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A Year Ago Today

Today is the one year anniversary of James’ death. I’ve tried to let the day unfold naturally, to let it be what it will be, but the circumstances and the aftermath of his death are still as surreal as they were a year ago.

I remember every detail of that day: the sound of the screen door as our neighbor stepped onto our porch and the anguished look on his face. His countenance delivered his message before he’d even said a word, and I remember feeling sorry for him that he was the one to bring me this news. Since then, I’ve run the gamut from numb to an eerie calm, punctuated by anger and depression over losing this special man, along with feeling the same anguish and crushing disappointment James felt the weekend he died.

There have been times this last year I thought the same disappointment would kill me, too. While his congenital heart problem would have eventually killed him, all of his doctors agreed the events of that last weekend most certainly hastened his death. On top of everything else James saw and heard that weekend, his daughter-in-law’s words were further confirmation, and it was all more than he could take. I now understand when people say you can die of a broken heart.

Not a day goes by I don’t tell James how much I miss him, how much I love him. I talk to him a lot, especially in the car. On my daily drive into town, I start by talking to God, thanking Him for the blessings He’s bestowed on me and my family, for His gift of grace, for walking beside me this last year and for sending James into my life. Sometimes I tell James about his “winter trees,” the cluster of oaks he loved because of their stick-like silhouettes against the late afternoon winter sky.

James had a special humor, a way of making even the most mundane things fun and interesting. He had an appreciation for all things living, for the way the birds made nests in the trees and the almost serendipitous effort it took to make bluebonnets bloom in the Spring. Nothing delighted him more than spending the day raising the skirts on an oak tree, cutting away dead limbs until an unnoticed tree became a thing of beauty. He could read animal tracks in the dirt and knew whether it was a big cat, a buck or a doe, or if it was running or walking and how much it weighed. He taught me the names of every grass and plant in Texas and long before anyone else, he recognized subtle signs that his beloved trees were beginning to suffer from the drought.

When James was alive I used to pray, twice a day, that God would wrap His protective light and love around James Daniel Coffee and keep him safe and free from all harm and return him safely to the Little House. God did that. He took James to work and back and kept him safe on the freeways, safe from all physical harm and illness, but I now think my prayers fell short. I should have asked God to keep James safe while he was here on the ranch, because it was here that James died.

The other night I sat outside and watched the moon rise. I could see glimpses of the far path James liked to walk and jog on, and I imagined him walking there and waving to me. I waved back and shouted, “I love you,” and for a moment, I could almost see him waving back.

“Talk big,” I hollered. My voice carried across the canyon. “I can’t hear you.”

In the moments before dusk melded into dark, I imagined him standing there, waving back. I wondered if some kind of parallel universe might somehow unfold between us. What if this time, every night, I could catch what I thought was a faint glimpse of James? Would it be enough to sustain me, and for how long?

I’ve driven to that side of the canyon, but someday I need to again resume my walks on this familiar path, to make my way to where he died. The Little Blue Stem and the other native grasses have now grown up to where they cover the road James cut, but no amount of tall grasses can hide the fact that under those trees is where his soul left his body, and that he’ll never stand there, again, waving to me. 

My prayers have changed since James died. I now pray that all is well with James Daniel Coffee’s soul, that he’s with God and that he knows how much I love him.

“Thank you for loving me, James. Other than God and His precious Son, you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”