Today marks the second anniversary of Joseph’s death.  Its not the type of anniversary that any parent really wants to remember, but it has become an impossible day to forget.  There was a time in my life when two years having passed would have seemed like a long time, but, in this instance, it has seemed more like the blink of an eye.  It seems like just yesterday that Joseph was here and, so effortlessly making our hearts jump with joy every day.


I am happy to state that two years without him here has made him anything but a distant memory. I still quote his most famous sayings (as do several friends and family members), speak about him regularly, think of him nearly every waking moment, and incorporate him into our lives at every opportunity.  He is a very real and present part of my daily life, and I am pleased to report that his illness, which robbed us and him of so much, has not succeeded in stealing our relationship: it is always growing, strengthening and shaping my life.


Also not distant are the relationships that my family forged while Joe was sick.  Initially, I thought I would be eager to leave behind certain people we met along the way such as the neuro-oncologist who couldn’t save his life or the funeral director who guided us through some of our darkest moments.  Not so.  So many of the people who came into our lives after Joseph was diagnosed with cancer were absolutely remarkable. They treated us, especially Joseph, with the utmost love and respect and they are still a welcome part of our lives.  Just last week I exchanged letters with Joseph’s funeral director, Tim Grum, of Cavanagh Funereal Home.  He brought such an enormous amount of care and comfort to us when were so desperate.  We hope that he and others such as Dr. Fisher and Dr. Kang, who supported Joseph through his strongest, toughest, most valiant moments, will always be a part of our lives.


During this past year, several significant life events have occurred within our family and we have tried our best to make Joseph as big a part of them as he can be, considering his physical absence.  First, The Joseph Lentz Fund donated $13,000 to a promising study at C.H.O.P. for brain tumors.  The project is called The Children’s Brain Tissue Consortium, and, very simply put, it is a massive database for brain tumors.  You can read more about it and about the donation by reading the April 2011 entry on this website. We plan to continue to support this national collaboration pioneered by top doctors and researchers at C.H.O.P.  Second, on May 2, Joseph got a 2nd little brother: Bryan Joseph Lentz was born weighing a healthy 8lbs 14 oz.  Just as Bryan was born and the gates between (what I would like to think) this life and another opened, I couldn’t help but wonder if Joseph was standing nearby looking on. Could it be that at the moment baby Bryan arrived, Joseph was near, or at least nearer, and witnessing this new little soul enter into our world?  I would like to think so.  I am at least permitted to hope it is true and I hold on to that Hope.  Third, today Thomas, our second son (born 3/12/09) outlives Joseph.  Joseph was almost 2 ½ years old when he died, and today Thomas, who was four months old at that time, is Joseph’s exact age on the day of his death plus one day. That concept is riddled with complicated emotions but, needless to say, we are grateful for Thomas and for all of the motivation he has given us to shake the hands of time in the wake of losing Joseph.  Thomas, like his older brother, is a very special, smart, beautiful little boy and I know that Joseph would be very proud of all he has become.


Upon reflection, I am sad and happy to recognize that the past year has brought me to new places in my grief.  I don’t know when it happened, but looking back, I realize that somewhere along the way I stopped making “deals” with God.  I stopped trying to bargain with him, asking him to return Joseph, or offering to dramatically change myself or sacrifice something great in exchange for Joseph’s return.  Remarkably, those “deals” always seemed to make sense when they were being formed, even though, all along, I was fully aware that they clashed with reality. But at some point during this past year, reality set in, and, reluctantly, I have become more accepting of our “new” lives without him.  Reality has forced me to accept that, in an attempt to survive, I have had to lower my barometer of happiness. I accept that chocolate will never taste quite as good, that a starry sky will never look nearly as brilliant, and that a beautiful spring morning will always just miss perfect.  Knowing there is little I can do to change that, I have tried to embrace it an effort to find peace. Also new in this past year, I have been able to reflect on Joseph’s life with fewer uninvited intrusions from the darker memories pertaining to his illness, treatment, and death.  It is as though the happier memories are filling up more space in my mind and heart and pushing back on the more threatening ones, which is nice.  Third, I have come to learn that I can give others a glimpse into Joseph’s life, who he was and who he still is, by embodying the positive outlook and pure love that Joseph brought to my life.  I sense that when others hear me speak happily about Joseph and the wonderful life that we shared they become tied to him as well; so, that is what I try to do.


