Much of the board game community was gripped in grief this week at the loss of a gamer who so many of us truly adored, James Miller. If you didn’t know James, suffice it to say that if you did, you would have loved him, too. He was kindness personified, someone who took an interest in everyone he met, an ace game explainer and a funny yet sweet presence at every game table. I don’t want to say he was a prince; he was what we want in a prince.

James in blue during an epic game of Time’s Up while in Essen (2009, Stephanie Bennett)

As the tributes poured in on social media, some with happy pictures (James had a smile that conveyed pure joy every single time) and heartfelt memories shared (especially about his exceptional Time’s Up skills), and others succinct enough to follow Twitter’s original character limit, they all were strongly expressed and it was obvious that the network of James’ friends extended across the world. We all felt the loss in a very real sense even if we only saw James at game cons (as was the case for me). Yes, this was because James was one of those friends one appreciates so much. But the number of people who added that this was just another thing tearing at the soul during this challenging time in our world was enormous. I felt it myself. Could 2020 stop taking everything from us? How are we to cope?

A Period of Grief

I have been through a lot of grief in the last few years, including the passing of my father, an uncle who was like a second dad, two other close uncles, a close aunt, a young adult who I watched grow up, and even my mother just two and half months back. That isn’t even mentioning some other gamer friends who also left us too soon. It’s been a very tough few years.

In 2018, I felt the same way most of us are feeling about 2020. Early that year, my father passed and literally the Monday after the funeral, I found out about this young person passing who I cared about and who my children looked up to as an older brother. After this, every other bad thing that happened, from my mother’s dementia accelerating to my basset hound passing to even a favorite author dying, made it feel like the year itself was getting crueler. Work became untenable, with some people at my organization doing completely insane things. I could feel myself losing touch with the things that brought me joy.

Thankfully, I had a plan in place to travel to the UK at that point to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law, who live there most of the time. The trip was about memorializing my father properly and we did so by traveling to Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel. In addition to staying at the Stan Laurel Inn (a charming tavern), we spread his and my uncle’s ashes in the river there (yes, we had a Lebowski moment), and spent time at the Laurel and Hardy museum that occupies an old movie house in town. While there, we talked to the museum owner and other attendees about my father and my uncle, their great love of the duo, how they had met Stan Laurel when they were young, and how our trip was to honor their memories.

My sister Isabel and me with the Boys in Ulverston.

Yes, the trip was for my Dad but also for my Uncle Bill. Just six months before my father’s passing, my uncle had died and perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to tell my Dad that his brother, his practical twin, had passed. While his cognitive abilities were impaired by a stroke a dozen years before, he’d gotten quite good at controlling his emotions. But this broke us both down. I hugged him and we both cried so much; I recall thinking that our tears must have gotten mixed up. I told these stories to my sister while I was visiting her third-floor flat and we spent a lot of time crying but also a lot of time telling happy stories about our wonderful dad and our cool, witty uncle.

A Process of Mourning

At the York Minster

While I cannot discount the healing value of having spent the week after our trip to Ulverston walking through the towns of Northern England (even a trip to Liverpool – home to both The Beatles and my family) with my beloved sister Isabel, it was that storytelling and those shared memories that helped me with the mourning process. Someone smarter than me clarified in a book I read that grief is something we experience but mourning is a process you go through and actively work to complete.

I realized I was getting to the end of my process of mourning when I was on the plane back to the US. I could feel my father firmly placed on one shoulder and my uncle on the other, ready for me to call upon their wisdom when I needed it. My father is where I got my passionate loyalty, my sense of right and wrong, and the toughness to take things on when I needed to do so. My uncle is where I got my intellectual curiosity and love of learning, along with my gregarious nature, and sense of wonder for the future. They were still with me through my memories and when I passed them on to others, I could keep them alive.

A Commitment to Heal and Endure

When I returned to the States, I had lunch with my friend and colleague Dr. Galen Buckwalter at our favorite sushi spot. Galen is one of the world’s leading psychometricians and a man of profound understanding that I’m honored to still work with on my new project, NEON ID. When he heard about my travels and their healing quality, he noted that this is why we have ritual. We honor those we lose and invest the time in mourning to help us process what they meant to us so we can continue to live. Those memories and those stories we tell keep them alive for all of us who remain. Yes, sometimes tears accompany those moments but this process is what helps us find the strength to endure. I don’t use memories as a wall to block out grief; I use them as a filter to transform those sad moments into learning and gratitude for the time we had with them.

This glorious yet simple message was written on the wall in my path to get to the beach the last day I was on holiday last month. It was precisely what I needed.

If I had not gone through 2018 and found a way to cope, I don’t think I could have handled 2020 at all. While I have not completed my mourning process for my mother, I have begun it. I took a smaller trip for my birthday last month and spent time reflecting on her loss while sitting on a beach with my feet in the sand and my eyes resting on the waves. This was a strong start to the process but I know it will continue. She’s begun to manifest next to my father on my shoulder, the gentlest of reminders about what she taught me regarding unconditional love. For now, I remain her student and will keep at it until I’ve processed in what I have to learn from her life. I’m drawing strength against despair from her each and every day.

And this weekend, I will be honoring James by getting my family to play his game Control Nut. I am so happy that I acquired a copy some years ago. I will admit that I bought it before playing the game. I snapped it up because of James, because he was someone I liked so much that I wanted his game on my shelf. I happen to also like the game and I’m happy for the excuse to get it back to the table.

In the future, I will remember him and my happy memories of time playing games or just shooting the breeze with him when I play it. Heck, I will remember him every time I do a solid job of explaining a game since I know I picked up some of my skills from him over the years. I can take those learnings from him and, I hope, maybe I can even learn to be a kinder person from hearing how he positively affected the lives of so many gamers across the world. He lived life well and the huge impact is strongly felt across our community. How much more can be asked of any of us?

Control Nut is good, trick-takey fun!

This will be part of my way of processing this loss even in this horrible moment in history. We must go on, we must cope, we must right the ship and we must thrive. All of those who passed who loved us would want that and it’s our duty to keep honoring their lives by doing so. I will get to work with it and I hope you will, too.

Reading List

I always turn to books when I need help and this was no exception. Here are some books on this process that have helped me in recent days:

It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay by Megan Devine – Recommended to me by Galen’s wife, Dr. Deborah Buckwalter. More focused on the loss of a spouse/partner but still very useful

Can We Please Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast – Recommended by Andy Looney. Focused on coping with older parents and care-taking.

The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy – Read about it online. More religion than I needed, but still a good book for coping with the loss of parents in particular.

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