People ask me what are we planning to do for Joe’s one-year? It’s fast approaching on May 28, 2018 and every time I think of that question, I feel sick to my stomach. I begin to sweat, I feel lightheaded, it takes everything in me to breathe, and my body starts to shiver. I’m not much in a celebratory mood these days and I’m definitely not thinking how we should honor his life on the day he left this world. Yet, I don’t want to disrespect his memory. What am I suppose to do? Is there a book somewhere I can read that helps me understand not only this whole grief journey, but on top of that I’m suppose to have some kind of (what?) on the anniversary of this indescribable loss? I’m on the fence here, can someone please point me in the right direction because I’m seriously about to jump at any moment. My son, he is my heartbeat. I’m exhausted in pain. When will my heart begin to heal, please tell me. How do I continue to navigate this life without my son. I’m absolutely lost.
We decided June 7, 2018, would be the day we celebrate the life of our only son, and eldest of 3 children, Joseph Anthony Suarez. Joe’s life began on August 31, 1990 and he went home to be with God on May 28, 2018. As I reflect on June 7, 2018, there are two words that come to my mind, SPIRITUALLY POWERFUL
People often will say (with good intention of course) you were blessed for 27 years, be thankful, he’s at peace, God has him now, it’s God’s will….but those words don’t help me much because 27 years wasn’t enough time. I wanted more time with my son, my husband wanted more time, we needed MORE TIME! and most of all, Joe needed more time. But, I quickly realized time doesn’t stop for anyone, it just keeps moving forward. I always thought time would take me to an old age while my husband and I watched our children become adults, find love, start a career, get married, have a family. Time doesn’t heal it just hurts more because it’s that much longer Joe isn’t here with us.
We had so many people surrounding us with prayers and love when word spread about Joe’s death. And, I know every prayer spoken gave me and my family strength, there’s no other answer I have as to how we all kept standing. Preparation for Joe’s memorial service went into full throttle by the end of that first week. It was like watching a movie, everyone had a role. Our girls, Allie, Juliana and my niece Aileen all worked really hard to give Joe the greatest gift. Every detail was well thought out, specifically to represent Joe and his beautiful spirit. I’m so thankful my niece Aileen was there to give my girls the love and support they needed to plan Joe’s day. Aileen, she was there every step of the way, thank you God! Our girls needed her strength, so many people stepped up to help it’s impossible to name everyone (you all know who you are and I love you to no end, always!) There were T-shirts made with Joe’s handwriting- it was one of his idea’s to name his business, rosaries were ordered, each rosary was placed into a small plastic pouch with a picture of Joe and a prayer printed on the backside. Julie & Allie selected the prayer, Aileen’s friend made all the booklets and prayer cards. The church music, bible versus, reception, food (much love and my forever thank you to Luigi’s for the fabulous food!!♥️), flowers (our love to Kika and Tia’s Cindy & Sally for helping with flowers) music (thank you to our lifetime family friend Noe Garcia), thank you to our Holguin family for helping us at hall, it was all done with a handful of love! To all those who helped with Joe’s day we are forever thankful. My husband and I were extremely proud of our girls, they were in such heavy heartache for their brother yet were strong enough to plan his final day. I was just as proud of Aileen “my person” in my heart I believe it was her way of giving one final gift to Joe, as well as allowing herself time to process the reality of what had actually happened. They were extremely close and her love for Joe shined like a bright light throughout the entire day. Together, she and our girls shared every single step that was planned, asked our approval before any decision or purchase was made, etc. I remember this blue spiral notebook Aileen had with her 24/7, she wrote everything down in that notebook. Then, gave it to me after everything was over. I keep it in a box I have with several other mementos that belong to Joe.
In addition to that first week, Kolby Halley, one of Joe’s closest friends had asked me if he could start a GoFundMe for Joe. I hadn’t given money much thought, I remember us having a life policy on all our kids, including us, but had not contacted our insurance agent yet. My mind was everywhere and unfocused, but I had people thinking for me and what a blessing they have been in my life. I gave Kolby the go-ahead and in the meantime called my agent only to discover Joe’s life policy had not been renewed, therefore he had no life Insurance. Another big blow! Every day I thank God for Kolby’s quick thinking, he has always been a forward thinking kind of guy. I remember Joe would tell me how prepared he was when they planned their TRYBE outings. He loved and respected his brother Kolby, and I’m so blessed he remains in our life.
Kolby got the ball rolling and created a GoFundMe account, he posted it to social media, and that thing immediately skyrocketed thru the roof! I remember looking at Facebook briefly to see it and my heart skipped a few beats, it was like watching the most phenomenal event happen right before my eyes! Kolby had set a goal of $8000, however, by the second day donations had exceeded that goal and a week later Kolby handed me a check for $12,000, but prior to that he gave me a check for $500 from his dad. I was so humbled and beyond thankful. Every day going forward a new miracle happened, it was like watching God place all these monumental blessings in my lap and I remember feeling as if someone was holding me in their arms, carrying me through this ugly dark storm. Protecting me from all the bad things that could kill me. We will forever be grateful to every single person who took a minute to donate towards Joe’s day. Its one of those “unforgettable” moments when God proves to you just how powerful He can be, and He had my attention!
