I’m not sure whether he finished the paper.
People were called, and all efforts were made. I don’t know all the details, but that’s okay with me. I don’t want to.
His family (and I’m proud to count myself among their number) was stunned. Though seventy-three, Joe was more full of life than many men half his age. No matter what he was doing, whether it was spending hours riding his Goldwing all over New England, or engaging in a mostly friendly war with the neighbors over who was going to have “the best goddamned Christmas lights,” or cheering at the sidelines during a grandchild-fueled sporting event, Joe Wronkowski took hold of Life with both hands and squeezed until it cried “uncle.”
Hell, when I met the man I was fifteen years old, and he mistakenly called me “Ralph.” It wasn’t until years later, when I married his daughter, Kathy, that Joe started getting my name right on the first try—but every time he got it wrong, it was with a wide smile on his face. I was smiling, too, and I understand why Life cried “uncle”: that man had a wicked grip.
I was one of the ones on Friday making the calls to let people know what had happened, and I’ve talked to people each day since then: Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Everyone I’ve spoken with, every single one, they all said the same thing, their disbelief evident in their voices: Oh, but he was so full of life! The people I talked to in person would often point this way and that, the gesture encompassing the whole world, as filled with sunshine and warmth on each of those days as it had been on the morning Joe sat down with his paper. They would point at the world as if to say Look around you—this can’t have happened. Friday through Tuesday, every day has been the kind of day that makes it hard to even consider loss, difficult to believe that someone can be taken from us and never come back.
Oh, but he was so full of life.
This morning however, on the day of his wake, when we’ll all gather to say goodbye to this man who was so full of life, who held onto it so tightly with both hands, I spent my time splashing through puddles, and slogging across lawns so soaking wet they were nothing but grass and mud. This morning, Life said goodbye to its longtime friend; the sun hid its face, the day was swathed in the gray and black of mourning, and the sky wept. Today . . . today is the kind of day where loss is possible, and goodbyes are real.
And that’s okay.
For as quickly as Joe was taken from us, as unexpected a goodbye this is, there is nothing to change our thoughts of him. There are no memories of his decline—hell, there are no memories of him even slowing down. There are only memories of the man who went to the races, and rode on his Goldwing, and sat in the sun to read the morning paper.
In our memories, he will forever be so full of life.