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Surviving Life

Sunday, January 16, 2011

©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

If you think about it, most of us have been surviving something our entire lives. Maybe it started with a domineering parent, a bully on the school ground, sexual abuse, job, race or sexual discrimination, diagnosis and treatment of a serious illness, or losing a loved one. Eventually, most of us find our way through these things and find new ways to survive. I’m in that mode again, surviving James’ death, trying to figure who I’ll be without him, without us being James and Brenda, and someday getting to the point where I can make my way to my new normal. <PREVIEWEND>

This week I started a six-week grief class. So far all we’ve done is introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about the person in our life who died. There are some in the class who’ve actively been holding on to their grief for years, and that scares me: the thought of staying in this pain, forever. They are examples of what awaits me if I do the same, paralyzed people, seemingly lost and destroyed in webs of "what if's."

One thing I’m learning is there are no rules for grieving. Sometimes I’m scary calm and then, like last night, my loss is almost too great to handle. I buried my face in James’ leather recliner, sniffing it, hoping to find some trace of his familiar smell, but there was only a hint. Just enough to make me cling to his chair like a life preserver. Five days ago, Molly stood in front of the same chair, placed her paw on the seat and stared at me. Like Molly, I wanted to drag my bed across the room until it was positioned at the foot of his chair and lie down. Instead, I put my face where his head had been and curled into a ball. A primal cry started deep inside me, gathering my grief as it built, until a guttural sound came forth that made Molly get up and run to the other side of the room. Over and over, I asked James, I asked God, “Why? Tell me why? I need to know.”

My hardest time is in the mornings. The alarm goes off and the first thing that hits me is James is not here. I don’t even want to open my eyes. I called his office the other day, and as it rang, I noticed my phone said, “Calling James Coffee.” I loved seeing his name in print.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about couples in restaurants that sit there, for the entire meal, not talking to one another. They might as well be at a table for one. James and I used to feel sorry for them. How terrible and desperately alone must it be to share a house and a table with someone and have nothing to say to one another? James and I never ran out of things to say or ask each other about, plus we had our own little comedy act. We laughed a lot.

I loved that he allowed me to be a bimbo. I’ve always been the smart girl, the capable girl, the woman who runs companies, confronts drug dealers and armed assassins, who at one point, drove, flew, landed on and submerged in, most every piece of military equipment known to man; the woman who can, and has, survived more than I ever thought possible. With James, however, I was his “girl baby,” his “Brenda baby.” I could relax and let my ditzy side show. He loved it and was entertained by it.

This survivorship thing… I know how to do this. I know this raw feeling will eventually pass. A scab will form over my wound, and along with the scar, I will begin to find my new normal. I also know many of you are hurting and grieving about something or someone in your life. You’ve lost loved ones, have been diagnosed with cancer, or have had a recurrence. You’re broken-hearted, and you’re scared. I also know the only way to get past our pain is to walk through it. We can’t deny it, and we can’t hide from it, because it will find us. We must let the tears go; call on God, family and friends, get counseling and second opinions, decide on a course of action, do all those things that are in our best interest to survive and move forward.

No one said surviving would be easy, but I’m here, with you, trying to find my compass and map out a new course, a way to walk through this part of my life and survive. Thank you, sweet friends, for being so caring and supportive of me during this time. Your response to my blog has been overwhelming and I pray, in some small way, I am there for you as you have been here for me. Life is in the here and now. We must find ways to live it!