I love you Kolby Halley, thank you for loving our son unconditionally as your brother. He admired and loved you very much. I can literally hear his voice out loud saying “Danngg Bro! I love you!”
Please click link below♥️sharing a Joe & Leena moment. Together they made life in the moment sooo much better!
As we drove up to the church I could see cars and so many people walking towards the church. I remember thinking, who are all these people? I quickly noticed Joe’s circle of closest friends, he referred to them as his “TRYBE” (this was a group of tightly bonded best friends he often called his brothers from other mothers. Not sure who created the name TRYBE, but it was clear they are all extremely close and Joe was their brother.) They walked over to embrace us, respect, honor, and love for their brother were the words that immediately came to my mind as I hugged them. I knew this was just as difficult for them as it was for us. I could feel the pain in their heart. Joe had so many friends, it was remarkable to see them all come to the service. Our family, our friends, the love of so many people consumed our hearts, it truly was and still is such a feeling of warmth that soothes my soul.
Izzy and I connected hands very tightly, our girls next to us and we made our way to be seated. Together we sat down and as our eyes looked up in front of us, there stood Joe in poster-size pictures. Our girls’ only brother, our only son, our first born child. Disbelief is the word I remember thinking. My entire body was trembling, my legs felt numb, my mind was spinning out of control and my eyes were beginning to hurt from tears. Suddenly, the music stopped and the sounds behind me faded to silence.
Kolby made his way to the front podium to give Joe’s eulogy. I know this was not easy for him, it took alot of strength to stand up there and try to put Joe into a limited number of words. At the same time so much sorrow at the loss of his best friend, whom he always referred to as his brother. We were honored to have him speak on our behalf. Kolby would often call or message me to check on Joe if he wasn’t answering his texts or phone calls. I reassured him Joe was home and doing just fine. I would often do the same and message Kolby telling him I’m worried about Joe, and he would help to calm me down. It was our LOVE for Joe, genuine and unconditional. Kolby hit the mark when he spoke about Joe and who he was as a man, a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, his notorious humor and his love for living life in the moment. He also talked about what Joe’s life meant to him and the impact he made on so many others. He honored our son, perfectly! I was extremely proud of him. I’ve attached a copy of Kolby’s eulogy, please click the hyperlink. Joseph’s Eulogy by Kolby Halley
Then, it was Allie, Julie, Angela & Aileen slowly making their way up to the front. Juliana was first. Im staring at my babygirl as she begins to speak. She spoke scriptures from God so eloquently and with such grace. I could feel her love in each word. She held herself together very proudly and did a beautiful job honoring her brother. Sibling love amongst our three kids is a bond so strong, I truly believe her brother was by her side holding her up the entire time. He will forever watch over both his sisters.
Next was Allie. She too spoke with So much love and respect for her brother, as she spoke the word of the Lord. I also believe Joe stood right next to his sister, telling her “c’mon Sis you can do this, I got your back.” She was almost done, then her eyes looked up and could see everyone carefully listening to her every word. She held on and again that proud moment overcame us as she walked back to her seat.
It was Angela’s turn. Angela and Joe grew up together. They started pre-school together and remained very close their entire life. But, like everyone else, once high school is done they went different directions. Joe and Ang would see each other at family get togethers and it was as if no time had passed. He loved her like a sister and he was happy she found a great guy to spend her life with and raise a family.
Finally, it was Aileen’s turn to speak. The last speaker usually tied it all together and the most difficult because she had stood up there and witnessed 3 of her family members speak God’s word to a church filled with people who love and respect Joe. She too did a beautiful job keeping her composure and honoring her “Jeh” (aka Joe) with intense love and respect. Gods strength, Joe’s love gave each one the ability to hold it all together up there in front of over 1,000 people, the immense love for Joe held them all so very strong.
The church was over it’s capacity, maximum seating was 900. There were not enough seats for everyone attending, it was standing room only. They had to get chairs to place along the walls so people could sit down. People were standing at the entry or outside, they just wanted to be there, for Joe.
I quietly whispered to Izzy, “babe, I’m not gonna make it out those doors.” Then I looked up and Father Joseph was standing in front of us. He could see I was falling apart. I had nothing left in me to keep standing. He put his hands on mine and spoke to us with his calm and peaceful voice, “Momma, Joseph is here and you must be strong. You must stand strong for him, he needs you both to do this, he is here.” Suddenly, I noticed Izzy straighten up his back, he pulled himself together standing tall and placed his left arm around me and said, “c’mon babe, we gotta do this for our son” and suddenly I felt my entire body lean on him. Get strong Elaine, pull yourself together for Joe and your daughters!! I repeated these words over and over again.
