A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

Tribute to Grief Recovery Method Founder John W. James

tribute to john w james founder grief recovery method

“When you die, what matters most is your relationship with your family and that you were a person of your word.” This was John W James. 






He drew his last breath on August 10, 2021, at the age of 77 after a three month struggle with liver cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange. John died peacefully in his sleep with his wife sleeping beside him and his children in the next room of his Sisters, Oregon home. 


john and jess james


John would have turned 47 years sober on August 18. He credits his sobriety with teaching him the importance of service, and he lived his life that way. John founded The Grief Recovery Method more than 40 years ago, and was known worldwide for his work and teachings in Grief Recovery.  John co-authored The Grief Recovery Handbook with Frank Cherry and Russell Friedman. Various other books he co-authored with Russell, Dr. Leslie Landon Matthews and his son, Cole James. These books have been translated into more than 40 languages. The Grief Recovery Handbook and The Grief Recovery Method Programs can be found on every continent except Antarctica. They have given hundreds of thousands of people the tools they need to heal their grieving hearts. His mission statement was: help the largest amount of grievers in the shortest amount of time. 


john james teaching grief recovery method

john w james and russell friedman grm

grief recovery method books by john w james

John was raised in Danville, IL by his mother and father Edith and Ralph James and had two brothers Bruce and Dennis. John played sports throughout his youth, and as an adult he tried out for the Chicago White Sox. Baseball was a love which would continue throughout his life. 


john w james as a young boy


He had a profound love for our country, serving as a US Marine and Combat Veteran during the Vietnam War. Military honors include the National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, RVN Campaign Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the M-14 Rifle Sharpshooter Badge.


john w james as us marine corps vietnam war veteran


Upon returning home from Vietnam, John was deeply wounded by the reception he received in this country. With a brief stop in Montana and two years of college under his belt, he moved to Culver City, Ca and started living a life of sobriety. Shortly afterwards he met Marcy Marks and they were married. Their first child Allison was born in 1975. John and Marcy were thrilled when she became pregnant again two years later, but their joy turned into devastation when their son died as a newborn. The couple ended up getting divorced not long after. During the next eight months, John went everywhere, talked to everyone, and read everything that he could get his hands on to help ease the pain of losing his son. This was the point where he discovered there was little or no help available to deal with the grief. That was the real despair. That painful experience led to the creation of The Grief Recovery Method.


john w james and allison james


By 1980, John was living a life based on trusting his intuition, so when he first laid eyes on Jess Walton he knew she was the one. During their courtship he wanted to make sure Jess was aware how important his daughter was to him so their first date was a trip to the circus with Allison. She passed. Next he took her to a big league baseball game. She passed. Their third date they went to a party because he wanted to see if she was clingy. The moment they walked through the door Jess left his side to talk to her friends - John had met his mate. The free-spirited hippie and the conservative Marine married soon after and their son Cole was born in 1981. 


john james jess james cole james


Later, John passed along his love of baseball to Cole and coached him from Little League through the Grant High School baseball program in North Hollywood, Ca. The whole family attended every one of Cole’s games.


cole james little league baseball


John was a family man, and with him the more the merrier. So when his nephew Bradley and Bradley’s wife Christine talked about leaving Iowa John invited them to come to California and move in with him and Jess. With John and Jess, Allison and Cole and Brad and Christine all under the same roof, their huge family dinners together every night was the highlight of his day. 


john w james family picture california


john w james and jess james


In 2011 John, Jess, Cole and his wife Ashley moved to Sisters, Oregon. They eventually found a ranch with a beautiful log home and stables. John loved that house and the rescue horses and rescue dogs who shared the property. In the mornings John became a regular at Sisters Coffee House sitting at a table with a group of friends, all wearing a cowboy hat where they would  jokingly “solve all the world's problems”. “Cowboy Coffee” soon became a tourist attraction and John wore that signature dark blue cowboy hat everywhere he went.


