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Happy Birthday Angel Jessica

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Today our Jessica Ann would be 25 years old.  Jessica is our 2nd oldest child next to Jeremy Moffitt who is 29.  Today is also the 14th anniversary of the World Trade Center twin towers being attacked.  I remember both events as if it were yesterday.  I remember Jessica taking her last breath on August 5th 2001 at approximately 2 am.  I remember telling her that it was ok to quit fighting and to let go.  Jessica Ann slipped from the bonds of her cancer ridden body into the arms of Jesus in that moment.  It is our hope and belief that we will see her again along with other loved ones when we leave this life and move on to the next one.

It has been said that time heals all wounds.  I would say that time allows us the opportunity to learn how to deal with the pain and grief of losing a loved one.  Time gives us a measuring stick for our perception of the pain and feeling of loss that comes with grief.  One does not simply “get over it”.  If you are a friend or family of someone that has lost a loved one please do not make the mistake of expecting them to just “get over it”.  Grief is something that becomes a constant companion.  Over time, the pain does subside and get easier to deal with but it never totally goes away.

Today, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the 3000+ souls that lost their lives in the terrorist attack in New York City on this date in 2011.  Terrorists (aka cowards) hijacked 3 jet liners and intentionally flew them into both of the World Trade Center towers and attempted to fly into the Pentagon.  Someone said that 9/11 is the “Pearl Harbor” of my generation.   I will never forget where we were when this happened.  A neighbor called me and told me to turn on the TV and watch the news.  We sat in our living room and watched in horror as the World Trade Center buildings burned and then collapsed one after the other.  We watched as the second plane hit the second tower while the first one burned.  I remember how surreal it was to watch the 110 floor towers just collapse into the ground while millions of viewers watched in disbelief.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the public servants who rushed to the scene to help people and ultimately paid the highest price for doing so.  Police officers and fire fighters who were trying to help victims lost their own lives on that horrible day.  This is a day that Americans came face to face with radical Islam and their act of cowardly terror.  I know that the pain of the event was and is intense for most of us.  It would be so easy to categorize all Muslim people as terrorists but I realize that is not fair.  That would be like saying that all Christians are willing to kill innocent people in the name of God.

The problem with terrorism and war is that innocent people including women and children lost their lives.  I guess that our government calls this loss of life as collateral damage.  I do not pretend to fully understand all of this.  I just know that people were going about their day to day business in the World Trade center towers and that it was forever interrupted by a cowardly act by terrorists and now they get to live with the grief.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the survivors.  May they find some sort of release from their pain and find the courage to go on despite their losses.

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6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent – Still Standing Magazine

6 Things to Never Say to a Bereaved Parent – Still Standing Magazine.

Nothing hits closer to home than the loss of a child.  We lost our Jessica Ann back on August 5, 2001 and I still remember her last breath as if it were yesterday.  I can now say that after 13 years of walking with the pain of her loss that the rawness of the event has diminished.  I will never “get over it” because that event defined who we were as a family and we have been changed forever.  Jessica was a bright ray of sunshine that could light up a room with her smile and left a mark on everyone who was close to her.  I will never get over that.  I chose to bask in the memory of that smile and her saying “Oh daddy!” when I would make her laugh.  Those are some of the happy memories that I have.  Please read this article and remember what it says the next time you are hanging out with someone who has lost a child.  Share it with your friends and family so they will know what to say or not say.

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Surviving the storms of life

Fathers Refuge has been a vision of mine since 2001 when my daughter Jessica lost her battle with cancer.

As a family we walked through our Jessica spending 14 months of treatments at MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston South Carolina. Nothing prepares you for that type of journey and you find yourself clinging to any type of hope and support system that comes along.

Support came in the form of local churches in Bluffton SC and Goose Creek SC. Support also came in the form of Camp Happy Days, Courageous Kidz and the Make a Wish Foundation.   Through the many things that these organizations provided for us, and our faith in God, we survived the passing of our daughter.

