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The Death of My Precious James

James & Brenda Coffee, Thanksgiving, 2010.

As many of you know my precious husband, James Coffee, died December 26, the day after Christmas. He died the exact moment I was posting last week’s blog about the loss of loved ones during the Holidays. I can’t begin to understand the “whys” of his death and the finality of it all has yet to hit me. Frankly, I am numb. This last week I’ve been running on autopilot; for the most part, controlled, cutting off my highs and lows and living somewhere in the middle. A coping mechanism I know all too well.

Last Sunday when James didn’t come back from his walk when he was supposed to, I knew something was wrong. I grabbed my coat, a flashlight and a cell phone and made a fast drive down the walking paths he’d cleared on our ranch. I was looking for an upright figure, or one beside the road, so I didn’t see him laying on the other side of his tractor. On my first pass, I looked directly at the side of the tractor facing me, not knowing he was laying on the ground on the other side, hidden from view.

When I didn’t find him the first time down and back, I knew something was terribly wrong and called 911, then the neighbors and told them to bring flashlights and to hurry. My second trip was much slower as I repeatedly stopped, turned off the engine, took the key out of the ignition and called his name. “James. James. James.” My voice echoed his name across the canyon, but I heard nothing in return. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d passed right by him on both return trips but didn’t see him. Maybe it was because the light was fading or because of the camouflage jacket he was wearing, or maybe he was right when, teasingly, he used to tell me, “You’re not much of a noticer.”

I raced back to the Little House and quickly secured the dogs on the back porch, then drove along the rough, bolder strewn land behind the house that runs alongside another canyon, hoping against hope, he might have come back another way, but he wasn’t there. As I returned to the Little House, Molly, our Great Dane/Black Lab mix began to utter what may be the most plaintiff sound I’ve ever heard, a low mournful howl. Molly and James were a love story unto themselves and somehow, I believe Molly knew James was gone.

The ambulance arrived. Our neighbors told me to wait at the house. By now, 40 minutes had elapsed from when he should have returned from his walk. It wasn’t long before I heard the screen door open. Our neighbor, Trey, solemnly shook his head back and forth. His eyes were sad. “We found him,” he said. I wanted to howl like Molly, but I couldn’t summon even a whisper.

I have so many unanswered questions and “what if’s.” What if I’d seen him on my first pass, or even my second? Was he still alive? Could I have saved him? Did he suffer? Did he cry out? My not seeing him, was this James’ or God’s way of protecting me from carrying that final vision of him with me always? With so many low lifes in the world, why James Coffee? Don’t say God needed another angel because the world needs more men like James Coffee. He was a prince, admired and loved by all, with an ability to connect with everyone from billionaires to day laborers who didn’t speak English. He was a man of integrity. “A man’s man,” as a friend said, who spoke at his memorial.

Last night I went outside at the approximate time he died. Within seconds, I was compelled to drive his truck to the place where he took his last breath. Dressed in the camouflage jacket he died in, I laid down on my back, next to his tractor, my right knee bent upward, the bottom of that foot flat on the ground, my right arm extended away from my body. The exact position they found him in. I laid there for a long time, staring skyward, through his favorite grove of trees, staring at the last thing he must have seen. I don’t know what I was hoping for, a message perhaps, a sense of being close to where his soul left his body. Tonight, at 5:45 PM, will be exactly a week since he died, and I imagine I’ll be laying there once again.

He died at sunset, the blue Texas sky ablaze with orange and red and streaks of pink. He died on the land he loved, next to his tractor, under his favorite grove of trees. His Comanche ancestors would have said, “It was a good death,” and James would have agreed.

I’m supposed to be the one with the Survivorship skills, but other than staying busy and cutting off my highs and my lows, I’m at a loss right now. How ironic that at the very moment he lay dying, I was posting last week’s blog about loss and the Holidays and how after a loss, we shouldn’t stop living and believing in life. Last week’s blog was also about the word “hope.”

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is the foundation on which all of our hopes for the future are built. Without it, we would be limited to the very narrow world of only those things we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Because of my faith in God and belief in His Son, Jesus Christ, I believe in God’s word and that “we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever and ever.”

James was a believer, a good and faithful servant, and as such, I have faith that James is with God. Since I am a believer as well, I have faith I will see James again. Hurry. Bring lights.