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  • It was a Friday morning in November 2003 when my brother called. It wasn't something that happened frequently, so it was a nice surprise to hear from him.

    "Hey, Beck. Do you have a fax machine?"

    "Yeah, why?"

    "There's an article I just read about epitaphs that I want to send you. It has the one from that one gravestone at Grandma and Grandpa's cemetery."

    I knew exactly the one he was talking about, both the stone and the epitaph.

    There was a small cemetery on a hill visible from Grandma and Grandpa Wise's farm in Pittsford, Michigan. Weird as it may sound, we played up there a lot when we were kids. Perhaps "played" isn't the right word, but we were there quite a bit. I was fascinated with reading the epitaphs on the headstones. The "one" my brother spoke of was the one I always thought was the most creepy. It read:

    As you are now, so once was I
    As I am now, I will always be
    So prepare for death and follow me

    I'm not certain how he remembered that stone. Seems like the only thing he was interested in when we were up there was irritating me the way little brothers do and shooting at things with his B-B gun.

    Our conversation continued to other things and I asked him if he wanted to fly to my house for Christmas. I had just moved to Texas and hadn't seen him since Grandma Wise's funeral a few month's earlier. He declined. He said he had a girlfriend now who had a little boy, so this year he thought he would stay home.

    It was a Sunday evening two days later when my dad called.

    "We lost Joe."

    Even though I heard clearly what he said, my mind insisted that he said "Ben" and not "Joe." Ben was my sister's new baby who had just been born a couple of weeks earlier. It would be sad, of course, but no one knew Ben yet. No one had memories of Ben yet. (Please, God, let it be Ben's name Dad said and not Joe's!)

    I don't recall the rest of the conversation with my dad, but I will never forget what I did when it was over. It was about 10 o'clock at night. I drove to my office, took the elevator up to my floor and walked over to the fax machine. There it was...

    To: Beck

    From: Joseph Wise

    Re: Epitaph

    Next year will be 10 years since we lost Joe. I don't feel like he is dead. He's just "away" somewhere that I can't go. In my mind and in my heart, he is alive and well and having the time of his "after" life.
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