So, I decided to read the story my sister wrote about mine and Joe’s journey together for the first time since she wrote it just days after he passed. Don’t know what I was thinking! Literally balling over here. But, it is such a special story of love that I wanted to make sure I shared it with all of you. This literally encompasses our life together. Make sure you have a tissue, well probably multiple tissues, on hand! Here we go….
I have a fairly old computer at home. Every single time I open that computer to get something done, I fight with the old outdated instant messenger program. It insists on opening automatically about 10 times as I sit there continuously closing it over and over again. For about 5 minutes, I try to keep my patience until it stops trying to open again. Finally, it seems, I can go about with what I was originally trying to accomplish.
Well, starting precisely on Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 at 4 am, my instant messenger icon would forever have a different meaning. It turns out that instant messenger could actually be responsible for the “writing” one of the greatest love stories, friendships, and brotherhoods I will ever know.
It all started back in the summer 2002. Jess fresh from Cheshire High School graduation, and Joe enjoying summer of his freshman year back in the old “shire”. Although they’d gone to the same high school for 4 years, had countless overlap in friends and activities, Jessica Fryc and Joe Fagan had never really connected until this very summer. A late summer party would be the first conversation between the two.
So, back to instant messenger… Where it all really began. Jess finds herself at our parent’s house preparing for her freshman year of college and constantly on the computer talking with friends. There, suddenly a message pops up from who else, but yeoldbush (Joe’s funny screen name)-remember those?? NSD63 (Jess’ screen name!), responds, and the conversation begins!!
That fateful summer came and went. Jess and Joe found themselves back to school…Jess a freshman at Merrimack in MA, and Joe a sophomore at University of NH. Jess recalls the endless late night instant messenger conversations between the two where they would catch-up, talk about fun times, and keep each other company as each others’ roommates would seem to find boyfriends or girlfriends and disappear from the “party scene.” That instant message from yeoldbush was always the anticipated note that jess needed to comfort her and get through the stress of the day.
A thanksgiving break home during that same year would really solidify the relationship. For those of you who grew up in Cheshire, you wouldn’t have a hard time recalling the amazing blowout parties we used to have when we’d all get together over the holiday breaks. Well this night was where history began. So much so that the same weekend would find my poor father driving aimlessly around town just to be sure his daughter was safe at 4 am when she had not yet returned home for the evening. Yep, indeed she was. Her car was parked right outside Joe Fagan’s house. Jess had been out with friends celebrating, and decided she wanted to go hangout with a hard working Joe who was actually home studying for finals! Now, yes, she certainly should’ve called home…but then the story also wouldn’t explain that true connection they had immediately and the risk they were willing to take just to spend some quality time together. Maybe realizing it at that point and maybe not.
College years brought about endless memories of Joe borrowing his roommate Neil’s car to visit Jess, and Jess borrowing her roommate Sheila’s car to visit Joe. Thankfully they weren’t too far, and could easily arrange these visits to spend time together. Summers brought about fun times in Cheshire with friends. Always an excuse to get together and party.
I regret that during those years that our distance kept us from spending less time together than I would’ve liked. I do recall though visiting all of those first few apartments that Joe had after graduating school. A big huge fish tank always on the wall, and the endless DVD’s and Nintendo games that kept us entertainment during our time together. Crazy neighbors and some really scary neighborhoods always gave us a good laugh. Even back then, Joe was an entertainer. The food spread wasn’t quite as intricate, but I do remember the early cakes Joe baked just to make sure Jess’ birthdays were as special as possible! My sister and Joe’s love grew deeply over these years.
I always admired his engineering degree and thought, “wow, he is such a smart guy!” A million times more so than I’ll ever be. I never did quite know what he did, but I knew it was pretty technical. We would be sure to see quite how smart and amazing he was as he continued on to build an amazing career for himself…and win awards that even his boss would quote, “people a year into the company just don’t win those type of awards!”
It had to be about the time that I met my now husband, Keith, that we really started to make some amazing memories together. Some good, some sad. But these were the true first times that we would see Joe’s undying sincere love for my sister show. And also his dire need to support those around him in their times of need. It was about this time that Jess’ best friend Val would come to the end of a 5+ year battle with cancer. Joe had just taken a bus all the way to Canada for upcoming work meetings. The minute Joe got word of the news, he would immediately rent a car, turn around, and drive immediately back to CT to be by my sister’s side through one of the toughest times in her entire life. Losing her best friend was an amazing tragedy…one she most likely wouldn’t have gotten through quite so gracefully without her “rock” by her side.
