Joey lost his battle to medulloblastoma November of 2012. I wish I could list the stories and testmonies of all of us that were inspired to live better because of watching Joey's short life. His positive attitude was contagious and he wanted to encourage everybody he came into contact with. He inspired Elizabeth and me, more than words could ever say. Joey's attitude, faith, and generous spirit lead to the creation of TEAM JOEY, a not for profit (501c3) organization dedicated to getting Legos into the hands of every child battling cancer, and funding research to END pediatric cancer, once and for all. See link below:
Father's Day, 2013
Jun 16, 2013 12:24pm
I just felt overwhelmed to write today. Have had a heavy heart leading up to this day all week. I tried my best to put it out of my mind, but memories and TV commercials and people talking about Father’s Day make that impossible. I have told so many that those memories are so weird, a dichotomy of joy and pain. I LOVE to remember Joey. The best part of my life. Will always have been the best part of my life. Until July 4th, 2003, Father’s Day was always about MY dad. Floods of memories about growing up, playing catch, my dad rebounding free throws for hours into the night. I knew I was going to follow in Steve Alford’s footsteps, and my dad believed in me. BTW, I got another letter from Steve a few weeks ago, once again, too personal to share, encouraging us to continue in our faith and finish strong for Joey. My dad’s work ethic was unbelievable (still is, just thinking about specific memories); and I’ve said this before, we as a family joke about it, my Dad doesn’t know a stranger, and he is genuinely interested and concerned for every person he meets. Father’s Days also mean thinking about the dad’s my parents had. Thinking about how our parents wouldn’t be the people they are if it weren’t for the good they received and lessons learned from their parents. I remember asking my Grandpa Storey (mom’s dad) about growing in very difficult circumstances. Listening to him talk about how he and his brother stuck together and set goals, and really tried to build a life for themselves out of very few resources and, in some ways, very little emotional and moral support. I have written in previous Father’s Day postings about the awesome man my Grandpa Storey turned out to be. Witty, ornery, sophisticated, warm-hearted, and caring. My Grandpa Keller too. I remember him telling about picking potatoes as a kid. Not for spending money, or saving for college, but so his family could eat. I can’t wrap my mind around having a “summer job” or doing odd jobs for cash growing up and then taking that money to my parents, handing it over, then saying, “Thanks for letting me live here, here’s my contribution to the family.” Commonplace in 1930. My Grandpa Keller went on to be one of the first groups of soldiers to break in to the death camps in WWII and free the poor people terrorized and left for dead in the concentration camps in Germany. When we would go over to their house to visit (like a mile down the road on CR 35.) I would pour over his books and pictures from the war. My grandpa was strong and brave, and a good dad to my dad. Then there’s Elizabeth’s dad. One of the most soft-hearted, thoughtful, intelligent men I’ve ever known. He also values education, being informed, and critical thinking. We have some of the best debates and talks about so many things, the important things in life, not just the weather and whatever sports team is playing. I am so grateful for my father-in-law. Until the fourth of July 2003, that’s what Father’s Day meant to me.
On July 4th, 2003, at DupontHospital, Fort Wayne, Indiana, at 9:20 p.m. in between booms of thunder and violent rain, Joseph Nickolas Keller was born, and I would never be same. I remember Elizabeth and I being blown away in the hospital. When Joey was a newborn, I would leave the hospital room to grab a bite to eat, and I would be walking down the hallway coming back, and I could hear him crying and Elizabeth trying to calm him. I would walk in the room, and say, “Hey, Bud…….It’s OK.” Immediately he would stop crying. Everybody told us while Elizabeth was pregnant that it is good to talk to the unborn baby because they can hear your voice and then will recognize you after birth. One of the coolest things I remember. I also remember the absolute love at first sight you feel when you hold your baby for the first time. A son. Wow. I cried and cried. I knew I didn’t deserve a son. Just like I cried at the altar at my wedding. I didn’t deserve a woman as wonderful as Elizabeth…and I knew it. And to hold Joey (named after the Genesis 38 Joseph) for the first time was unbelievable. I have told people this since he passed. As a parent you see your kids parrot things and mimic your mannerisms, and you know they got that from you. It’s still funny or cool to see them apply something at the right time, but they learned that from you. And then, there are things you see come out, things they think, or feel, or say, that you KNOW didn’t come from either of you. God put that in there, and you are blessed enough to be chosen by God to sit front-row and see God at work. God creates us all unique, and to see those things blossom and bloom and be expressed or to see a child’s sense of humor take form…amazing. I’m remembering things Joey said about God, or times he comforted other kids in pain, or times he would look at me when I was really upset about something, or didn’t have enough faith to believe God could work out some situation I was in “for good.” And he would just put his hand on my shoulder, or smile, or ask JUST the right question, and all of a sudden, I had clarity. I just knew that if my son could believe or could put his own feelings aside for 2 minutes and ask about me, or pray for me (man, when you hear your son pray for you, when he’s got loads of his own problems [remember a couple times when he was in the middle of chemo…exhausted, open sores