After a lengthy battle with cancer, our friend Joe Crosser passed away in the early evening on Sunday, January 29th, 2006 surrounded by his family and friends.
This was not a sudden or unexpected turn of events for Joe, but rather the end of an arduous journey with more ups and downs than any man of his few years should have been the subject of.
Joe was a friend of mine from high-school – I met him my senior year while he was a junior. A funny guy with a real love and knack for comedy, Joe was always a bit of the kooky straight man. He performed in the comedy troupe “BAMF” at Eastern High School’s “Vaudeville”, a troupe which included a number of our friends, including Ben Edelson, with whom he shared a great friendship. I remember those days of high school fondly – due in part with the great group of friends that surrounded me. A wonderful, smart, and funny group of the “best and brightest” that our little town had to offer.
After high school, that group of friends scatter somewhat to the four winds. Joe attended Hanover in Indiana, Ben Edelson went to Harvard, Janice went to Missou (right?), etc. A core group of us stayed here in town to attened Bellarmine or UofL. The group was still connected, though parties were often held during the holidays, and that group of friends would often convene for one celebration or another. One of those parties in particular I will never forget, as it (at least for me) signalled the start of Joe’s impossible journey.
I believe that it was a New Year’s Eve Party in 1997/98, though I could be mistaken. In the basement of Hunter’s parents townhouse in LaFontenay, we were holding our annual New Year’s Bash. The music was loud, the party was in full swing. Joe appeared confused, maybe dizzy. He sat or layed down, and attempted to explain what was happening to him. He couldn’t say what he was thinking – the idea of “apple” only came out as “poison”. None of us were quite sure what was happening – except to think “maybe this is just one of Joe’s games!” Eventually the spelled passed. The rest of the night was a blur, but looking back, this was a defining moment in all the lives of those present, especially Joe.
I don’t clearly remember when or where I first heard that Joe had been stricken with cancer. I don’t think I was alone when I thought “Why?!”. Nature certainly follows no rules – it does not abide by any remotely human instinct to punish the bad and reward the good. Joe was a “good guy”, and things like this should not happen. The years after high school are inexorably filled with change. For most, it’s their first steps to independence and the joy, wonder and fear that follows with it. Joe’s journey into adulthood was irrevocably altered. While the rest of us seemed to move on in a straight line, he had been forced down a sideroad – and did not know how long or short it might be.
Things certainly did change after Joe’s diagnosis. They most certainly changed for him, and I know they certainly affected those around him. His relationship with everyone changed – he was no longer just Joe, but Joe, “our friend with cancer”. Harsh though that may sound, a diagnosis like that touches every part of your life, and tints everything around you.
Joe always was the “funny guy” in the room before and even after his diagnosis. However, as the years grew on, and Joe saw many ups and downs, you could see this was taking a toll on him. You could see it in his eyes and in his face. We all saw him struggle to cope with the weight of what had been placed on him. On story in particular gave us insight into his world – I remember him reciting his cancer-themed stand-up routine in front of us, and receiving nothing but confused and shocked stares. We cared about him, and it hit us hard to see him struggle so to cope. How do you handle something like this? This is not something that is learned, and is won only with the dearest of costs.
I seem to remember someone saying “Are we bad friends?” after the stand-up routine had started making the rounds. How can you know when you are in such deep and uncharted waters? In hindsight, there are many things I wish I would have done differently, and I don’t think that any one of us around him could say any different. I was afraid of not supporting him enough, and I was afraid of the disease that had stricken him. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it all, and in some cases chose to ignore it all together.
About that time (roughly 2 years ago), Joe told us he was writing a play based on his life. We were obviously wary that it would meet with the same approval that his stand-up had, and approached the script he had gingerly. Eventually, in June of 2004, his work became a reality with two showings at the Thrust Theater at the University of Louisville, and the impact that it had on me was remarkable. It made me realize just how much Joe appreciated our friendship – even though he could not often say it. I had heard stories from others about his work with Friends of Hope and the hope and inspiration that he gave to them – and this was just a glimpse of what he had given them.
The remainder of Joe’s life was filled with the physical and emotional ups and downs that he had come to know so terribly well. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, and it amazingly remissed for a short while, only to come back. Due to his prior treatments, there was little they could provide for him. His beard grew long and you could see in his eyes something deep and profound.
My rememberance of Joe is split between the triumph and jubilation of the stading ovation he received after his play, and that look in his eyes as he reached his final days. Though, the latter is not a morbid thought – it grants me a joy and stillness in a way few other thoughts do. That look was many things – sadness, stillness, patience, fear – but above all, that look was truth.
While Joe’s circumstances I wish upon no-one, I do feel fortunate to have known Joe in health and in sickness. His troublesome journey through life has granted all that he touched with an understanding of life that is uncommon. I am greatful to him for that.
Joe’s funeral is this evening at 6:30 PM at Trinity Presbyterian Church here in Louisville. It is to be a “Celebration of Life”, rumored to be very Andy Kaufman-esque. Sometime in April, there will also a be a “Game Night” celebration in rememberance of Joe’s love of games of any kind – no matter how confusing or numerous the rules.
Obituary: Joseph Earl Crosser