About 7 years ago some really great adventures also began for “us”. Jess, Joe, Keith & I. I had moved to NYC, and Jess & Joe became frequent visitors. Joe was game for almost anything!! I’d always been so nervous about entertaining visitors, but Jess and Joe were different. They were so fun and so laid back. They were easy and fun to be with. We created amazing memories no matter what we were up to- I have to say Wings and titans games were usually on the docket for at least part of the weekend. Joe would always remind us of his first time hanging out with Keith. Keith had one too many and ended up on the side of the street in the Meatpacking district. Joe was right there to pick him up- literally…and laugh hysterically the entire time while doing so. A friendship that wouldn’t end.
It was about 5 years ago when we knew things had changed. Jess and Joe had long been dating and we could all tell they were ready to take their relationship to that next stage. Geez, how funny was it when my mom came home to my very very nervous dad pacing around the kitchen surrounded by 2 empty bottles of wine. After some prodding and poking, he let it all out…Joe had been there! He had been there to ask for Jess’ hand in marriage! Woo hoo! The ring came shortly thereafter..around a pretty kitty called Bella’s neck. Bella short for wedding bells..so special. Just another odd thing that didn’t necessarily have deeper meaning back then…but today…oh, so different. Pretty Bella still prancing around the home to keep Jess safe and sound in the silence of Joe’s memory. What could be more meaningful…I’m not sure.
The wedding came…and again, Joe and Jess throwing an amazing amazing party! Joe’s love of potato chips ANY flavor showing strong at that amazing after party late in the evening hours of their hotel room. All of us- celebrating an amazing moment of life and love. Jess in her wedding dress, until the wee hours of the morning. The wedding is celebrated by their desire to do 2 things; buy a home together and have babies. Well, that dream of a home happened shortly thereafter.
I’m pretty sure everyone that’s visited has been blown away by the feeling they get as they walk in 29 Kingswood. Jess and Joe worked tirelessly to decorate and make it their own. Recently, Joe even going back to a “garbage pile” of windows and old doors because Jess decided they could make a beautiful craft for the home- and they did! The endless parties continue. Jess & I seem to wear a crown, boa, props for each and every one of them- our guys by our side to support us. Joe was the food master! Our most recent and amazing party was Jess’ 30th.
We had been sad to find out that Joe might have missed Jess’ 30th as he was due for his transplant during that time in NYC. We had planned a girl’s night for Jess. Immediately upon the awful news that the transplant had been postponed, Joe once again took what could be an awful sadness and turned it to happiness! We decided we’d host a party for Jess at her home. This is where we could be our best! Full reign over food, props, games, etc. And oh…did we! Joe and I fought almost daily…not your typical fight…but more because as sick as he was, he wouldn’t let me do anything to prepare! He took my ideas and implemented each and every one. We ended up with a candy bar, martini bar, Nintendo station on the porch, a photo booth, and endless amazing food! It was a party for the records. Joe’s final menu that I have on my facebook message to this day includes, but is not limited to: garlic bread cocktail hot dogs, buffalo chicken dip with Snyder chips, asian cocktail meatballs, sushi-“gonna get a spread from a local place” he said, assorted cheeses/ grapes/ meat platter/ bagel chips/ crackers, cooked shrimp cocktail to be served in the giant martini glass from their wedding, and a few pizzas that “he would cut into small slices and nobody would know they were ordered.” Those would be served with dipping sauces with a selection of bbq/ buffalo blue, ranch and other dips…because only Joe serves pizza with dip! There would also be sweet potato fries which would be cinnamon dusted with dip, pierogies, carrots in horseradish mix from a deli in West Hartford, sliced steak with A1, lobster salad, and assorted chips & nuts. WOW!
Somewhere in between these amazing memories and Joe’s constant battle with lymphoma, tragedy struck. My mom was hit by a car. This particular memory of Joe will sit in the front of my mind forever, and ever. While prepping for our wedding 2 days away, we received the call. The one you never want to get. Keith and I raced as quickly as we could from NYC to St. Mary’s hospital in Waterbury- in total silence. Joe and Jess greeted us at the door in the emergency room. Although I’m not quite sure how they were actually still standing, they told us, “She will not make it through the night.” The next few minutes lapse in my mind…although I remember one thing vividly. Joe, as sick as he was from the chemo he had received that very morning, comforted all of us…Jess, Keith, and I. And we all just cried…and cried…and cried in pain. We could not have lived through that moment without him. Joe fought his and our pain through the night until he crashed on the bed next door to my mom’s room to get the much needed sleep a cancer patient could not function without. Well, my mom lived. It was a miracle. Joe’s mentality throughout the battle was what I believed helped us get through. Joe constantly telling my mom, “take care of yourself and stay strong”…and my mom responding, “you too Joe”. Both of them suffering, yet both of them encouraging each other day by day until the very end.