john w james with rescued horse sisters oregon


In May 2021, after many happy years in Sisters, a visit to the doctor ended this idyllic life. The diagnosis was terminal with very little time left. The first thing John and Jess did was drive to Idaho to say goodbye to Cole, Ashley and the grandkids who lovingly referred to him as G-pa. While visiting them he was able to watch his two eldest grandsons play Little League baseball and watch his son Cole coach them. The torch had been passed.


john james with wife jess and son cole and ashley james


Upon returning to Sisters, he told Allison he would love to have her wedding in the backyard while he was still able to give her away.  The week after the wedding his big bonus was to be able to watch his new grandson James play on his Little League team.


john james and daughter allison james-henry at her wedding sisters oregon


John is survived by his bride of 40 years Jess Walton James, his daughter Allison Henry and her husband Wade; son Cole and his wife Ashley; grandchildren Wyatt, Bridger, Willa and Beau James and James Henry. He is also survived by Marcy Marks, his former wife and mother of his daughter Allison; nephew Bradley James, his wife Christine and their daughter Sophia; and his cousins in Alabama: Candy and Mike Baldwin, her daughters Shannon, her husband Mike Wilson, and Jami and her husband Rick Lightcap.  


john james with his wife jess son cole and daughter allison

John has spent his entire life helping others, And most especially taking care of his family. In the end, his greatest gift to them and all grievers, is the Grief  Recovery Method, the company he founded, and which his son Cole runs to this day, with contributions from Ashley and Allison. That gift will guide all of us through the daily heartbreak of living without him.


We love you.

We miss you.

Goodbye, John


A small memorial is being planned for Sisters, Or and a larger one in Los Angeles within the next year. Information will be posted on Johns’ families personal Facebook pages. 


In lieu of flowers please send donations to The Grief Recovery Research Support Fund https://flashes.givetokent.org/campaign/2019-cph-grief-recovery-research-fund/c226029


John is leaving a legacy of everlasting change that is the bedrock of healing the hurting hearts of a multitude!
With love and gratitude for John’s work and his life,
~Michelle Thornhill

Allison, thank you so much for sharing your Dad with us all these years. I'm sending heartfelt virtual hugs to you when I know that words simply don't suffice. I'm keeping your family in my prayers. I'm so very happy to see a way to send a memorial in his memory. Flowers will fade, but this work will be his legacy. I hope that everyone who has been touched by this groundbreaking and heart-healing work will contribute to the research fund to complete the last of this study. https://flashes.givetokent.org/campaign/2019-cph-grief-recovery-research... Thank you again for everything your family has done to further the recovery for thousands of grievers. Hugs!

John James has left an incredible Legacy with his gift of the Grief Recovery Method. His openness to invite others to join him and help GRM to grow and continue to grow through the generations will leave a special legacy for years to come. May the spirit of John fill the hearts of many with hope and healing. With heartfelt gratitude.

John has been an amazing mentor to so many of us from all walks of life, and from all over the world. I will never forget his time shared at the original location in Los Angeles, along with Russel Friedman, Cole James, and Ed Owens. John has given so much of himself to this passion and mission. I also will never forget when he reached out to me (again in 2019) when hearing that I was planning to vacation with my wife in Oregon. John said, "here is my cell phone number...soon as you land, call me and we will schedule a time to meet for lunch" and what an unforgettable lunch that was, that included a serious message to both myself and my wife. Sorry, John, that I had not completed my book while you were still here...though I have not forgotten you telling me that you wanted me to talk to Cole once I do complete writing it. I have been blessed to know you, John. Thank you, I love you, goodbye friend

Beautiful soul !!! Great leader. And an inspiring man. May he rests in peace and watches us from beyond, serving grievers around the world with authenticity and love.
Lots of love and lightness.

Thank-you Ed for this wonderful tribute. To Jess, Cole, Allison and the rest of the family, my thoughts and prayers are with you. John's work changed my life and allowed me finally move forward from a string of losses in my 20's. It lead to me becoming a Grief Recovery Specialist. I've seen miracles occur when my clients move through and are finally able process grief. John's contribution to healing of the collective heart will continue to live on through all of us who carry the torch. I'm proud to continue this valuable work.

