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6:00 AM on Christmas Morning

6:00 AM on Christmas morning…

The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise. The darkness is silent and still – “not a mouse was stirring”. Even the freeway sounds are absent this morning. The temperature dropped below freezing last night in honor of Christmas I’m sure. It was seventy degrees here in North Texas last Monday and the weekend promises more of the same: but that’s tomorrow and this is today. I’ll pull my coat a little tighter, have another sip of steaming coffee, and relish the quiet.

I think back to Christmas 1982. At 4:00 AM my ex (she wasn’t my ex then just so you know…) shook me awake. “I think I’m in labor”.

I turned over and asked, “how far apart are the contractions?”

“I haven’t timed them yet”.

“Oh okay. Let me know when the next one comes”, I said sleepily.

I had awakened enough to know I needed to head upstairs to the bathroom. As I walked past the picture window along the stairs, I saw the snow coming down hard. Only about half of the chain link fence was visible. “This is not good”, I mumbled. When I returned to bed, she told me she thought it was a false labor. I crawled back in bed and fell back asleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later and once again slid out of bed and headed upstairs to make coffee. As I passed the window once again, I noticed that only the pointed tops of the four-foot fence were visible. I opened the back door to check on my car. All I could see was its blue roof poking through the snow. The driveway and the alley were covered in three feet of snow and even larger drifts. This really wasn’t good…

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Adrian, our oldest, woke up and he and his Mom came in the kitchen. She put down and he promptly ran to the living room to see what Santa had brought. I poured the coffee and went into the living room. My Christmas morning excitement was tempered by the realization that my ex might really be in labor.

The snow continued to fall – and fall and fall and… You get the idea. Denver was in the middle of a “hundred year” blizzard.

About 9:00 in the evening my ex looked at me and said, “I really am in labor now”. The contractions were now seven minutes apart. I knew there was no way we could get my car out of the drive. I called 911 and explained our situation. Apparently, labor is not an emergency. It would be a four to five hour wait for an ambulance and we were told to go the nearest hospital labor and delivery rooms. I figured I’d been through one birth already. I mentally prepared to deliver a baby at home. I prayed – a lot!

There was a knock at the door about thirty minutes later. A gentleman had responded to the pleas for citizens with four-wheel drive to ferry paramedics around. Three paramedics greeted me as I opened the door.

We gathered go-bags and our son together and filed out through the path the paramedics had made to the door. They assisted my poor wife who, at 5’3”, was trying to make her way through the four feet of snow. Once to the care, the 6 of us (and all the paramedic kits) piled into an old Jeep Waggoneer. The driver informed my very pregnant wife that between contractions she would have to reach outside and keep the snow of the windshield as the wipers didn’t work. Of course, they didn’t…

We found ourselves in a strange hospital with a strange doctor who had obviously been there long past hi original shift (he was a bit cranky). We were just getting settled into the labor room when the nurse said, “it’s time”. My wife was wheeled down to the delivery room and I changed into scrubs. Less than an hour later I was holding a brand-new bundle of joy – Jeremy Alan Joel.

I slept in a nurse’s lounge that night. When I returned to my wife’s room, I was greeted with a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget – Jeremy in a red stocking with a Santa hat on.

When Adrian, my oldest son, was born, parenting didn’t seem as difficult as we thought. Then we had Jeremy. We’ve often joked (kind of…) that Jeremy made his appearance in the world with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other demanding to be fed NOW. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Sitting here on Christmas morning I’m reminded how blessed I am. For thirty-seven years I was given the gift of a son I miss dearly today. I was also given a Savior – God With Us – to walk me through the grief I have today. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who know what losing a child is like. I have a God that knows my grief even more so – “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and Only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and put the world right again” John 33.16-17 (The Message).

My son was a brilliant artist (our first home had the marker and crayon marks to foretell this), but his greatest achievement was threefold – Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas. Today I will think of the wonderful gifts he left us. The gift I offer him is honoring his gift to me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jeremy

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Be Like Chuck

This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.

During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.

He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.

I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.

We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…

Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.

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Gratitude in the Time of Loss…

I slept in today. It was 7:30 before I greeted the morning with a cup of coffee and some prayer. The Saharan dust cloud that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean and into the southern United States has left a greyish haze over what would normally be a sunny to partly cloudy day. It fit my mood for the day…

Perhaps the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet. At least that’s what I told myself. The reality is that I’m tired. Grief is tiring. It drains me of all energy and drive, leaving me at times with an overwhelming sadness. Some days I simply feel defeated.

It may be too early in the grieving process to find gratitude in loss, but I’ve learned that gratitude is a powerful tool to change perspective and move forward. I can still be grieving the loss of my son and find the gratitude to move forward. Ironically, when I came in from the porch to check emails, the first three were links to articles on gratitude. I’m not huge on the whole numbers/numerology thing, but when I see or hear something three times I tend to listen. That’s usually when God tries to get my attention. This is what came to mind this morning…

First, what I’m going through is a part of life. Grief is a common experience to us all. Life is about birth and death. Everyone experiences loss. The loss of a child is a particular type of pain. My friend Edgar told me that there is no name for our pain. Someone who loses a spouse is a widow or widower. Children who lose their parents are called orphans. There is no name for people who lose their kids. Perhaps it’s because no one can find words for it.

I’m grateful for the outpouring of love and support from my friends and family. I’m especially grateful for those that acknowledge there are no to offer and not trying to offer comfort other than “I’m here”. Jeremy’s passing has shown me how blessed I am with the amazing people God has put into my life. I’m reminded I’m part of a community. Most importantly, I’m thankful I’ve been allowed to feel what I need to feel, and I don’t have to walk this journey alone.

