Living Through Death

At 7:15 AM on Thursday morning, 12 September 2013, the love of my life closed his eyes and won his 5-year battle with cancer. He will no longer play host to this hellish disease. No more will it eat away and destroy his body. No more hospice workers, medications, blood draws, infusions, scans and probes. Because cancer rendered him incapable of swallowing, no more must he agonize from going over 40 days without nutrition, save small amounts of water misted into his mouth with a squirt bottle so he could just let moisture trickle down his throat. No more will it cause him to worry about those he leaves behind. Yes, James won his fight with cancer, despite the fact it claimed his life.

To know James was to know a man of great faith. He had no fear of death and no fear of dying. He only feared what his death would do to those cherished loved ones he would leave behind. I believe that James won his battle, despite the fact cancer took him from us.  I believe this because, while it took his body, it did not take our love. It did not take our hope. It did not take our memories. It did not take the warmth that stirs in the heart when we think of James. It didn’t erase the impact he had on so many lives nor what he meant to so many people. It didn’t destroy friendships. It didn’t erase the innumerable acts of kindness and charity that James performed throughout his life. It didn’t unrescue all the animals he so compassionately rescued nor his ability to always put others before himself. It didn’t undo the joy that I learned comes from serving the one you love; from giving of yourself completely in order to care for their every need in any way you can.

In October, James and I would have celebrated 22 years together. During the course of these years, James taught me what it truly meant to love others. He provided a daily example of the life and vitality that comes from having a relationship with God – even if you’re gay. Prior to getting too sick to do so, each morning as James would get out of bed, he would walk straight to our bedroom window, raise the blinds, look outside and thank God for another day of life — another day for us to be together and another day to be with Him. By his examples, he taught me so many lessons with no awareness that he was doing so.

iPhone selfie moments after we were married in D.C.

iPhone selfie caught moments after we were married in D.C.

On June 26, when we first heard the news on MSNBC that the Supreme Court had struck down DOMA, James – not feeling too great after a chemo treatment – looked at me from his bed. With tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, he asked me to marry him. It is one of two moments I shall forever cherish. The second was July 29th, when – despite being weak and unusually sick from chemo, James insisted we stick to our plans to fly to Washington D.C. to be married, returning home the same day. Those few minutes it took for Rev. Cedric Harmon to officiate as we exchanged our vows in the shade of a tree on the courthouse lawn are among the best minutes of my life; I have never been so proud. That the events around DOMA unfolded in such a way and a time that James and I could realize our long-held dream of getting married was a blessing and a gift.

The photo of James below was taken in June, when his sister and childhood friend TC were down for a visit. We drove over to Canaveral Seashore, and I managed to capture this shot of James looking out at the water from the safety of the wooden steps leading from the parking lot to the sand. I was pleased because James hated having his photo taken and seldom would let me do it. I think he probably knew it would be one of the last times I’d ask.

As I heal from my grief and begin to refocus my energies back toward photography and building my business here in Central Florida, posts on I Shutter at the Thought! will resume and eventually take on some regularity again. Thank you for your support during what has been a consuming and stressful time. So many of you have reached out to me and offered me words of much needed encouragement, support and prayers. Please know your efforts have sustained me.

"James" [Click the image to enlarge/reduce its size.] Nikon D800, ISO 100, f/2.0 at 1/5000 sec., 50 mm

“James” [Click the image to enlarge/reduce its size.] Nikon D800, ISO 100, f/2.0 at 1/5000 sec., 50 mm

In closing, I include this video from Carly Simon, which I was thrilled to find on YouTube. It is my favorite version of a song I often sang to myself and subjected James to as I cared for him over the last year, when things got so bad. It’s a song about light, for a person who was a light and a beacon for so many.

=^,,^=

Find me on Instagram at @EarlHarrisPhoto, where I am posting photos captured and edited solely on my iPhone. If you like cats, I seem to be posting a lot of photos of them there… #instagramcats

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17 comments

  1. Earl, my thoughts are with you and James. Though we have never met, you and he have impacted my life both with your individual stories and the story of your beautiful relationship…I am having trouble finding the words, but just know that I am sending love, that James’ legacy is being felt even by those who never knew him and that your sharing of your lives and love is making a difference in this world. Thank you both.

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  2. May I share this with the group that has been praying so hard for you guys? And also the article that a friend of yours wrote? Love to you my friend.

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  3. Reading your post made me realize that James’s entire life was a win because he lived for love and for God, and that the cancer was a small battle at the end…which he also won. Having been James’s friend makes me want to be a better person, because he never compromised the principles he lived for.

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  4. Very nicely written and truly a nice picture of James. After my dad passed away I really struggled and was so sad. I had an opportunity to share some things about my dad at a women’s retreat. At the conclusion many women came to me to tell me how lucky I was to have such a great dad or to have a dad at all. That day I had a shift in my thinking. I realized that I was so sad because I did have a great relationship with my dad and that I needed to be more appreciative of something that I had that other have not had. So now, as you go about living without James remember that for yourself. It hurts and is so sad because you miss a great person but also how fortunate you were to have him in your life. I know you already feel this way but wanted to share it from my own experience.

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    1. Brenda, Thank you so much for your comments and very kind words. Many people have spoken to me since James’ death about what a special and kind person he was. It reminds me how blessed I am to have shared and built a life with him. I could never undervalue that gift; it was and is priceless and rich beyond compare. And I always knew it and thanked God for giving him to me.

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