A Powerful Celebration of Life
The day was June 4, 2018, and I woke up at 3:00 a.m nauseous in my stomach. The day was about to start, and my biggest fear would be attached to my entire day. Anxiety and uncertainty brought a level of stress I had never experienced before; my son had died, and I was to attend his funeral service standing strong. All I wanted was to stay in bed and sleep, to shut off the world and not think until the next day, or next week, or next month, or next year.
Joseph’s Celebration of Life was scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. with a reception gathering immediately afterward. I remember dropping to my knees, clutching my hands in prayer, and looked up, asking God, how am I supposed to do this? It was a question that continually moved thru my mind; every single day. I was not ready to let my son go. Not ever did I think I would live to see this day come before me, at least not in my lifetime. I am supposed to die before my children. Yet here I am, and still breathing.
I wanted to shower downstairs in Joe’s bathroom, to be where he last stood several days before all this chaos began. My husband helped me into the shower, then asked to be left alone. He was worried about me; I could see fear in his eyes. I’ll be okay, I promise, and he left the bathroom. Standing there in the same spot, knowing Joe had showered many times exactly where I was standing, gave me comfort. I closed my eyes and tried to put my mind in another place, a place of joy with my son. Remembering his little body as a baby, to his toddler years, then adolescents, and teens, and as a young adult. Where did I go wrong, I thought to myself? Why didn’t we move away from this town as I wanted a long time ago? I should have taken him to the doctor that night he fell. Why didn’t I push more? How the hell did we get here? It’s my fault. I could not stand anymore, and my body was shaking. Crying is all I could do at that moment, saying to Joe out loud, “I’m sorry, son, I’m so sorry I failed you!”
I heard someone knocking on the bathroom door. I assumed it was my husband, since we were the only two at home. Once again, another knock but this time I heard a voice clearly say, Momma. I turned off the water, and heard a voice, “Ma, you okay?” I know the sound of that voice, it’s raspy I would recognize it anywhere. It sounded just like Joe. I grabbed a towel, opened the door, but nobody was there. My husband came to check on me and I asked him if he was knocking on the door? He said no, that he had been in the garage since helping me in the shower. He said I must have imagined hearing it because there’s nobody else in the house. I know my sons voice. But, I guess I was in that moment of despair; I wanted so badly to hear him again. God, help me, it’s all I could say anymore.
My husband had been crying. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot red. We were both an awful mess. He wrapped his arms around me and said, “We got this, my wife, it’s going to be okay. But, we have to pull ourselves together; for Joe. We have to be strong together.” I was taken aback by the soft and gentle words he conveyed to me. It’s very difficult for him to express himself or speak words of empathy, even amid tragedy. We both fell to the floor, holding on to each other. But, his arms felt different around me. It was almost as if they were stronger yet calming and protective. His hug was tighter, and he kissed me on the forehead. Joe always kissed me on my forehead and held me tightly with every hug. I could feel my husband’s heartbeat; we had once again become one body. Our grief was so deep; we captured each other's souls.
After a few moments of completely losing it, shouting our tears, and lost in each other’s arms, we sat on the hallway floor staring at Joe’s bedroom. He was not here, not anymore, and he will never come home to that favorite place he spent thinking about life or listening to his music anymore; his bedroom. This was real, and it happened to us. Our eldest and only son died. We looked at each other, wiped our tears, and pulled ourselves up from that floor with a pinch of strength we both could feel coming out from Joe’s bedroom. It’s Joe, and we have to keep moving. We can do this, I told my husband.
As we pulled up to the church, I could feel the noise of my heartbeat. It felt like it was about to explode. There were people and cars everywhere. I could not believe all the people; it was like a Christmas holiday when the church is overcapacity. I took a deep breath, put my head into my hands, and began to cry. Mom, we have to go in, my daughter Juliana says to me. Everybody is waiting. I kissed her forehead and wiped my tears. Together with my husband Isadore, my daughter Allie and her husband Jordan, my granddaughter Ella, my daughter Juliana and her boyfriend Amir, and myself, we walked into the church. It was unbelievable, the number of people sitting then standing up as we walked to our seats. The church staff had to bring chairs from the reception hall for everyone outside. Inside, the church was at full capacity (900 max). I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was such a beautiful site to see and feel so much love in one place, all for Joe.
