It isn’t easy losing someone. It seems like it’s even harder to write about losing someone. I’ve tried writing this post at least seven times now, fruitlessly going through a vicious cycle of writing, editing, rewriting, scrapping, and restarting. Occasionally, I thought a good cathartic cry would help but, so far, it hasn’t.
Last Wednesday, I confirmed my suspicions that a dear friend and guildmate had passed away before the new year. To the server, he was known best as Piles, the orc hunter. To the rest of the world, people knew him as James Phillips. But to his family and good friends— an honor he bestowed on us over time— he was simply Jim.
No one in the guild had seen him log on since Christmas or so, but, with the holidays being what they were, we figured he was just away from the computer and spending time with his family. When the holidays were over and we still hadn’t seen so much as a glimpse of him, we knew something was definitely wrong.
My gut told me something was wrong from the get-go but my brain rationalized away my worries. Imagine my guilt and my shame when I finally dared to check his Facebook page, only to see good-bye messages and funeral details.
I wanted to believe everything would turn out for the best. He was a strong man, even if his health wasn’t always great. Over the past two, almost three, years of knowing Jim, I’d see him disappear for a week or two on several occasions. And then, he’d return, quietly, triumphantly, with a story about his latest illness, complication, or hospitalization like he’d only gone to the grocery store. He was like a Weeble-Wobble toy: you can try to knock it over, but it’ll get right back up again.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This isn’t— and shouldn’t— be about me. This is about Jim, who made this corner of the cosmos a heck of a lot brighter just by existing in it.
I couldn’t tell you what strange quirk in the space-time continuum brought Jim to our guild, but I’m grateful for it.
Out of the blue, a character named Piles whispered me, asking to join the guild. I firmly told him an application was required; our guild had learned of recruitment the hard way. He was reluctant to fill out the guild application, though looking back at it, I could understand why. The application, when it came in, was a garbled mess. A week later, while I was hanging out on Krasus’ Landing of Dalaran, Necropoke tells me he’s received an in-game message from someone named Piles.
The message itself was simple: “Please let me join.” Attached was 5000 gold. Our incredulous reaction was, “Wow, is someone actually bribing us to get into the guild?!” We didn’t know how Piles ticked, though. If we had any inkling to the man behind the character, we would have been humbled by the gift. We placed the gold in the vault and welcomed Piles into our ranks with caution.
Thinking of that caution, the cynicism and suspicion I harbored, shames me all over again.
Over time, I would learn that Piles wanted an online family, a group of people to share his love and wisdom with in the same way he lived is offline life. A veteran of sci-fi and RPG conventions in the South, he just enjoyed being amongst like-minded peers. He happily and eagerly became a part of our guild website and guild Facebook page. Within a month, he added my husband and me— complete strangers he didn’t know all too well— to his friends list.
His friends list is short. The majority of the people on that list are family members.
As I got to know Jim, this realization of being included in something so close, so exclusive, so special, would teach me volumes about life. It was about quality over quantity.
Jim quickly became the doting uncle of the guild. He would tell us raiding and dungeons were for us “younger folks” and he couldn’t be bothered with trying to read the small text of chat windows, especially in some of the harder-to-read colors. If he wanted to kill something, he PvP’d; the majority of his time was spent farming and playing the AH with his army of alts. But that didn’t stop him from making sure we had everything we could possibly need and want for raid time. He supplied the mats for fish feasts and, ofttimes, the feasts themselves; flasks and potions and herbs were stocked in the vault. And he was always asking if we needed anything more, as if his generous gifts weren’t enough. He cheered us on from the sidelines as we progressed through ICC10, happy that we were happy.
He’s the very model of a hard-working, southern gentleman. He was a doer, a provider— something that had become increasingly harder for him to do in real life in the more recent months, so he did it in Azeroth for our guild.
Some people ask whether a glass if half full or half empty. Jim, through his actions, made it known that his glass was not only full, but overflowing.
Outside of Warcraft, he was a fond husband, father, and grandfather. He loved talking about his granddaughters, especially. In a way, we “younger folks” of the guild became his kids, too; our children, his virtually adopted grandchildren.
The best gifts Jim gave to me— aside from his constant, quiet friendship— were the intangible things, the lessons I learned from him. He was very much the human version of Yoda: old, grizzled, hard to comprehend sometimes, but the wisdom of his words was palpable and unmistakable. When my husband and I took a break from the game for our wedding, Jim was there with friendly marriage advice. And when my daughter was born, whom he refers to as “Ms. H,” Jim had more advice and loving words. As I tried to write my piece for the Blizzard Writing Contest, he had only encouragement and kind, constructive critiques for me.
When you talked to Jim, each word he spoke was a piece of the bridge built to connect your two worlds. It didn’t matter how much or how little you had in common, nor did the physical distance matter. Jim had a knack for finding the one thing that made you tick and formed a friendship from that. He helped you discover perspectives you never once considered, and you were a better person for it, even if you didn’t notice it at the time.
Jim brought the best out of everyone around him. He’s the reason why I tell every applicant to the guild that our primary mission is to build a solid gaming family, a community where people can play and relax; raids and loot and all that were periphery. His attitude is the epitome of harmonization between sci-fi/fantasy nerdiness and Christian faith. I turned my focus to creating and fostering relationships in-game and out, to try and leave every minute of my life better than when I arrived.
It is the Jim thing to do.
1163 words at this point and none of it has even begun to do this man’s legacy any justice. There aren’t enough kind words in the world, as Necropoke said last Wednesday, to write about Jim because he embodies each one to a tee, yet those words fail to fully grasp the essence of what he was all about. The funny thing is, if he were here, he’d tell me to stop yammering about an old man and get on with my day. That’s Jim for you.
Perhaps, all I really wanted to say was this:
I miss you, Jim. We miss you, so very much, and our little online family won’t be the same without you.
Jim’s family asked, in lieu of flowers and gifts, that donations be made in his name to the American Diabetes Association. [Link to donation page here.]