Farewell to Joe: How Unexpected Good-byes Change our Thinking About Death

My Kindergarten Photo
My Kindergarten Photo

I can”t pinpoint the exact age I began thinking about death, but I know it was around the time of my grandfather”s death. He passed away of a heart attack, while sleeping, at just 65 years of age. I remember watching my Uncle weep as if in immense pain … I didn”t understand what it was to have heart-ache, then. Yet, it must have had a profound effect on me because it was about that time I began to pray that God would not let me suffer and take me quick, and please not in my sleep! I was pretty specific with God in those bedtime prayers.

Kids think more than adults think they think. I prayed that prayer more than I can count. Maybe it was prompted by a 17th century child”s bedtime prayer more than my circumstance. Who remembers this one?

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

As I”ve grown older, my prayers have changed. Death has a way of teaching us a thing or two. The more we experience it, the more we want to sculpt it. It”s not a popular discussion topic. Oftentimes, people avoid using the word “death” all together. Passed away. Went to Heaven. Lost. Stolen Away. Left us. Gone. 

Joe Kidding around with me at stocking delivery

In doing so we deny the fact that kids and adults will experience it, sooner or later. All this flooding my brain as I prepare to say Farewell to Joe this week. Joe DiBattista, Sr., just 65-years-old, friend and fellow Team Martina teammate, died suddenly, tragically, in a car accident. Devoted husband, loving father, faithful friend, retired Air Force officer, Environmental Protection Engineer, survivor. Joe fought long and hard to beat cancer, with his wife Diane loving him through it all. Now this. Why, God? Why?

The news report of the crash had remnants of the way Joe talked about cancer.  Struck. Couldn”t see it coming. And the feared outcome: pronounced dead.  I browsed through old photos, messages, and gifts from Joe, and then I slowly came to terms as tears streamed down my cheeks. I can”t change the unexpected good-bye his family and friends are facing, but I can convey the blessing of how he changed my thinking.  In doing so, I can shine a light of hope for Diane, children and grandchildren.

A "shining light of hope" at our stocking stuffer party with Joe & Diane pictured (front-left side) among our FL Panhandle Team Martina teammates.
A “shining light of hope” at our stocking stuffer party with Joe & Diane pictured (front-left side) among our FL Panhandle Team Martina teammates.

Give and then give some more. Joe was a giver. He and Diane steadily volunteered at the American Cancer Society and the Waterfront Rescue Mission for the Homeless. They jumped into my enthusiasm for Team Martina too, becoming teammates to help stuff and deliver stockings for cancer patients at Christmas-time. He shared research breakthroughs, prompting me to review and write about them. He helped me put on a “Journey of Hope” conference for cancer patients, welcoming guest speakers from The Cancer Treatment Centers of America. That was Joe. He was happy to make a difference, help others heal from the battles, and always arrived with a smile. He knew the significance of a hug and why hope matters.

Face your fears and get the perks. The first time (my husband) Chuck and I sat down with Joe and Diane for coffee we learned a few things. Joe knew how to reap rewards in life; he had the “skinny” on the gold card for Starbucks perks, Delta”s card for free baggage and a bucket list that challenged our thinking. Next thing you knew, Chuck and I were in love with zip-lining and contemplating tandem skydiving. We haven”t done the latter yet … I”m working on it Joe!

The next generation is up to us! Joe was an educator at heart. He was passionate Pharmocracyabout sharing what he”d learned that helped him beat cancer and thrive. Dinner at our house was prepared using the Vitamix to make nutritious and delicious concoctions that we”ve since emulated and expanded upon. Joe always had a recipe to share, whether for eating or fixing the world. Books such as You, Inc. and Pharmocracy topped his list of must-reads. Joe felt the next generation needs some shaping and it”s up to each of us to help that along. Now, if only Washington and western medicine would show some vested interest … I can hear Joe saying that.

I don”t want to go but I”m glad I”m going there. Joe was pretty clear about it. He didn”t want to fight cancer again. Teary-eyed and head nodding, Diane let us know she didn”t want to either. Still, they were prepared for battle, if necessary, because Joe wasn”t ready to go. His bucket list still had items to fulfill. Chuck and Joe shared that mentality, along with a puzzling look about “what is it all, really? What”s waiting for us there?” We could go round and round, and only one thing for sure came from it: I don”t want to go but I”m glad I”m going there. Joe”s expression of faith was child-like, honest, and real. All qualities that I admire.

The sun will set ... and rise again.
The sun will set … and rise again.

I”ve revisited my early prayer requests with God over the years. I probably never grew out of “kids think more than adults think they think.” But with more depth and much less fear. Now, I view dying as a final chapter of living. There”s no eliminating it, so why not embrace it. I want to face it knowing I”m a giver who”s faced my fears and enjoyed some perks, made a difference for the hurting and the next generation. I really don”t want to go either; there”s a lot more in my bucket list. Yet, I”m glad to be going there — through heaven”s gates with a desire to still do more, just like Joe. His indelible mark upon our lives will always remain.

I won”t attempt to answer “why” — no answer is sufficient. Instead, I”ll leave you with Laura Story”s song of “Blessings.” It sculpts grief and loss as mercies in disguise.

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