Noise in the System
This past January, I lost my brother Joe. My mother has asked me several times over these months to post the eulogy I had prepared but did not have a chance to share at his funeral. Tomorow would have been Joe's 54th Birthday and I believe this is the perfect time to share what my dear brother means and has meant to me all these years.
I am 16 months older than Joe, and as you would imagine being so close in age, we did a great deal together growing up in Orangeburg, NY. I remember pulling him around by the shirt or jacket keeping him ‘close by' when we were just toddlers. After all, I was the 'big brother' and it was my responsibility to look after him. You would think that I was years older. It only seems appropriate that I happened to be in Tampa, Florida (where Joe lived) on a business trip when Joe suffered his fatal accident this past January. I know God placed me there, 'close by' to 'look after him', as he did when we were children.
In grade school and even through Junior High, we would play together on the same little league and sports teams. Whether we were competing in organized football, baseball, basketball, or wrestling, or we were playing in pick-up games around the neighborhood, Joe and I spent a lot of time together. These were our developmental years and I can say with the utmost certainty that my time with Joe greatly influenced who I am today.
As we grew older, like many teenage siblings, Joe and I spent more and more time with our own friends. However, we still participated in sport activities and continued to wrestle together through high school and even played softball together through our college years into adulthood. Not to mention all the time we spent together at all our family functions and celebrations.
It was at this time in our lives that Joe started developing symptoms consistent with mental illness. Over the next several years, Joe struggled with his disorder, and our family struggled too. We tried to understand, cope, empathize, support, react, not react, reach out, give him space, live in his world, and help him live within ours. As his disorder was progressing, I moved to Southern California to pursue my career and raise a family. My relationship with Joe was limited to holidays, special occasions, rare phone calls, birthday cards, and frequent reports from my parents about his condition.
As an Uncle, Joe was the best! He loved my two daughters unconditionally, and as he did with his friends and family, he couldn't do enough for them. Whenever we were in town, Joe made sure all his time was scheduled around theirs. Whether it was pulling them in a wagon around the block or taking them sleigh riding as young children, or driving them to the mall and waiting patiently while they shopped as teenagers, Joe was there to make them happy. This kindness, thoughtfulness, and loyalty to family and friends were the essence of who he was.
At Joe's funeral, it was amazing to hear story after story from young and old, friends and family, and even acquaintances, about Joe's consistent generosity and unselfish behaviors throughout all phases of Joe's life. People told stories about his kindness, wonderful sense of humor, loyalty, strong work ethic, and thoughtfulness when he was a sweet little boy, an energetic and rebellious teenager, a developing young man, and even as a conflicted adult dealing within the two confusing and parallel worlds of reality and mental illness. Even with all this ‘noise in the system', Joe's core values, defined by a lifetime of consistent behaviors, was an awesome framework for anyone to live by.
My parents should be very proud of the son they raised. They did everything right. Joe was a good and kind man of strong character and moral excellence. I believe we are all better people to have had Joe in our lives. I know my successes would not have been possible without him in my life.
Joe, I love you brother and I miss you dearly. Godspeed.