Last week’s offering was entitled “All Bright and Shiny” referencing, of course, this brand new year with which we have been gifted. It was an easy one to write. It was so much harder to post.
You see, I had drafted it earlier in the day. Actually, it had almost written itself. I knew my kids wouldn’t be coming in for our traditional New Year’s Day supper; I was missing the grands and thinking back on all we’d managed to survive and how long it had been (and how long would it be?) ‘til I could see my Bartlett bunch again. So the blog was written and read and re-read and edited and finally put on our website. All that was left was to link it to our Facebook page—which is what I was preparing to do when my cousin Claire called. They were busy in Bolivar and she was catching me up on some work stuff . . . then she mentioned that one of their employees, Jim Edwards, hadn’t been able to make it to work that day. They’d called to check on him when he was late and he assured them he was trying, but he was so exhausted he just couldn’t seem to get moving. A few hours later they called again, suggesting he try to see a doctor since he wasn’t feeling any better.
That evening they rang his phone, trying to check on him, but he didn’t answer. So one of them went to his house, which was just down the street from the funeral home, but no amount of banging brought him to the door. Concerned, they called the police and asked for a welfare check. As Claire and I were speaking I could hear the sound of the siren in the background. Jim’s house was just across the backyard from hers, so it was immediately obvious that the ambulance was pulling into his drive. She got off the phone, only to call back within just a few minutes.
Jim had died.
This was the knowledge I had when I set up the link on Facebook. This was the knowledge I had when I publicly encouraged the world—or at least those of you who read this blog—to make the most of your new year and to treasure every moment . . . because we have no guarantees.
But you know what I didn’t know? I didn’t know Jim had been a multi-sport athlete in high school, playing football, basketball, and baseball. And I sure didn’t know his teammates nicknamed him “Wiffle Bird”. Although he and I attended the same college, he was a year behind me and I never realized he was the catcher for UT Martin’s baseball team.
I knew he was absolutely devoted to his mother; he spent every available moment with her when he wasn’t working. As a matter of fact, he had just returned from visiting her the day before his death. But I didn’t know his family had given him the title of Master Griller because of his skill. And I didn’t know he enjoyed golfing and fishing or that he loved the Cardinals and the Vols—and Hershey’s chocolate. I didn’t know he had two nephews, one niece, and three grand-nephews he loved dearly. He made such an impact on their lives that his niece gave her son Jim’s middle name of William. She thought he’d be pleased since he’d never had children of his own . . . until he told her he’d never liked that name. But that was just Jim’s ever-present, dry sense of humor; he was really very honored, even if he didn’t readily admit it. I wasn’t aware of any of this because, despite the fact that Jim had worked with us for twenty plus years, he was in Bolivar and I was in Savannah, and our paths rarely ever crossed. When they did there was always a smile and a few words of greeting, but never enough time to visit.
Jim will be greatly missed in Bolivar and it saddens all of us to know that his wonderful 96 year old mother will now have to bury her son, something I’m sure she never thought would happen at this point in her life. I think of him dying alone and, like so many people have done in similar circumstances over the years, I hope there was no suffering—just a gentle release from this life as he moved into the next. As I ended last week’s post, I reminded all of you of the obvious—that we were within reach of a new year—“a brand new year, all bright and shiny and full of promise and opportunity.” And I encouraged you to “Use it wisely and treasure every moment of it. If 2020 taught us anything at all, it is that we have no guarantees where Life is concerned.” Jim’s untimely death just reinforced that lesson. Godspeed, Jim. And when we meet again, maybe you’ll tell me why your teammates thought “Wiffle Bird” was an appropriate nickname.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.