Joe Clark was always the loudest person in the room. So loud that his parents always wondered if he was hard of hearing. He talked with his hands and kinda dragged his feet in a way that you always knew when he was coming. He was the first on the dance floor and kissed everyone straight on the mouth.
Nine years ago, I watched that loud spirit quietly sink into his hospital bed as he found out he had cancer. Joe spent his birthday in that hospital room waiting to have a tennis ball size tumor removed from his colon. He was 28 years old and we watched the Chicago Bears game in that tiny room surrounded by our friends and family. I pulled every last bit of positive Polly into that day as I attempted to distract him from the words the doctor had muttered just days before.
“Cancer,” he said. “We will need to go in and remove parts of your colon to get the tumor and hope it hasn’t spread.”
28 wasn’t a great birthday. So, the next year, I decided to redeem ourselves. I wasn’t going to wait until 30 to throw the big surprise party. So Joe got one at 29. A random night at Bucca di Beppo’s and bowling with friends. The whole drive to Bucca di Beppo’s he thought we were heading to one of my work parties and he bitched and moaned about what kind of company throws a party at a place like Bucca di Beppo’s. Clearly he was unaware it was not the demons of corporate America but his wife sitting next to him who thought it would be cute to book the Pope room. Don’t worry, I never let him live it down.
And he was surprised, to say the least. He was surprised again for his 30th. Yes, I threw him two surprise birthdays in a row.
I guess that’s what you do when you love someone like crazy and you’re scared that “this could be it”. Would this be his last birthday? Would this be the way we remember him? Will he know how loved he is?
When was the last time you truly told someone just how much they mean to you? How they made you feel? How your stomach flipped when you’d spot them across the room?
I felt like it was my duty to be sure he knew just how much he mattered.
For the last six years, September has started my tailspin of emotions. September 16- Joe is diagnosed with cancer, September 18, Joe’s birthday, then followed by a steady decline of last memories until Joe died November 16, 2014, oh, did I mention our wedding anniversary is November 18? It rolls right into December with my birthday and our daughters and then the holidays. Q4 has not been my favorite. It’s been a shit show of grief, sadness, healing. love, anger and every now and then glimmers of hope for the future.
Parties can be a lot of work. There’s the expense, the planning, the food, the clean-up. But I’ll never regret how LOUD we LIVED. How many memories and moments were put into hyper-speed because of a cancer diagnosis.
Joe would be 37 this year and it’s hard to imagine just what he’d be like. Would he have more gray speckled into that beautiful head of hair? Would the lines around his eyes have deepened when he smiled. What kind of dad would he be? How would his businesses be doing? What would his birthday look like? Would we get a sitter and go out? Or stay in and bake a cake with our giddy six year old daughter?
The “you should be heres” can hurt more than the memories.
This week, I bought a little gift for Joe’s birthday and got myself a new car. I can almost hear the sigh from Joe in heaven as he sees me typing this. Joe used to know how much I’d spent shopping by how many gifts I got him. 5 for me 1 for him- was usually my approach. “Let me guess, it was $15,” he’d say with a smirk. But I know he’d be so proud of me, I walked in, ran my credit, put my money down and bought it all on my own. Something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do.
Being a solo mom widow is weird and scary. But I did it. And gosh, I felt proud of myself.
So, on a week that usually feels so so heavy as the memories and heartache sweep over mind, I’ve been choosing to LIVE LOUD.
I took the top down and felt the wind through my hair and smiled. I blared music with three little giggly girls for carpool to school this morning and we spotted out the hazy red sun coming up.
“That’s daddy for sure,” Mira said from the backseat.
And I felt him too.
Happy Birthday, Joe Clark. Forever 31. We love you, we miss you. We LIVE LOUD for you.
Check out the latest