Tommie Harris walks the shores of his own river of grief every day.
Even after a year and a half, Harris is reluctant to speak about the death of his wife, Ashley. But rather than jump in and be swept away by his sadness, Harris prefers to admire the water break against her memory.
“Anytime you’re dealing with grief, it’s not something you just get over with,” Harris said. “I’ve heard of it as (grief) is always a river you can jump in, and it’s one of those things that I’d rather walk on the side of it and admire it.”
Ashley Harris died Feb. 12, 2012, after suffering a suspected brain aneurysm or stroke two days earlier while on vacation in Oklahoma. She was 29. The couple was married just two months, tying the knot on New Year’s Day, about two months after the birth of their second child, Tinsley.
“I remember her every day, I live my life for her every day through our kids, and I just believe in God and trust God that he’ll never put more than I can bear,” said Harris, a former Ellison all-state defensive tackle and 2012 Texas High School Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“That’s it, end of discussion. I don’t try to let it go any farther than that. My faith is the only thing that makes sense to me, not logic, and that’s one of the things that I really believe in.”
Harris opened up, albeit briefly, after participating in the fourth annual Hometown Pros Centex Football Combine last weekend at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Harris is one of the camp’s founders, along with former Shoemaker and current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller, former Harker Heights standout Dominique Zeigler and ex-Killeen star Juaquin Iglesias, who is currently playing with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
“Tommie’s one of the strongest people I know. I say it and I talk about it, but people don’t understand how intelligent and resilient he is,” Miller said. “He’s one of those people that figured out a long time ago to be OK with himself and from that point he’s learned so much about himself and he’s been able to be a man of faith.”
Harris, 30, is still an NFL free agent after spending the first nine years of his career with the Chicago Bears. But after spending the 2011 season with both the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers, Harris took last season off following Ashley’s passing.
“I don’t know how to feel sorry for myself,” Harris said after being inducted in May 2012. “I feel like everything that happens in my life is going to make me stronger. So, I guess I don’t have an option. I will never quit.”
Not with young 4-year-old Tyson and 1½-year-old Tinsley still to take care of.
Harris is giving himself one more NFL season to get back into the game.
“I’ve got a couple offers on the table. With the loss of my wife last year, I really wasn’t interested and then when I was interested, the offers weren’t interesting,” he said recently. “So right now I’m going to give it one more year and see how things play out. If not, them I’m finished and I’ll get ready to start business.”
But given his responsibilities to his children and the many charitable endeavors he’s involved in, Harris isn’t in any hurry to jump at the first offer to come along.
Along with Hometown Pros, Harris has his own charity, Pros for Africa, where he and other professional athletes travel to Africa to visit and help children in need.
It was a cause his wife, Ashley, believed in and one that Harris has continued in her honor. This past spring, Harris announced he was working to build a school in the Sudan for children terrorized by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, calling it “The Ashley Harris Sunshine School.”
“Everything, unfortunately, happens for a reason and he’s making the best out of it, he’s going out there and turning a negative situation (into a positive) and helping out so many others,” Miller said of Harris. “He has that power, man, to reach out to other guys, and put something in and then pull something out of them that they never knew they had.”