"A hero gets up each day and does his best."
Mike Cherney was talking about his friend Joe Soresi when he said those words to the pastiche of sad faces filling Saints Simon and Jude Catholic church in Huntington Beach.
A glint of recognition shimmered in some eyes.
"A hero spends time with his family," Mike said.
There were a few halting smiles from the pews.
"He makes their lunch, he cleans their cuts. He shows care and effort."
The mourners breathed deeply.
Yes, that was their Joe, an everyday hero, one without any brass bands following in his wake, one impossible to forget.
The cancer finally claimed him late last month, after Father's Day, a wonderful day in its simplicity; there was lots of splashing in the pool with his son, Matthew, at the grandparents' house. Kathy Soresi got it on videotape--"The Daddy Tape," she and her son call it--a legacy of unfettered love.
There's Joe putting a plastic bowl on Matthew's head, laughing, Matthew knocking it off. Later Joe and Matthew are sharing Hostess Cupcakes, a junk food indulgence that has them both grinning like fools, very happy fools.
Joe had talked of leaving a message to his son at the end of the tape, a farewell and an open-armed salute to life and an invitation to just jump right in there, son, and give it your all! But he never got around to it.
Kathy doubts that he would have. It was just too hard.
Joe was 31 when he died of sarcoma, a cancer that attacks the connective tissue. By the time anybody figured out what it was, it had already spread from his thigh to his lungs. At first they thought there might be 12 nodules in his chest. It turned out there were hundreds.
Oh, he went through the hoops--surgery and chemo and this drug and that--but what he really needed was a magic wand.
Matthew just turned 4. Kathy is 29; she and Joe, married seven years, had wanted more kids. But the death ritual intervened.
Kathy and Joe had three years to "plan" for the end. And they did, talking late into the night, holding hands in bed. They'd always hold hands.
They'd see family and friends, take little trips, but nothing big time, nothing too forced. Joe wanted Kathy, a free-lance graphic artist, to work a little more so that she could take her mind off him. Sometimes she did.
"Still, we were so shocked when he died," Kathy says. "He went so suddenly. Joe is so strong. He kept outliving the predictions. I guess we thought he might just keep doing that."
His parents had named him Joseph, but that never stuck. Joseph is too formal, a little uptight. A Joe is exactly what this man was. A big guy, sort of bear-like, accepting of one and all.
He used to play football at Fountain Valley High School. He was a wrestler too, always a jock. When Kathy talks of accompanying him to his 10-year reunion she says she spent the evening in awe. Seems her husband was friends with everybody, not just the jocks, but people from the Science Club even, and from all different races.
"I'll never forget that night," Kathy says. "He was a lot more of a person than I thought he was."
Joe never did go on to college; he sold his first house when he was 21, went from working construction to real estate.
Joe went into the office the day he died. He was closing an escrow, something he wanted to do, that he needed to do. He didn't think there was any sense in messing up anybody else's life on account of his own.
"If I needed a real estate agent, I would want Joe," says Mike Cherney, an agent himself, who worked in the same office in Huntington Beach. "He was very nice. Very simple. He was quality over quantity. He tried every day."
That evening, Kathy had called a nurse to their home because Joe was feeling some pain. Earlier, an electrician had stopped by to give them an estimate on some lights they were going to install; they were improving their home. The next day, they would be going to the beach.
Then Joe made a joke about the how great the back rub felt and now that he'd had his morphine, he was all set. Matthew had run in to say that he had forgotten to kiss Daddy good night, although Matthew had never done that before.
Joe told his parents, who never talked with their son about his illness, that they had done a wonderful job. They left the room, then Joe just faded out.
Kathy didn't want to let his body go, keeping it where it lay for hours. She cried probably the hardest she ever had.
"It's never the same," she says. "It just takes a little of your innocence away."
Five days before he died, during one of their late-night talks, Joe told Kathy that he wanted her to go on with her life, to marry again.
"Then he jokingly said: 'Just don't put anything in anybody's name.' "
She says she misses her husband's voice, his calls from the office and not being able to show him the birthday cake she just bought for their son. He cared about such things.
For the first birthday he celebrated after the cancer was diagnosed, Kathy bought him a personalized license tag for his car, an '85 Volvo sedan. "GRTAT2D" it says.
"It's that everyday stuff that counts," Kathy says. "That's the really hard stuff, the heroic stuff. But when you're given a prognosis of six months to live and you are here, being nice to people, that is what it is all about. That is what it should be all about."
Kathy stops to think, about "The Daddy Tape," the photographs, the hands held tight, Matthew's kiss good night.
"We didn't get around to a lot of stuff," she says. "But we tried."