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.
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)
This is my story of “Losing Joe” and how uninvited grief introduced itself without any warning. Our life changed in the blink of an eye on May 29, 2018, but this nightmare began on Monday, May 28, 2018.
As I’m writing this it feels like this moment happened only “yesterday”; to be honest, every day feels like that “yesterday” repeating itself over and over in my head. The day was an ordinary afternoon and I was laying down in my room next to Ella. I could feel the warmth of the sun coming through my bedroom sliding glass doors as I gazed at my beautiful tree outside my bedroom. My husband and I were both home babysitting our grand baby Ella, she was suddenly sick to her tummy and had vomited a few times. Aside from her not feeling well, it was just another day. We were living life our normal day-to-day thing and I had no complaints. I was happy, we were happy, our family was happy and I was looking forward to a huge celebration at the end of August. I was retiring from my job of 25 years and it was Joe’s 28th birthday too, August 31, 2018 was going to be a double party and it was a big deal, we were both looking forward to a long day of celebrating.
It was almost 1:15 p.m. and I knew Joe would be coming home soon. I had spoken to him earlier that morning, he told me he would be home some time around Noon (he called me the night before to let me know he was staying overnight with a friend.) I remember feeling completely relaxed, my mind was calm, no distractions were in my head, it was a peaceful day so far. Just as I started to doze off, I woke up to the screeching sound of the front door opening and I heard Joe’s voice loudly say, “Momma, I’m home! Where you at Ma?” I asked him to come upstairs so we could talk, but all I heard was the sound of his footsteps moving quickly downstairs, doors opening then shutting (laundry room door, his bathroom door, his bedroom door, etc.) it was obvious he was in a hurry. Funny thing is Joe was loud in every way; he talked loud, he laughed loud, he even walked loud (if that’s possible). In fact, within a few more minutes he loudly said to me, “Meh, I love you, I’ll be home later, k.” And, before I had a chance to say anything, I heard the front door close after him as quickly as it opened. Just like that, Joe came home and then he left. I never seen him, I only heard him.
The strangest thing about that moment when Joe left the condo was there was no sound, the loud squeaky noise that came from the front door just minutes earlier, it was gone. In fact, everything seemed to go silent it somewhat felt like the world outside stopped in those few seconds. I heard no cars driving by outside our condo; it’s typically a very busy road, there were no vagrants walking by yelling or just talking crazy, no car horns honking, no dogs barking, nothing seemed to move. It was an uncomfortable and eerie stillness, it was the absence of sound.
So, I did what any mom would do I grabbed my cell phone and called him. He answered with his usual loud and funny self, “Yes, Mehhhhh?? Wassup?” We talked briefly, very briefly, actually too briefly. I asked why he didn’t come upstairs before leaving? I told him I felt as though he was avoiding me or not wanting to be at home? He replied with a laugh, “Meh, it’s Memorial Day and I’m hanging out with friends Mehhhh.” We hung up, but something in his voice seemed different, it was not sitting well with me so I started text messaging him. He responded to a couple of texts, but did not reply to the last few. I kept messaging him throughout the evening too (5:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m., then 12 midnight) but no reply. I didn’t know who he was with and I had no idea where he could be. My last text I asked if he was coming home and to please reply back. My husband kept asking, “Where’s Joe?” and all I could say was, “Babe, I really don’t know!”
I had a difficult time falling asleep that Monday night. I could not get comfortable and my mind kept racing. Finally around 1:30 am I read a prayer and my eyes slowly got heavy. I fell asleep when suddenly I heard this loud bang popping sound outside, it startled me and I jumped then sat up in bed. It was the sound similar to a car backfiring, but it was so loud it seemed to be right by our window. I quickly felt my heart beating so hard I thought it was going to jump out of my chest! I looked at my phone it was 2:15 a.m. I had no missed calls or messages from Joe. I woke up my husband and he heard that loud bang noise too, loud noise too. Okay, NOW I’m getting nervous, I told him, “babe I’m feeling scared”. It was just a car, stop worrying he tells me. But, I knew he could feel what I was feeling too. He looked outside but it was nothing. I went downstairs to get a glass of water, my whole body was hurting and I was feeling sick. I kept thinking, maybe I had caught what Ella had, so I took a Motrin. But, I could not stop shaking. I walked down the hall and took a quick look in Joe’s room, he wasn’t there. I’m hovering again, I thought to myself. Joe was 27, a grown man, but as a Mother the worry never really stops it doesn’t matter if your child is 5, 10 or 27. A child grows inside a Mothers body for 9 months, there’s a bond that never goes away, it’s a lifetime connection of pure and beautiful love. I knew and can feel every breath and heartbeat for each one of my children; 27 (Joe), 25 (Allie), and (20) Juliana. I just knew when something wasn’t right. In that moment, the feeling was so strong I wanted to get in my car and go look for him but had no idea where to even begin.
I then messaged Joe’s friend and asked her if she had spoken to him? I knew he had stayed overnight at her house the night before and she told me she had been trying to reach him all evening but he wasn’t answering. The last time she spoke to him was around 5:15 p.m. She was worried too, I could hear the sound in her voice as if she had been crying. We hung up and again I tried calling then texting Joe, but got no reply. Time seemed to move so dam slow but eventually the sun came up and at 7:30 a.m. I called my niece for a ride to the office. I needed to grab a few things and briefly talk to one of our executives regarding an email I had sent out the previous week. When she got to the condo, I told her Joe didn’t come home and he wasn’t answering my calls, I was getting nervous. I’m sure he is asleep at his friends house, he’ll be home don’t worry, she says. Yeah, I’m working myself into a frenzy, overthinking…again!
Once again, I called and left him a voicemail telling him I left the front door unlocked and to call as soon as he woke up! Then, a text message, “Joseph Anthony where are you!! Can you please at least reply son so I know you’re okay? Please!” I rushed into the office that morning grabbed a few things and called his friend again. She still had not heard from Joe and was very surprised by my phone call. I told her I was freaking out, it isn’t like him to not call or reply back to me. Then I asked her to call his best friend and to call me back as soon as she talked to him. It’s now close to 11 a.m. and I’m getting ready to leave the office and drive over to his friends house. I could feel that anxious thing coming on strong (heart racing, my head hurt from no sleep, inside my soul I was trembling). I had this gut feeling something bad was about to happen, I call it “fear.” My heart was hurting, it was a stinging sensation and it scared me. Then my phone rang, it was his friend and I was relieved that she was calling me back. My first thoughts were, thank God she finally talked to Joe. That was not the case, not even close! I answered my cell and all I could hear was a mumbling sound. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, my voice got louder and louder, “What is it!! I can’t hear you sweetie! Slow down! Please, what are you saying because I can’t understand you!” I remember that moment quite vividly as she spoke one word, it was a word I still hear in my head, over and over again….CORONER! At that moment, everything seemed like it all faded to black. Instantly, my world turned to complete darkness. Uninvited and without warning this ugly, dark shadow called “grief” had slipped in and found its way into my life. I was not prepared for what was about to happen, my mind was in some other place and all I could do was stand there screaming I was completely out of control! All I could think was I have to get to my husband, I need to get to Isadore. God, help us.