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A Guy Named Joey

Updated on July 22, 2012
Joey meeting Tim McGraw
Joey meeting Tim McGraw

From first-hand experience, moving is a pain in the butt. And moving some 800 miles to another state without an actual place to move to, well that was poor planning on my part. I never imagined what would happen or the people I would meet by chance because I wasn’t prepared.

To a degree, I was naïve. It wasn’t my first time to live in another place. In fact, I had a three month summer internship in Colorado that took care of all the logistics, including housing. All I had to do was make it to the airport in my home state of Texas. So when I, along with my parents and brother, drove to South Dakota two years ago I was in for a big reality check.

Since my family had to be back in time for work, we only had a few days to find an apartment for me. It didn’t help to discover the city I was moving to had a housing shortage, especially since school was about to start. We spent two days looking at decent apartment complexes throughout town with no luck and time running out. It was a complete nightmare to say the least; frustration, stress, and tempers were very high.

At one point, we were eating breakfast at McDonalds, considering my rapidly dwindling options. It was suggested that I stay at a hotel until something opened up. However, I didn’t have the money and with two completely packed vehicles there would have been no room. My very, very last option was to just defer school until the spring and head back home, but I didn’t want to do that. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to find an apartment in time, as a last resort, I decided to look on Craigslist for a room to rent.

And there were numerous postings. One I remember well was about a five bedroom house shared by four male firefighters who were looking for a roommate, male or female. Being female…I was tempted to call. However, I knew it wouldn’t have sat well with my parents, especially my mom, so I continued searching. I came across a posting about a military family, a husband and wife with two little girls, who were renting out a room in their house. Based on the post, their house looked beautiful, the price was right, and we were desperate.

Unfortunately though, when we called the wife told us the room had already been rented out to a high school graduate. But she must have heard our desperation because she mentioned they had another extra room. She just had to discuss it with her husband, Joey. It wasn’t until the end of the day when we got our answer.

The Urzua Family
The Urzua Family

When they agreed to let me rent out the other room until I could find a place, I was beyond relieved, my family too. The plan then was to meet with the family the next morning and move in. We ended up meeting with just the wife and her two girls at a local IHOP to follow her back to her house. (Joey hadn’t been feeling well and was at the hospital at the time.)

And I’m not going to lie, there were concerns, especially since I was about to live with virtual strangers. However, as we got closer to the family’s house, those concerns lessened. We were getting good vibes based on what we saw as we drove there. The neighborhood looked new and inviting, including their house which was right next to a gigantic, grassy hill. The inside of the house was stunning as well.

However, the room I was renting had been used for storage and there hadn’t been enough time to move it out. So, we spent most of the day moving things to the basement as well as unloading my things from the vehicles. When we were getting close to finishing, the wife surprised us by ordering pizza, which also provided both sides the opportunity to get to know each other. And after dinner, we all agreed that we felt good about the arrangement. When all was said and done, my family and I were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

We didn’t stay too long as my family wanted to see some of the sites before they left the next day, which came very quickly along with the realization that my family was leaving me behind. So, I stayed with them that night at the hotel, said our teary goodbyes in the morning, and watched them drive off. Shortly after, I went back to the family’s place to get settled in, unaware that the next day would bring devastating news. I found out that Joey, who was still in the hospital, had a severe form of brain cancer that was aggressive and terminal. He was given 3 to 6 months to live.

MRI scans
MRI scans

Now Joey, who was in the army, specialized in animal care as a veterinary technician. He absolutely loved taking care of animals. The family even had a dog they adopted ten years earlier, who was of mixed breed and partially deaf. Her name was Meg and she was just the sweetest dog.

When I met Joey for the first time, it was a few days after he had surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. It was an awkward situation at first. I didn’t know what to say to a guy I just met who found out he was dying. So, I introduced myself, saying how sorry I was to hear what happened, and Joey, being the coolest guy I’d ever met, introduced himself like nothing was wrong and even managed to joke about his situation. If he was terrified, I never saw it in the 3 months that I lived with the family.

Instead, what I saw was a husband who loved his family very much and wanted to make sure they were taken care of if he couldn’t beat his cancer through surgery, experimental treatments, and chemotherapy. His priority was to spend as much time with his family as he could and some of those moments, I got to share with them. From inviting me to play mini golf with them and their girls to convincing me to go trick-or-treating dressed as Medusa (Joey’s idea), they became my extended family. We even went to see Jeff Dunham perform live, which was awesome!

Then things changed.

The treatments Joey was getting wasn’t enough and the family started looking at other options, deciding on a hospital in Texas. It meant moving and, sadly, it meant selling their beautiful home of one year. By that time, I had found an apartment but had to wait until November to move in. Though the family could have moved to the nearby air force base at any time, they stayed in the house until I was able to move to my new apartment. Not only that, Joey and his wife helped me move in and even gave me some of their furniture since the apartment was unfurnished. I was extremely grateful.

And then it was time for them to leave.

I got to visit with the family the day before they headed out. I gave them hugs and wished them safe travels, not knowing when I would see them in person again.

We kept in touch through Facebook and as weeks turned into months, Joey’s health was like being on a roller coaster ride. There’d be goods days when the tumor didn’t show up in the MRI scans and then bad days when Joey had a seizure. But he was still alive. Joey made it pass the time frame the doctors had given him to live and he made sure to use that extra time well. He and his family got to vacation in Hawaii, a place he’d always wanted to visit. Joey also got the chance to meet Tim McGraw and tell him how much his song “Live Like You Were Dying” meant to him. However, the family didn’t stay in Texas long before moving to California, where the majority of their family was located.

It was from then on that Joey’s health really began to deteriorate to the point that he had to be hospitalized. Though he stopped posting on Facebook, his wife kept family and friends up to date with his health. I was hurting for the family, especially when Joey was put in hospice care. He was in pain, unable to eat and unable to communicate. At one point, his health seemed to improve. Then, on June 20th 2012, I saw this post: “Dear friends and family it is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that Joey passed away this morning at 12:55 am…” Living nearly two years after being diagnosed with brain cancer, Joey died shortly after Father’s Day, leaving behind a wife and two little girls. He was only 37 years old.

I wanted to share this story because there is a saying, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Joey’s journey made aware of how precious life is and the people in it. Please don’t take it for granted.


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    • taaguilar profile image

      taaguilar 5 years ago

      Thanks Patty. Joey was an amazing guy and so was his family. I'm glad I had the opportunity and honor to know this family.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Well written, however tragic, my heart goes to Joey and his family!! I wish you the very best with school and keep up the Great Work!!