It has often been said that people with Autism Spectrum Disorders are not able to feel empathy or feelings. This could not be further from the truth. During the past eight weeks, I have been dealing with the loss of my good friend, Joe McDonald, and it has been a very emotional time.
When I moved back to my hometown of Westlake after graduating UCSB, Joe reached out to me and took me under his wing. He had essentially become a big brother to me. Almost every week, he and I went out to dinner where we would talk about our lives. Joe helped me to see what really mattered. If I was having any problems with other friends of family, Joe would give me good advice about how to deal with the situation.He took my calls when I was upset.
I had no idea eight weeks ago last Friday evening as we enjoyed cigars on my patio that it would be the last time I would hang out with Joe. The next evening, Joe lost his life in a freak motorcycle accident outside his shop in Thousand Oaks. On Sunday Morning, less than 48 hours after hanging out, I got a tearful call from a mutual friend of ours telling me that Joe was no longer with us.
When I first heard that Joe had died, I felt nothing at all. I guess it was the initial feeling of shock that made me very numb inside. It took me a while to fully comprehend that Joe was fully gone. The next few weeks, the fact that I would never see Joe again started to really hit me. I thought about how I would never again get to hang out with Joe at some of our favorite restaurants or at his shop. I also realized how hard it would be to ever find another friend like Joe. Dealing with these emotions of grief made it hard for me to focus on my work. I had the talk to the 5th graders at the Harding University Partnership Elementary School coming up which I was preparing for.
Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that Joe would want me to remain strong and give the best speech I could give to those 5th graders. He would not want me to let his loss get in my way. That is why I pushed myself to focus on my upcoming talk rather than dwell on the loss of my friend. I decided that I would dedicate this speech to Joe's memory. The main theme of my speech, as I had mentioned in my previous blog post was about reaching out and helping people who are different. It seemed only fitting that I would give the talk in his memory because in his life Joe lived by this principal. I knew that if I wanted to honor his memory, I had to deliver a great speech and drive home the point of reaching out to others and helping them. On March 20th 2015, I delivered that talk. I think the kids really enjoyed my speech and got a lot out of it. I feel that this was the best way I could have honored Joe.
So now that my talk is over, I try to honor Joe's memory every day by living by the standards he did. When I find myself headed in a wrong direction I ask myself " what would Joe tell me about this?" I try to reach out to people who are in need and be their friend just as Joe did in his life. In doing my best every day I keep Joe's spirit alive.