Secondly, I’m extremely grateful for Opal’s Farm. I’ve always told people about “dirt therapy”. I can now say without a doubt it’s truly therapeutic. Something about seeing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth in a garden centers me. It reminds me I’m part of something greater; that I’m a part of creation. After all, that’s why God created man to live in a garden…

Lastly (for this post anyway), it dawned on me this morning that Jeremy’s passing never caused me a crisis of faith. I’ve never doubted God’s goodness during this time. That’s a big deal. Had this happened several years ago I’m not sure I could say that. My coping systems were flawed then. I probably never would have recognized God’s constant presence and protection. I miss Jeremy dearly, but God didn’t “take him” from me. Instead, He’s carrying me through this time of grief. He helps me be there for my grandkids and those left behind who loved Jeremy so much.

“Ghost” by Jeremy Joel

I know there will be good days and bad days in the coming weeks, months, and even years as grief ebbs and flows. I’m still early in the process and the crash is still coming. Thank God for the people in my life who’ve experienced this special kind of pain and will lead me through the process. I know that gratitude can be found in even the most dire of circumstances if I search diligently enough. For those days when gratitude is elusive God will pick me up and carry me until strength returns and I’m able to walk the path hand in hand with Him again…

Courtesy of KERA/Art and Seek

https://artandseek.org/2020/06/10/remembering-jeremy-joel-artist-friend-father/?fbclid=IwAR3_1TgijHW3iZ65otwVcL3-nopdovKXPekEy0h0pIXIBMMCampHnUianSs

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Father’s Day 2020

It’s been three weeks since my son Jeremy died. I haven’t yet responded to all the calls, texts, and condolence letters that so many of you have sent. I want to personally thank each one of you and will do so in the coming days. I’ve started to several times and found I simply couldn’t yet. This is a kind of grief I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Today is Father’s Day. It’s not much of a holiday this year. I usually have lunch with my older son (he’s still single ladies), Adrian, and let Jeremy spend time with his children. That’s how life goes. Our kids grow up and have families of their own and days like today are left to them to celebrate with the next generation. As it is, Adrian is on his way to Colorado to deliver Jeremy’s ashes to his mother and spend some time with her. She needs him now more than ever. Still, my children are absent, and my grandkids have no father to celebrate with. My heart is broken. I’ve had better Father’s Days…

Photo by Katy Hulsey

Over the last three weeks there have been many wonderful articles written or shared on the local NPR affiliate about Jeremy the artist. I’ve been so proud of him. To see the outpouring of love and appreciation for his talent and his work warms my heart. I know my son was loved by many. I am grateful for all of it, but it doesn’t talk about Jeremy, my son, and the father of my beautiful grandchildren.

One of the articles mentioned Jeremy’s art as his legacy. Apparently, the author wasn’t as good a friend as he claimed, or he would’ve known that Jeremy’s true legacy was his children. Thank you to all the subsequent writers that acknowledged the kids and Jeremy’s role as a father.

As I’ve sat here at the desk this morning, I’ve tried to put my emotions to paper, but I feel lost. There are no words. Jackson Browne came on my radio today. His words rang in my heart. If I were a better musician and singer, I’d sing this song for Jeremy. He’d get it…

Jackson Brown, For a Dancer

All of this being said, I want the wish a Happy Father’s Day to each of you Dad’s out there. It comes with a caveat – give your kids a hug and tell them how much you love them. Make this day about them. That’s what fathers do…

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A Pain That Doesn’t Go Away…

Friday, May 29th, was the most difficult day of my life. I received a phone call around noon. It was my daughter-in-law. She said, “I’m so sorry Pops, but they found Jeremy (my youngest son) and”. She couldn’t finish. The sobbing swept the words away and I knew…

I had filed a “Missing Persons” report the day before. No one had heard or seen him since the previous Friday, and friends and family were concerned. Honestly, I had a picture in my mind of Jeremy popping in with that big grin of his and asking what all the fuss was about. Then he’d be mad about the fuss. He’d been known to disappear for a couple of days before. He’d get a wild hair and go camping without telling anyone. Everyone would be angry with him for not letting anyone know. His response was always, “Why is everyone all bent out of shape?” This time it was different…

We had a photo shoot at Opal’s Farm last year. That day is full of happy memories…

His apartment manager found him the following morning. I don’t feel up to answering questions or discussing his death right now. I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my sadness and grief. Every time I look into the faces of my grandchildren – Baillie, Izzabella, and Lucas – my heart breaks down even more. He loved his children so much.

Fortunately for me, there’s much to do when a loved one dies – funeral arrangements, legal stuff, and so forth – busy is good. It keeps the grief from becoming completely overwhelming.                                        

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They shouldn’t have to tell their grandchildren that Daddy isn’t coming home. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. Their adult children are. That’s the way it’s designed to work.

Unfortunately, designs and plans fly out the window when they meet the real world. I know I am not the first to lose a child (grown or not), nor will I be the last. That’s reality, but it’s my child, my son, and my heart has been ripped has been ripped from my chest…

Jeremy, Baillie, and our friend Kristen…

In the coming days, or perhaps the coming weeks, I will write about this. That’s what writers do, right? I need to tell you about Jeremy – about his impish humor, his incredible artistry, and the bravado that hid the tender soul that he was. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so right now. There’s no timetable for grief. I’ll know when I know…

Right now, there are no words to convey the sense of loss our family feels. The family funeral is today. The local art community is planning on a huge outdoor celebration of Jeremy’s life when more of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safer for everyone. Thank you to those who were close to Jeremy for helping the family through this.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have given. There will come a time for the thank you letters and emails. As it is, we can only put one foot in front of the other and wander through the dark days that are no longer filled by Jeremy’s smile.