On grief, growth and losing James

March 25, 2017 - Faith development, Grief, Lent

On grief, growth and losing James

By Alice Tate


James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

                                                                                – James 1:1-3


This lent I have based my journey around this scripture in the letter of James.

“Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…”

At first I found it really hard to comes to terms with it. See – in January this year my family I unexpectedly lost my big brother James (ironically the same name as the guy who wrote this letter in the bible).

These last two months we have all been on this rollercoaster called Grief.  So you can understand why I really struggled with this scripture at first. How can I be joyful when I can’t stop crying?

I’ll tell you a little bit about my brother James. He was 31 years of age. He worked, surfed with his mates, and then would go home to his beautiful wife Rebecca and daughter Lillie. That was pretty much a day in James Tate’s life. He wouldn’t always be working but would always be surfing, even if the surf was terrible. Family and surfing was everything to James. And if you had ever met him before you would know the captivating energy he would have. That energy he had was the Holy Spirit living and breathing in him. He was so filled with the spirit that he couldn’t contain it, and had no choice but to share it with everyone he encountered.

On Saturday January 21, James did what he usually did…Worked, Surfed, Family. That afternoon when he got home from his surf. He paid for his rego, writing on the piece of paper “paid 21/1/17”, ordered takeaway Mexican with Beck, Lillie and my Dad Stephen and settled in for the night. That evening James had a sudden cardiac arrest. Rebecca his wife, who is a cardiac nurse, performed CPR for around 25 minutes until the help of paramedics arrived. Bec saved his life.  James clung to life for five days in a coma but on Friday, January 27, we said our goodbyes.

This is just the short story of our first ride on the rollercoaster of grief. At the time of this happening my other two brothers Simon, Thomas and their families were overseas travelling and I was about to head off to the Philippines for an Immersion (Missionary) Program. On the 21st I was in the hospital with the rest of my family waiting for James to come out of his coma. But because the doctors wanted to rest his brain for a few days and it didn’t seem that he would wake up in a hurry, the next day I left for the Philippines as I had originally planned. Writing this now I feel so stupid even going on that trip. I should have stayed. But everything was so positive from the doctors. We all had so much hope and never even thought about losing him.

My brothers Simon, Tom and myself got back to spend that time with James and the family, even though he was still unconscious.  We prayed, sung, kissed, hugged and laid with him.

My faith in that moment could have shattered. I could have turned away, but there was no way that was happening. Jesus carried and still carries my family and I on His cross through this whole whirlwind. I believe that God needed James, for a reason that we will never know. Our minds could never comprehend the plan he had for James. God wrote his life and there was no way any of us could change that. Like I said God needed James, but God gave James Beck. Beck is the reason why we got to spend that last week with him, the reason we could get home to have that one last kiss.  

My mum, Mandy, has made this analogy for her grief. She says that she is in labour and when the contractions come she cannot bear the pain. It hurts so much, all she wants to do is give up. She can’t breathe and all she can do is cry and sob. Then the contraction subsides and she can breathe again and talk about him and share his life, but the contractions always come back. Sometimes they’re closer together than usual or further away, it all depends on where she is in her labour. And you never know what is going to trigger the contraction; it could be a physical thing, a happy memory or a photograph.

I think this is so profound. A mother should never lose a child, but the way my Mum explains it, is so beautiful. The pain she went through at the start of his life is pain she goes through at the end of his earthly life. The pain she went through in the beginning, ended with the beautiful gift of creation, but this labour is a little different, it will go for a lot longer, she will be in labour until she reaches eternal life.

My Mum has clung to Mary through all of this. Mary knows that pain my mum is going through. Mary, a Mum, who taught Jesus how to walk, talk, eat, and live, watched her Son be tortured and nailed to a cross. Her story is a lot more intense than my Mum’s. Could you image the contractions Mary would have been going through? Did Mary want to try to persuade Jesus to turn back? What gave her the courage to stay by his side, even at the foot of the cross?

Like my Mum’s contractions, grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s a t-shirt, a photo, a noise or a song. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a tree, a flower, the smell of food. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

I don’t think the waves will ever stop for us. Maybe they will get a little smaller, but James (I hate saying this) “was” an amazing Brother, Dad, Son, Mate and Human Being. And who could ever get over the way he lived his life.

Bringing it back to this scripture James 1:1-3

Yes, God has given us this cross to carry.

I believe that God placed James in that exact spot for us. This could’ve happened anywhere. Like I said that day he worked and surfed. He could have been driving, on a ladder, in the shower, surfing, but no he was at home with Beck.

God knew he had to find a way for my brothers and I to get home. God knew he needed to give us that closure. That is why I can now be joyful.

Yes, I still get the trial of the crashing waves, but I know the Lord will never leave me nor forsake me – Hebrews 13:5 and I now have James watching over me and praying with me and for me. That is what makes me stronger. When I am weak I am strong (2Cor 12:9)

Jesus experienced sorrow of the deepest kind in the Garden of Gethsemane – the sorrow of awaiting death. We also experience that pain when death takes a loved one, but God reminds us that he is still in control. Death is not the master – God is. God triumphed over Death by rising from the dead.

Sorrow can cause us to doubt God’s plan. Though we may face trouble and difficulties, sadness, and pain, God is still in control, and he is always with us. God is not seeking revenge for our sins and trying to hurt us. Yes he put the world in motion and gave us free will but he does not set out to punish us through all our daily frustrations and problems.

We must remember to listen closely to God’s voice when trouble rages around us. When the agonies of life begin to crush us, God has not moved away from us. Often we have moved away from him. We need to return to him in faith and call on him for his strength. Fear is the enemy of God’s love.

Over these coming weeks let’s take some time to pray and reflect, individually or as a family. We are invited to walk with Jesus, to stay with him through our darkest times, so that we can rejoice with him when Easter dawns.

I would like to end this in a quick prayer:

Dear Lord,

Teach us to see things as You see them,

To feel about things as You feel about them,

To be what you want us to be.



If you would like to read more about my brother’s story here is a link to a news article: