In Loving Memory
James R. Avery, III
July 15, 1983 - September 22, 1997
In loving memory of our wonderful son who left this world on the first day of autumn, Monday, Sept. 22, 1997, of his own choice. We who are left have so many questions, so much sadness, and overwhelming grief. Our lives were enriched during the 14 years that James was with us. We were blessed to have him in our lives and we treasure all the many good memories of the life we shared. Those 14 years were too short, but very full.
James was an active member of Boy Scout Troop 533. He attended Camp Rainey Mountain Scout camp for the past four years, went to Junior Leadership Training Camp and had recently achieved the rank of Life Scout and was a member of the Order of the Arrow. Some of his many adventures as a Scout included hiking at Standing Indian, camping & hiking at Tallulah Gorge State Park, white water rafting on the Nantahala River, participating in local and council wide camporees and jamborees while almost always trying to live up to the Scout oath. He was friendly and outgoing and a great help to his fellow Scouts. His patrol, the Panthers, officially retired the panther logo in memory of James.
Soccer was James' other love and the position he enjoyed the most was as goalie for his team. He played recreational soccer with the West Gwinnett Soccer Club. In 1994 he passed the requirements to become a Georgia State Certified Referee for youth recreational teams. He enjoyed being a youth referee as well as a linesman for youth and adult games. With the establishment of The James Avery Memorial Youth Referee Achievement Award his work and his love of soccer lives on. Each spring, a boy & girl youth referee will earn this award as a lasting tribute to his memory.
More than anything else, James loved relaxing at home. He had so much fun playing with our black labs, Holly and Pepper, and his cat, Boots. He and his dad loved shooting a game of pool or fishing at the lake. James was a computer whiz and enjoyed all kinds of games, both educational and those just for fun. He loved collecting baseball cards, cast-iron banks and old coins. As a family we loved traveling. We were fortunate to have been as far away as Paris, France & Geneva, Switzerland, and as local as New Orleans, Williamsburg, Chattanooga, TN, Cherokee, NC, Callaway Gardens, GA, Huntsville, AL, and visiting relatives in the FL panhandle. James' favorite adventure was swimming with the dolphins at Aqua Camp & Diving Academy in Panama City Beach, FL in June of '96.
James was an avid reader and participated in the local library's Summer Reading Program every year. He received the sacrament of baptism at St. Agnes Church in Connecticut and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Buford, GA. He was a sensitive, compassionate, thoughtful, fun-loving person with a great deal of self-confidence and concern for others. We try to keep his memory alive, we think of him every day and he will be with us in spirit always.
In an effort to provide to others the education and information we wish we'd had about suicide and depression, we will reach out to the school system & community in the hope that someone else's child will not choose the same path James did. James' life made a difference and we want to honor his life, not glorify the fatal decision he made. It is imperative that schools do more than hope that it will be a successful school year. Warning students about drugs and alcohol but not about suicide and depression is a huge disservice to the students, families and teachers. It is imperative that the curriculum offers not only academic requirements, but also life skills and stress management classes. By keeping his memory alive and by helping each other and others, we learn to cope, to survive, to get by, and to deal with life one day at a time. It is our hope that other survivors of teen suicide will reach out and make a difference in their community middle and high school.
James will be missed, not only by us, by also by his Grandma & Grandpa Stempien, Grandma & Grandpa Avery, Aunt Linda & Uncle Jim, Aunt Susan Aunt Karen & Uncle Ken, Aunt Kathy, Uncle Tommy, cousins Jennifer, Rachel, Dustin and Elizabeth. His Scout friends, soccer teammates, classmates, fellow youth referees, soccer coaches, neighbors and all who knew James will carry the memory of his smile and good humor with them always.
James, our only child, will live in our hearts forever.
