I've been through five major hurricanes, a divorce and the diagnosis of autism for my son, but the death of my brother was the hardest thing I have experienced. It obliterated my world and my family. Not a day passes that I don't think of him in some way. When I see little boys in their Cub Scout uniforms. When I see a bright red cardinal. When I use my microwave, the last Christmas present he ever gave me. When U2 songs play on the radio. When someone drinks a Red Bull.
Although I was nearly 10 years older, he taught me to never be afraid. He taught me to be brave and seize the moment because you may not get another chance. Because of him, I've seen more of the world and pushed myself to accomplish feats I would have never otherwise tried.
n dying, my little brother Joseph made me live my life to the fullest.
Toward the end of 1977, my parents sat down with me and my brother Chris to ask our opinion about adding a new baby to the mix. We were almost 9 and 7, so adding an infant meant life would be more complicated. We didn't care. We were excited and unanimously voted to add to the Hendrix clan.
On the afternoon of Oct. 10, 1978, our grandmother met us at school with the good news that Mom's package had finally arrived. Chris and I ran all the way home, leaving poor Mimi in the dust before she could tell us if we had a brother or a sister.
From the very beginning JoeMac entertained with class clown status every waking moment. He never met a stranger. He was kind, handsome and one of the most creative people I've ever known. His graphic arts and web design abilities were ahead of his time. He loved the Internet and all the endless possibilities. If only he had been able to see what it has become. If YouTube or Vine had been in existence during his lifetime, he would have been an Internet star. He would have ruled the video blog universe with unparalleled humor and poignancy.
The last time I saw him was Christmas Day in 2001, seen here with my daughter, Mairin.
On April 18, 2002, he disappeared from our lives forever. At the end of the day, he collapsed at work due to sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 23. Despite the heroic efforts of Palm Beach County emergency personnel, he died.
I got the call from my mother in the middle of the night. I was in Washington, D.C., for an autism rally and conference. I flew home completely numb. I couldn't speak. I could hardly breathe myself. The actual pain I felt from the grief was inconceivable. A week later more than 800 people attended his funeral.
We compiled a picture story of his life to say goodbye. My favorite picture in this collection is the one where he is clearly unenthusiastic about the Cuisnart drink blender he received for Christmas one year. Or maybe the one where he is tying weights on his ankles with rope to do aerobics with me one winter when I was home from college. Or the one of him and his best friends in their boxers in the Colorado snow. They make me laugh every time I see them.
I was not prepared to lose a sibling. You expect your brothers and sisters to be with you until the end of your life. Even now, I pretend like he is on a business trip and cannot call home because the reality is almost too much to bear.
Our family believes in serving their fellow man. Service was ingrained in all three of us from the very beginning. Our family was usually volunteering in our respective communities and he was no different. He was an Eagle Scout. He never met a stranger. He was a leader.
This Thursday, he would have turned 35.
We want you to know his story for two reasons.
October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest month. We want families to learn the signs and symptoms. We want you to realize there is prevention for sudden cardiac arrest in youth and young adults. Parent Heartwatch helps establish screenings for high school athletes to keep them safe. By helping, you may be preventing a family from ever knowing this kind of pain. Learn more and help them do more here.
More than that, we wanted to celebrate Joseph's birthday with you this year by asking you to pay his kindness forward. On October 10, we want you to commit Acts of the Heart. Do something kind for someone you do not know. Let that be a day where you know no strangers. Buy someone coffee in the line behind you. Pick up someone's tab at the restaurant where you eat dinner. Be patient with a clerk who is having a rough day. Smile and say hello to strangers.
Be kind to everyone you meet because everyone is fighting a hard battle.
Let us know how you made the world a little brighter and a little better by posting your Act of the Heart along with the hash tag #JoeMac. Celebrate life. Celebrate love. Hug your family. Appreciate them while they are here with you even if they get on your very last nerve.
And for our Joseph, squeeze every second of amazing out of your life from this day forward. It's the best birthday present you could ever give him.
Follow Shelley Hendrix Reynolds on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Shelleysfinger