"Take care of yourselves and each other, and always remember my motto:
It’s ok to work hard, as long as you play harder."
in an email to his parents 7/02
November 4, 2002
Joe, my little brother. You were certainly too young to remember the time I asked Mom when she was taking you back to the hospital, or the day I colored your entire face black with a permanent marker. But your charm quickly won me over, as it does everyone. You were my favorite playmate – putting make-up on the dogs, wrestling and playing King of the Bed, swimming in the waves for hours, hiking every winter in North Carolina.
Remember the time, after the fresh snowfall, you slipped and tumbled off the trail, halfway down the hill? (You were 9.) I came around the bend after you, and heard a faint “Katie!” from below. We both cracked up as I picked you up and brushed you off. Or the time you rolled up your pant legs and jumped into the fountain to collect pennies while Mom and Dad were taking a walk? (You were 11.) What a glorious, sunny day it was. I was the look-out, and yelled at you to hop out when I saw them coming back, but of course when you rolled your pants down they were soaking wet. You and I started laughing, Mom and Dad chimed in, and even the couples sitting on the benches around the fountain couldn’t contain their laughter. Your mischievous deeds and charming smile always had the ability to make people laugh.
We had some great times, didn’t we? Countless great times, Joe, and great laughs. Laughing until the tears rolled down our cheeks – like that dinner in Ravello when I was feeding the stray cat under the table and Dad was stuffing pears into his pockets (you were 13). Or when all four of us sat on a bench, admiring the outline of the mountains across the lake, making funny jokes. It felt like we were the only four people in the world – until we realized the man nearby might actually speak English and therefore understand our private conversation, which sent us into spirals of laughter. Or when you (age 18), Mom and I went sky-diving: you two jumped out bravely, while I had to squeeze my eyes shut and be pushed out by the instructor. We laughed about that back on the ground. I have a thousand of these memories, and they keep returning to me. Your smile, your voice, your bear hug.
As well as your squinty grimace, your headlocks (thousands of which you have put me in), and our “verbal battles.” Boy did you know how to push my buttons – better than anyone I know, except maybe Dad. You could get a rise out of me in mere seconds, but you always did it with a twinkle in your eye. It was practically your and Dad’s private sport. What will I do, now that you are not here to help me take myself less seriously?
We certainly took different paths. They were identical, though, in that we both struck out for ourselves and saw the world, encouraged by the love and unwavering support of our parents. But our home, our family, always centered us; it was where we returned after every adventure. I have to say, you certainly picked an infinitely more gorgeous landscape for your walkabout than I did. As you emailed me recently, “I just know how to work the system better than you, sis, that’s all.” I am starting to think you are right.
You lived your life fearlessly, never playing it safe, but always pushed the envelope – of your character and worldview as much as anything else. You embraced the gloriousness of this Earth; you gulped down the astonishing beauty this life has to offer. That beauty offers itself openly and freely, but only to those who seek. You, little brother, were a seeker without equal. Do you have any idea how much you inspired all those whom you met in life? Or what an inspiration you will always continue to be to the hundreds of us you touched around the globe?
Seekers like you are rewarded by experiences of untold richness. You lived larger in your nearly twenty-four years than most people do in an entire lifetime. Joe, you humble me. You are, and always will be, an inspiration to me. Please help me. Don’t let me lose my way; help me overcome this bottomless sorrow so I can honor you in my life, by living more as you did.
Now you possess the secrets of the universe, Joe. And I bet you are laughing, because you knew them all along.
I love you, little brother.
To Joe's friends: This has been a devastating ordeal for my parents and me. Our loss is indescribable – and does not need describing for many of you, who feel an inconsolable loss as well. I know that the pain is still too raw for many of you closest to Joe to express what you feel. Believe me, I understand. This is incredibly painful for me to talk about. But I want to express my extreme gratitude on behalf of the Milligan family for the outpouring of support – the letters, emails, visits, phone calls, and posted memories. I cannot tell you what a comfort they are to my parents and myself.
What a blessing to find in his death a seemingly endless web of people and lives Joe touched in life. You are always, always welcome to stop by. We would love to see you.
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