Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 184

A brief introduction:

My name is Paul Howley. Some people have called me the "luckiest man in the comic book business" but that all changed as of January 9th 2001, when our son, Adam Howley, died.

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 46
Mal Howley: age 47
Adam Howley: my son, age 21
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 17


During the summer of 2001, Dona Lynn Curry, the founder and director of “One Voice,” asked me if I’d be interested in getting involved in the multi-church choir. They were going to be performing soon at a local school auditorium. When I explained that I was not a good singer, Dona Lynn asked if I’d be interested in sharing about Adam during the program. I’m very uncomfortable singing or acting in public and I know I’d be terrified to speak in front of a large crowd of people. But, given the opportunity to tell people about my son, I knew I’d need to overcome this fear.

Now, those of you who’ve actually been reading my overly-long story already know I’m not a good writer. But in this instance, I had a desire to communicate something that meant a lot to me to people who may need the message of comfort. I figured that there might be someone listening who has also experienced loss, pain and tragedy. I began writing and after a few hours it was done.

I told Dona Lynn that it was finished and she asked me to come to a rehearsal and read it as though this was an actual performance. I didn’t understand why she wanted me to sit there for an hour, while the other people were singing, waiting for my time to talk. When it was my turn to come up onstage, I faced front as if there was an audience, with my back to the group of singers. I was quite nervous even though there was no one watching me and I read my message too quickly. When I was finished, I turned to face the people in the choir and I was surprised that many of them were crying! That’s when Dona Lynn explained to me that the choir members needed to be familiar with my message so that they wouldn’t be too emotional and unable to sing after I was done speaking. Dona Lynn is one of the most well-prepared and professional people I’ve ever known.

We had some time before the scheduled concert at the Gilford High School and Dona Lynn and I discussed the possibility of bringing the group to other venues. I called some friends who attended the Trinity Church in my old hometown of Bolton, Massachusetts and they got us permission for the choir to sing (and me to give my message) at their church. This would be my “real” first time in front of an audience.

The choir sang beautifully and when it was time for me to get up to speak I spotted several of my old friends in the audience. I had a tough time, struggling with my emotions while I read my message because I could see my friends feeling my pain; but I got through it. After the service was done the church provided a cook-out for us and their church members. At the cook-out, I was approached by my old friend, Wendy Pendleton. She thanked me for coming and asked how Mal and I were doing. I was more interested in how she was feeling because she was in the midst of battling brain cancer but Wendy kept saying, “Oh…I’m okay. But how are YOU?” After a brief conversation Wendy asked me for my mailing address because she had a “gift” she wanted to send me.

From there, we all went to a church in Quincy, Massachusetts to give another concert. I don’t remember much about it other than my repeated attempts to contact my friend George, who owns a chain of comic book stores headquartered in Quincy. I really wanted him to hear the concert and my message but he couldn’t be located by his staff.

When the time came for our big concert at Gilford High School I wasn’t quite as nervous, but with a full house of over 800 people I was still a little shaky.

Here’s a link to the actual message I gave at Gilford High School back in 2001:

For those of you with a slow Internet connection, here’s the written version:

“This is not just my testimony of God’s love for’s also my son’s
testimony. 2Corinthians chapter 1 says “ Praise be to the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts
us in ALL of our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the
comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

About 22 years ago, my wife gave birth to our son Adam. He was born almost 7
weeks early we almost lost him twice when he stopped breathing. Thankfully, he
made it through, and he grew up quickly. He went to Christian schools for grades
1-12 and learned a lot of academic knowledge...but most importantly, his faith
and knowledge of God was constantly growing and reinforced . Adam loved
performing in plays, acting, singing and dancing and he decided to go to
college at The Boston Conservatory of Music to major in musical theater. His
appearance began to change on a regular hair, yellow hair, green
hair, and flaming red hair. The world was his stage and every day was another

