When my husband, Bob, was a young man just starting out in business in Syracuse he lived in an apartment house on the east side. There he met a little kid, 8 or so at the time, who looked up to him. Bob took Jose camping in the Adirondacks, they took karate classes together, and Bob generally became an older brother/father figure to him.
Jose and his mother and sisters moved to Florida before his graduation from high school. Over the years he and Bob lost touch. A few years ago we ran into Jose's sister, Cynthia, at St. Camillus where my mother was a patient. She told him how to contact Jose and the friendship was renewed.
Jose had gone to college in St. Louis on a football scholarship. After that he went into business as a private detective and took classes towards his Master's. He was divorced, but had two little boys whom he saw a lot. He took them to visit their grandmother in Florida with his ex-wife's blessing. His volunteer work involved working with kids in trouble.
A couple Christmases ago I decided to do a theme present for Bob. I gave him all sorts of camping equipment and then the wherewithal to bring Jose and his kids East to go camping in the Adirondacks, just as he had taken Jose. I wanted the boys to have the same experience that had made such a lasting impression on their father. And on me. Thanks to real estate I had the means.
Jose was speechless, then teared up when Bob told him during their annual Christmas Day call. They planned for June. If the whole Adirondack trip proved too much for the littler one who has Down syndrome, we figured they could camp in our back yard and have the same amount of fun as driving two hours away. Bob planned a camp ground, a flat space with only a few trees. Whenever we walked out with the dogs we would talk about "when Jose and the boys come."
We didn't hear from Jose for a while and we got a bit worried. Then in May he called. His kidneys had failed and he had spent weeks in the hospital. He would be on dialysis while waiting for a kidney. Jose said he couldn't make it that year.
But he was determined to come, checking out what would happen if a kidney did become available while he was here - they would send it to Syracuse - and how to have his dialysis here in any event. The campground became more of a possibility. Jose seemed upbeat. The unexplained weight he had gained was now explained and as it dropped he said he felt as if he were in the best shape he'd been for years. Inexplicably he had had no warning - no headaches, no pain, just sudden illness and waking up to find his kidneys would never function again.
Again we planned for June. The kids got out earlier there (elementary school) and we had the wedding to take up our July. I pictured the kids getting off the plane with their SU Orange paraphernalia that Bob always sent them.
Instead we got a call from Jose's mother, Henrietta. He had lapsed into a coma and only a miracle would save him. After five weeks no miracle came. We got the call in the middle of the night.
Bob spent the weekend in Florida attending Jose's funeral. The pictures he brought home were of a very extended family (10 brothers and sisters in all) and a small town and small church that came together for "Jose's Homegoing."
I can see the little boy in the photo of the man. I have no pictures of his sons - calling hours for friends and that part of the family were in St. Louis past week. I can see the love and respect the family have for Bob. He was listed as Jose's Godfather on the bulletin from the church. He feels as if a chapter has closed, but he has his memories. I still wish the boys and their father could have come camping in our backyard.