Afterward

Dear Joe,

I know you won't be reading this. Last Thursday your cancer took the last thing it could take from you and you departed this place for points unknown.



I'm glad Carolyn and I got to see you last weekend, while you were still moving about and engaged with the world around you. Zack and I got Maddie's old Scott road bike put back together, which seemed like a useful thing to do when there's nothing to be done. We watched the last stage of the Tour de France together too! Zack knew a couple of the riders in the peloton and it was fun to geek out about bikes one last time.

Surprisingly, I was glad we were there Monday morning when you transitioned from that frail but present place to the beginnings of death, as your body finally couldn't keep up with the damage the cancer had wrought. We were caught off guard by how fast you shifted, though you hung on for 3 more days; long enough to bore everyone who came to say goodbye until finally the hospice nurse told them all it was OK to go home. I was glad we were there to see you reach the place that you don't come back from. I think though, I'm glad I didn't see you die. Mallory and your friend Pat were there. Maddie and Zack were off running on the PCT. You didn't die alone. Definitely not.


I'm also glad you weren't there to see me finish the Alsea Falls race I did on the way down to see you. I told you about my terrible finish and you told me you would have been rolling around on the ground in anger if you had been there. I know that's not true. If it was your finish, well yes of course. I've seen you do that, but you never judged me by my bad finishes. I gave you plenty of opportunity. The truth is, the trails were really fun and Carolyn was there to pat me on the back and be proud of me, and there was free beer at the finish and I think I sleep better at night because the races never meant as much to me as they did to you.


Some of your family came up to see us Saturday after you died. Mallory, Maddie and Zack looped up the coast and arrived for Mallory's birthday. I made a lasagna. Carolyn made a salad. We watched LCD Soundsystem's "Shut up and Play the Hits".  One of the songs had a chorus "If you're afraid of what you need, look around you. It won't get any better".  I thought of you. You did know in the end, what you needed.

I'm still kind of mad at you for leaving my sister. Twice.

In fairness, the second time wasn't your choice.

Jen, your girlfriend came up to see you when were were there in Ashland. I was so sorry for her. She was so not ready to lose you. We had decades with you. She only got three years. Still, and with apologies to Jen, I wish you'd stuck it out with Mallory. It would have been simpler and there would have been one less wounded person when you left. But like I said, you knew what you needed. You had your ex-wife and your girlfriend, and your daughter, oh, and Carolyn and me and Zack holding you up in bed so you didn't drown in the phlegm you couldn't cough up. There was so much grace in that moment. I'm sure you needed to be propped up, but I think we needed the moment more. As I was helping to hold you up I said "Joe, you are one tenacious son of a bitch." and you mumbled "I know." We all laughed and it was the last thing you ever said to me.

I meant to go on a ride today, do the Mill Creek loop to remember you. I was too tired. I scraped and primed some of the house instead, I'm sorry I blew off your ceremonial lap around the mountains. You wore us out.  But when I'm honest with myself, I look up at the mountains across the valley from our house and I know the trails and roads are there, but there's a hole up there where you should be and I know, I know, I can just get on my bike and go ride them but I'm so afraid of that hole and I know that sounds pretentious and stupid but it's totally true and that's me. It's been years since we rode together and now it will be an eternity. That makes me sad beyond words. 


I'm sorry your dead. If feels strange to write that but that's what you are. We are grieving now, all of us who knew you in different ways. Carolyn and I attached our grief to a song about death we loved long before you got sick. It's called "Skyscraper" by Touché Amore. It's about a trip the lead singer of the band took to New York with his mother before she died of breast cancer. The chorus "You live there, under the lights" builds to an anguished scream by the end.

You would have hated this song. For us, it was the most powerful articulation of grief we ever heard, and now it has your name on it.



Thanks a lot for making me cry on the stationary cycle at the gym at work while I was listening to it.

About the feather. You would have hated that too. I found it in your driveway. It's just from a stellar jay. But it reminds me of you. You were obsessed with birds in the last months of your life. Birding was something you could do right until you couldn't get out of bed anymore. In my mind I see you with binoculars around your neck and I imagine you taking notes, thinking about flying, knowing you were going to be leaving us soon. Part of the beauty of birds is in their transience, their rarity. That was certainly you. The jays are so common, always there, a poor choice for a memento. But they are strong, smart birds. You were that too. And it wasn't like I was going to chase after those stupid native pigeons hanging around the bird box you made with Maddie just a few weeks earlier.

Sometimes you don't get the talisman you want. You get the talisman you need.

I will miss you Joe.

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