Unsung Angel on Earth
by JoBeth Wray
Joe Douglas Wray was the father of 5 amazing people, a prosecutor with a 99% success rate, and a husband of 26 years. But most of all, he was an angel on Earth, one of those rare do-gooders that never truly got the love and recognition he deserved. I lost him when I was 16 years old to colon, liver, lung, heart & abdominal cancer. Since it was undetected for a long time (he put off going to the Doctor to pay for a meaningless formal dress) he died 3 weeks from diagnosis. But the true beautiful tragedy was the last year of his life.
My father's then untarnished reputation of being a successful lawyer was dragged through the mud and placed under a microscope when he was wrongfully accused of sexual harassment of female defendants to "pay off their charges." The part of the story that the state never really wanted anyone to know was that for the past year of his title before the accusations, he was conducting a private investigation of the DAs, judges and prosecution staff of the state. He found out that the men in power in our state were using the bodies of the women they were prosecuting to "sweep their crimes under the table." He never got the chance to out this scandal, however, because he was forced to resign after the heinous accusations were made against him. In my heart, I always wanted him to fight it, but he plead no contest.
I never realized what a selfless, strong person my father was until it was too late. He refused to fight the charges because he didn't want my family to suffer the possible outcome of his wrongful imprisonment. Long story short, he loved us too much to risk the powers that be robbing my family of their dignity along with everything else we were faced with including the loss of our main income. To be honest, I hated my father for not fighting for what was right. I let him know that on a weekly basis. As a no longer spoiled, selfish teenager, I let him know how much I resented his loss of income. Until that fateful day.
It was only a cough. Or so we thought. But after 3 months of "only a cough", my mother finally dragged him against his will to our doctor. He was diagnosed with adult respiratory distress and immediately rushed to the ICU that morning. He never walked again. A week later, I was told after a school field trip that the Dr. had a new diagnosis for us... colon, liver, lung, heart and abdominal cancer. In that instant, our world dissapeared. It shattered. No treatment was available for him, so we prepared for him to die. And he just would not stop joking through that oxygen mask. He kept us together even though that was supposed to be our job.
In fact, he convinced me to audition for a lead role in the toughest production our school had ever put on, Medea by Euripides. The whole script was a big monologue for the main character, a time- consuming venture. When I got the part, I refused to tell anyone before I told him. I just knew he'd be there in a wheelchair to watch my moment of glory. Exactly one week from opening night, however, I was greeted at the door after practice by my big sister. She didn't say a word but I knew.
Why didn't I say something more to him? How could I have better prepared myself for the guilt of never telling him how much he inspired me? How I was too proud to admit that he was my best friend, my anchor... So I dealt by smiling. And getting on that stage 7 days later and killing my performance. I surrounded myself with friends. I went out. I denied. I never allowed myself to grieve... it's the worst mistake of my life.
I was headed to Juilliard. I was a strong candidate for an acting scholarship. But pretending to be fine often needed some help. My whole life I was a strong advocate for drug-free living. But all of a sudden, I couldn't resist the temptation of a substance that could kill my pain... cocaine. In a matter of months, I lost all my friends, found myself in an abusive relationship, and lost my will to go to college. I blamed myself for his death and I internalized my grief. Drugs were my newfound fake happiness.
I never got my life back. I carry anger everyday and am now diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I work toward happiness (substance free) every day. But I may never do what I was born to do and what my Father knew I could.
If I have any advice for the children of lost fathers, it's this. Cry and cry hard. Scream and shout and talk and break down... and then anchor yourself and make your father proud by living to your fullest potential and then some. Know that you don't have to be alone or bottle your feelings. Never ever turn to destructive substances or temporary fixes. And for those that still have thier dads, love his faults. Tell him your secrets. Show him affection and support. And never give up on fixing broken relationships with parents. Love yourself and others regardless of thier flaws or mistakes. Live your life and never forget to love yourself.
My father was a true angel on Earth. I have been approached several times after his death by men he prosecuted. They shocked me by telling me that my father cared about them, came and visited them in jail, and even saved a few of thier lives. Although bad things happen to good people, remember thst it doesn't make them any less good. And we should all strive to be good if nothing else.