In the sunny afternoon, piano, guitar and violin fill the house with Bach and Schubert. Later in the evening, Davis Causey is picking his guitar and softly singing: “Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I want to go to bed… “ He’s singing it for his brother, Joe, who lies dying. Joe’s son Cole picks up the violin and plays along as family and friends join in the song. They segue into “I’ll Fly Away” and several hymns and even a Beatles song or two.
Joe is not conscious, but all are convinced that at some level he is aware of the love concentrated on him during this last night of his life. That love is a culmination of Joe’s being, a reflection of all he has given over the years to the people in this room: strong love, uplifting love, practical love, love that suffers long and is kind—as well as a lifetime of laughs.
Now Joe has made the transition in a few months from the death sentence of inoperable cancer to acceptance and readiness to face the inevitable, as he has always addressed the tasks that need to be done. The keys to this transition are his former wife and steady friend Marianne May Causey and their son, Cole. They have brought Joe home, where they can supervise his care and allow him time to tie up the loose ends of his life, to visit with a stream of friends and family, to husband his diminishing strength, to reach the point where he can let go of the people he most loves and the life he has looked forward to living a lot longer.
Now, quickly, the sunny days on the patio are over; the disease has progressed, the medicines have picked up. Hospice has stepped in, and the task is no longer to keep Joe alive but to get him out of his ruined body. And all this love that has been such a big part of Joe’s life now becomes the vehicle for easing him out of it. This night is a party, a living wake. Those in the room with Joe are talking to him, stroking his arm, smoothing his hair, massaging his feet: laughing, talking, crying. His son Taylor is, as usual, in and out, touching Joe. The Braves game is on, with the sound turned down. There’s pizza in the kitchen. Nobody here has ever done anything like this in this way before. These people who do not flinch from life are meeting death head-on—not in the necessary sterility of a hospital room, but at home, where so much living has happened.
Some stay through the night, sleeping watchfully. Cole tells Joe what is happening, talking about their life together and the life that will continue after Joe can finally let go. And just before six o’clock in the morning, he does. His last breath comes, and he is gone. They have brought him through. Love has held steady in the valley of the shadow of death. Joe has died as he has lived—on his own terms, surrounded by music and by those he loves, feeling that love rebound to him: strengthening, even as life weakens.
All those left behind now have to cope with the loss of Joe's strong and caring presence. During the past months they have staged a heroic effort for Joe; now they must do it again for themselves. They all have to figure out how to live the rest of their lives without Joe, without his steady hand on the steering wheel (even when succumbing to the hijinks of “New York Taxi”).
Maybe Joe’s life—how he lived—and his death—how he died—tell us what we need to know in order to figure out how to go on without him. Work hard. Have fun. Love your friends and family, and take care of them. Be generous with your resources. Do what needs to be done. Practice.
A memorial service for Joseph S. Causey will be held at First Presbyterian Church downtown at 4 p.m. this Saturday, July 6.