Jo Ellen Gray, the better half of HalfByte

Joellenupclose This past week was the most difficult week of my life.  On Monday, June 7, my wife of 19 years passed away.  Jo Ellen was one of the sweetest, kindest and funniest persons you could ever meet.  Not only was she a great person and a wonderful wife, she was also a terrific mother. 

I met Jo Ellen while working for a regional video rental chain.  I had just been promoted to assistant manager of a location in Richmond’s west end.  Jo Ellen was a ‘key holder’ there, meaning she was able to open the store without a manager and acted as such until one came on duty.  I was instantly taken with her and tried, and failed, humor to win her over.  My first attempt was abysmal and my later attempts did not improve.  I asked her out a few times and she finally said yes.  That first date was awful.  We both had had terrible days and neither of us were really in the ‘date night’ frame of mind.   We saw the movie ‘Ghost’ with Patrick Swayze and, I must say, that is not really a first date movie.  I thought that was that, but did ask her out for a second date.  Luckily for me, she accepted.  That date went much better and, in just under six months, I proposed and she said yes.

We were married on August 10, 1991.  Those early days were rough for us, financially, but we made the best of it.  We managed to find things to do that did not cost much and we ate out, more than we probably should have, quite a bit, despite not having much money.  There were several restaurants that were cheap, ‘Po Folks’ being one of them, enough for us to afford.  We travelled around Virginia a lot since that was also cheap.  Virginia is a gorgeous state and lent itself to many day trips.  We had a wonderful time.

We had always said that we wanted to wait before having a child.  We wanted to spend time together, enjoy each other first.  And we did.  But, Jo Ellen had a very strong maternal instinct and, before long, her best friend was having a child.  It was time for us as well. In 1997, Jo Ellen gave birth to our son, Chase. 

Chase was born of bad genes, unfortunately.  I had a multitude of health issues when I was young and there were some problems on her side of the family well. Needless to say, Chase developed some of the same problems.  He was diagnosed with an immune deficiency and had to endure years of monthly, then weekly infusions of medicine to help build and maintain his immune system.  Through it all, Jo Ellen remained strong and was even able to detect when Chase was getting sick and could tell the pediatricians just what was wrong.  She was right more than she was wrong.  As Chase grew, he eventually built up his immune system and no longer requires the infusions.

As time went on, I got a much better paying job and things looked up for us, financially.  We were able to go on better vacations and purchase new vehicles and a house.  We had many happy years together. Unfortunately, her health began to go downhill.  Five years ago, she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  The joint pain was quite severe.  Several attempts were made to get it under control, but they did.  We managed to maintain the same quality of life that we had had prior to the diagnosis. 

Then she started to hurt where the arthritis should not be affecting her.  Two years ago, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition which affects the nerve endings.  It is quite painful.  The pain would get so severe, that she was not able to function.  Her specialist, after many attempts, finally found something that helped the pain.  Unfortunately, the intervening attempts had nasty side effects for her.  Her quality of life begun to spiral downward and, eventually, led to a month long hospitalization from which she never recovered.

Jo Ellen was a vibrant woman.  She was very funny too, having inherited her sense of humor from her father, who was like a second father to me.  Not a day would go by that she didn’t make me laugh.  Even when she was bed ridden and in lots of pain, she could manage to make you laugh.  She had an infectious smile and wonderful giggle.  She always seemed to sense when I was going point something funny out to her. I wouldn’t have to say anything and she just knew.  

The selfish side of me desperately wants her back.  I am comforted in the knowledge that she is no longer in pain.  She will no longer fear getting out of the bed and falling down because her legs cannot support her.  She will no longer worry about the medicine’s side effects.  She has been freed of all of that.

Even though she is no longer with us, part of her will live on in my son.  He got many of her qualities, including her wonderful sense of humor and her sarcastic wit as well.  I look at him, I listen to him and I can see Jo Ellen.  Since I am also a major geek, I have lots of photos and video of them both.  I will cherish them as well as my own memories of her. 

Jo Ellen, I love you.

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