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Grief: Finding the Candle of Light

Grief: Finding the Candle of Light



Note: I want to give fair warning on this post. It’s both commercial and personal, and deviates from my normal approach on this blog to a considerable extent.

When I married my wife Jody, our son (my stepson) James Webb was already in chemotherapy for cancer. Over the next five years we experienced remission twice, but always the return of the cancer. Finally, it returned in multiple locations, and on the evening of September 22, 2004 James passed away.

Both my wife and I are teachers in the church, with ministries that are relatively small, but extend beyond the boundaries of a single congregation. We teach about various topics including [tag]prayer[/tag]. Teaching was very interesting while James was ill. There were some who assumed that if we really knew anything about [tag]prayer[/tag], we would be able to pray “properly” for our son and he would be healed. We experienced the complete range of reactions from other people. I would like to emphasize that the vast majority of responses to our situation were very supportive and helpful.

Some responses were well-intentioned, but not very much on target. I myself made any number of errors in supporting my own wife through this situation. Our relationship was strong enough to withstand those errors, and I would suggest to others that they are unlikely to make it through such a situation error free.

Amongst Christians there were some very interesting views on [tag]grief[/tag] as well. Some felt that there should be no grief. James went straight to heaven, so what’s to be sad about? Other’s would see every moment of peace or joy during his illness as a sign of denial. I was approached about both my wife and James with the suggestion that they were in denial. The only thing I could tell people that as a hospice nurse with 12 years experience, and a manager of an oncologist’s office prior to that, Jody was more aware than any of us of the realities of cancer and its treatment.

Over time, James became an expert far beyond his years. He was more aware of reality. I remember when the cancer returned for the final time. Jody was in Hungary on a mission trip, and so James came to me to report pain in his side. We had to decide when to go. I said that under the circumstances a few days one way or another wouldn’t make much in the way of a medical difference, so I’d go with what he wanted to do. He chose to go to his primary care physician immediately.

I related his pain to a pulled muscle due to practice for marching band. I didn’t catch it at the time. I was too anxious to believe what I wanted to believe. (Though few people ever thought I was in denial I was the least fully aware of the situation from beginning to end.) But James gave me a look of pity; he was pretty certain this was cancer again. He was right.

Jody has been planning to write about this for some time. This year it came together. She has combined her years of nursing, and especially 12 years as a hospice nurse with the skills of Janet Wilkie, LCSW to produce a short, simple, concise, and practical guide for dealing with grief as a Christian. She’ll answer questions about resentment, anger, the reality of grief, and how to deal with the various stages and with other people.

It is unplanned, but this book has just arrived, and it is also just past the 3rd anniversary of James’s death. In a way, we can celebrate his life in this way with a book that will hopefully help others in the same situation.

On our Energion Publications web site we will be honoring the prepublication price of $7.00 through midnight tonight. There are already a couple of slightly lower offers through various internet dealers, though I believe combined with our $2.50 shipping and handling charge, the prepub offer is still a good deal. (Some dealers are listed on the detail page for the book.)

As I said, this is both personal and commercial, but I hope the material is also helpful.

John Webb, PCL Pitcher of the Week

John Webb, PCL Pitcher of the Week

We interrupt the usual flow of commentary on this blog for something both baseball and personal . . .

My stepson John Webb is pitcher of the week for the PCL, according to this MiLB.com story. John allowed only three hits in 8 shutout innings while earning the win against the then-division leading Nashville Sounds.

He’s pitching again tonight for the Iowa Cubs against the Albuquerque Isotopes tonight at 7:00 PM.

Walking To New Orleans

Walking To New Orleans

Well, not quite. I’ll be driving.

My stepson John Webb is a pitcher for the Iowa Cubs (Chicago Cubs AAA team in the Pacific Coast League) who are in New Orleans for a series against the New Orleans Zephyrs. Last night the Cubs beat the Zephyrs and John put in two good innings in relief. I hope we’ll see him in relief Sunday night or at the day game on Monday when we’ll be at the park watching.