on his back, fighting nausea] and things he is wanting to pray about for himself, and he takes your needs to God and asks God to move on your behalf)…unbelievable. Joey was amazing. Elizabeth and I continue to talk and remember things he said, or thoughts he shared with us, even up to the very end. Many of you heard at the funeral service, Elizabeth and I believed with our whole hearts, that for faith to work, you gotta be “all in.” No doubts, no double-mindedness, this ends one way and that’s with Joey walking out of here (Riley) healthy and happy. The night, very close to the end, that he awoke out of a deep sleep, and he turned his head and looked me in the eye as lucid and focused as I’ve ever seen him, and he said, “Dad…….Dad…….” and when he saw that I was sitting right next to him, and I said, “Yeah, Bud, what’s up, Buddy, I’m right here,” he said, “Dad, I’m going up, I’m not staying here on earth.” I freaked out in my heart and tried my best to not show it, because this is NOT what I wanted to hear, but I have never, ever wanted to discourage him in his faith, so I asked again (there are 3 witnesses to this including Elizabeth), “Buddy, what is it?” “Daaaaaad” (like a playful tone, like, come on! Try to keep up--I’d heard it a million times, and it usually came with an ornery smile like he was teasing me). “I’m going up…you know, to heaven. I’m not staying down here….on earth.” At this point, once again, my son had the inside track. The more direct line to God. I just said, “Okay, sounds good Buddy, if Jesus shows himself to you and calls you to come to Him, GO! He is ONLY good, and it will be awesome, and we will come too (wasn’t thinking about timelines or theology, just knew Joey didn’t like to go anywhere without us.) I remember one time before cancer, he started crying because we were talking about life and death, and he suddenly realized that (likely) we would go to heaven before he did. He freaked out. He never wanted to be without us. He was SO upset. So I just said, if God calls you, we will all go together, and it will be like all of life’s most fun and best things combined! Legos EVERYWHERE. It’s like everything we love about life times a billion. No pain, no sin, no disease, no guilt, no worry, no distance between you and people you love. My timeline is a little fuzzy is my head, but I think that was the last thing he ever said to me.
Elizabeth and I are listening to a book on our IPad called Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It is The ONLY thing that brings us comfort. This pain is unbelievable. This book delves into what does the Bible tell us about heaven, plus all the misconceptions. I agree with the author that our churches are reluctant to dive into this topic for a number of reasons, some not so good. It’s not because there isn’t enough or “a lot” of information on the topic. Makes me sad.
I was at my cousin’s wedding yesterday. I still think of Clay being about 5 years old, and my uncle Rick put together a slide show that was really awesome. As I’m watching these pictures (of MY life too) flash before me, and how fast this has all gone, I was really taken aback. Talking with Sandy LaRowe yesterday at the wedding about when her brother Butch (Keller) died of leukemia when he in his mid-thirties, just broke my heart. I LOVED the conversation because I felt close to Joey talking about this stuff, hearing about what her mom endured before she joined Butch, thinking about heaven, and reminding myself once again that I’m not the only one who has lost a child. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t have Sandy’s permission to tell what all she shared with me, but her final advice to me was to enjoy life and love those around you because “it goes fast.” As she is telling me this, I am literally watching these slides flash on the big screen, and I’m thinking about Joey. Life is a vapor as Psalm 144:4 describes it. I feel like I was 10 years old yesterday. I told Elizabeth last night, if it goes faster the older you get, like everybody says, we will be 80 in no time. Of course, none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. I do look forward to heaven. I hope Jesus understands when I get there and He opens His arms to me, welcoming me in (as I hope and imagine it), I hope he isn’t offended if I’m grateful and humbled, but looking just above his right shoulder and “around the room” for my son. With all respect, I WANT TO SEE MY SON. I can’t wait. Without Jesus and everything He’s done for us, according to my faith, there wouldn’t be a chance for me to have forgiveness and a chance to see Joey again. And I am so grateful. But if I’m being honest, I don’t understand why He decided that I was no longer to be Dad and took Joey. I will live and die with a broken heart. People ask if I’m mad at God. There isn’t a bit of me that feels angry. I am confused. I am sad. Confused, really. I never loved someone like I loved my son. Those of you who understand loving someone and giving them your heart, so to speak, when they take it with them, it’s gone. I don’t want to be a dad again. I was Joey’s dad. That’s what I wanted. And I won’t have comfort until I can hug him and we can be together again.
I am adding a couple of new pics to the CaringBridge picture album. These were cards that Joey made for me on Father’s Days past. The picture I have added as the main Caring Bridge pic, captures Joey's heart for others. He always put others first. If there would've been a time where he didn't E or I would have seen it. Never happened. I love you, Buddy. God, evidently, has us apart for a reason, and I disagree with it; but He is the boss. When my mission (whatever that is in its totality) is done, I am coming. I can’t wait to see you again. You were the best son God ever gave a guy. Like they said at your funeral, YOU were the miracle. And I sat front row. You called ME “Dad.” In that respect, I am the most blessed man on this earth.
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