DRACUT -- Those who came to dearly love Joseph "Joey" Middlemiss in his six preciously celebrated years of life can smile at the irony Paul McCartney built into "Love Me Do," an early Beatles hit that became the music-loving Joey's favorite.
"Oh plee-ee-ease -- love me do!" Joey would sing along with the words McCartney wrote as a 16-year-old to his girlfriend, Joey's father, Scott, related.
As if either the world's most famous bandleader -- or Joey, the universally adored Tyngsboro Elementary School first-grader, who also loved Star Wars, Spider-Man, his iPad, Ninja Turtles, his dune buggy and Maine cottage, and most of all, mom Kate, dad Scott, and newborn brother, Jack -- really needed to ask.
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Unlike McCartney, Joey didn't have a girlfriend. He had more than a thousand. They and others had been following Joey and his Dracut family's emotional medical saga through the Middlemiss' online CarePage (www.carepages.com/carepages/ JosephMiddlemiss/updates/3578080) almost since his birth.
It was there, online Monday evening, that many received the devastating news directly from Scott Middlemiss, an assistant principal at Tyngsboro Elementary School, that earlier that morning his son had died in his arms.
"This is the hardest thing I have ever had to type, but I felt it needed to be shared as soon as I could type," wrote Scott Middlemiss. "Our beautiful boy, Joseph, earned his angel wings early this morning."
As friends of the family and the boy's countless fans were aware, Joey was born with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and cannot pump blood efficiently. Joey's heart condition soon flipped, however, in a manner that baffled the world's leading cardiac experts, somehow morphing into hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes too functional, continually working at 80 percent of capacity, causing the walls of the heart to overdevelop, to become dangerously thick.
"It's too much, all the time," Scott Middlemiss had said of the pounding of his then 4-year-old son's heart in 2011. It caused his parents hearts' to pound with anxiety on high-alert status around-the-clock as they kept vigil over his health, including spending hundreds of hours in hospital visits and doctors' offices getting him checked and rechecked, and learning about, obtaining, and administering their son's proper medications.
Joey's health was relatively stable last week before he began fighting a virus and fever over the weekend, his father reported.
"And, for some reason, he could no longer fight," wrote Scott Middlemiss on Monday. "I was laying in bed with him, and he passed in my arms."
Joey was rushed to the hospital, "but he had already left us by then," his father said.
"I am certain that there is no pain greater than this," wrote Scott Middlemiss. "Joseph was and is our life. Everything I do, including going to work every day, I do it with him. I do not know how Kate or I will get through this. I really don't. I just ask that you pray for our family and, especially, for Joseph. He hates being alone, and I just want to be with him, to protect him."
The outpouring of tears, grief, sympathy and praise sent the Middlemiss family's way for a cherished boy's life lost much too soon was immediate and overwhelming. Many assured the Middlemiss family that Joey will never be alone, in thought or spirit.
Tyngsboro Superintendent of Schools Don Ciampa broke the sad news to parents in a letter home Monday, informing parents that students were not yet informed of Joey's passing so they could convey the news to their children in a conversation in whatever sensitive way they chose. Grief counselors were made available to Joey's classmates on Tuesday, according to Tyngsboro Elementary School Principal Kerry Cavanaugh, who also sent a letter home about Joey, terming it a "tremendous loss."
At Tuesday night's Dracut Board of Selectmen's meeting, member John Zimini called for a moment of silence in Joseph's memory.
"Joey had a rare heart condition and his story touched many in town," Zimini told the Harmony Hall audience and those watching at home. "He died in his father's arms on Monday morning, while playing before school. He leaves a younger brother, who is about a month old who has the same condition (cardiomyopathy)."
Zimini's tribute to Joey Middlemiss was quoted by Brian Flaherty in his online blog, Dracut Politics, where Flaherty shared that "as the father of two young children with one on the way, this story broke my heart," he wrote. "I am friends with Joey's father on Facebook, and have followed Joey's journey over the years. Scott and Kate Middlemiss are amazing parents and we lift them up in prayer."
In his letter to parents, Ciampa described his own deep sadness, and asked that others who knew Joey "remember to celebrate his kindness, his love for school and music, and his laughter," the superintendent wrote.
"Joey was put on this Earth for a reason and he accomplished so much," wrote Alexandra Lotto, among dozens of touching responses that posted to Scott and Kate Middlemiss on their CarePage. "He taught so many what it means to truly be grateful for life. He spread his smile, hugs and cheerfulness to so many. Please remember that Joey is nowhere near alone right now. I am sure he was greeted by so many."
Along that line, Joey's obituary reminds mourners he was predeceased by his uncle, Jeffrey Middlemiss, "who he is trading jokes with up in Heaven," it reads.
It also encourages "all those whose lives were touched by Joey to attend a celebration of his life" on Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Vesper Country Club, 185 Pawtucket Blvd. in Tyngsboro The funeral is being held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Francis Church, 115 Wheeler Road in Dracut.
"We love you, Joseph... more than anything," Scott Middlemiss wrote to the son he loved so true. "I really need one of your hugs right now."
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