The Father Named Josh
I knew him as a friend, not my friend this time though he grew to be one of my most treasured. No, he belonged to my husband and I remember their friendship before I remembered either of them. They were both from Raleigh, roommates at times in college and I spent a great deal at the address of 6 Dixie (for those students on the wrong side of tracks, there was no need to add Trail). Yes, for at least two semesters, my friends and I made our way to that location each and every Thursday. There was sure to be cheap keg beer and it was near the bars of Hillsborough Street that seemed to have a penchant for terrible fake ID’s of which our group had an impressive collection. I will move along after setting the stage of humor that surrounded the brief life of a Josh that always knew laughter.
This photo of Josh and his sons was taken three summers ago at Shackleford Banks, a favorite of many folks in Eastern NC, but none more than Josh or that same group who traveled as a pack, students of NC State, UNC, Meredith, St. Mary’s. Quite a few of us had it set into our mental navigation system like before cell phones were available. We had gone there to spend a beautiful Saturday, Thomas and I and our three children and Josh and his boys. It was quite hot and so, the horses came closer than usual and made their way to the ocean to cool their sweltering flanks and then came round again to eat the tall marsh grass where our children played. There is no better place to catch minnows, corral hermit crabs, dig for sand dollars, unearth horseshoe crabs, or collect treasures like discarded bricks and rope.
That day on the banks of Shackleford had no limit and we stayed happily quite a while though what we spoke of, I have no recollection. I was happy in the quiet I selfishly captured as the fathers and sons explored the nature reserve and my daughter Blair sat contentedly making sand cupcakes and eating junk. Thomas and Josh were amazing dads that day and I remember taking note of Josh’s tall frame leaning over his small sons that day, speaking quietly, touching them often and gently on the shoulder or back, slathering sunscreen on their wriggly limbs, and the laughter still plays in my mind, the jokes unknown but bantering giggles between a dad and his boys.
Josh was that way. He was the friend of my husband that I adored equally and I know that there are many more spouses and friends that would raise their hands in solidarity with those simple but truthful words. Josh was because he was and it was awesome. He smiled, he laughed, he hugged, and he loved. He adored his children, their mother, his parents, his brother and his family. Simply, Josh lived. He was the friend that would drive to the end of the earth for you and never fail to remind you that he did, at least me.
A favorite memory is when he was coming to see us for the weekend and as we were expecting our third child, I had decided I must have a triple jogging stroller (I know, ridiculous). I found one on Craigslist in Raleigh and begged Josh to pick it up for me, pay the girl $30, and haul it to Edenton. He reluctantly agreed which I expected and I waited to send him the address in Wakefield until the morning he was to fetch the beast, as he later called it, not to be confused with The Beast. He was furious; you would have thought he had driven across the country and I heard about it endlessly but even the tirade of complaining was shrouded in his good nature and made you thankful for the teasing from the friend who would have done it again.
Stories of friendship with Josh belong to his friends and so, I love to hear new ones or the funny classics about Brewer that never fail to bring a smile, not the fleeting kind either, smiles that build into audible laughter that spreads quickly. His life was unfolding so beautifully and his path, like most of ours, was not simple nor easy, but it was well-traveled and his choice of travel had won not only my admiration, but of most of those that claimed his friendship. How was it that a fall off a golf cart was to be his demise? The accident in Costa Rica seemed far away but not threatening in a scary way, more of a close call but certainly he would be fine or at least that is what Thomas and I tried to tell ourselves. It was not long though before the news turned for the worse and the head trauma presented itself much more seriously and by the time his brother got him home and we made our way to squeeze his hand in an ICU room, the clock was ticking.
My own familiarity with hospitals and sickness is nothing wonderful except when it comes to being useful and perhaps choosing my words carefully. My hindsight is a service I employ incredibly begrudgingly and sparingly. In this room, I saw Josh and my mind flashed back to my own brother. Our memories are never to far below the surface and perhaps serve a purpose other than to produce the hysteria that beckons, but that you must swallow and avoid. This time I knew and so, I sat with my husband who was the friend that did not. I talked to Josh and left a notebook for friends to write their words (I still have the notebook from my brother’s room) and when we came again I brought a jar of flowers from home and wrote this on the side with a Sharpie.
Prayer For Josh
Guide him waking, oh Lord, and guard him sleeping; that awake he watch with Christ, and asleep he may rest in peace.
The last time Amos and I stopped in for a visit with his parents, I saw that jar sitting a part of the kitchen.
For my own husband, I listened more than I talked, I made sure we were there as much as I could get a sitter and get him to leave work. We made sure to spend time with his other friends and I hoped he was feeling the moment, the coming loss of a friend, someone I think he considered his very best friend and we all know they are hard to come by. Yes, Josh slipped away the week after he arrived back in North Carolina and the loss was a hard hit. Regardless of one’s experience with death, there is nothing in the world we know to soften that blow. A son, father, a friend, not yet forty and his life…what do I say about his life?
Had it ended? No, it still goes on in the stories, the memories, the meetings, the gatherings, the sons, and in the minds of friends who ride bikes or listen to music or go to Shack, drink a beer, watch the horses, talk of childhood and college stories, laugh and smile. Josh lives on in his boys, those two small sons that I watched from a distance that day and took note of the father that made me feel proud to call him my friend too. Happy Father’s Day, Josh.