"Take care of yourselves and each other, and always remember my motto:
It’s ok to work hard, as long as you play harder."

-Joe Milligan,
in an email to his parents 7/02

Katie Milligan
January 16, 2003
7:24 PM

I love reading everyone’s stories. I can’t tell you what a comfort this website is to my family. We are sorry we missed many of you while you were in town over the Christmas holidays, but our door is always open and all of you are always welcome. And we love telling and hearing Joe stories! Here are a few of my own…

Growing up, Joe alternated between my favorite playmate and my annoying little brother who would always get me in trouble (like when he told our parents I informed him there was no Santa Claus). I was grounded for that one big-time.

There are simply too many great times growing up to count...Joe and I would bike around College Park, get muddy in the stream by Lake Adair, play Transformers, argue over whose turn it was to pick what TV show we would watch, skip down the beach, get tossed up over the waves endlessly (or until Dad became exhausted), play with our Star Wars action figures, ski ahead of Mom on the trails and disappear into the tree passes, chase each other through the Christmas trees around the Bishop Moore parking lot each December…Invariably, Dad had to retrieve us from the swing set, even when we were in high school (we’d hide from Dad while he was picking out the Christmas tree and sneak off to the swings every year, “just for old times’ sake”).

Joe and I both went to summer camp for years, and we would write to each other. His first year at camp (he must have been 7 or 8), he was homesick and wrote me and our parents heart-wrenching letters. In one, he even drew an arrow to a smudge on the paper: “I miss you and Mom and Dad so much. Here is a tear right here --> .” Mom got letter after letter like this, and started to worry. But by the time he arrived home, Joe was so psyched about camp he bounded through the front door, asking Mom if he could go again next year. That’s Joe all right – whenever we started to worry about him, he’d show up, happy, with that ear-to-ear grin on his face. We were counting on that ability of Joe’s last October.

For those who knew him well, Joe had an off-beat, even devilish sense of humor. During elementary and middle school, we’d write gift-certificates to our parents as Christmas parents. His were classic:

‘This certificate entitles Julie Milligan to a 10-minute back massage when she’s tired.’

‘This certificate entitles Julie Milligan to make Joe Milligan go shopping with her one day, if she’s lonely and needs company.’

‘This certificate entitles George or Julie Milligan to make Joe Milligan do a chore without whining.’ As a P.S., he added: ‘Just don’t make it too hard!’

One of my favorite examples of Joe’s humor is a birthday card he wrote me one year – for my twelfth or thirteenth birthday, I think. Actually, it wasn’t even the card that was so funny, it was the envelope. He wrote:

To: Katie.
From: Mom’s Favorite. (Don’t tell her – she told me not to tell!)

That encapsulates Joe’s sense of humor, I think. Off-beat, over the top, and hilarious.

But Joe had a serious side as well. People who knew him well, especially women, describe him as one of the most sensitive men they’ve ever known. When we were younger, Joe and I talked about everything, even really personal topics; there was nothing that we hid from each other.

I will always cherish a conversation I had with Joe two Thanksgivings ago, when he was back from Australia and I came back from West Africa for the holiday. We were talking about our life philosophies – over a bag of chips and salsa, of course. Very serious. As I see it, our purpose in this life is to utilize the gifts we’ve been given to create beauty where none existed before – whether that is raising a child, making people laugh, or dedicating your life to helping others. Joe nodded. “I back that.”

He was silent for a minute, and then said, “I believe that the ocean heals all things. That’s the philosophy I live by.”

Cheers to that, Joe. I will forever see you in every coastline, in every crashing wave, in every endless blue horizon, and in every sunset that sets the sky ablaze. You saw some glorious ones, without a doubt.

I want to reprint here the poem we put on the back of Joe’s memorial service program, because we have found it immensely comforting. Maybe some of you will too.


Had I known that you were going
I could have given you,
At least, good speed.
But you slipped away so suddenly
That I was left standing on the shore
Watching into space,
Not knowing that you would never come back,
Till I felt the waters of the incoming tide
Cold about my heart.

I do not ask for you again,
I know the sea you sail does not touch these shores.
I only look for a distant “all hail”, like the white crest
of a wave against the horizon,
Or a signal light flashing once, sharp against the sky.

Sail on, [beloved son, brother and friend]!
Let out a full sheet to your new winds,
Taste the clear spray of your new waters.
You were made for flight and swiftness
And eternal freedom.
Nothing shall weigh you down
Or call you back to the sweet earth,
Or the shape we knew,
Or the place that held you immeasurably dear.

I have cut the anchor that bound you to me,
And the great strength of my love,
And the heavy ache of my loneliness,
Which might bear upon you and hold you back,
I have fashioned into a shining silken fabric
To be the highest and strongest of your new sails.


Let none of us here on Earth, nor our grief, our ache, our loneliness, hold you back, Joe.
Let us all work to bring beauty into this world, in honor of your memory.
Let each of us, in our own way, fashion our own shining, silken fabric for you.
Let all of us stitch our patchwork pieces together, creating a brilliant, quilted sail.
And let it be your strongest, most glorious sail, pushing you ever higher on your eternal flight in heaven.

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