I also sense that people wonder (but often don’t want to ask) where our family is two years later? In short, we are still bereft and always will be.  We still long for Joseph to be here with us and always will.  There are still tearful nights and days and tremendously difficult moments and, no matter how much time passes, life will always look different to us.  But, perhaps most importantly, we are still standing as a family unit and as parents of three wonderful boys, each of whom we will spend our lives parenting in their own unique way.   Our survival is a credit to the unconditional love, support and understanding that has been given to us by those who mean the most in our lives. I think Joseph would be proud of where we are as a family and of everything that the people whom he loved so much have done to catch us as we fell.  That is a notion that satisfies me and, in my new world full of new standards, I consider that a success.


As we reluctantly enter our third year without Joseph, I find it truly unbelievable that I have lived even a day without him let alone years.  Frankly, it has been, and is, the hardest path I could ever imagine having to walk.  It still feels surreal when I have to tell a well-meaning person who innocently asks, “How many kids do you have?” that my oldest child died.  Never did I think I would live this long without Joseph let alone have the capacity to write about it.  But I have also learned that you do what you must.  None of us were ever given much of a choice.  


I have been asked many times by friends and family members about how they can help me (and my family), especially as the years wear on.  After deliberation, I have come up with the following simple act that people can do which I find tremendously helpful:  I am sustained by my memories of Joseph and always most thankful when people allow me to speak of them and him. It is also helpful when people are not afraid to speak his name.  Joseph.  I would never grow tired of hearing it.  It is important that people understand that speaking of him and who he was doesn’t necessarily cause additional upset. Unfortunately, people sometimes feel afraid to speak of a child who has died for fear that they will somehow remind the parents that their child died and make them sad when the reality is that no one could remind us that our child has died.  We have certainly not forgotten.  Hearing his name spoken or a memory of him does not make us sad that he died; we are always sad that he died.  Rather, the people who are willing to speak Joseph’s name or, more importantly, listen comfortably when we speak of him, are allowing us to remember him and to let him live on in the only way that he can. So that is the most helpful and most valuable thing anyone can do for us at this juncture.  Please believe me when I say that it is much appreciated.


For those of you who are interested, I plan to register as many people as possible to run in honor of Joseph at this year’s “Four Seasons Parkway Run/Walk” to raise funds for the oncology department at C.H.O.P.  The information for the 2011 run is not yet posted but if it is similar to last year, Joseph gets to have a tent in his honor with coffee and donuts (he loved donuts! - especially strawberry frosted!) if I can register at least 125 people to run in his memory.  As details become available I will post them on this site but, as of now, please save the date of September 25 for the run (5K) and walk (2K). 


Please, today, take a moment of time (or more) to think of Joseph.  Try not to be dominated by the injustice of his death or the unfairness of his illness.  Instead, think of his adorable, gooey little laugh, his wicked sense of humor, his beautiful light brown silky hair and his very cool personality. Remember his warm brown eyes, his gentle demeanor, his precociousness and how hard he used to laugh at his baby brother, Thomas.  Call to mind his love of letters, his ability to recite his favorite (and lengthy!) books and his obsession with trains.  Honor his life by choosing one of his simple pleasures: chips ahoy cookies, a big bag of white cheddar Pirate’s Booty, fresh cut watermelon, chicken mei fun, or eggies.  As we are forced into another year full of holidays, birthdays and seasons without Joseph, please keep him in your mind, your thoughts and your lives because a little boy as heavenly as he was certainly deserves that.  


As always, thank you for reading and remembering such an awesome kid,


Jen Lentz

Forever and always, Joseph’s “Momma”