Joe spent most of his formative years bouncing through the foster care system in our fair province before the Children's Aid Society finally tossed him into Rideau Regional Centre - a now-closed institution for society's most vulnerable citizens.
An adult now and free, Joe talks to students every year - he is, for so many, the face of institutional life and embodies the absolute best of the human spirit.
Joe's story is a chilling one and I don't think there was a dry eye nor a single sound during his talk.
Since that time, I have written twice about Joe, fumbling through my own telling of his tale. We have maintained a casual email relationship; I am always pleased to see his name in my inbox.
A few weeks back, he wrote to tell me that his brand-new wife, Cindy, has passed away from cancer. They married in June of 2012 and on November 30th - my birthday, coincidentally - she died.
This is but the latest in a lifetime of loss for Joe and my heart simply ached for him. I stutter-typed a message of condolence, knowing that it was woefully inadequate, feeling wrecked that no matter how kind my words, his wife would still be gone, his heart broken.
Joe, a man of quiet grace and humble gratitude, accepted.
A few days ago, he sent me their wedding photo and a story, written by someone in their community. With his permission, I share it here, so that others will be able to see what courage -and love - looks like: *
A gentleman moved from Sharbot Lake to Kingston Ontario, in the Fall of 2008 to get a fresh start.
In Kingston, unknown to the gentleman at the time, lived a caring lady with a bubbly personality and a huge heart. Both of these people had had similar life experiences in their pasts including a variety of different jobs, previous marriages, and grown children.
They met at the Round Table Support Centre in Kingston. The lady smile and warm laughter. After they spent time together sharing all aspects of their lives with one another' celebrating that they found each other. They were amazed at how much they had in common and how many of their skills and attributes complemented each other. They fell in love.
The lady invited the gentleman to move in with her. In 2009, the couple moved back in his former community of Sharbot Lake.
The lady' s openness and friendly nature was admired and welcomed by the community. The couple continued to learn about each other and share each other' s interests. They made a life together.
In June 2012 the couple got married in a private ceremony with only their witnesses, the minister and the videographer present.
The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon in Perth Ont. In August 2012 they shared their union with family and friends at a wedding reception in the local community hall. The guests enjoyed a KFC banquet and the company of others while viewing the video of their special day in June.
Then they danced.
|Joe and Cindy, June 2012|
Within months of their marriage the lady' s medical appointment revealed terrible news: CANCER'. Their lives quickly became a series of medical appointments and hand holding.
Soon after, they both quit their part time jobs. The lady, because of her deteriorating health, the gentleman because he wanted to support his wife.
Then she could no longer drive.
In dealing with these changes, the treatments, side effects, and waiting the couple maintained open, honest communication. They recognized that the cancer may rob them of their happily ever after. They decided to remain positive, not give up, live each day as it came and embrace the time they had left together.
The couple adapted to accommodate the cancer but they never for a moment lost sight of what they had with each other. With the support of their family, friends, service providers, church congregation and the community at large the gentleman and the lady faced and fought Cancer.
The gentleman became his wife' s full time caregiver.
They had the tough conversations that most couples avoid having - D N R, final wishes, goodbyes.
Nothing was left unsaid. The gentleman and lady came together quickly and loved deeply.
After weeks of in-home nursing care the lady was moved to the hospital for palliative care. The gentleman remained by her side until she died November 30, 2013.
This story is dedicated to Joe Clayton and the memory of Cindy Jones- Clayton, the gentleman and his lady.