Thank-you John, your intention to heal yourself and then help others heal, changed the course of my life.
I will be forever grateful.

In reverence & deepest gratitude,
Terri Swan

I never met John but I feel like I know him from the videos I watched and the many readings of The Grief Recovery Method Handbook. I saw him as down to earth, plain spoken and humble. He told a good story.

Thanks for that loving tribute. I’ll ever be grateful for the gifts he gave the world by sharing grief recovery, a turning point in my life.

I took John's course in Vancouver, BC., and I felt drawn by his vision and by his book. I told him I wanted to make The Grief Recovery Method my life's work, and that I wanted to head up the west Canada division. He said I reminded him of his daughter. He told me to get some groups going and give him a call. I did some groups, but my life circumstances changed, so I never called him. But I loved meeting him. I think I would have worked well with the team at that time. I really loved Russell, too. John was energetic, a true family man (which I admired,) and a genuine spirit. By the time I came full circle, back to the program, things had changed, and he had retired. It was like a whole different thing then. I'm sad to hear of his passing. Condolences to the family. Rest in peace, John!

What a beautiful tribute to John. I will forever be grateful for the work he passed on to us as Grief Recovery Specialist.

Prayers for you and your family ♥️

I’m saddened to hear of John’s death. I’m happy to know he passed away peaceful and was so loved. I’m grateful to have been taught by him he was an admiral teacher,father and husband. Loving kindness gale Stonehouse

I was lucky to have met John in Toronto, Canada when I participated in the Grief Recovery Specialist course..will always be forever grateful for all his help.. Rest easy John ❤

Thank you for this beautiful photo story. I learned things I never knew about John and appreciate him even more for all the good work he did in his lifetime!

I treasure everything I learn about John. I knew he changed my life for the better. I treasure his friendship and his family´s, and I am a proud torchbearer of his legacy into the Spanish speaking community. I would have loved him just for this. The way I felt embraced by him, the honor of working at his side, that is an additional medal pinned to my heart.

Thanks John, I love you

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and photos. I am so greatful for John as a mentor and a friend.

What a legacy John left! So sorry for his loss but so happy to have met him & spoken with him. Lovely man, lovely person. R.I.P. John. Condolences to his family, his friends & the thousands of GRMS globally.

What a wonderful tribute.
I met John briefly in Leeds, England when he assisted Carole Henderson on my training. What an extraordinary man. I feel blessed to have crossed paths with him.

This is a beautiful tribute to a man who lived his life on purpose with passion. I'm honored to have met and be mentored by John. John's legacy will live on in every heart that is healed through the Grief Recovery Method.

A beautifully written tribute. I recently became certified as a Grief Recovery Specialist and blessed to have found The Grief Recovery Method. I didn't have the honor of meeting John but know him through his videos. His legacy will carry on for many years to come. I will honor him by helping others survive their losses and hope I will make him proud in heaven.

Allison - You turned the facts of you father’s life into such a loving tribute! While I was familiar with most of what you said, the passion of how you shared this deeply touched my heart! ❤️❤️

A wonderful heartfelt tribute to an extraordinary man.
Thank you for fulfilling John James mission of helping as many grievers as possible.

A wonderful heartfelt tribute to an extraordinary man.
Thank you for fulfilling John James mission of helping as many grievers as possible.

What a beautiful tribute to a man who brought so much to so many. As a new GRS I am holding my first group and I am joyful and humbled by the response of the group. The Method is profound and I feel blessed to be able to use the Method to help others. Thank you John!

My love and gratitude to all in John’s family who have helped spread The Grief Recovery Method across the world. It changed my life forever and as a Grief Recovery Specialist, I have been able to help so many people over the last twelve years. I was especially delighted when I found out at a Y&R Fan party that Jess was married to John! I didn’t realize that before, and now my heart goes out to her and everyone who John touched. His legacy lives on in all our lives.

Such an inspiration, so helpful. Grateful for his legacy. So sorry he has passed.

