A Mother's Loss

Elsie’s Words at her Son Jamie’s Funeral
October 17, 2013

Good morning. My name is Elsie Dennis Dofelmier, and I am James’ mother. I felt it was appropriate for me to do the eulogy today. I brought him into the world, and I want my words to carry him out to the next world. Thank you, my family, and when I say that, I mean everyone here with us today to celebrate the life of our son James Thomas Dofelmier. By your presence, you are showing my husband, Jim; son Tim; daughters, Erica and Mandy and their spouses, Ty and Diem; and our grandchildren, Alyssa and Jeremiah, that we are your family too. Thank you to family and friends who are unable to attend but have sent us their expressions of caring and support.

I cannot share enough today to show you the full breadth and depth of the son, brother, uncle, neighbor, student, and friend whom we knew as James. There was a time when we all called him “Jamie,” but in middle school he announced that he now wanted to be called “James,” and so we honored that request, but he will always be our Jamie.

James came into the world on February 20, 1995 at 7 lbs., 11 ounces, and 21 inches long. His father Jim was at my side and without hesitating, Jim peeked over the fabric drape to see our son being born by Cesarean section, certainly not a thing to do for anyone who’s squeamish about surgery. Jim held him first and brought him to me. Later, I remember peeking under the knit cap on our baby’s head and was surprised to see long, thick black hair already in place. Our baby would grow to be six feet tall. We referred to Jamie as our miracle baby because we were older parents when we had him (I was 39 at the time and Jim was 48 years old) and we had suffered fertility issues including two miscarriages before his birth, and four miscarriages after his birth. So James was very special to us. We felt very blessed that God had given us a child, a son.

We used to tease James that he had gone twice to Hawaii. We had gone there when I was six months pregnant with him, and we had climbed Diamond Head near Waikiki; and we went back when he was just three months old and Jim took him into the hotel pool and was amazed at how he enjoyed being held in the water looking up to see the blue sky. We are grateful for the years in preschool, elementary school, middle school, and senior high school. We had him signed up for basketball, swimming, and T-ball, all of which he did OK in, but not great. The things he enjoyed doing and excelled in included art, writing, math, history – especially military history – cooking, and welding.

James drew a lot. I bought him sketchbooks that he filled with drawings of animals – especially coyotes – and wolves, and military battle scenes. His sixth-grade teacher wrote him a note saying she predicted that someday he would be a cartoonist. He also took a fine arts class and learned ceramics. He made his younger sister and me gifts, miniature teapots and a ceramic carrot. He would tell me to just throw them away, and I would say, “No! I want to keep them!”

James was a great writer, and I told him that perhaps he would follow in my footsteps as I had chosen journalism as my career and thought he also could be a writer. His creative writing teacher used his book “From Boys to Soldiers” as an example of good writing in his class recently.

James was good at math. I would look at a math problem presented on a social media site, and James would figure it out instantly. I would ask, “How did you figure that out so fast?” And he would say, “Mom, that’s easy.”

James truly enjoyed history, especially history about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the war in Vietnam. He seemed to have endless knowledge about strategy and battles. Again, I would ask, “How do you know all this?” And he would answer, “I listen in school,” or “I watch the history channel.” A couple of Christmases ago, he and I spent an entire day together watching the ten episodes of the HBO series “Band of Brothers” about a unit during WWII.

James enjoyed cooking. He was great in the kitchen and his specialties included cheese quesadillas, scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and cheese, and baking. A few weeks ago I was away from the house and called him, saying that I was having a craving for sweets and to bake a cake for me. He said no, and said instead I should stop and buy one. I didn’t, and when I came home, there in the kitchen was a loaf of banana bread with chocolate chips that he had made, and an apple cake with chocolate chips that he also had made, and they were both wonderfully delicious. He was my cooking partner in the kitchen; together, our specialty was stir-fry chicken. He helped chop up the cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and onions while I cut up the chicken.

He found this past year that his passion was welding. He caught the bus each morning to the Puget Sound Skills Center. He enjoyed his teacher and his classmates and would proudly show his father and me, to our horror and concern, the burn holes in his shirts, neck scarf, and welder’s jacket. He also would show us very minor burns on his hands and wrists, but shrugged them off as part of learning to do what he loved. He proudly made a jack-o’-lantern and a Christmas tree at welding class.

