Yesterday, our family held a memorial service for a man who was as much kin as one could be and not be born into the clan.
Joe dropped into our lives almost twenty-five years ago. He had just been released prison and volunteered to help his brother build an extra room into our attic space. Joe didn’t ask for any payment, only a chance to work. We paid him anyway because he worked hard and gave an honest days’ labor.
A few weeks ago, he was brought down by a blood clot. The coroner called it a “coronary thrombosis.” We called it a tragedy.
In the time he was part of our family, he drifted in and out of our lives. He would disappear for weeks (once for years) at a time. I suspected he had been behind bars again, but he never told me—on the other hand, I never asked. We welcomed him back, and he paid us by working hard at whatever odd jobs we had to offer. He did us wrong once, but I think we understood his motivation. When he returned, we welcomed him back into the family. He apologized through action, not words.
I wish we had known more about him, other than he didn’t have the best of starts and got in over his head early. Despite his rough upbringing and early adulthood, Joe had a bright personality—at least around us. He saw the good things in life and embraced the positive, no matter how many times it seemed unfair to him. He had the best smile.
Joe wasn’t without his issues. He always talked about “the ten Mexicans” in his head. They seemed to be the driving force behind his seeming preference for physical labor. He would laugh about it, but I think they affected him more than he let on.
In the end, he shared space with our daughter, and she saw him as a brother as much as we thought of him as a son. She found his body and was much more affected by his passing than she expected—as were all of us.
Whether he knew it or not, Joe was a son, brother, nephew, uncle, and our family is all the better for having looked past his upbringing and rough start.
You will be missed.