We’ll leave after church Sunday morning and return late Monday evening. I don’t know what blogging will take place during that time, if any. I will, however, be doing some today. 🙂

Off to the Hospital

Off to the Hospital

No, I’m not sick. I’ll be accompanying my stepson, John Webb, to Sacred Heart Hospital where he will take a number of his baseball colleagues to visit the children’s wing. They’ll sign pictures and baseballs, visit and have fun with the children, and try to brighten their day. This has been a tradition of the John Webb Winter Golf Tournament. Tomorrow we’ll all be at Osceola Gulf Course here in Pensacola to raise money for the child services program at the hospital.

John Webb Winter Golf Tournament 2007

John Webb Winter Golf Tournament 2007

This morning I want to get a bit personal, which I don’t usually do on this blog, but this is something important and close to my heart. Many of my readers already know that my son James Webb (step-son for you people who get technical) passed away in 2004 after a five year battle with cancer. He fought the battle with cancer with courage and faith. His father passed away early in that battle, and in 2003 some of his dad’s friends looked for a way to raise some money to help John Webb Sr.’s son. They decided on a golf tournament.

James Webb at worship, Myrtle Grove United Methodist Church
I like to remember James this way. I use it as my computer wallpaper. James is in worship at Myrtle Grove United Methodist Church and just lifts his hands and lets the music flow.

The money was supposed to have gone to help us with James’s medical bills, but those were in control at the time of that tournament, so James made the choice to have the money given to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, and particularly designated the money to the children’s morale services. James knew better than most how important morale is in fighting a life-threatening disease.

James Webb Courage in Life Award 2005
The 2005 and 2006 Courage in Life Awards were won by a group of James’s best friends who also were informally named the best-dressed team.

The other day I was going through digital video and I found a tape we had recorded shortly before James’s death. It was just before Hurricane Ivan struck here in the Pensacola area, and the marching band at Tate High School in which James had been a drummer wanted to play their fall show for him, knowing that he probably wouldn’t live to see the first performance. With Ivan approaching they were unable to do what they wanted, which was to perform on the football field in uniform, but they gathered in the band room. James could barely get himself out of bed, but we used a wheelchair and got him there, and he took the sticks and launched the band on the school fight song. It was difficult for me to watch it. That was the way he lived, and his choice for the way to go out of this world. That attitude stuck to the very last as the Tate drumline came to the funeral and escorted him to the cemetary to an upbeat, victorious rhythm.

Because of this in 2005 we first gave the James Webb Courage in Life Award each year to the team or individual that brings in the largest amount of donated money to the children through this tournament, and also to the largest single corporate sponsorship. For more information on all of this, see John Webb Winter Golf Tournament.

James Webb Courage in Life Award 2006
The best dressed team again wins the James Webb Courage in Life Award in 2006.

It’s with that attitude that we, his family, have kept the John Webb Winder Golf Tournament going. Nearly $20,000 later, the tournament continues to serve the children at Sacred Heart Hospital. The “John Webb” is now my older step-son, a professional pitcher, this year signed with the Chicago Cubs with a minor league contract and an invitation to big league training camp. (He has a few innings of big league time, but has played largely at AAA). John will be here for the ceremonial first drive. He will bring a number of his friends and they will visit the children and sign baseballs and just spend time with them. Then a bunch of regular guys and gals will play golf and the money will go to the children.

If you’d like to come to Pensacola, or you’re already here, you’ll be welcome. If you’re interested in participating, you can also donate directly to the cause. My organization, Pacesetters Bible School took the program under its wing for financial and accountability purposes from the second year. Any donated money goes directly to the children. The tournament pays all the expenses and brings in money, so there is no administrative cost whatsoever to donated money.

More importantly, I like to remember every year the challenge of living life to the full, and leaving this life as though you’re triumphantly going on to glory. That was hard for a 17 year old. I remember a day early in the summer that year when James asked me to take him to dinner somewhere. He wasn’t one for long conversations, but I knew when he said that he needed to say something. The one thing he had wanted to do before the end was march in the band for one last season, but that wasn’t to be. As we drove to the chosen restaurant, he said simply, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to march. I don’t have the strength. I need to get out of the band now, so someone who can actually march will be able to practice.” He did give his place to someone who would be able to march, but he continued to attend practice and help out with the developing program. He was more interested in seeing “his” band succeed than in his own wants.

I’d like to ask this: What am I doing to live triumphantly and make an impact? What are you doing? Maybe this particular cause is not your thing. I guarantee that there are similar needs in your own neighborhood. Be active and make a difference!