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The numbness is beginning to wear off around the edges, but I am still in shock over James’s death. I vacillate back and forth from an outward picture of calm, to a slumped sobbing heap with snot running down my chin. Did you know grief could make you feel like you’ve been beaten up? Some mornings I wake to find I’m sore and exhausted. Instantly I look at the picture taken of us this Thanksgiving. I love that photo. It makes me think of our time together, talking, holding hands, hugging and kissing, not taking a single minute for granted.
We had more than a great marriage. A friend said, “You got what only a small percentage of people in this world get – a romance.” We were a powerful love story for all to see. Not long ago a young couple, we didn’t know, came up to us after church and told us they’d been watching us for a long time and talked about us frequently. They wanted to have the kind of marriage we had when they were our age.
We were best friends and thrived on one another’s company; we left love notes and called each other numerous times a day. Most mornings James sang to me a well-known rock ‘n roll song to which he’d rewritten the words. Instead of “Do you love me, do you love me, now that I can dance, dance, dance?” he would sing, “Jimmy loves you, yes he does…” He sang that to me that last morning in the shower as we were getting ready for church, and later in the car, he reached for my hand and brought it to his lips. I watched, utterly transfixed, as he slowly and deliberately placed ten, tender kisses on my skin.
Whenever anyone asks me about James, I always tell them he’s a blessing from God. God sent me an angel. I adored James, but even more special, James adored me, telling me everyday not just how much he loved me, but how much he valued and appreciated me. James didn’t care who knew how crazy we were about one another. It’s a special man who always ends phone calls to his wife with “I love you,” or “Your Jimmy loves you,” no matter who was there in the room with him. Sometimes he would call and say, “Have you forgotten? Don’t forget! Your Jimmy loves you.” He could be in a business meeting or playing poker, but he never missed an opportunity to tell me how much he loved me, or to say, “Call me and let me know you got there alright.” And don’t think the other guys didn’t notice, because they did. He thought they’d rib him about it, but it was just the opposite. Some men said they wished they had that kind of marriage, while others flat out told him how great it was to see a husband’s open affection for his wife.
James would often say, “You look like you want your husband to hold you.” I can’t imagine a more loving, romantic man, but his words were not empty platitudes. He backed them up with deeds. He would go out of his way to do the laundry and vacuum, while I was gone on my many BreastCancerSisterhood.com trips, so I could come home and relax, and we could do nothing but revel in one another’s company.
Since the day I fell in love with James, I’ve talked to God twice a day about him. In each prayer I asked God to “wrap James Daniel Coffee in Your protective light and love and, if it is Your will, keep him safe and well and free from all harm and return James safely to our Little House.” I would say this prayer as I stood in the front window, or sometimes out by the gate, while we waved, blew kisses and pretended to argue about who loved the other one more. He would give two quick toots of the horn, and then I stood, watching his truck, only turning away when I could no longer see it. When we lived high on a hill in San Antonio, I would watch his truck get on the freeway and drive toward town until it disappeared from view. Sometimes I would rush to get the binoculars so I could see him even longer.
When James asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, my answer was “time.” I wanted more time with James. The silence of his absence is deafening. In the time it takes a heart to stop, my world has changed forever. People wiser than I have tried to find answers as to “why.” I must hold fast to the all-encompassing words, “God’s will.” While James’s death was not my idea of “keep him safe from all harm,” perhaps God answered my prayer in that He interceded and took James before something worse befell him.
Losing James was what I feared most in life, but I didn’t see it coming. Maybe it was because I’d had breast cancer, but I always thought I’d be the first one to die. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this. It’s all so surreal. At least with a terminal illness you have advance notice your loved one will be taken from you. On some level you’re given a chance to prepare, if anyone is ever truly prepared for this, but when they go for a walk and you never see them again…
We all know something about grief and loss. When we’re diagnosed with cancer, we go through a grieving process: the death of our former selves, followed by finding our new normal. That’s what I’m doing, again, although this time I’m grieving the death of James and my life with him, and finding my new normal without him. I take comfort that James was respected by all. I stood in the receiving line at his memorial service for nearly three hours. “Integrity” was the word I heard over and over to describe him; whether he wanted to or not, he did things because they were the right thing to do; he was a fair man, a man’s man, and so many people told me how much he loved me. He was a man who put God, country and family and doing the right thing above all else.
That night, after the ambulance left with James, our neighbor brought in the camouflage jacket he’d been wearing. Inside were dried Post Oak leaves that had skittered to the ground and were caught in the lining. Carefully I took them out, one by one, and placed them on his dresser. Such small fragile things, yet in some strange way, they bring me comfort.
James, I will always love you, need you, want you, miss you and marvel at you. I know you are with God. Please call and let me know you got there alright.