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Parents honor memory of remarkable son

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

"Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? You're only dancing on this earth for a short while. ... And though you want him to last forever, you know he never will."

-- Cat Stevens

As they talked to members of the Lee County CERT dive team, thanking them for their help earlier this year in the search for their son James in the icy waters of a Valdosta lake, John and Tammy Eunice were the picture of composure.

They laughed, shared some humorous and some touching memories about the 17 days of hell they went through before 17-year-old James' body was discovered, and they spoke proudly of the Valdosta-area community's support of their efforts to raise funds for equipment to help with future search and rescue attempts.

But their eyes betrayed them.

Beneath the calm and pleasant exteriors -- in their souls, etched in those haunted eyes -- of this amazing couple who had chosen to honor their son's memory by personally thanking each of the more than 20 agencies that had participated in a search that would yield James' body, there existed a heart-numbing hurt that would have overwhelmed most of us.

"This is healing for us," Tammy Eunice quietly told the CERT volunteers. "We just think it's important that we tell you a little bit about the young man you helped search for."

By all accounts, James Eunice was one of those kids everyone loved.

He was an overachiever who outworked everyone else and made others around him better. He'd been accepted at the University of Georgia and planned to walk on with the football team.

"Coach (Mark) Richt heard about James, and he sent a No. 23 Georgia jersey with 'Eunice' on the back to his (funeral) service," John Eunice said. "He told us James had made the team and would be on the roster.

"All of James' classmates are getting ready this week to move up to Athens ..."

His voice trailed off.

Tammy Eunice perhaps best described her son with a simple pronouncement: "James loved God and he loved people."

She illustrated his compassion by reading a piece the then-16-year-old had written following the accidental death of one of his fellow Valdosta High School students.

Take time to love someone. Today, tomorrow, for the rest of your life. Because when that unexpected day comes that they pass on, you'll be left wondering what you could've done better. How you could have made them feel more welcome, and show that you do care for them. Don't wait until it's too late like I did. Show the love that Jesus has for you to everyone you see. Let your heart break for what breaks His.

Christ is enough. Let Him show you life. You never know who He may touch through you. It is so sad that it takes a tragedy like this to comprehend how our days are numbered. Only He knows. Keep your faith in Him. He will bless you beyond belief. Our job is right now.

This very second. So often, God gives me a little nudge toward someone ... and I put it off until the next day ... and then the next and then the next. Stop stalling. God put us on this earth for HIS glory. Not ours ... and so many times, the things I do always point back to me and my stupid self-righteousness. So do something with me. Everyone. If this just touches one person, I will have done my job. Don't stall. Judgement is a heartbeat away.

Read those words, and you start to understand the devastating loss John and Tammy Eunice have had to endure since their son went into that lake Jan. 15. And you also realize the courage they display with each thank-you visit to a search-and-rescue unit, with each dollar they help raise to benefit others.

"We're still devastated," John Eunice told me quietly, his calm slipping just a little. "We've managed to get through this with faith and prayer."

If ever there's been a couple deserving of your prayers, it's the Eunices. Their strength in the most devastating adversity imaginable is humbling to observe. It's the kind of strength that even God has to admire.

If so, perhaps He'll be kind enough to take some of that pain from their eyes.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.