Keith and I finally got married, one year later. Our wedding was not the same without Joe there. We needed him to build that ramp at the church that we needed for my mom’s wheelchair (when we found it wasn’t handicap accessible he told us not to tell my parents because they would worry. We would all figure it out together). We needed him to hangout with the “guys” in prep for the wedding…he was the brother Keith never had. We needed him there to help us order that late night pizza and help me figure out what to do when I was locked out of my hotel room at about 4 am. We missed him, but he was in our every thought. And again, the greatest memory…as sick as Joe was…he would never think twice about pushing Jess to do things.
He wanted her to work during his chemo and stem cell, attend our wedding (every single activity), hold yet another bachelorette for me at their home while he was up in bed, and be there for other numerous occasions in her life that he knew were important to her. Although not easy for her to leave his side, he made sure she knew that he would be OK!
Over the last few months, looking back…we can really start to remember more and more times that Joe pushed himself to make amazing memories and be there for all of us, although sometimes not feeling his best. He was there for my Dad’s birthday at Sliders in Wallingford. He felt bad that he had missed a few things in the recent weeks so he wanted to be there for our family, but also wanted to see March Madness with his best friends. He managed to turn it into the biggest birthday bash Sliders has probably ever seen. I’m pretty sure the cake lasted 30 seconds because half of the restaurant shared it. It was a great memory for us all-and especially special for my dad who’s wife was in a coma the year before during his birthday. We were all together.
Keith and I left for our honeymoon-sitting daily and thinking about what we were missing back at home…and how everyone was doing. Joe managed to make it out to Easter dinner with the family during that time. From all accounts, feeling awful, but being there because he knew everyone wanted to be with him.
Fast forward a couple weeks. Keith and I arrive back from our 30+ hour flight and need to think a few minutes before we make that call. Scared and worried about Joe’s situation, we call. The news is not good. We wander the streets for the following 2 days while we attend work feeling like zombies. We cry together at night over a cocktail thinking about what might be going on in CT. Friday finally comes and we start our drive home to CT to be with our family and Joe. Finally here…we see Joe. He doesn’t look like himself, but it’s so awesome to see him! He manages a smile and says he loves us! We are all together…and we can hopefully be of some comfort during this time.
Jess and Joe’s family didn’t leave his side throughout his entire stay in the hospital those last 2 weeks. Truly amazing. After days of thinking how she will address some really important questions…Jess has the opportunity to finally ask. Jess has talked about it multiple times in the last few days…one of the last few moments they got to spend. And boy, did Joe not disappoint. Yet again, true and total selflessness. They talked about everything including how Joe wishes for Jess to continue a relationship with his family, wishes for his ashes to be spread out over the water off of Provincetown in the Cape, and the fact that he was actually ok with having a big funeral (because he knew that’s what Jess would want). And, what sticks out biggest to me. If you recall, 2 dreams they had together. A home and family. Well, they achieved the first. Now, the second. Joe shares that his dreams for Jess are to find love, be married again, and have the children she’s longed for.
Suffering an amazing loss over the last week is hard to describe. We laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve been everywhere in between. That being said, we’ve done it as a family. All of us together. Up until that very last moment, Joe was truly a fighter, a remarkable person who seemed to be the best at every single thing he did, and a truly selfless person who always cared about the well being of everyone around him first. Joe, you will be missed. You will be missed dearly. You have forever changed our lives and will continue to shape our decisions for the future in such positive ways. You’ve made a mark on us we will never forget, and have been the inspiration for any battle we will fight. We love you dearly. You never got my last postcard but it said this. “I always tell my sis that she is my favorite sis in the world. She says she is my only sister. I tell her that doesn’t matter, she still is the best. Well, Joe, it’s the same for you. You are my favorite brother in law in the world. Yes, my only…but still my favorite!”
And I promise Joe, I will never get mad at my Instant Messenger again. XO