He loved me, his father, and siblings, niece and nephew. He went on boat rides with his sister Erica and her husband, Ty. He went snowboarding with them too. When he was a baby, he would sit on Erica’s lap at the computer desk while I made dinner and Erica did her homework.

When he was ten months old, his older siblings and I counted his first steps in the family room on New Year’s Eve in 1995. He laughed that precious baby laugh as we counted, and each time would add more and more steps until he reached about 22 steps that night. Tim remembers making a treasure map and that he and Jamie found buried treasure in the woods behind our house, and that, that exploration was so special to them both. Jamie shared that he enjoyed walking around Seattle with his big brother looking for treasure planted by a radio station.

Mandy remembers that Jamie helped her hide the Easter eggs for Jeremiah and Alyssa to find just this past Easter. He put a couple of the eggs in a tree a bit too high for the kids to reach, but enjoyed watching them jump up to get them. James had a great sense of humor. He would ask me what the name of my pet dinosaur was when I was growing up and whether we used burning torches to read by when we lived in our cave. He’d walk into the kitchen looking for me while I cooked dinner. At six feet tall he’d say, “Mom, mom, where are you?” I’m 5’2”, and I’d reply, “Here I am.” And he’d look down and say, “Oh, there you are, I couldn’t see you.”

He did two 5k races with me, and hated them both, but went he said because his dad and I wanted him to do so. He always was the kid who did what he was asked to do. He might have grumbled a bit, he might have wanted to duck down and not be chosen, but he always followed through. He was active in our parish and in the First Nations Committee. He just recently helped, the Sunday before last, serving as crucifer. He helped at the rummage sale setting up tables and cleaning up after the sale. He loved finding bargains there too. He was at Bishop Nedi Rivera’s consecration, and along with Becky Clark and the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, helped present Bishop Nedi with her wooden staff in recognition of her office.

He was at Bishop Greg Rickel’s consecration as part of the First Nations Committee, processing in with the Rev. Rachel, Becky, Daren Chidester, and me. James and I had to laugh later at how inadequate we felt as “Indian dancers.” James had attended and participated in several WinterTalk gatherings of Native American clergy, lay leaders, and Native youth in The Episcopal Church, and also to EYE, the Episcopal Youth Event.

Late last night, Sarah Eagle Heart, Indigenous missioner for The Episcopal Church, posted this on her Facebook page:

“MY HEART IS DEFINITELY IN SEATTLE as I prepare to educate Deacons on the Episcopal Church's Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. I believe most (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) do not know how intergenerational trauma connects with Manifest Destiny, and yet all contemporary structures and policies with Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples revolve around it. As Jamie enters the spirit world, I pray that we all work together to heal our youth and our people. I pray that we begin to understand and have compassion for one another. I pray that we work together to build our communities. I pray that we have the strength to be vulnerable to keep open minds and hearts. I dedicate tomorrow's work to James Dofelmier. Rest in peace little brother.”

Jamie loved animals, especially his Chihuahua, Ginger. She was his second shadow. At WinterTalk in Poarch Creek, Alabama, the Native youth had a guessing game and tried to guess who the person was in their group who had a pet Chihuahua. The kids guessed one of the girls must have a Chihuahua and then laughed at their assumption when Jamie said it was actually he who owned such a dog.

Dear ones, I could go on for days with little stories from our son’s life. He gave us 18 years. I thank Creator and him for doing that. I thank my husband for supporting me to be a stay-at-home wife so I could be a full-time mother to our son. I thank Alex and Ben and James’ other friends for being his friends at Todd Beamer and the Puget Sound Skills Center. Please know we loved our son, our brother, our uncle, our nephew, our cousin, and we know you loved him as your friend, your acolyte, your student, your neighbor.

Many of you might have questions, might want to know details of James’ passing. Please know that there may never be answers. And during the reception, we respectfully request that the family not be asked for details. Let me finish with this reflection by my friend and Choctaw elder the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston:

“One more day. God gives me one more day. With each sunrise I see, God gives me one more day to make right what is wrong, to open what is closed, to find out what is lost, to be what I long to become. I can work miracles today. I can change the course of history with a word. In these few hours I have the chance to shape time itself into timeless love. One more day. That’s all I need to live as if it were eternity.”

Amen.