(Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call)
Alexandra’s only child, Joseph Matteucci (age 17) was killed at a youth baseball game on May 15, 1993. During a melee between teams, in which Joseph was trying to extricate his friend, he was struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat, which had been swung in a fit of anger towards another boy who ducked. Two days later Joseph died of his injuries. It was the first game related death in little league history.
As a result of her son’s death Alexandra Matteucci created a national organization, The Joseph Matteucci Foundation for Youth Non-Violence, which envisions the “youth of America discovering the power of standing for peace, respect for life, and passion for living.” Their endeavors include a mediation training program taught to and for high school and middle school children; a sports emblem program designed to educate parents, coaches and players of the importance of good sportsmanship; and a scholarship program which supports educational opportunities to students who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to peace activities on campus. In addition to starting the foundation, Joe’s vital organs were donated to a 44-year-old construction worker, a 38-year-old lawyer, a 13-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man.
Alexandra Matteucci: “Joseph continues to live with me. He is very much a part of this foundation. He has been an inspiration to me all my life, showing me unconditional love. He was very wise for his age. I shared all my problems with him. We were very connected. I was a single parent since he was a year old. I even felt a spiritual connection to him before he was born . . . in the womb.
Joseph’s death was a symptom of how our society deals with violence and aggression that can lead to violence. Our anti-violence program is really about bringing the young people, the coaches and the parents together prior to a season in a single event that’s mandatory. I talk about what happened to my son, how and why it happened and ask everyone to stand and take a pledge. The pledge is, “Play to win. Play safely. Win or lose fairly. And be cool.” Then they sign the pledge and put our emblem on their uniform. Some of the teams incorporate the pledge in their opening day ceremony and their fund raising events.
One of the things I think that makes an impact on these young people is that I talk about Joe. I show pictures of him. They realize who he was and they come away very touched. When I go and talk about him in the schools, I tell them there’s a part of Joe living in each and every one of them and that every child and every parent is important.
Our program now teaches conflict resolution in the schools right along with our safety program. I read this article in the paper about an incident where two neighbors got angry at one another over parking and one of them went over and killed the other with a bat. He had very similar injuries to what Joe had received. I remember saying to myself, “Here’s another example that it’s not about baseball, it’s about anger.”
The impact of having someone taken from you, especially a young person, is so overwhelming that fortunately your body and your mind have the ability to save you. It takes some time before you’re ready to realize the immensity of the loss of your child. It’s so humbling. It’s an experience I can’t even describe in words. Not having that child in your life is difficult to comprehend. There are so many things that go through your mind.
What helped me most were people that sent articles and books or folks that would listen to what I had to say about my grief, that would allow me to talk about Joe. People don’t realize that when you’ve had a loss you want to talk about that person. The first reaction from most people is they avoid talking about it with you.
I’ve realized what great gifts our children are. They don’t really belong to us. We don’t own them. It’s humbling when you realize you can’t control everything. I have memories of holding Joseph in my arms and saying to him, “As long as I’m here Joe nothing will happen to you,” but that’s not always true. They’re going to go places and be around people that aren’t always in your control. You have to trust that you taught them to have a sense of what’s right and wrong.
Though he’s gone physically, he and I are still connected. Our relationship continues. I think Joseph came here as an old soul. In a way he’s my teacher. Since he graduated so early he must have been ahead of the learning cycle.
When Joe was killed it opened me up to my soul. It helped me release myself to my life’s mission. I said, “God, I don’t know why I’m here; I’m obviously not understanding it. It’s too painful and debilitating. I don’t have any purpose in my life any longer. So I’m giving my life to you and to Joseph and whatever consciousness is out there. My life is yours. ou take it. You open the door and show me the way.”
When I did that, I realized the doors are open . . . there is a purpose. What I do now comes very easily. It’s very spiritual. It’s not something that’s coming from me; it’s coming through me. Isn’t that amazing? I find that I have more love now than I ever have.
When Joe was seven or eight, he gave me a card for some occasion or other. I opened it up and started crying. Inside the card was a drawing of some trees on a hillside, birds flying and in his handwriting it said, “Mom, I love you. I love being around you. You are like oxygen to me and I’m a tree. You are also as beautiful as a tree.”
Losing my son in that way was the painful beginning of a new, more open life. And he continues to live through every child he touches. With his story being heard over and over again it brings him to life. It’s Joe’s message, Joe’s story and I’m the vehicle . . . the messenger.”