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Gone but Never Forgotten: Nana and Joe

March always makes me think of my Nana. Her name was Margaret.  We named my daughter, Margaret, after her.  We had planned that to be our baby’s name if she was a girl.  Holding her stillborn body in our arms, we told the doctors that her name was Margaret.  Nana had dementia but I know she understood what happened to Margaret.  Nana died one August day, exactly one year after Margaret was born, but the month of March makes me think of Nana because she was Irish and loved Saint Patty’s Day.  She used to tell us, “Ya know I started drinking beer when I was 5,” and “God love ya, my mother never had any money but she always put a good meal on the table on Sundays.” On Saint Patrick’s Day Nana always dressed in Green, made ham and cabbage and invited over her six children and their gangs. For many years she and my grandfather had a Festive St Patrick’s Day Party in their cellar filled with a bar, slot machines and shuffle board. She and my grandfather would always sing for their guests. I feel so happy when I think of Nana that I can almost not control a chuckle.

March also makes me think of my nephew Joseph who died in 2009 at age two of a brain tumor. Today would be his seventh birthday and the fifth birthday we have celebrated without him.  When I talk about Nana, I feel confident of who she was. She told us lots of humorous stories about her childhood and about becoming a nurse and a mother. I am confident that when I tell these stories to others, they will be well received because she lived a full and colorful life, but when I speak about Joe I am not so confident. I am not confident because I am not sure of all that he would have become. He had so many amazing qualities. He was funny with a mature sense of humor and he was smart-no-I mean really smart.  He was musical and loved to play and listen to music and he was very handsome (watch out little ladies in heaven), and he was just a really sweet kid. But my moments, my children’s moments with their cousin Joe will always feel unfinished. And I know that because he died so young that others will not want to talk about him because they think it is so sad that he did not get to live a full life, but just because he did not live very long does not mean he didn’t fill our hearts and profoundly affect our lives, just as Nana did.  Joe had amazing parents who now have two other boys, Joe’s brothers, and another sibling due in May.  As their family’s story continues to develop so does Joe’s story develop, too.

What? You want to hear about him? Well today his mother is making a cake without icing because that is the quirky way he preferred birthday cakes, and he loved trains. In fact, one June day, weeks before he died, we took him to the Morris Arboretum where he watched the trains and then coyly dropped coins into a nearby water fountain exclaiming, “Again” so that his cousins would retrieve the coins and let him drop them again. Again Joe, again and again, I will think of you and talk about you and love you and miss you and remember you because you lived a full life for two years and taught us all lessons about the beauty and brevity of life. Happy Birthday Joe! And by the way, be careful when you are up there with Nana because you are now 7 and remember, she started drinking when she was 5. XO