared. Thanks you. Beth

    • Thank you, Beth, for your innate kindness and deep understanding. It means so much to me.

  3. You’ve given us a wonderful sense of your son. This essay is such a loving tribute.

    • Thank you, Pat. Being able to share some memories of Joe with all of you brings him back to life somehow.

  4. Oh Alice,
    Thank you for sharing a piece of Joe’s life with us. It feels as though the universe is smiling and wrapping you in its arms to comfort you on this day. May you hear the music and have peace.

    • Barb, you always have the right words. It was almost like a promise when Danny Boy began playing just as I finished the last of that post. It must mean something special. Like “I’m still here, Mom.” ?

  5. When you leave this vale of pain and tears, Joe will be waiting with open arms to welcome you. And then, – oh the wonderful things he will show you!

    • Thank you, Roxie. Such comfort to read your lovely words.

  6. Memories are sweet and the pain still close. Closer than we think. I choose the memories and take the pain as a precious thing.

    • You were, you are Joe’s big sister. So many shared memories of a very special son and little brother. Love you. Mom

  7. I can’t even imagine the pain of losing your child. It’s my greatest fear. You’re a strong and wonderful woman, Alice. My heart and thoughts are with you on this anniversary. Beautiful post!

    • Laura, thank you for your loving response. It means so much to me.

  8. Love you Alice. I know it was hard but we all know Joe a little better now. Goodbye & Hello “Me Danny Boy”.

    • I know you loved Joe too. Remember when he taught Wilson and Selina how to throw a football?

  9. Your words flood me with the memories of that fateful time. You were so stoic on the outside, as your world crumbled beaneath you. I am with you in remembering Joe, and yes, he was letting you know that he
    is in the light, and with you always.

    • Ev, what a gift to read your message. Bless your heart for remembering and being my friend. Yes, surely Joe takes a moment now and then to check on us, the ones who love him so dearly.

  10. Thank you for sharing a little bit about Joe with us, Alice. I teared up when I read it. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to lose your son. My heart is with you on this anniversary.

    • Lisa, I am so grateful to you for many reasons. One is the care you put into scanning Joe’s photo and posting this tribute. Thank you.

  11. I don’t know what to add to the beautiful responses above. An aching loss of a beautiful spirit. I’m glad you had the time with him that you did. He’s still with you and I’ll bet he had a hand in playing Danny Boy.


    • Every kind word and sympathetic response is a gift. Thank you for yours.

  12. Hello Alice,

    I loved reading your tender, loving thoughts about your son, Joe. What a BEAUTIFUL boy he was! Your writing touched my heart deeply and brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my own dear son, Michael, who I lost. What a tender moment for you when that song came on. I used to sing Danny Boy to my own youngest son, Danny. He is in Afghanistan now and I pray every day that he comes back safely. The words to that song often come to my mind and I hope they never come true for him. Sending a big hug
    to you my friend. Lois

    • Lois, having lost your own dear son at 16, I know you understand what that loss means to a mother’s heart. I pray your own Danny boy comes home safely into your arms.

  13. A wonderful trubute to your son. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel . It is good to remember all the happy times you had together.

    • Jan, words of understanding from a dear and trusted friend mean so much. Thank you.

  14. So touching. He was a handsome man and sounds like he was beautiful inside as well. Memories are a lovely thing and the fact that we have them is comforting. Different things will remind me of those lost to us. Sometimes a scent wafting in a gentle breeze can drift us into a meory, or a frolicking butterfly can send us recalling an event. Such treasures!

    • Rose, your warm and comforting words assure me that we are close to our loved ones whenever we see, hear, or remember something beautiful that reminds us of them. Thank you.

  15. Alice dear…What a handsome son. My heart aches for you. I’m quite sure that Joe had something to do with the song. There are many ways to reach across the barrier.

    • It’s always so good to know that people care. And that someone has been introduced to Joe despite the years since his passing. Thank you, Helen.

  16. Dear Alice,

    I was overwhelmed by your memories of Joseph. What you wrote was so beautifully expressed. And i feel inadequate to respond. You are and have been so brave about Joe’s premature passing. And then to lose your youngest son…. I don’t know how you have done it. I wish you were here so I could hug you and tell you how much I love you. In the meantime, thank you for what you have written. And thank you for the wonderful long letter you sent me with the adorable card of the kittens playing.

    Your big sister Laura Anne!

    • Dearest Laura, I’m so pleased that Terry shared my post about Joe. You ask how I got through it. When you have no choice, you simply do the best you can. I love you, big sister. Alice

  17. Oh my gosh, Alice, I had no idea you’d lost a son. Tears filled my eyes as I read this. Thank you so much for sharing. Orice

  18. Thirty five years ago I lost an eight year old boy. I’m not as graceful as you. I appreciate your grace. Things are never the same, but then things are always never the same. I feel your pain.

  19. Thank you for your kind response, Orice. It always helps to know that we can count on friends to understand.

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