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Previous Comments
Anonymous commented on 17-Jan-2011 01:01 AM

My dear Brenda you do not know me for we have never met. but I feel you pain I could never say I know how you feel about losing your beloved Jame's but I do know I have survived septacemia and being on life support for 2 weeks in 1994 only to have the wind taken out of my sails again in Oct 2009 by being diagnosed with breast cancer. all the while my husband Bob stood by my side and was my rock ( even though things have been tough )..I cannot imagine my life without him. please accept my support..Love Genine
Anonymous commented on 17-Jan-2011 01:05 AM
Genine, Are you still there? Thank you, sweet lady. Thank you. Your comment means so much to me. xoxoxo, Brenda
Anonymous commented on 17-Jan-2011 04:48 AM
My beautiful Brenda... once again you are able to rise above your own pain in such a way as to offer HOPE and inspiration to those that know, love and admire you.
For reasons that I still do not understand, I shed very few tears at the loss of my beloved husband Ray and son Jeremy. I now feel that has contributed to the recurrence of my breast cancer.
Now, as I cry with you at the loss of your precious James, I have made the decision to walk away from my relationship with Haydn in the belief it will give me the opportunity to 'reclaim' what I have left of 'MY' life.
May God bless you and hold you in the palm of His hand.
Chez xo
Anonymous commented on 17-Jan-2011 10:39 AM
Brenda, This is really an exceptional post, but then I'm not surprised because writing is perhaps the best tool to help you heal and find your way again. I'm sorry the mornings are so difficult, as you face each new day in its entirety feeling so alone. Also, as you mentioned, grief is a long process and there is no right way to do it. I'm glad you are taking a grief class. I hope it helps, I know you will help others by being there, which will in turn help you. Keep on surviving, Brenda, one day at a time. Love Nancy
Anonymous commented on 17-Jan-2011 07:53 PM
I'm with you every step, though far away. I think of you and James every day. I will never forget where I was when I read your words of his death.
Anonymous commented on 18-Jan-2011 07:44 AM
"Walking it through..."

Some of the best advice for anyone going through emotional trauma. And while I haven't stood where you are currently standing, I have experienced some depth along these lines. Just last night I told my husband, I need some people... a group to surround me that have stood where I am standing--as a new survivor to this crazy mess called breast cancer. I know I will drown if I don't have it... not just on-line but in the flesh.

I'm floundering, wanting to celebrate the gift of life but feeling unable to do so. It's that interesting phase you spoke about here... a "between" stages kind of phase. I want to live without fear, but it creeps in; doubts come, and faith barely hangs on.

But it does... hang on. Thank God for his sustaining grip on me as well.

Rest well in his grip today, and walk it through. "The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you. To him be the power forever and ever." (1 Peter 5:10-11)

Anonymous commented on 18-Jan-2011 09:42 PM
Dear Brenda, please know that I am praying for you daily. Your excellent post mentions your beloved Molly feeling your pain. That's how strong it is. You'll find a new normal, but not without going through the process. I leave you with 2 Cor. 1:3 ("Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.") Be assured that Jehovah-Jireh provides all your comfort, all your needs, and all your strength. Blessings, Jan
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 03:50 AM
Oh my dear..what to say to you? Actually there is nothing left to say after your wonderful post. Your honesty and your compassion says it all. Your words speak to all of us at a deep level who have experienced loss. The fact that you can write so cogently at a time like this is just amazing - and I feel sure it will bring you healing and healing to many others who are going through loss right now. Know that you are in our hearts and our prayers at this time xxxx
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 03:15 PM
Brenda, I live with a man who's wife died of breast cancer. I met him two year after his loss. When I met him he was still very much grieving but functioning and I was his first date since he was married 24 years earlier. From back then until now, which has been seven years, I see what helped him recover was his memories. He has three children, and now they can talk about there mother in good terms from their memories. It takes a long time for the pain of the loss to dim down, but you will always have your memories, they will never die, they will be with you forever. You will smile again. I wanted to say I am praying for you.
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 03:23 PM
Just want to say that I am so sorry about your loss. James sounds like such a wonderful person, husband, friend and lover. Can't imagine your feelings. I've had breast cancer 3 times and an so fortunate in the love, care and support from my husband of 48 years. I can't imagine losing him.

Thank you for sharing your pain and grief in your loss. You are in my prayers. Thank you for sharing.

Diane Marx
(San Antonio)
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:02 PM
If I’ve not told you before, Brenda, your writing style and skill are awesome! I adore the way you express feelings and emotions in a way that I am sitting right next to you, hearing your voice and watching your face.