I was introduced to the GRM in Sept. and had such a life changing experience of being able to understand and release the pain of loss, I signed up and was certified in March. I am so grateful that John was divinely led to develop this life changing program. His legacy of grief work will stand along side the 12 step recovery fellowship I share with him also. It is my extreme privilege to carry on his legacy.
Thank you John!

John left an amazing legacy. He lives on through The Grief Recovery Method and His family. He profoundly changed my life and many others. I will forever be indebted to him for helping me overcome my cancer, and losing my Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister in a short time span while I was sick too. I spoke to him one afternoon on the phone. The compassion, patience, empathy he expressed, I carried with me while I navigated my grief in his program. My life would have turned out much differently had I not had his program. I'm forever grateful.
Sending much love to his family. His was a life well lived and he will not be forgotten.

I knew JJ as a friend before I knew him as a healer of sorts, but once I attended a seminar at the Grief Recovery Institute I became a friend touched by his lessons in getting through a very hard loss. John came to the hospital to help us when my baby went into seizures and took control when things at the hospital we’re going badly. We had game nights, long talks and arguments about politics, and through it all there was a strong love, he and Jess, for over 35 years have been more family than friends and my heart and my life will always be better for having known them. John will be dearly missed, but he will live on through all of us who laughed with , cried with and loved him

John was such a powerful mentor and influence in my life these past five years. I met John at a conference he hosted in Cleveland in October of 2016. He approached me after the conference and told me he thought I would be good at grief work. He then took me by the arm and introduced me to Lois Hall, who has also changed my life in amazing ways. Thank you, John, for seeing something in me that I could not even see myself. I will be forever grateful. You have made such a difference in my life.

I lost my oldest brother to liver cancer because of his exposure to agent Orange in Vietnam, too. Prayers for all of you. This tribute is beautiful for your husband, father, brother, uncle, grandpa, and cousin. John was currently t when he said family is everything. He’s now an angel above looking over all of you.

I'm forever grateful to this man and his fulfillment of the work he shared through the Grief Recovery Handbook and later training specialists and making the concepts available around the world.
An inspirational change-agent for whom I have immense gratitude.
Goodbye John

What a lovely tribute. . .I met John in 1961 and when I did I never could have imagined the impact this charming and good looking young fellow would have in my life years later. He and my husband played football together for the Schlarman Hilltoppers and John was an "upper classman." Frank and I married right out of high school and had two beautiful children, a son and a daughter, and our lives were blessed as the years passed for the next 42 years. Then suddenly, without warning, my wonderful husband collapsed and died in our home where we were living in Ohio. Word spread of course, and many former students of Schlarman began to hear word of this tragic event. I have no idea how John learned about it, but he reached out to me in total understanding of my tormenting grief as the weeks and months passed. It lingered into years. His plans, his methods, his caring, his commitment in helping others, will always be remembered in the most grateful of ways. His goals in helping others deal with horrendous grief will never go unchecked, or forgotten. God put John on this earth for a real purpose, and little did I know back in 1961, that purpose would effect me in one of the most horrible times of my life so many, many years later. "Sweet Rest In Heaven John," and to all of his family, may everything John hoped the "Recovery" helped so man others, may you find between those pages everything that John would have hoped it would be for you.

This tribute to John is very touching. I never met him personally, but felt so honored as a new Grief Recovery Specialist to receive his friends request. He was obvious how much he loved his wife, children and greandchildren. His love of his country was mixed in with his love for hurting people. I know we will all pass the torch he entrusted us with high esteem, loyalty, and compassion. He is greatly missed and will always be remembered.

This tribute to John is very touching. I never met him personally, but felt so honored as a new Grief Recovery Specialist to receive his friends request. He was obvious how much he loved his wife, children and greandchildren. His love of his country was mixed in with his love for hurting people. I know we will all pass the torch he entrusted us with high esteem, loyalty, and compassion. He is greatly missed and will always be remembered.