Adam decided not to return to the Conservatory for his sophomore year. He wanted
to take some time to enjoy life in Newport Rhode Island and work on his poetry.
Mal and I weren’t too thrilled with this choice. We had hoped that Adam would
either finish college or find a job so he could “settle down” to a normal life.
Instead, he became involved in the lives of lots of young people that many in
the world would consider lost. You know the types...lots of dyed hair, tattoos,
piercings, baggy jeans...
Adam would call us from Rhode Island, all excited saying "Dad, you won’t believe
it...there’s this kid named Mike who’s been a heroin addict for five years, and
I got him to quit drugs and go to a rehab program!” On one hand I’d be happy for
him...on the other hand, as a parent, I would say, "Get out of there! I want you
to come back home to live with us in New Hampshire." I explained to him how
dangerous it was to be associated with that type of lifestyle and that even a
strongwilled person could be sucked into an unhealthy situation. But Adam
insisted that he needed to be there. After about 6 months, he realized that his
Mom and I were right and he agreed to come live with us for a while to find a
job and save some money to get his college bills paid off, buy a car, and pay
off his credit card. He worked at a couple of different jobs, but he ended up
working at Friendly’s as a waiter. When he moved back in with us, he drove me
crazy with a lot of the typical kid stuff...always being late, strange clothes,
messy room, and his inability to pick up after himself. But through it all, my
wife kept reminding me that Adam’s life is in God’s hands. Adam stayed with us
for a little over a year and then he decided to finish college by transferring to
the University of Rhode Island. In early January, Adam went down to Rhode
Island to register for his classes, secure housing on campus, and straighten
out his student loans situation. He called me at 8:00 o’clock on Tuesday morning
and said “ Dad, I’m up and dressed and I’m on my way home right now...I’ll be
home in time for my car inspection at noon. Adam drove a little over 3 hours and
about 6 miles from our house in New Hampshire, he fell asleep and his car
collided with a truck and he was killed. This is where God’s comfort comes in...

We had a memorial service for Adam a few days later and about 650 people came.
mostly people that had been impacted by Adam’s short but unique life. Some of
our relatives spoke about Adam...some sang songs, and read poems they had
written about him.

My daughter sang a beautiful song and somehow God gave me the strength to give
the eulogy. But the most powerful words spoken that day were from the kids from
the park in Rhode Island! They told us all about how their lives were changed by Adam convinced some of them that suicide was not the answer...a life
of crime was not the answer and that drugs were not the answer. But most of
all, their lives were changed because of the love and compassion Adam had for
them. Adam understood his place in God’s kingdom. He seemed to know that it was
his job to love and support these people who were struggling. He seemed to use
love as a lifeboat for his friends, hoping that they would get strong enough to
find some value in themselves, and eventually find God.

About a month after Adam’s death, we decided to go to the Rhode Island Park and
explain to these sad, grieving kids, what Adam meant to us and what gave Adam the
ability to love them so unconditionally. So on a freezing cold day in February,
Mal, Cassandra, myself and a bunch of our friends went down to the park. We
called some of the kids in advance and told them to spread the word that we were
coming and that we wanted to meet with them. About 60 kids showed up. We shared
with them that although Adam still did some things that he knew he shouldn’t,
he had a deep and authentic love and relationship with Jesus.

A group of our friends performed a short evangelical drama. Many of our friends
made bracelets for the kids that could be used to explain the steps to salvation.
The black bead represents our sin, the red bead is the blood of Jesus shed in our place,the white bead is us as new creatures white as snow in the eyes of God.

We explained to the kids, that God loved them and has a plan for their lives if
they would accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Out of 60 kids...42 of them
gave their lives to the Lord that day.

Because of the frozen ground in New Hampshire, we weren’t able to bury Adam
until June. At the burial service, we handed out little cards with the word “WHY”
on it. It was explained that the question for us as Christians shouldn’t be WHY
Adam died. It should be what are we going to do with this can God
use Adam’s death to change our lives and the lives of others. Losing a child is
the worst thing possible for any parent...the sadness is almost unbearable. We
miss him so much and still find it hard to believe that he’s really gone! But
God is GOOD . At the crash site, we found a note written by a man that worked
with Adam and it says:

“Adam, They gave us cards at the cemetery in case we were still wondering why. We
may all have different answers to that question because you did so much for
everyone. But as for me, I’m on my way to heaven because of you, and I wouldn’t
have been without knowing you. My only regret is that you’re not sitting beside
me blowing bubbles. I could never be grateful enough for what you inspired
within me. I love you for it and I’ll meet you in Heaven to prove it.”

I am now steadfast in my belief that God gives us our children and they are
ultimately always His. I have had to reconcile myself to the fact that He can
call them back whenever He wants. I trust that God’s plans for Adam’s future are
better than our hopes and dreams were for him here on earth.”

Next chapter: My gift from Wendy Pendleton.