Father Joseph spoke of our son as if he had known him his entire life. I now know that was God talking, and yes, he did know Joe his entire 27 years of life. The words spoken by Father Joseph were absolutely beautiful and described Joe exactly 100%. Suddenly, my heart felt warm and it wasn’t pounding as hard inside my chest. My soul felt calm, I had this different feeling come thru me, it was like warm soothing water. It’s very hard to describe, I just know it felt good and I was stronger, so much stronger.
As we began to walk out of church I looked at all the people and I could feel each and every heart and prayer coming at me. At some point, Joe had crossed paths with each one and touched their life in a way that brought them here, on that day, to give their respect, love, and to honor him.
I no longer felt like I was in a nightmare. I was breathing life and life was giving me a moment that would forever remain in my mind and my heart. I was stronger walking out of church that day, much stronger. Joe was there, definitely.
I always knew there was something unique and very different about our son, Joseph Anthony Suarez. He seemed to radiate the world even as I gave birth to him on August 31, 1990. I always told him one day he would accomplish greatness in life because his spirit was so big and he would see the world. Joe would look at me and smile, then give one of his warm tight hugs always with an “I love you Momma.” I love you more son and I held him tightly in my arms. I don’t think Joe realized how much everyone genuinely loved him. There was something about his presence, he just made you feel good inside. He had a gift, people loved him. And, he was my gift for 27 years, I miss everything about him every single day. We all miss him. I was right about him accomplishing greatness, he did exactly what I knew he would do, I just assumed it would be here in the living world.
The day after we were contacted by the Coroner, I had a dream. It felt so real. It was one of those dreams when you tell yourself if this is a dream please don’t wake me up! I was at my mom’s house on Fillmore St. sitting at the kitchen table, crying. I looked out the back door and there was Joe walking towards me. I don’t know where he came from, he just appeared. Slowly, he made his way into the kitchen, I stood up holding out my arms for him. Somehow, we both were standing at Mom’s front door and Joe had his arms wrapped tightly around me. I cry every time I think back to this dream. Then I looked up at him and I could see his eyes were filling up with tears as mine were drowning. He told me, “Momma I’m sorry, I love you” these words were often his direct way into my heart, he had many but this one got me every time. I know son and I love you more and I forgive you.” I held on to him for as long as I could. I didn’t want to let him go, then my eyes opened. Hopeless and grief stricken, I laid helpless in my bed for hours. Was it a dream? Did I imagine what just happened? Am I going crazy? Or, did Joe really come to see me one last time? I believe he came to say goodbye. Suddenly, my heart-felt warm.
Every day following Joe’s death was filled with disbelief, shock, numbness, sorrow, and unimaginable pain. For the most part, those days and nights were hit and miss memories, it all seemed like a lifetime ago. I don’t remember much, except sleeping. Sleep protected me from reality, I felt no pain while my eyes were closed. Sleep kept me from thinking, I didn’t want to think about what was happening in my life. It was too much for me to process and hard enough accepting I would never see Joe again. People tell me eventually it won’t hurt as bad, I don’t believe that to be true. I asked God out loud, “where are you? how do I go forward from this? I am broken Lord!” Sobbing heavily, I could barely catch my breath. Life hurt. It actually hurt to breath. Life is so unpredictable. It can change in a blink. What I quickly realized was, “don’t take each day for granted, because you never know what can happen, it can all be wiped away just like that…in a snap.” Every day really is a gift.
Sometimes, I feel as though I’m spinning in circles. Trying to find an answer to the “why?” Why Joe? Why my family? Why didn’t I get some kind of warning? Why couldn’t Joe have just stayed home that day? Why didn’t I stop him from leaving? Why didn’t he just come home? There are 100’s of whys. I may never know an answer to any of my questions, so I’ve given it all to God. I had to, I was spinning out of control. I always knew and could feel when Joe was uneasy about something. I would ask him, “a penny for your thoughts?” His reply was always, I’m good Mom (my heart is racing as I’m typing this). He never wanted me to worry. I’d rather him be here and worry thru the problems that can be fixed versus him be gone forever! There was a lot wrong that Monday, I could feel it without looking at him. His dad would always tell him, “don’t be so trusting of other people, son. Always have your guard up, there are vicious people in the world, Joe” ….got it Pops, he would always tell his Dad. Prior to May 28th, we were all living, breathing, life as a family was uninterrupted. I want it all back. I want my family, all 5 of us, living and breathing together again. I want my son Joseph Anthony back. Why did this happen? Some people tell me, “it’s all in God’s plan” well, that’s not enough for me, I want more. I want to know HOW this happened to Joe. My gut instincts tell me there’s a lot more we don’t know. But, one day the “more” will reveal itself, I have no doubt. Something will surface. This chaos has ripped apart my family and it has left us mourning Joe to no end. I pray, it’s all I have left in me. I have given this all to God. It’s way too big for my shoulders.
I love you my son and every day my heart hurts, but I will not let your death be in vain. I will see you again one day. Until then, I promise to try with everything in my soul to shift my sorrow and my pain towards your memory. I will make sure your greatness will continue in honor of your name, Joseph Anthony Suarez. I love you son ..to no end.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 NIV)