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Walking in grief

I come from the GREAT state of Texas. The long horn state where the highways and flatland never seem to end. One of the television commercials that I will have etched on my brain forever goes like this. How long has it been since you have had a bowl of wolf brand chili? Well, neighbor that is entirely too long. Wolf brand chili is one of those things that you can get in Texas that is hard to find anywhere else. My wife and I miss several things about Texas. The chili, authentic Mexican cooking and a soft drink called Big Red. We have been gone from Texas since August of 1997 and though I do not miss the big city living in Houston we certainly miss other things and people. We miss our family and friends that we left behind. Not only do we not miss the big city living but also we don’t miss some of the things that I remember about Houston. I don’t miss the traffic jams. I do not miss the heat and humidity. I don’t miss the sounds of sirens at all hours of the day and night. I do not miss the hustle and bustle of the big city. Houston Texas is a city that never sleeps.

As a father that is walking through the grief process I have to say that there are things that I miss about our Jessica and there are things that I do not miss. All of these things are elements of the grief that I have to work through each day and sometimes each week.
One of the things that I do not miss is the daily or weekly visits to the MUSC radiology and oncology department. I do not miss the quarterly check ups where we would have to sit in a room for several hours while a team of people would come into the room one at a time with their legal pads or clip boards with an endless stream of repeated questions. I do not miss the feeling of being a gold fish in a glass jar where we were some sort of specimen to be observed. I do not miss the never-ending battle of finding a parking place for the car and having to show the teller at the booth our handicap license plate so we could get out at no charge. I do not miss the knowing looks of the parents that I would pass in the hallways of the hospital as we would pass them with Jessica in her wheelchair wearing her hat over a hairless head. I do not miss the feeling of helplessness as I watched our Jessica loosing the energy to live as she would lay around on the couch wishing she could be outside playing with the other children.

What I do miss is Jessica saying “ Oh Daddy!” when I would say something silly or unexpectedly burp in her presence. I miss Jessica’s smile because when she did, it was from ear to ear and it would light up the room. No matter how glum I felt when Jessica smiled, especially in the last several months, it really brightened up my day. I miss the hugs from Jessica as she struggled to show her love and affection for me. I miss seeing Jessica’s courage as she fought to keep on living from day to day despite all of the treatments and examinations that she endured. I miss going to the mailbox and getting all of the post cards from all over the world from the Chemo Angels. I miss going to the mailbox and getting letters from parents just like you who wrote to tell us we were not alone. I miss watching Jessica interacting with other members of our church as they would move here from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall in her wheel chair or help her get out of the car to go inside the church.

I look back on those events now just as if it were yesterday. The pain is no less real or present in my heart. I remember the joys and the struggles. I remember the loss and the joy equally. As one day melts into another I recognize that this is going to be a long journey in which we learn how to live without our Jessica. Healing will happen slowly but surely. Healing will mostly come from within and there will be days that God will have to supernaturally reach down from heaven and do the work for us because we will be too weak and weary to cry out to Him for help. The difference between the memories of Jessica and Texas is that we can always drive back to Texas and experience the things that we missed the most. On this earth and in this plane of living we will not experience Jessica’s laugh or affection again. We have the hope that she is with the Lord and that we will see her again once our lives are over here on this earth.

My hearts desire is to be the father that I need to be to my other children despite my loss.
I want to know how to live through this grief process in a way that will not rip apart my existing family unit. I want to know how to be the husband and confidant that my wife needs as she walks through her pain. I want to know how to share my heart and life experiences through this all so that others that come after me or before me will be better equipped to handle their grief process. As I pour out my heart and thoughts and feelings my hope is that other men just like me will find refuge. We will not find refuge in knowing that someone else is in pain. We will not find refuge in knowing that someone else just like me is awake at night or is having a hard time concentrating at work. We will find refuge as we learn how to take the horrible grief and pain and channel it back to our Father who is in Heaven. There are a lot of books and resources that are available for those of us in grief to read but the only true source of healing is going to have to come from God. I started Fathers Refuge so that I could communicate with men who are learning how to live with the grief. I want men to know that it is ok to talk about pain. Men are not exempt from the harsh realities of pain.

As a man I know that it is natural for us to want to just hold it all in and appear as if nothing is wrong on the inside. The problem with doing that is that eventually the pain will surface. How the pain surfaces is up to us. How we choose to walk through the grief process is going to affect our relationships with our wives and our children. If you are not married then it will affect your relationship with your co-workers and friends.
As I walk through this process of grief I want to learn how to help men to learn how to open up and express what is going on inside. If you are the wife, mother, relative of a man who is walking through grief be sure and know that he is not doing ok and life is not just back to normal. He may appear to be ok but trust me when I tell you that he is not. Gently reach out to him and let him know that you are there for him. You do not need to have all the right answers because there are none. All you need to know is to let him know that while you do not understand the pain you know that it is there and you care. Sometimes just listening to a person talk will make all the difference in the world.

If I can help someone find refuge for their own personal storm as they walk through grief then please direct them to the e-mail and postal address below. I not only want to learn how to be healed, but I want to pass the healing process on to other men just like me who need a brother and a friend that understands. That is what Fathers Refuge is all about. You can find Fathers Refuge at

James Email

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