Since you are reading this, you most likely already know that Joe had brain cancer for over three years before he passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2017. I was privileged to be his mom, as well as his caregiver and companion. This gave me an up-close view of his experience. He seemed to accept his cancer as a matter of fact—I never saw evidence of fear or anger. However, he did have one particular frustration: that of feeling useless.
Besides being a talented musician, Joe was one of those guys who was always ready and willing when someone needed help moving, gardening, setting up chairs for an event, or almost any other situation that required his presence and his physical help. After his diagnosis, the cancer (and often the treatments) caused him to gradually lose strength and agility. He became more easily fatigued. He lost dexterity in his hand, making it very difficult to play guitar, bass or drums. He developed problems with vision and speech.
These limitations frustrated him much more than did the prospect of dying young. Throughout his journey with cancer, he was constantly seeking ways to be useful. As many of you know, he continued to help the neighbors with their yardwork as long as he could. He always came out to bring in groceries from my car, until he could no longer stand.
During one of our conversations, he admitted, “I really don’t know what I’m here for. I can’t do much of anything.” After thinking about that for a minute, I answered, “Maybe it’s not about doing. Maybe it’s about being. Maybe your purpose in life at this time is to be gracious and courageous as you face a difficult, unpleasant situation. People are watching you and are being inspired. Maybe that is your purpose.”
That seemed to give him a sense of peace. He had been fulfilling his purpose without realizing it.
Going back to the idea of usefulness, I think that will be my Word of the Year for 2018: Useful. I have my health and some measure of energy most days. I want to be more open to opportunities to be useful. I have a hunch my usefulness will be less about physical labor and more about relationships. Maybe this blog will play a part in that—who knows? But Joe’s longing to be useful has inspired me. Let’s see what opportunities this year brings…