The First Few Days

Written by a Family Friend

The phone rings, its 6 am.  It was James mother.  Through a voice of agony she tells me James is not supposed to make it through the night.  Dear God no, not James.

James friends were with his family at the hospital until the end.    Word spread fast about James death early in the afternoon.  It was all over Facebook in a matter of hours.  The younger generation is connected through this social media.  “RIP James”,” Rest in Peace”, “Forever James”, “Love Always James”… these were the words posted.

The family arrived home from the hospital a few hours later.  There were no words to express the sadness and sorrow on their faces, James was gone, gone forever.  He would never again come in through the backdoor and up over the steps.

As we sat there that first night, the people started to come.  James friends came first.  They didn’t know where to go so they went to James family home.  They gathered in the living room.  The girls sat on the floor, huddled together, the guys trying to be strong sat quietly just looking on.  Even with the loss of her youngest son, James mom was tending to her oldest son and to James friends, consoling them, crying with them, worrying about them.  I hear someone ask “How are we supposed to go on”, James mom said “One breathe at a time… we all do it one breathe at a time.”

As the friends and neighbours came, so did the food.  It’s what we do.  We must bring food.  The soul has been emptied so we must feed the body.  I think we are all at a loss of what to do or say when someone dies.  So we bring food.  Breakfast was prepared, lunches made, and dinners were served over the course of those first few days.  The coffee and tea pots remained on.

By the second day word had spread even more due to newspaper and media coverage.  It was like a pilgrimage of people to the family home.  They came to pay their respects to James and rally around the family.  The door was always opened and the people came.  James father has always said that the door only locks from the inside.  Whether it was midnight or 6am, the people came.  People were there to offer hugs, dog walks or a drive to pick up someone that wanted to be there but couldn’t.

By that second night it was standing room only at the family home.  The living room, kitchen, dining room, TV room, hallway, back deck, driveway were full… everyone was there to surround the family with love.

When a parent or spouse dies we understand this loss, it’s a natural progression of life.  We generally know how to prepare ourselves for this.  When the death occurs we give our condolences, sit with the family, tears are shed and we continue on.  The people we see during this time of sorrow have the same understanding of loss… it is the natural progression.   When a young man so full of life is tragically killed we do not know how to handle this type of loss, we cannot be prepared in knowing how to deal with it.  I saw this unpreparedness on everyone’s face as they came into the house during those first few days.  It was a look of disbelief.  There are no words to express or understand this tragic loss.  It was surreal.

Early on during the first few days, James parents received guardian angel amulets from some friends of James and his brother.  They were small pewter pocket amulets that you carry with you so you can call upon your guardian angel and James to give you strength when you need it.  To this day they still carry their guardian angel amulets.

Also during those first few days, a bowl of gratitude stones arrived.  Gratitude stones so we could be thankful for James.  They sat in the kitchen absorbing the energy from all the love and support that filled the house.  As the energy and thoughts of James filled the stones, his friends and family picked a stone to carry that love and energy with them.   I’m sure some of those stones are still being carried in pockets today to always remind us of how thankful we were for James.  Some close friends and family transferred their energy to the stones and the stones were buried with James the following week.  It was a way to leave their energy and love with James always.

The media called several times in the first few days.   They wanted a comment on the tragedy of James death and how the family was doing.  How do you comment on the loss of a child?  How do you think the family is doing?  At a time of trauma and grief over the loss of a child, the media needs to step back and give the family some privacy.  I do understand the need for people to know what happened and to know how the family is doing but not in the first few days.  When we see or hear the news coverage about the loss of a young life we say “How difficult for the family”, “So sad this close to Christmas”.  We feel terrible for a minute then we are back to our normal lives the next minute.   How are we supposed to grieve for someone that we do not know?  Being part of such great saddest, it makes you think twice when you hear of other people’s pain.  It also makes you think about giving that privacy to the family in a time of unimaginable pain.  We all need to think twice the next time a tragedy like this happens.  Think about the family for more than a minute and send them positive energy to surround them in their time of sorrow.

Prayer shawls came to comfort James parents.  A prayer shawl is a small knitted blanket usually made by a woman in a church group.   While the shawls are being made, the knitter prays for the shawl recipient and once completed the shawl is blessed.  The shawls are then given to people that need to be surrounded by love and comfort in their time of need.  Sometimes shawls are passed on to someone who is in greater need than the original recipient.  The shawls James parents received were unique as they were from a couple who had received them before their military son was sent into a combat zone on the other side of the world. The prayer shawls were a daily source of comfort and strength for the couple as they waited for their son’s safe return.  Their son came home from war.  And then James was killed here at home, in his own country, in his own city.  The prayer shawls were very dear to the couple, however, they felt the needs of James parents were far greater than their own and hoped that they could also gain some comfort and strength when they were wrapped in their warmth. They gave the shawls to James parents, letting them know that they could keep them as long as they were comforted by them and, when they felt the need of someone else was greater than their own, to pass them on.

During the writing of the obituary, it was decide to have one visitation of six hours.  The family felt it would be too difficult to have to leave then come back. It was going to take all their strength just to be there in the first place.  Before the visitation started James friends came and stayed with the family.  They had a huddle and held each other, asking James to give them strength to get through the next six hours.  Like people coming to the house, people needed to come to the visitation. There was a constant line of people waiting to speak with the family.  At any given time there might have been an hour wait.  And the people waited.  And the people came in great numbers.  Lining up to see the family were teachers, parents, family friends, clergy, James co-workers , past co-workers, childhood friends, friends of James grandparents, the list goes on.  People also came just to see James father to offer their condolences to a man that helped their families in their time of sorrow.  With James father being third generation funeral director he has made arrangements and grieved beside families for 35 years.  He was now getting that support back from the families he had helped over the years.

The Celebration of Life service was standing room only.  The church was full as was the church hall downstairs.  The difficult part of the service was to see the pain and sorrow on the faces of the family.  As I looked around there were people from all walks of life, making me realize that James had touched the lives of many people.  And it truly was a testimonial of the person James was when you see grown men openly crying as they left the church.  Afterwards people gathered outside and once again I saw the faces of people still finding it hard to fathom that James was actually gone.

Those first few days are over.  The pain, sadness and emptiness is still there.  I continue to grieve for James.  I continue to grieve for his family.  He was a great young man that I had the pleasure of knowing.  We must live life to the fullest the same way that James did and we need to try to make a difference in this world… the same way that James did.  I think James motto was right; we need to “Live Until Tomorrow Ends”.

Written on September 22, 2012