And holding your hand. Yes, definitely holding your hand and hugging you from time to time.

Hugs & love –

Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:10 PM
You inspire me, thank you for using your blog as a healing avenue for your feelings. Hugs, Jennifer Denton
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:12 PM
I think of you constantly and the pain you are feeling. One thing, when mom passed away I took some of her clothes and put them in a zip lock bag. I occasionally, go back, even today six years later, and take a sniff. Its strange, but it gets me through the moment.

Love you
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:13 PM

I have been praying for you and really pray that things went okay today in the counseling session. My mom was going to try to FB friend you... her name is Carole Burnett. She has diligently been praying for you. Sending you hugs. Tammy
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:20 PM
I am a member at Northside with you and are praying for you. You have and are still providing great inspiration to many women as you
deal with your loss of James. I have shared your blog and your present journey with friends who are cancer survivors and my sister's friend who was recently
diagnosed with breast cancer.
I pray for comfort and peace for you as you find your new normal. I am happy to receive your blog each week. It lets me know that if I happen to miss your face
in passing on Sundays, you are hanging in there and still holding on to God's unchanging hand.

God Bless,
Lynette Kennedy
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:38 PM
Hi Brenda,

I just got the news about James, and am so very sorry. All of us with Mamma Jamma are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers. It's hard for words to be balm in a loss like this, but know that whether in person or from afar, we are with you, and you are held in love.

You are not alone. Best to you, and hope for healing.

David C. Smith
Texas Mamma Jamma Ride/Hill Country Ride for AIDS
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:42 PM
Hi David,
Thank you, sweet man, for reaching out to me. I think this has been harder than 10 breast cancer surgeries and 8 rounds of chemo. He went for a walk and I never saw him, again. Kind of like he was swallowed by a black hole.

I'm going to need more things to focus my attention on, so let me know of any way I can help Mamma Jamma, speaking engagements, etc. I'd love to be a part of your team to make this year's ride even more successful.

Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:43 PM
Hi Brenda,

I feel so bad, I just found out about James on Friday. I am so, so sorry. I know it's late, but if there is anything I can do, please don't hesitate to call. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

On a lighter note, your survivor story is up on Cancer Forward.

I know this must be an incredibly difficult time, but I hope you are staying strong.

All the best,
Anonymous commented on 19-Jan-2011 04:45 PM
Good morning dear friend,

I continue to lift you up to God for strength to get through each day. (For some days to get through each hour). A verse I thought might encourage you:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with
My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

Mary Ann
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:39 PM
Well written dear- you are doing great!!!! Chuck
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:40 PM
Hi Brenda - Thank you for sharing "Surviving Life." I am thinking of you all the time and follow your blog closely. My love to you and Molly
Your friend in Jacksonville
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:41 PM
Dear Brenda,

Just finished reading your latest blog and you truly are a very gifted writer. It brought back so many
memories from 1984 when our son was hit by a train and killed while on his way to his life group meet-
ing at College Station. The pain stays with you for a long time until eventually it subsides somewhat.

I remember how difficult church was - especially the singing. I would start crying and have to leave nearly
every Sunday. Yet the "church" was what got us through these difficult days and hopefully you will feel
the love and support just as we did.

You and James were such a handsome couple and fun to be with. I remember our train trip to Ft. Worth
and so grateful for our picture of the eight of us in our "old timey" clothes.

Please call if there is anything we can do for you. The Dr. is not allowing me to drive right now - but Jim
can and remember how much you are loved and prayed for.


Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:45 PM
My dear sweet friend Brenda, what a wonderful tribute you are to your precious James and so many who read your blog! You may not realize how much God is using your sorrow but I can assure you you are making a major difference baring yourself to the world, sharing your beautiful love story that is becoming an incredible point of reference especially for those who may not know what love really is. You validate the saying that experience is the best testimony! While doing this you are healing for we believe that All Things Work Together for Good for those Who Love the Lord! I know you Love Him and He is going to see you through this remember He will Never Leave or Forsake You my dear. Be comforted and continue doing what you do best... Giving of yourself!!! Healthy Wishes and Blessings Philippa
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:47 PM
Brenda, this is so beautiful, raw and real. Thank you for being real with us and allowing us into your journey through this. We will get through this. Those of us who love you are walking with you and hurting that you hurt. I am lifting you up to our Father who is greater than ANYTHING and ANYONE. I ask Him Who is Able to hold you and carry you as long as you need it. Thanks for sharing with all the hurting people. You are doing good for others while you hurt so deeply. God bless you, my sister. linda
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:50 PM
And you will!!!!
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:52 PM
I would love to give you a hug.

Hang in there and God Bless.

Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 03:58 PM
Hope today was better than yesterday and that hope and faith give you support for a good tomorrow.

Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 06:58 PM

If you are interested in breast cancer treatments and preventions, please take a look at this link: There are great articles you'd love to read! It goes over the Breast Health and Healing Foundation as well as the breast cancer virus and vaccine. The vaccine may be a great help to breast cancer patients as well as the healthy. Prevention includes the food you eat, the amount of exercise you get, and the destructive things you must avoid such as HRT, birth control pills, alcohol, and cigarettes. Thanks for reading!
Anonymous commented on 20-Jan-2011 09:29 PM
My friend Elaine sent me here to read your 'stirring' posts since your husband's passing. My hubby passed on December 24th Christmas Eve. I'm much to raw in emotions to be able to read much tonight but I will return and I know I'll be blessed! I am so terribly sorry for your loss...Believe me when I say that I really do understand! I will be praying for you as we venture on these new journeys God has placed before us. Cindy
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 01:04 PM
I am so sorry for your loss, Brenda. It is a gift to have loved so deeply and been so loved. Cherish it.

You are also a remarkable person, something James clearly saw. At this time of great pain and loss, to share your story with such tenderness and respect is such a gift to others. Thank you.

I wish you strength and peace. Hug Molly!
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 03:37 PM
My Dear Cindy, I'm sorry you've been devastated like I have. I've read your posts and your words are my words. This is the hardest thing we will ever do: survive the deaths of our precious husbands. I, too, am haunted that I was not there when James died. I am trying so hard to find my way. It's what James would expect; it's what God expects of me. I pray God holds both of our families in the palm of His hand and gives us strength. XOXOX, Brenda Coffee
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 04:58 PM
brenda: i am so sorry for your loss. as i was reading this, i was listening to a cd that was compiled by my best friend months before he unexpectedly died. the song *so weak, so strong* was the backdrop for my tears as i read through your pain. my tears ran hot and fast, and i am so sorry.

may god grant you peace, and then strength when peace escapes you.
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 05:08 PM

Thanks so much for sharing. Since you are a writer, I imagine writing will be therapy for you, whether in a journal or here. I'm amazed to hear that you wrote your last blog before James died - I just assumed you chose not to mention it until now, maybe because you had already outlined or fully written that blog. May your own words about faith and hope, as well as the fact that James was a man of faith, comfort you. Please hang in there and know that prayers are going up for you.
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 05:31 PM

I cannot imagine what you are going through. Thank you so much for sharing this story, James must have been a wonderful man.

May God bless you at this painful time. His peace, His comfort. I will keep you in prayer.
Anonymous commented on 21-Jan-2011 10:26 PM
Brenda, you have comforted so may we comfort you through the heart of Jesus....a full circle...."All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." 2 Corinthians 1:3,4

My heart aches for you, and yet I don't even know you. I know grief, as a mother who has buried her son, but not a wife who has buried her husband....and grief is unexpected, undefined, sneaky and unorderly....constant...and yet, interrupted. One of the hardest paths to walk....but through Christ, you will be able to walk it. You will be changed once again, for that I am certain. You will learn the depths of God that nothing else can bring. But you know've walked it before.