14 Forever, 16 Today... Thursday, July 15, 1999
I awoke with a heavy heart, sadness filling me as I thought of the happy celebration we should have been sharing on this day. It was James' birthday and he would have been 16, but instead he will be forever 14. How badly I wanted to give him a hug and wish him a happy birthday and many more. I kept the tears away until Jimi woke up and we both lay there with our private thoughts until finally he broke the silence with "I want to thank you for giving birth to our son 16 years ago". We both cried then together, memories of the past and regrets for the future filling the emptiness and the void in our lives, most especially on this day. We consoled each other by sharing our thoughts, our tears and our memories. How badly we wanted to have our son back in our lives and on this day, having him spiritually with us in Colorado, just was not enough. Jimi had the strength to get up and get the day started before I could. I think I would have stayed in bed all day had it not been for his love and courage to help me and ultimately, us, to begin our day. We had plans to hike that day and I was dismayed to see clouds out the window. I began to think of what else we could do, but I noticed Jimi was getting his hiking things together. I was surprised and asked him about the weather, but he told me that we'd planned on hiking today and that was exactly what we were going to do. That was the kind of initiative I needed! The weather was not going to be the sole factor in determining our day; we would set our course and follow it, in spite of our broken hearts and the lack of sun. James was the light in our world and we needed to acknowledge and have a special remembrance of his 16th birthday.
That morning we hiked the Jim Creek Trail. This was a fairly easy 2 ½ mile one-way hike. It followed a pretty creek and wildflowers grew everywhere. We were surrounded by the sounds of birds and rushing water. It was very peaceful. I missed having Holly & Pepper with us; they would have enjoyed it very much! I took pictures of the flowers, of the trail and of course, of the creek. At the end of the trail, we came out to what the guidebook called "an alpine bowl". It was a meadow full of greenery, trees and flowers and most important, the view we came for: James Peak. Yes, there is a James Peak in Winter Park in the Arapaho National Forest. How perfect! We walked around, took some pictures and enjoyed the solitude of the meadow. Jimi balanced the camera on a rock and set the timer to take a photo of the two of us with James Peak in the background. After a few minutes, we left the meadow and returned down Jim Creek Trail. We veered off the trail a little to see different views of the creek and more flowers. The last picture I took on this trail was a beautiful swallowtail butterfly poised on a wildflower.
Next we headed out for the Rogers Pass Trailhead. We had to drive up a dirt road 10 miles to find it. The views of Winter Park Resort and Mary Jane ski slopes were pretty. Finally, the clouds had given way to sunshine and blue skies, even though some clouds were still present. We found the trailhead and started the 3 ½ mile hike through Rogers Pass to the summit of James Peak. We started at an elevation of 11,107 ft. and by the time we reached James Peak, we would be at 13,294 ft.!
We took our time hiking this trail due to the elevation gain and because we had plenty of time. We just wanted to savor the afternoon, be together with each other and our memories. What beautiful mountain wildflowers we saw along the way! Sometimes they were surrounded by little streams created from the snow run-off. The sky was so blue and the white clouds were so puffy; like white cotton puff-balls. Taking pictures often was easy since the whole area was so scenic! Jimi broke off a branch from a tree on the ground and he whittled on it while we walked. As we got higher, we felt like the mountaintops were surrounding us. There was still snow on some peaks! We passed a huge patch of snow and I found a stick and wrote Happy Birthday James in the snow. I know James was looking down on us and I know he read my message in the snow. I took pictures of it, too! We continued on and the trail got a little harder and a little rockier. As we rounded a corner, we got a perfect view of James Peak and it still looked so far away. The trail looked like it would get very narrow and I began to have doubts that we would make it that far and that high up. I had so much determination, as I know Jimi did. I just would not let myself give up, in spite of the obstacles. It was a personal achievement to me. I had to get to the summit, to be on top of the world and to be as close to heaven as I possibly could. Giving up was not an option - I could not disappoint myself. Feeling that my son was watching over me, and having his death by suicide a constant shadow over my very existence, I would not quit. In memory of James, who gave up for whatever reason, I would not give up. I could not let him see me quit. I would reach the summit on the day of his birth and I would be a survivor every day of my life.
As we got closer, it got chilly and windy. Jimi and I both put our jackets on. My jacket was the one I'd purchased after the Olympics - a pullover Starter windbreaker with the Atlanta Olympic logo on it. I'd bought it for James & I to share since it was the last one at the store. It was important to me to be wearing this particular jacket. It felt like Jimi & I were totally alone in the world. We were so far away from civilization as we looked down on the town of Winter Park. It was hard to believe we actually made it so far!
