Last week, I helped bury my dear friend Joe. I wanted to pay my respects to his family, his girlfriend and all his friends, especially his best friend.
I decided to write this tribute to Joe while I was driving in the procession from the funeral to the cemetery. I wanted to talk about what Joe meant to me and why I wanted to be there and share in this day of saying our final good-byes.
I hadn’t seen Joe in probably a couple years. I knew him from karaoke. I used to go to karaoke at a little bar near my house. I went literally every month without fail for a few years. I loved going. No matter who I was hanging out with, dating, sometimes even working with, no matter what we have planned the rest of the month, I’m very flexible. But on the second Saturday of each month, I was going to karaoke ..... that karaoke.
I enjoyed singing and would try out other places periodically, but I loved going there because of the people I would see. There was one guy there that, it turned out lived only a few houses from me. We never knew we were neighbors until we met there. He and I became pretty close for a time. There, I met Joe and his girlfriend, his best friend and his fiance. There were other people too that I loved seeing. I loved feeling like a rock star when I’d go. I could always count on them to make me feel like that, no matter how I sounded or felt.
Some nights I could sing, some nights, I was glad it was just that crowd. I trusted them. They made me feel good about myself and I could pretend to be whoever I wanted to be.... but having that freedom allowed me to just be me. Sometimes I felt sexy, other times I felt like a badass. Usually, I just wanted to feel like I fit in somewhere. I got a warm welcome from everyone, every time I came in. Not just me. That’s just how the whole group of people were. Very inviting. Very welcoming......for a while.
At one point I started to blow off 1-2 here or there. It wasn’t as high of a priority as before. When I came back, I didn’t feel quite as connected as I had before. Some people asked where I’d been, some people didn’t know I’d been gone. It was no big deal. They’re always nice. No one was ever rude to me. Well, maybe sometimes they tried to be. There was some drama every once in a while, but I did my best to stay out of and away from drama.
Joe would send me a message when he and his girlfriend got to the bar. It was once a month. asking when I’d be there. When I stopped going, Joe stayed in touch on Facebook Messenger for a while. I went back a few more times just because he was giving me shit. He made me feel welcome.
When we would talk in messenger, we talked about real life, not just karaoke. He would tell me about his scuba adventures. We talked and laughed a lot about growing up Jewish.
I knew his girlfriend before they were official. She and I had spent some time together in the beginning. We actually did go out a couple of times. I knew how much she liked him before he did (I think). She was madly in love with him long before they were actually together. Then, when they finally made it official that they were together, he was the luckiest guy in the world. She was great for him, and from what I could tell, he made her feel like the top of the world. But the awesome thing is that he knew how lucky he was.
He took that very seriously.......he was not going to screw this up. He knew how good he had it. She challenged him. She was good for him. She made him feel invincible. Why would he do anything to screw that up? I’m sure he had his off days but for the most part, he did what he could to be worthy of her. I admire that type of love, that type of relationship. I’m glad I got to witness that kind of love. They were so real with each other that he could flirt in front of her, but he stopped if or when anyone felt uncomfortable (usually, I remember a few times that he would push the envelope a little in front of his girlfriend. I told him to back off because it felt like he was just trying to get a rise out of her at the time).
Anyway, eventually, I stopped going to karaoke. I stopped keeping in touch at all. I had gotten busy with life and I don’t keep the same schedule. I’m not the night owl that most of them are. Karaoke doesn’t even start until 10 pm. I wasn’t finding or even looking for the validation I once sought from them.
Joe was the only one still talking to me, not even his girlfriend. Not for any reason that I know of, it was just because I had stopped going. Eventually, even Joe stopped reaching out. The only thing that tied us together, karaoke, wasn’t a common thread anymore.
What was funny is that Joe didn’t even sing. Once in a great while, he would get up and do a duet with his friends. For the most part, he came to have a good time, watch everyone have fun, and cheer people on.
Joe will be missed by a lot of people. As a matter of fact, what made me think of writing this is seeing the turnout and procession for his funeral. I’m pretty sure I could see Joe smiling down on us as we run the red lights legally, with police permission, let alone, in his honor.....I’m sure he was smiling down upon us, as they say.
I learned when my dad died that adding the dirt at a person’s funeral is representative of doing one final kind deed for them as you help them return to where they came from, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
I love that Jewish tradition. I don’t know if other religions or cultures have that custom, but that is definitely one that resonates with me.
It’s kind of like we’re both getting the last word in. The final kindness that cannot be physically repaid.
I have my own beliefs that make it easier for me to deal with death for the most part. Not everyone would understand those beliefs. I won’t go into detail here, but I believe we are eternal and I believe Joe is not gone, but only from our physical world. I believe he remains with us forever.
I saw his family and friends in so much pain from the sadness that it seemed unbearable. His parents were there, standing so strong. I’m sure they couldn’t believe they were burying their son. I could only imagine the pain in their hearts right now. His girlfriend, his best friend and easily over a hundred other friends and family. It was an honor to be there among his friends, both in Joe’s life and in his death.
I believe in guardian angels. Joe now has a vantage view. If I know Joe, he’ll do whatever he can to get messages to us when and how he can. Anytime he can help or even just make us laugh. I’ll be keeping an eye out for signs. I’ll be looking for clues.
Joe made me feel seen.
Joe heard me when I thought no one was listening.
Joe made me feel like I mattered.
That, to me, is why Joe mattered. Joe made everyone feel like they mattered. That’s just who Joe was.
RIP Joe Leibovitz July 29, 1983-Sept 16, 2019