Later, as Chef Fati was nearing the end of her life with terminal cancer, Joe was determined that his new baby should get to meet his dear friend while there was still time.
At the Between Bites chef storytelling series in Chicago on January 28, Joe recalled visiting Chef Fati in the hospital, and arranging for every single cheftestant on the season to make the trip as well.
He explained what happened after Fati explained that he shouldn't delay a visit if he wanted to see her. "So, I booked a flight that night. I took my wife, I took my son. January 15th, we went out, and we went to see her. She was at UCLA Medical Center and I sent a text out to our whole season and I said, ‘Hey, I booked a flight, I’m going to L.A., I’m leaving Sunday, I’ll be there Sunday night. By that evening, every single other person who was on that season with me had booked a ticket. We were all there," he recalled.
"I brought my son in to see her, which was amazing. And I talked to her brother the day before and when you’re at that stage of cancer where you’re about to go into hospice, germs are very scary. So he had talked to us about not touching her, not kissing her, not hugging her, because germs were so impactful. So I didn’t know if she’d want to touch the baby or touch any of us," Joe remembered. "We waited in the waiting room for hours. And then, finally, her brother came out and he was like, ‘OK, she’s ready to see people and all she said is that Joe and the baby and his wife need to come in first. So, I brought [my son] in, and she was very thin, really weak, she couldn’t lift a cup of water to drink."
He lightened the heartbreaking story with a bit of levity. "And I didn’t have a small baby. I don’t know if you could tell by looking at me. I have one brother... he plays college football right now. My baby looks like us. He comes in, she sees him, and she lights up. And she’s like, ‘Gimme him. Gimme him, right now.’ She’s holding him, and he can’t even believe she’s holding this f---ing chunk of Southside Chicago. It’s like holding a 15-pound Italian beef!"
The moment was precious for Joe. "She’s just holding him. She’s singing to him, like none of us, no one else in the room mattered. She’s just singing to this beautiful little boy. And it was amazing. And we sat there and we talked for a while, and other people came in and she asked us to come back in and five of us sat in the room: me, my wife, my son, my friend Joe, and his wife, and then her brother, Moe. And we talked for probably five hours. We talked about everything, and, you know, she said goodbye. And that was crushing. And as much as you knew it was goodbye, as much as you knew everything, it’s impossible to give up on hope. I guess, maybe that’s just who I am or who we are or how people are, or maybe being a Bears fan just grew into me my whole life."
Listen to Joe's entire tribute to Fati, which he punctuated with humor amid his tears.
If you would like to donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, visit curesarcoma.org.
Story recording and editing: Adam Miller
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