I remember how I described living through this chapter in our lives. I likened it to standing on a beach and watching an approaching storm.

I remember the night when we took Jessica to the emergency room at the hospital on Hilton Head Island after she started to show signs of head trauma. Jessica kept telling us she was dizzy and could not keep food down. When the doctors put Jessica through a battery of tests the CT scan identified a brain tumor the size of a baseball and it was wrapped around her brain stem.

The doctors performed an emergency surgery and removed 95% of the tumor. I will never forget the surgeon telling Katy and I that if Jessica lived for 12 months it would be a miracle. That is when the storm landed on the beach and the wind, rain and lightening descended upon our entire family.

Living on the East Coast we are always on the lookout for Hurricanes and between the months of June and November we are warned to have a hurricane survival kit. We are encouraged to have an evacuation plan in place for our families. Planning and preparation is key to surviving this type of devastating storm. Our family found out that there was no amount of planning or preparation that could have prepared our family for the storm we were experiencing with our Jessica.

Our master plan was to pray to God and ask him to heal our little girl. We pleaded for him to remove the two types of cancers that were wrapped around Jessica’s brain stem and that she would return to perfect health. Despite our prayers and pleading Gods’ master plan was to bring out Jessica out of this world and into his loving arms.  

That particular chapter in our lives turned out to be a storm that lasted 14 months from beginning to end. Like most major storms in life it left behind some wreckage. Our family was changed forever and would never be the same. The storm threatened the very foundation of our faith in God. While our faith in God never faltered I am sure that it cracked in several places.   

As we walked through the aftermath of this particular storm I noticed that as a father that most support systems were designed to reach out to the mother. I will never forget the funeral director telling me that within a year the chances were good that Katy and I would wind up in divorce court. Apparently this type of storm is conducive to wrecking families. As a father and a husband I vowed that we would not be another statistic.  

As a father I remember how I felt not really having much of a support system. It turns out that men and women process grief differently. I know now that women are more demonstrative of their feelings and men tend to turn their feelings inward and internalize the grief.

I remember speaking to a chaplain from MUSC about Fathers Refuge and how I wanted to help bring healing to other fathers walking through that type of storm. The chaplain told me that one of the biggest hurdles to reaching out to men is to get them to a place where they would be willing to talk about the grief, and begin the healing process.

I realize now, in that moment, in that stage of our storm, I was not ready or equipped to help others in their grief process. Katy and I still had a lot of processing to do. We had a lot of emotions to work through and lots of questions about why this happened to our family.

As I look back 31 years ago I realize that loosing Jessica is not the only storm I have been through. In my early 20’s I wound up in jail and spent some time living on the streets of Houston Texas. I also found myself living through the aftermath of a divorce.   Each individual event or storm has taught me some very valuable lessons. Each storm has its own unique story. Today I realized that while losing our daughter to cancer was a horrible storm, I also have several other stories to tell.

I am hoping that Fathers Refuge will be a mechanism that I can use to tell my stories. Hopefully I can tell the stories of each storm in such a way that men and fathers will be able to identify with their own unique struggles. I know that I am not alone and that there are other men who have struggled or are struggling with the many things that life throws at us.

As I look back at each storm of my life I realize that if it were not for the power of Jesus Christ in my life and the different godly men and women who influenced me, that I would have wound up in prison, a drug addict or dead. Thirty-one years later, I can look back at the storms and ahead to the future and say, “to God be the glory”. He is the one who brought me through each storm. He is the one who carried me through each storm. He is the God that never turned his back on me, even when I walked away. Through each storm God revealed himself as my redeemer and provider when I needed it the most.

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Community

I came home late last night after working a short day, and then studying for a quiz in one of the three classes I am taking online at Trident Technical College.  I spend a lot of time working with technology, and staring at computers all day, so I had no plans on getting online when I got home.  I just wanted to stuff my face, and disengage my brain ,and watch some television.  I call television the idiot box because there is a lot of worthless garbage on it.  After a long day at the office, I like to stop solving problems, and just let me mind wander, and let it be filled with whatever favorite show is on at the moment.  Late at night, I typically watch channel 2 news, and the Tonight Show with   Jay Leno. I guess my parents got me hooked on the Tonight Show as a kid. I remember them watching the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was hosting it.  I like watching Jay Leno for his monologue, and to see which actor or actress he will be interviewing for the night.  It is interesting to me to see the real person that is behind the actor.  I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at how real, and sincere, and deep some of the folks are despite their fame and fortune. 