The summit of James Peak was beautiful. Colorful wildflowers were blooming everywhere and pretty rocks covered the summit. Jimi walked even further on and although I tried, I could not go any further. The trail seemed so narrow and we were so high up that it made me dizzy to look down and even dizzier to try to set one more foot in front of the other. I had to sit down and watch Jimi navigate along the trail. He really really looked like he was on top of the world. Then I could not see him for a while and the emotionalness of the day, the fear that something had happened to him up there and the loneliness I felt totally engulfed me. I knew James was with me; yet I knew he was gone to me. Neither could I see Jimi and the fear that he too could be out of my life took my breath away. All I could do was cry - cry for James, whom I miss so much. There are times I just do not want to carry on any longer without him. I looked down and knew that if something had happened to Jimi, I just would not be able to hike down alone and live my life alone. This was a feeling of such fear and panic that it overcame me totally. I was doubled over with tears and sadness; feeling like grief and fear were as crippling as any terminal disease.
It was with such relief and overwhelming love that I held Jimi in my arms a few minutes later. Even though I had seen him walking toward me, I could not breathe easy till he was beside me. I hated that he found me in so many tears and so distraught, but so was he. For a husband and wife to share their tears for their only child who has passed on to heaven is such an intimate experience; one we never should be sharing. We both miss James so much and it is so hard for both of us to carry on and live our lives without him. Jimi gave me a bouquet of wildflowers and a collection of special quartz rocks from James Peak. We set a candle in a little well to protect it from the wind, put the flowers around it and lit the candle. Jimi gave me the piece of wood he'd been whittling on our way up. He had made it into a dolphin. I read two cards: one from my parents about their memories of James and one from a friend about when James helped her move her classroom and how what we're doing now in his memory will help others. It was all I could do to read these out loud and I had to stop a few times because of the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes. Jimi talked to James and told him how much we missed him and how hard it is without him and how we just don't understand why this happened and that we won't till we see him again. I took pictures of the lit candle with James Peak in the background.
Leaving the summit was tough. I knew we had to get going and begin our descent while we still had good weather. I felt like I could have just stayed up there till we were frozen and got to join James finally. Jimi is so strong and the love we share is what keeps us going and gives us what we need to carry on and do the things that are so hard. Of course, we finally began our walk down, after taking more pictures and trying to preserve this special memory forever in our minds. Even if I didn't have the pictures, I'll always be able to close my eyes and let my imagination take me back to James Peak and the feeling of being so close to my son. Even though it was incredibly sad to be there without him, it was very memorable, very touching and so peaceful. My husband & I had shared a day when our grief pulled us together and united us when so often grief experiences can pull a couple apart. Instead our bond of grief and our love for James brought us so much closer together on this day. The sadness goes hand-in-hand whenever we have a ceremony honoring James. We will always miss him and he is always with us and we will always love him.
We finally reached the trailhead and the car and we headed back to our condo. We were both so exhausted! We hiked 12 miles that day, but we set a goal for the day and we had accomplished it in spite of the heartache. We had gained elevation and our feet had hiked miles, but our hearts had once again been to the deepest depths of grief and sorrow as well as consolation and peace. We had traveled milestones.
We sat in the condo's hot tub easing our tired muscles. We haven't found a cure yet for our broken hearts - that is not as easy to repair. We can use the hot tub for our muscles, jobs to keep our minds active and thinking of other things, our dogs for comfort & laughter and our friends for conversation, encouragement and support, but our broken hearts.. We can only lean on each other and hope that one day our strong, enduring love will mend our hearts. Like I told Jimi that evening, the grief we have is like a wound with a deep scar. On special days and holidays the wound is open and the hurt is so deep and so encompassing that every step, every moment of the day, is a huge accomplishment. Then for the next day or two, the hurt surfaces momentarily as the wound closes up somewhat again. The wound is closed as we carry on with our daily living - to have it open would not enable us to move on in the halfway decent shape that we appear to have - the front that we put on every day.
After the hot tub, we felt better. We returned to our condo and the sadness dwelling inside me seemed to fill the room. Dinner was out of the question- I could not think about eating or cooking. I kept thinking, "it's still James' birthday and we should be doing something else". All I thought I wanted was birthday cake and Jimi offered to go to the store. What a sweetheart! He came back with vanilla cake with white icing (James' favorite) and candles. He told me about the beautiful sunset over the mountains that he saw on the way back from the store. I was so glad he saw this colorful sunset on James' birthday. I wish I'd seen it, too. I put 16 candles on the cake and lit 14. It was too much for us to sing or make a wish and inside all I could wish for was peace for us and peace for James.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, James. We love you!
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