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5.20.2010

Grief

I've attended my fair share of funerals. In fact I've been to far more funerals than weddings. But my uncle's funeral was by far the hardest.

For my whole life my uncle lived with my mom and I. Now, as I've mentioned before, my mother is the youngest of 14 children. 7 boys, 7 girls. So, I've got lots of relatives. But this uncle was always there. My whole life, this uncle was there. And now that he's gone, I realize how much his mere existence was ingrained in my heart.

I remember being younger and frustrated with my friends who acted like it was a big deal. "I don't know. He just does..." I would say when they would ask why. I didn't need to know why. That was my uncle. He slept in the room down the hall (then in the room across the hall when we moved, and then in the basement apartment when we moved again). That was all. He was there when a drunk man broke into our basement. He was there when my mom and I would fight. He was just there.

My uncle was a part of a lot of firsts for me. He gave me my first job -- $5/week to clean his room. He sold my first car to my mom -- a Chevrolet Corsica that drowned less than a year later. He let me drive his Cadillac. He was the first person I ever picked up from the hospital.

I loved telling people that my uncle was part owner of one of the best known cab companies in the city. I was proud of him.

I cried when my mom called to tell me he died. At first, I cried from the shock. By the next day, I was crying from fear. In fact, I spent a good portion of the next day sleeping so that I wouldn't cry. What was I afraid of? How the loss would effect my mother. See, as an only child of a single parent, I feel major responsibility with regards to my mother's safety. And while my 72 year old uncle couldn't have necessarily stopped an intruder (though, my uncle was a G, so I'm not saying he couldn't have) it was comforting to know he was there. His loss highlighted for me how much I took that comfort for granted.

By the time I got home on the third day, I had quit crying publicly. I didn't want my mom to see me breaking down and in fact, the one time I did cry (which was mostly about my uncle but sparked because of something else) she begged me to stop because she couldn't handle it.

The fifth day was his funeral. I made it all the way until my mother and I reached his casket and then all bets were off. I cried through the whole thing. I just couldn't believe he was gone. I kept looking at the casket through the tears and thinking "he can't be in there... he just can't..." and as they lowered him into the ground, all I could think was "I can't believe my uncle is in that thing..." Even now, I imagine him in that coffin and I get emotional. It was hard.

My uncle and I didn't go fishing together. We didn't sit up late and have deep conversations. In fact, my uncle was a man of very few words, but he was always there. I loved him and he loved me. He was a generous man, always wanting to help his family and I get that same trait from him. We are both loyal and helpful to a fault.

In the days since his funeral, I've cried for a myriad of reasons. Like when my Godmother, his ex-girlfriend, told me, "well, he did what he promised his mother he would do." I asked her what she was talking about and she explained, "he promised your grandmother he would take care of your mother and he did..."

I cried when I thought about what if he suffered. What if he woke up in the middle of the night and knew he was dying but couldn't cry out?

I cry now -- just because I feel a little bit more empty. I can't explain how a man with whom I have no pictures, no awesome one-on-one stories with has died and effected me so. All I can say is he was my uncle and he was a great man and I feel different now than I did a week and a half ago.

But I do think about one summer when I was home from college and he got sick. He had the flu. My uncle was a worker -- the only reason he didn't wake up and go to work was because he was sick so for him to be in the bed, it was major. I stuck around the house during the day, though no one asked me to, to make sure he was ok. I wouldn't leave unless my mom was at home. I don't know that anyone, including him, realized I did that -- but he was my uncle and I loved him.

Shortly after Easter weekend he had to have heart surgery. I saw him every day before the surgery. I was so scared the surgery would kill him. Ironic that, in fact, it may have contributed to his death. But I called all the time and asked about him. My mom assured and reassured me that he was fine, he was getting stronger and he was getting better. Just a few days before he died, I was told he was gearing up to go back to work.

I still cry when I think about what his death will mean to my family. One of my aunts asked me if I thought we would get back to normal. I told her not for a long, long time.

I broke down the morning I had to fly back. My mom apologized for not having made sure I was ok through it all. "You've been so strong for me and it hasn't gone unnoticed," she said. And as I wept into her shoulder she added, "I know you loved him."

I miss him. I can't explain it, but I do. I loved him and I feel like a piece of me went in the ground with him. My heart aches and I think it always will. This world lost a great man on May 11, 2010. I don't say that because he was my uncle, I say it because it's true.

James S. Smith - you are missed. So much.
James Smith

James S. Smith, 72, of Chattanooga, passed away Tuesday, May 11, 2010, at his residence.

He was a veteran of the United States Army. He retired from U.S. Pipe & Foundry and was owner of Mercury Cab as well as an airport shuttle driver.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Eddie and Alberdia Smith; sisters, Rosetta Smith and Bessie Smith Eatman; brothers, Roosevelt Smith and Olice Smith.

Survivors: son, James B. Smith; daughter, Jacqueline Smith Gunn; granddaughter, Chelsea Gunn; daughter, Sonya Wyche; sons, Darius and Loranzo Clark, all of Chattanooga; brothers, George (Barbara) Smith, Norman Smith, JC (Cynthia) Smith and Robert (Geneva) Smith; sisters, Alberdia Smith, Katie May Halfacre, Mary Smith, Viola Mayo and Sarah (Robert) Gilchrist; a host of other relatives and friends.

6 comments:

CurvyGurl ♥ said...

Ashley, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I've been there so I know the myriad of emotions and how long it takes to really process the absence of someone so close. Though words are of little comfort, may you find peace in the loving memories.

jjbrock said...

A.Smith, I'm truly sorry for your loss..."I loved him and he loved me" That's beautiful!!

CareyCarey said...

"But this uncle was always there. How the loss would effect my mother"

To know someone is "there" is priceless. I surely understand.

A.Smith said...

Thanks guys. I appreciate the condolences.

Solomon said...

Your uncle James sounds like a wonderful man. You have my condolences also

A.Smith said...

Thank you Solomon. He really, really was.

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