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.

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