Like so many others, I had a sense of John's personality only from the videos I've seen, but he is more fully revealed in the legacy he left behind which tells so much more. I am honored to pay tribute to his life of heartfelt generosity by doing the work he was so committed to. I love you too, John. I am imagining the reunion with your little son - makes me smile.

I was a classmate of John's at Schlarman HS in Danville. We played football together for 4 years. We reconnected at Illinois State University c. 1965 upon his return from military obligations in Vietnam. We did not reconnect again until our 50th HS reunion in 2012.

I trust that his family will accept my sincere condolences. I certainly admire his successful humanitarian efforts in the The Grief Recovery Method. Rest in peace, good friend...Tom Grites

So sad to hear about John's death. I was fortunate to have been in one of his Grief Recovery workshops. It had a profound effect on me, and helped me complete my relationship with both of my parents.
Thank You, John. May you rest in the arms of the angels.

Words can not express the gratitude I have for John and the impact he has had on my life. He exemplifies one who truly took a tragedy in his life and turned it into a triumph that has helped millions of others do the same. With love and great appreciation, thank you, John.
My heat goes out to Jess, Cole, Ashley, Allison, the entire family, and our GRM team and trainers as we grieve such a significant loss for all of us.

John has changed a lot of lives and I am grateful to be one of those lives. I hate that we have to lose the people we love. My heart goes out to Jess, Cole, Ashley, Allison, and family. It is such a huge loss for us all. HUGS!

Thank you for sharing. He sounds like an extraordinary man. When I lost my dad it put me on a path to all things spiritual. Too much to put to paper here, and this is not about me.
I will read and pass on your husband’s legacy to some friends who are struggling with the loss of their spouse or parent. I can use it also. Thank you so much!

I met John when he facilitated a training in Winnipeg Manitoba.
This was by far the best training I have ever taken.
I feel blessed to have met John.

Beautiful, honest and well-lived life. What a legacy he has passed on!

I was blessed to meet John a couple of years ago during a GRM Specialist training in Bend, Oregon. So glad for that opportunity. What an extraordinary man. My heart goes out to his family with sadness, gratitude, and deep respect.

Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. John and everyone in the GRM family, thank you for sharing the work started by this amazing human. You have changed my life and those I have been able to work with because of your willingness to be curious and not accept the way things have always been. Sending so much love to you all. John - I love you. I will miss you. Goodbye.

I love this story of Johns life and family. I love how much he gave to help others. I want to say because of this GRM program I'm able to be a giver to those who struggle with life issues. Thank you John for all that you did in your life and time. To the family God bless you all and thank you for carrying on the work of a great man.

I did get to meet John on 2008 in Edmonton Alberta when I took The Grief Recovery Method for the first time. It was a life changing moment for me. I remember him saying some the saddest populations in the world were the Indigenous people of North America. I vowed to do something about it someday, and I can't think of a more fitting way of finally using this method to help as many as I can. Thank you for the inspiration John.

I am so saddened by this news. I haven't visited this page recently and am deeply moved by his life's work, the community that spreads his mission and am honored to be a contributor. This work saves and changes lives. I am forever grateful. Rest easy, I plan to meet you on the other side.

Thank you for this beautiful tribune. I usually visit the GRM site more often, and I will again.
I watched the video and I was there at the 2016 International GRM Conference, skyping with Russel who was dying.
John and Russel are two great men.
John thank you for being so brave and starting the GRM during the times when "nobody" knew and understood about grief and loss.
You met with John Bowlby, who said you "were great." You did not "fool" Bowlby, because you ARE great!
John, I love you and your sense of humor, your vulnerability and honesty.
I thank you "for helping people, helping people that you have never met."
Goodbye John.
My condolences to Cole and your wonderful family.
From my heart to yours.

I'm sorry to hear John has passed on (for our sakes, but not for his! I believe he is living it up and blissing out in heaven!). He gave so much and left an amazing and powerful legacy, turning his own hurt and struggle into blessing for thousands and thousands or others. I am delighted to hear Cole is carrying on the work, he is a delightful kind and caring human (I did a training with him some years ago and he is delightful!!).
Love and warm condolences....
Nancy Gehm

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