I am #JoeStrong

What a long, strange trip it’s been.
The first time I met Joe Clark was at the retirement party of Scott Harris.  Harris was an Orlando news-icon who, shortly after his “retirement”, died of cancer.
I met Joe and was instantly drawn in.  We talked briefly about Jimmy Johns and our mutual love of NASCAR driver, Kevin Harvick.  It was a short conversation, but one that stays with you.  Unlike many husbands of friends I meet, he seemed genuinely interested in asking questions about me.  I found it odd, but also refreshing.  He was like a magnet, and I could see why Amanda loved this guy.
The next time I met Joe,  it was his 28th birthday and he was in the hospital preparing for his first colon cancer surgery.  We had arranged a small birthday surprise at the hospital and made arrangements to stream the Bears game off the internet and onto a projection screen in his room, since the hospital tv wasn’t able to show the game.
Sure, it was weird to be in the hospital room, pretty much strangers, talking about ass cancer.  But that’s the thing about Joe, it didn’t really matter.  In just a few minutes, we were talking about all of our missed connections, as he called them.  We were both from the suburbs of Chicago.  He went to Glenbard North, I went to Glenbrook North.  Sure, he was 10 years younger than myself.  But we talked for a long time about our love of deep-dish pizza and how Florida just couldn’t figure out the pizza genre.
I sat with his father and complained about sausage on pizza and how you just couldn’t find good sausage in Florida.  We complained how they don’t cut pizza in squares down here.  Such a bunch of homers.
A few months later, we watched the Super Bowl together.  I brought my kids over and they sat on the couch for hours trying to teach Mr. Joe all about Minecraft.  Did he really care? No idea.  To them, it was the best.  It became a question every time they saw him- “have you played Minecraft Mr. Joe? Did you get the update?”
He ran with them all over the golf course with Wrigley.  This was the moment my kids fell in love with both of them.
There were talks of vacations, talks of Mr. Joe coaching Patrick’s Little League team.  It’s all they wanted.
Then there was one night at Universal Orlando.  The kids were excited to ride roller coasters with Mr. Joe all night.
It was the same night they told me they had just found out they were pregnant.  They were literally about 2 hours pregnant.  And he had this insane smile and twinkle in his eye.  Amanda and I spent that entire night making up excuses while she wasn’t riding coasters or drinking while all the boys road every ride in the place.  While standing in line for the Hulk, Joe talked about how excited he was to have a kid.  Finally, one of his own.  A week later, cancer was back.
It was like someone started a clock, and while none of us wanted to talk about it, it was clear that we were all living on borrowed time.
We had parties to plan, vacations to organize, baby showers, fundraisers, #JoeStrong days.  It blows my mind to think about all the amazing things that we crammed into such a short time.  A legendary 30th birthday party for Joe, literally on the night before his big cancer surgery.

The two of them are were basically Kardashian’s, but so much better.
They had this amazing romantic comedy value about them.  They were just plan fun to watch and fun to be around.
A quiet birthday dinner for Amanda turned into a hunt around Church Street for ghosts.
Witnessing him watching The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup – a top highlight.  I swear he played that “Lift you Up” song played at the Blackhawk celebration 800 times.  It was making me mental.  Now it just makes me miss him.

I was lucky enough to be one of the few with Joe Clark-original artwork.  Not only did he paint me this amazing sign for my new office, he also painted my living room as part of the Cook makeover surprise!

My little twitter bird - for my new office!

My little twitter bird – for my new office!

I will also forever cherish this amazing art hand-drawn of Joe of my boys.  He perfectly captures their personalities.  Here’s the original:

The original photo of Brendan and Patrick.

The original photo of Brendan and Patrick.

And here’s the Joe Clark work of art:

Hand-drawn by Joe Clark.

Hand-drawn by Joe Clark.

One of the last clear conversations I had with Joe was typical Joe.  We talked for a bit about how he was feeling.  We talked about loving Wrigley.  He asked me to take care of Amanda and Mira.  He then joked up an upcoming trip I had to take to Dallas, saying, “you will get ebola and die before cancer kills me.”  Oh that Joe…..

Saying goodbye to Joe was something I was really dreading.
We talked about this memorial for a long time.  There was a sense of trying to make it perfect for Joe – and it was.
I’m glad my kids got a chance to see how much everyone loves Joe, and to hear about important they were to him.
I’m not surprised and how powerful the #JoeStrong message has become.
People were thanking me for making it all happen.  Listen, I did nothing.  I helped them set up the blog, and they’ve done the rest.  Their words, their story, their passion.  That is all them.  I’m very thankful they have allowed my family into their lives and think we are better people for knowing them.
Amanda’s words from the service have been stuck in my brain.   Something like, “I would like to stand here and say all the things you want to hear; Joe’s in a better place, he’s not in pain, he’s with his dad.  And while that’s all true, the truth is that Joe didn’t want to die.  He wanted to live.  He wanted to see his daughter grow up, he wanted to plan parties, he wanted to coach our friends kids little league team.  He wanted to live.  So live everyday like Joe would if he were here.”
So that means I need to start planning parties and professing my love for everyone that matters in my life – because that’s how Joe lived and I’m so touched to know that he loved me.


4 thoughts on “I am #JoeStrong

  1. Wow … So profound … Just like Amanda you have a special gift for writing… Thank you for sharing …. God bless you & your boys … Thank you for sharing .. & yes Amanda’s words have stuck with me also … I pray for her & her Sweet Mira always

  2. What a beautiful friendship!! You are so lucky that for even a short time you got to have that special bond with someone so genuine. I think that is why this blog caught on for me and so many like me, Amanda and Joe are just so genuine! #RIPJOECLARK

  3. Beautifully written. I wish I had met him, but although I never did, his life is an example of how to truly love and live. I am grateful to have “met” him through their blog and through you.

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