The other day I confessed my addiction to multitasking while sitting in front of the television.  I always have my laptop turned on, while watching the television, and eating supper, or a snack of some sort.  One of the reasons I have been battling a weight problem is because I have a need to snack, while sitting in front of the television.  Over the last 5 years, or longer, I have learned to eat sunflower seeds when I get the urge to snack.  One of the other things I am trying to change about myself is to have the ability to not always be multitasking.  Thanks to our new found desk I am trying to leave my laptop on the desk and not on my airdesk  next to my recliner.  I need to find a way for me to relax and watch TV, and not have to be surfing the Net, or paying attention to social media, or the IRC channel, that I have been helping to moderate for the last 2 or 3 years.  

I am drawn to social media and the IRC channel named #imprfect_christian because it is a community of people that I have learned how to connect with.  I spent a decade on IRC back in the early 90’s, when BBS’s were the hot thing going, and the way to connect with a community of people all around the globe.  Today there are still IRC networks and BBS’s that are in use by a lot of people.  I find it interesting that most folks that are on IRC have not adopted social media in the way that I have.  I think that most of them are just comfortable with the text chat interface, and for whatever reasons they have a dislike for Twitter, Facebook and the myriad of other social network applications.  

As I said earlier I was going to skip the nightly session on IRC, and social media, and just give it a rest. That lasted for about 20 minutes and then I found myself online once again, sitting at my desk eating supper, watching the news and chatting on IRC.  One of my friends from CT was online, and since she does not get online that often, we were catching up on life.  While we were chatting someone using the nick of itsmesteve logged onto the IRC channel, and told us that they were contemplating suicide.  When this was said our “troll alert” started going off.  You never know what is going through the minds of people when they come into an IRC channel and say something like that.  I did a whois command on the nick in question, and I could tell that they were not in any other channels on this IRC server.  Most of the time when someone is being a troll in a Christian channel, they are in a dozen other non Christian channels at the same time.  For whatever reasons some folks like to come into a Christian channel and be disruptive, or act out in order to get attention.  

In the case of itsemesteve he lost a loved one to a sudden myocardial infarction yesterday and he was experiencing some intense pain and anguish with the loss.  I spent some time chatting with him and encouraging him to speak about his feelings.  The person that he lost was an ex wife and apparently the children were blaming him for her death which was making matters worse.  I encouraged this person to reach out to local friends or family for support and I found out that he is a Christian which means that he will be able to lean on God during this time. 

One of the things I have learned from being online over the last 20 years, is that there are a lot of hurting people.  People are looking for love and acceptance, and relief from the pain they are experiencing.  I am glad that I am part of this online community, and more specifically, that I am able to provide a measure of comfort and support to folks like itsmesteve ,when they come into our channel late at night.  I am glad that we could be a safe haven for him to come, vent his feelings and share his pain.  Perhaps his being able to talk about the grief for a period of time, helped him to stop thinking about suicide.  

As I said earlier, I love social media, and the personal connections that I have made through it.  I believe that there are different people utilizing social media for different reasons.  Some folks use it as a means to network with others online, and advertise their services, so they can make a buck or two.  Some folks like me, just get online with social media for the people connections I can make, and to grow my community.  No matter why we get online, and no matter what social media applications we might use, we should be mindful that we are surrounded by hurting people, who may be going through some tough circumstances.  I know that I have met some very wonderful folks here in Charleston, who have blessed me tremendously because of the type of people that they are.  I guess that is what community is all about.  Being real with one another, and respecting one another, and walking down the road of life, and being there when folks need for us to be there.  

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