Wednesday, April 2, 2003 in Phoenix, Arizona… Leaving the office of the half way house, I thought of the two guys who had been sitting at the picnic table when we arrived. Jim had sat there. Sharing a smoke or playing cribbage, had he laughed? Had he enjoyed the sunshine?
We had come to get Jim’s last effects. Tom and my brother, Tim, had carried the large green trash bag of his things to the car. For a while I sat talking with the director and his assistant about life, Jim, addiction. The director had twenty years of sobriety from alcohol while the assistant director was fourteen years clean from heroin. Being with these good men warmed my heart. Jim had been in a good place with people who understand the harsh truth of this horrible disease – addiction.
Initially the director told me that Jim’s new identification card was not among his things. I was crestfallen. That was the most recent picture of Jim taken only two weeks before he died. The longer we talked, the more antsy the director became. Suddenly he excused himself for a moment quickly returning with Jim’s card. Apologizing for lying to me, he had intended to use it with the other residents. He wanted to encourage them to talk to each other, to support each other more actively so that they didn’t end up dead, too. I agreed to send him a picture when I returned home to Maryland. Hugging each other I thanked them for their kindness to me and for what they do for others.
Sad but comforted I passed the now empty table and headed to the car. Suddenly I was standing outside a large wooden door with a plaque that read: James’ Place. It was night and a bright light illuminated the door and sidewalk. Opening the door, I was greeted by an overwhelming sense of joy and welcome. Beyond the entry seemingly a hundred or so men and women were greeting each other; the noise was cheerful and drew me in. Beyond the gatherings were many interior doors wide open. Inside were circles of chairs where some already sat or gathered. Somehow I knew it was about time for everyone to go to their particular rooms. Entranced I stepped towards the door.
Just as suddenly I was back in the parking lot of the halfway house. Tom and Tim were looking at me asking if I was okay. Shaking my head I silently got into the backseat and began to capture whatever this strange experience was. Drawing and writing, I tried to capture this peculiar thing. The guys chatted as we headed to Jim’s father’s home. We had one more stop to see what might be there.
What, if anything, did that “video clip” mean? Was I supposed to start some place for 12-step meetings? A gathering place of some kind? Giving Jim’s eulogy the previous day at his funeral, I promised to learn from his death as I had learned from his life. Was this what I was meant to do in my son’s honor and memory?
Trite but true: grief is a journey and mine had just begun. It would be three years before ideas began to gel. Over time everything crystallized. James’ Place Inc. would be a foundation offering scholarships for recovery services for those, like Jim, who battle the disease of addiction. No need for overhead – staff, buildings – just the offer of hope in a system that falls woefully short caring for the millions who suffer the disease of addiction. Perfect!
This is a Jim kind of gift – help where it is most needed: no glitz, no hogwash – just hope, respect and compassion.