Dear Uncle Jim,
I woke up at 5:00 am and I could not stop thinking of you. Today is the first morning that you have not been here with us. Just 24 hours ago, I was up north sleeping in Uncle Jeff's cabin. Kiona was sleeping around the corner and Jackie was sleeping in the next room. We all must have woken up suddenly before the sun, because as I was lying there in bed I heard the sweet sobs of my dear sister Kiona. Cousin Jackie and I (both already awake and lying in the dark) got up and went to Kiona's bed. Together we cried, remembered and paid tribute to you, our dear Uncle Jim. You were just down the dirt road in another cabin and you were dying. We expressed our love for you, our amazement in how you were larger than life, how you were LOUDER than life and how you had the most incredible gift to be able to make us feel like we were the most special person in the whole wide world. We talked about how you were all about 2 things... love and family. Even though our family has had many ups and downs it is undeniable the impact that you have had on creating many of our family bonds. And being "Up North" is never going to be quite the same without you.
Together on that bed Kiona, Jackie and I laughed and talked and honored you as we looked through the trees, over the lake and watched the sky turn from black to pink in the most stunning sunrise. We hoped that you were seeing the same thing. Because you were up north- right where you wanted to be. In the place that everyone in my family calls home. On that sacred ground my grandpa bought many years ago, where four generations have spent every summer swimming in the lake, collecting blueberries, and watching the sunrise. As you were in your hospital bed in Chicago, all you wanted was to be up north. And now you were finally there and it was so lovely.
Together we smiled and laughed about how you were dying in the most Uncle Jim way possible. Who else throws a giant party on their death bed? I guess that was your final gift to us. To bring us together and celebrate the passing of this life and create one more memory for each of us to cherish.
After the sun rose, I reflected on the day before. On the absolute gift that I had had the day before to hold your hand and tell you the impact you have had on my life. And since I am not the best at words, I gave you the only gift that I had to offer, the sound of my voice. You have always loved to hear me sing. I remember years ago when I rode on the back of your motorcycle and my mom rode on the back of George's. We spent three days riding together through the magnificence of the south, surrounded by water, magnolia trees and spanish moss. I spent three days with my arms wrapped around your waste stopping along the way for adventures here and there. One evening we were staying in an old plantation home with one of your good buddies. We finished up dinner and were chatting around the table when you said (as you often did), " Tessie, Sing for us!" And so I sang as I have done many times before. I sang "Summertime" and it echoed through the walls of that grand place. And you had such a smile on your face as I sang and I remember being so happy that I had brought a little added joy that night. Well now Uncle Jim I was standing by your side and I was wanting so badly to bring a little joy and so I did what I do best... I sang. "Be still my soul, the Lord is by thy side...." And I sang. And I sang. I continued to sing and to sing while I held your left hand, Mitta held your right and my mama Judy rubbed your head. And we felt peace. We felt your soul lighten, we saw smiles spread weakly across your face and we felt the peace and the love that flowed from that room. What a gift to be able to sing to you one last time. Uncle Jim, you have always been so good to me and to my family. You have given me so many gifts over the years that I felt like I could never repay, but I hope in some small way I was able to give a little something back through song. I hope that a small sliver of peace and comfort came as you were lying there in the place you loved the most on earth.
I love you Uncle Jim. I will always love you. Thank you for the gift of your life. Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the stories. Thank you for the wet sloppy kisses, for the tap dances, for the crazy stories and for the overflowing love that came from you. I think Jimmy said it best, "Dad is 240. He has lived enough for 3 lives." So true. So true.
May peace be with you till we meet again. You went through life singing and I have hope that some day I will be able to sing to you again.