As we sat down, I looked up at the altar, and there were three poster-size pictures of Joe, my beautiful son, surrounded by gorgeous flowers everywhere. Suddenly, I couldn’t catch my breath. My whole body felt numb, and my head was spinning. I looked up, and Father Joseph came over and put his hands over mine, “Momma, I know this is very hard today, but Joseph is here, and he needs you to be strong. Please be strong for your son.” I’m trying, but I can’t do this, Father. I told him I wasn’t strong enough, and all I wanted to do was jump out from that church pew and run for the double doors to the outside. He brought me water and quietly prayed over me. I took a deep breath, gave him an okay to keep going. Joseph’s Celebration of Life mass had begun.
First to speak was Joe’s best friend, Kolby. Then our daughters, and finally our two nieces very close to Joe. Kolby was always concerned for Joe’s well-being. I watched as Kolby slowly found his way to the altar; my tears stopped and replaced with a smile. I could feel every ounce of love coming from his words; he had me at, “On behalf of Mr. & Mrs. Suarez.” I was incredibly proud of him. The link below connects to the eulogy.
Allie and Juliana each walked to the altar and spoke a bible verse selected specifically for their brother. They both made me so proud! My nieces Angelina and Ailen also spoke a verse from the Bible and they both held hands as each spoke. I was at a loss for words; yet so proud of them all. Aileen was extremely close to Joe, and she hit the ground running from the very beginning. She coordinated the entire service and reception, along with all the added photos and memorabilia. She knew what I wanted, and what Joe was all about; everything was perfect.
As I listened to Father Joseph speak to everyone, I could hear the sound of tears coming from behind me. It was quietly loud if that makes any sense. The sound got louder and louder; to my dismay, I had to look. I turned my head to look behind me, and all I could see were people everywhere. It was evident the impact he had on their lives, his life touched every single person in that church. I am so proud to be his Mother.
Father Joseph spoke very eloquently of our son, specifically Joe’s love for life, his positive outlook, and embracing every day as if it were the last. He asked us all to look around the room and take note of all the lives Joe touched at such a young age. He then asked everybody to introduce themself to someone close by, if they didn’t know each other, taking a minute to be inclusive. It was something Joe would have done. He was an inclusive type of guy; never wanted anyone to feel left out. Father had never met Joe, but you would have not known that by the manner of which he spoke so graciously of him. My heart began to calm; more bits and pieces of strength found their way to my soul. The muscles throughout my body seemed to loosen and I didn’t feel the intensity I had earlier. I could breathe better, and no longer felt like I was suffocating. Feeling stronger, my tears finally stopped. And, Father Joseph concluded the mass. Mother deep breath, I got thru the first part of the day. Thank you, Jesus.
I clenched my husband’s hand to my left and my daughters to the right, and together we walked down the long aisle towards the exit outside. My eyes looked up at every person I walked past, and I could feel the love coming from their heavy sadness as they watched us leave. But, something happened. As I looked to my right, I thought someone had started to walk with us. I could feel someone next to me, but nobody was there. I suddenly felt stronger, a warm and happy feeling touched my heart. I was not crying anymore, I was smiling and whispered my sons name, Joseph. A mother knows when her child is nearby, I could feel his presence. It was Joe walking beside me, with us. It was his strength that got us all thru the most unimaginable two hours of our life. He had been with us, by our side the entire time.
If there’s one word that best describes what I felt leaving the church that day, it would be the word POWERFUL.
Definition of Powerful: having great power, prestige, or influence.
Joe’s life definitely can be defined as powerful; great power, prestige, and influence.