Thank you for stopping by to say hello. I am sorry to meet under these circumstances, but glad to meet you. God has gifted you in many areas. He is using you in mighty ways....and He isn't finished yet.

I will be praying for you. I am so sorry.....

Much love in Christ,
Anonymous commented on 22-Jan-2011 05:42 AM
Dear Brenda, I am just now seeing all of this. I am heartbroken for you, and will be praying for courage, strength, peace, and for the Lord to make His presence known to you and to hold you closely through this time. I am so glad you're attending a group on grief (is it GriefShare? I've heard so much good about that). We know that the Lord has our days numbered before we are even born (Ps. 139:16), but we don't expect that day to come so soon. (Like you, after facing mortality with cancer, I would not think my husband's death would be as imminent as my own.) What a blessing that the Lord gave you James, that you two loved each other so deeply and that you had the time you did together. What a sweet gift. It was also a gift for God to give you James to see you through your health issues and to get you on solid footing and established in this ministry.

One verse I love is Psalm 116:15: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." You might not have seen James in his last moments, but the Lord was right there with him and that was a precious time to Him as He called James to Himself.

I will be praying for you as you walk this new unexpected path. The Lord is with you, and I will pray for His comfort for you.

Love you,
Anonymous commented on 22-Jan-2011 09:34 AM
Beckye, Thank you for your note. At the same time my heart is breaking, and I don't understand "why," I do give thanks to God that He blessed me with James. You're right about James getting me through my many health problems. I couldn't have done it without him. He also knew was my ministry. Before he went for his last walk, he read a new, wonderful online article about me and was very pleased. I'm more grateful than you can possibly imagine for your prayers and know God has me in the palm of His hand. Love, Brenda
Anonymous commented on 22-Jan-2011 09:35 AM
Brenda, Thanks so much for sharing. Since you are a writer, I imagine writing will be therapy for you, whether in a journal or here. I'm amazed to hear that you wrote your last blog before James died - I just assumed you chose not to mention it until now, maybe because you had already outlined or fully written that blog. May your own words about faith and hope, as well as the fact that James was a man of faith, comfort you. Please hang in there and know that prayers are going up for you.
Anonymous commented on 22-Jan-2011 09:39 AM
I am filled with sadness for you, over the loss of James. He was a
remarkable and wonderful person, as you are. Please know you are in my
thoughts and prayers and I sympathize greatly for your loss. May God
bless you and grant you peace. BJ is more special to me now. The
ladies from the gym send their love.

Elsie DeMeritt
Anonymous commented on 22-Jan-2011 05:36 PM
Brenda, thank you for dropping by my site. I loved your story about the M-1 tank. I told my husband and he was there with you in that tank, in spirit! And he laughed - oh how hard he laughed. Started him off on another round of similar tales - thanks for giving us a lovely moment in our day. Hope I can return the favour some day. Till then, you're in my thoughts.
Anonymous commented on 23-Jan-2011 07:11 PM
Oh, Brenda, I’m so very sad to hear about the loss of your dear husband. Of course you must still be in shock – this is a heck of a blow. Your blog and the image of you lying on the ground where he died touched my heart. Know that you have a spot on my site whenever you’re ready. And I’ll be anxious to hear about your project.

Take care of yourself and do the things that help you to grieve and to heal. There’s plenty of time for everything else.

Warm regards,
Anonymous commented on 23-Jan-2011 07:11 PM
My dear Brenda,

I just can't imagine the pain you're going through. However, please know
that you have so many followers who are thinking about you as I write
this note. We might not be able to give you a hug to let you know that
God will help you go over the death of your husband but we're with you in

Take care and please close your eyes and just imagine me hugging you
as you read my note,

Yours in Christ,

Anonymous commented on 23-Jan-2011 07:59 PM
I am so sorry for your loss. Your husband sounds wonderful. Your
relationship was beautiful. He loved you so much.

I am certain he got home all right.

God bless you.

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