Graduating with honors from mom

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Two necklaces hang from Kim Patrick's neck, both featuring similar silver pendants in the shape of a little boy wearing a baseball cap backwards and overalls.

One she bought in March to wear at her son's college graduation; the other she purchased after his death in a car accident April 18.

To honor the achievement and the life of Joshua Lemons, Kim will stand in her son's place and accept his diploma today at Southeast Missouri State University's graduation ceremonies.

"Josh worked so hard for that diploma. School wasn't easy for him. He hated it," Kim said. "I knew that if Josh got that degree, there is nothing in this life he could not accomplish."

A stack of Josh's blue jeans, which eventually will be made into a quilt, sit on the kitchen counter in Kim's home next to hundreds of sympathy cards and a vase of yellow roses that arrived Friday with a card that reads, "For 22 years, you did it right."

Josh Curtis Lemons was born Aug. 2, 1980, in Cape Girardeau. One of Kim's fondest memories is her son's childhood fascination with lights.

The day after her son's funeral, Kim received a brochure in the mail from the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce that said "You can help light the bridge."

"Ordinarily, I would throw something like that away without looking at it," Kim said. "But the way it was worded, it made me think of Josh and his lights."

The brochure advertised a limited availability of memorial lights that eventually will hang on the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge.

The Patricks bought a light in Josh's memory, and his name will appear on a memorial plaque in a park near the bridge.

The brochure is just one of several recent incidents that Kim considers signs of Josh's presence in heaven.

Sunday will mark the one-month anniversary of Josh's death. It also will be the day of a graduation party that Kim had planned for Josh and his cousin, Jason Bandermann.

Just 10 weeks apart in age, the cousins spent their first two years of college away from Cape Girardeau but came back in time to graduate from Southeast together this spring.

Josh graduated with a two-year degree from Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., and to the surprise of his mother, chose to pursue a four-year business degree. After graduation, Josh planned to take over his grandfather's business, Lemons Coin Machines.

"He didn't need that degree to get a job, it was always the plan for him to take over that business," Kim said. "He did it not just for him, but because he knew it was my dream."

University officials gave Kim the option of walking with her son's class from the college of business. She chose instead to accept his diploma during the honorary portion of the ceremony.

Josh Lemons is just one of three members of the university's spring graduating class who died this year.

Art Wallhausen, associate to the president at Southeast, said the university also has plans to award posthumous degrees to Katrina Krumrie, who died in a Cape Girardeau house fire in March, and 49-year-old Jack Crofford, who died at his home last week in Poplar Bluff.

Neither of those students' families is participating in today's ceremony.

"We often make special arrangements for students who are terminally ill or if a family requests a diploma for a deceased student who was classified as a senior," Wallhausen said.

The college diploma will join countless photos of Josh, along with his mounted deer heads hanging on a wall in the Patricks' home.

Final photo

The last photograph taken of her son sits on top of a piano in Kim's foyer. The photo is of a smiling young man dressed in camouflage, proudly sitting atop the red Yamaha four-wheeler he purchased just two months before his death.

This week, the Patricks paid off the four-wheeler, but they plan to keep it because of the enjoyment it brought Josh.

The funeral that followed Josh Lemons' one-vehicle accident April 18 was the largest ever held in Ford and Sons Funeral Home's 50 years of business in Cape Girardeau.

More than 1,600 people waited up to three hours to get in to the visitation April 20. Kim considers it a tribute to her son that so many people attended.

"Everyone who knew Josh loved him," Kim said. "His goal in life was to make people smile, make people happy."

Kim thinks about Josh saying the dinner prayer at the last meal they ate together. She remembers holidays and vacations, baseball games and fishing trips.

She recalls telling him countless times that she was going to heaven, and asking him if he'd be there too. "Yes, mom. I'll be there," was always his response.

Josh graduated from Marble Hill's Woodland High School in 1998, senior class president, prom king and was voted most likable. That same year, Kim married David Patrick and moved to Cape Girardeau. She's now the sales manager at Sleepy Hollow, the furniture store her husband owns.

Josh is the second child that Kim has lost in her 43 years. In 1977, she gave birth to a stillborn daughter she named Keri.

A week after the accident, Kim and David visited the site on Route C near Arab, Mo., where Josh died. The 2000 Chevrolet he was driving had been hauled away, but pieces of the vehicle and some personal items remained.

Kim sifted through the remaining wreckage, searching for a source of comfort, but unsure of exactly what she was looking for to provide that comfort.

"My faith was wavering at that point. I said a silent prayer, asking for a sign that Josh was with God," Kim said.

Noting his wife's search, David also began looking for some tangible object to take home as a keepsake. He saw something gold shining in the sun away from the debris, and picked up three, quarter-size Hallmark gold crown stickers on a strip of white paper.

"I wasn't looking for a sign, I didn't know she'd asked for one. I just knew Kim wanted something to take back," David said. "I'm not sure why, but I turned to Kim, and said, 'Here's your sign.'"

As David finished the story, Kim held up her wrist and indicated a memorial charm bracelet she made a week before visiting the crash site. One of the silver charms has a gold crown on it identical to the stickers David found.

"There's three stickers. I think they represent Keri, Josh and I," Kim said.

As she's done with numerous letters, poems and cards, Kim laminated the three stickers and added them to what she calls her Josh box, a collection of memorabilia she keeps in a footlocker that sat at the end of her son's bed.

'Life goes on'

While the photos of Josh will continue to hang on the Patricks' walls, Kim says it's important not to make their home into a shrine for the sake of David's three children.

"Life goes on, and we want life to be happy. Josh would want that," Kim said.

For now, Kim finds comfort in prayer and in the kind words that friends, family and even strangers have written in hundreds of cards and letters that have arrived since Josh's death. She consoles Imi, the beloved black cockapoo she gave Josh for Christmas eight years ago.

The Patricks recently set up a scholarship fund at Woodland High School in honor of Josh. Next Friday, Kim and David will be at the school's graduation ceremony to present three Woodland seniors with $1,200 scholarships.

Although it's been nearly a month since his death, Kim can still clearly hear her son calling up to her from his downstairs bedroom, "Have a great day, I love you," before leaving the house each day.

"Josh never left this house without saying that," Kim said. "It's now a rule that before anyone leaves this house, they have to tell whoever is home that they love them, because you may never get a chance to say those things again."

cclark@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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