The Helplessness of Tragedy

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We were at CodeMash this year when we heard the news.

The news was about our friend Jim Holmes, the man who started CodeMash and ran it until a couple years ago. Jim had just lost his wife - killed in a violent incident. Obviously, Jim was not coming to CodeMash as planned; he turned around headed back home.

Meanwhile, us - his friends - were left in shock. We were fortunate that we had each other to talk to and help one another deal with this tragedy.

It was a helpless feeling. We wanted to do something. I wanted to do something.

Although I did not know Pam well, Jim has been a friend and mentor since we first met at a Red Robin in Columbus, OH in 2007. Over the years, Jim has done me a number of personal kindnesses - some large and some small and he has done much to help the software community in general.

We began with a fundraising effort. We created a campaign on, allowing friends and others to contribute some money to Jim's family - money to allow him take time off work and focus on his family and dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy. I was overwhelmed to see the campaign raise over $30,000 in the first week. It now stands at over $40,000. As the administrator, I found myself adjusting the campaign goal upward 4 different times.

It helped me to see the outpouring of love and cash from those who felt a connection with Jim. It helped me to deal with the helplessness I was feeling.

But it wasn't enough.

When I learned the funeral details, I wanted to attend. But there was a problem. In 2015, Jim and his family moved to Ashland - a small town in southwest Oregon. Every airline route I found consisted of 3 flights and a full day of flying. When I heard that Sara Ford was driving up from her home in San Francisco, I reached out to her and asked if she wanted company. I booked a flight to SFO and Sara picked me up and we drove the 400 miles together.

Ashland, OR is a difficult place to get to - especially from the Midwest. CodeMash takes place in the Midwest and flights from Midwestern cities to small-town Oregon are difficult to arrange. As a result, very few from the developer community were able to take time off work on short notice and spend a full day traveling there and a full day traveling home. So Sara and I arrived at the funeral carrying greetings sympathy and hugs and love from many who could not make it. We were fortunate to have flexible schedules. But we had the responsibility to tell Jim and his family what they already knew - that those he knew and those he helped over the years were thinking of him and his family and praying for them all.

The funeral was sad of course. But it was not all sad. The Eulogy was read by the minister who married Jim and Pam a quarter century ago. And he spoke a lot about love and forgiveness - even for the one who killed Pam. I've heard Jim echo these thoughts and it's an attitude that not everyone takes and it's refreshing and humbling.

For me, the hardest part of the service was seeing Pam's mother say goodbye to her daughter. It brought back memories of my mother dealing with the death of my sister 7 years ago.

I spoke at length with Jim's parents and some of his siblings, who I found to be charming people. I was able to offer my condolences to Pam's mother and daughter. I met many of the Wolosz and Holmes family and I was impressed with them all.

We attended the funeral and the reception afterward, before getting back in the car and driving back to San Francisco, so I could catch an early morning flight home. I flew about 4500 miles and drove about 800 miles in less than 2 and a half days. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I'm really glad I went. I think it helped Jim that I was there. But I know it helped me.

Sara and Jim