Friday, May 11, 2012
A few days ago I looked up James' great-grandfather, my grandfather and James' namesake, James Edward Sikes, Sr. I tried a google search just to see what would happen, and much to my surprise, he came up on something called findagrave, which is possibly the most morbid website ever. There he is along with my grandmother, who died exactly a year before James. Kara was pregnant with James when she died, and one of the last things I said to her before she died was that I told her I was going to name my son James, after her husband. She could no longer speak, but she squeezed my hand and met my eyes for a moment, pleased. She died the next morning. I like to think they were waiting for James when he died.
Even more interestingly, along with the findagrave link helpfully letting the entire universe know where he is buried there's his obituary, fresh from 2003. I wrote it. I remember when I wrote it. Like James, he got sick all at once and died shortly thereafter. I did not arrive in time to be with him, which I regret. My brother and I were his only grandchildren. I remember welcoming my grandmother back at his house in after he died, when she and my father came home from the hospital. She buried her face in my chest and cried, saying over and over again that "He loved you so much." I never doubted that. I do not know why writing the obituary or giving the eulogy fell on me but it did, so I did. I did the same for my grandmother, and sure enough, there's her obituary as written by me, right alongside his. Interestingly, findagrave also serves as an impromptu geneaology site. I can click on my great grandfather, Arnold Larkin, the exception to the James rule, all the way back to James Franklin Sikes, my great-great-great-great grandfather. Perhaps more disturbingly, someone has taken the time to go to Sikes (as a rule, one should not visit Sikes) and actually take pictures of these people's tombstones. Somehow, the obituaries follow back all the way until James Warren Sikes, Sr., my great-great-great grandfather who died in 1925. The florid language reeks of 1925, invoking the silent call of the "death angel" to Sikes, Louisiana.
You cannot follow findagrave all the way from my grandfather to his son James Edward, Jr. to James Matthew to James Camden. I suspect that my father and I are inconveniently alive, but the process will be resolved following my death when I join James in Denton. I did not write an obituary for James. I buried him in the poplar casket we picked out a few days before, the one most like a little boy and least like a baby. I did not want to bury a baby. It seemed demeaning. He was a person. James was already playing with the big boy toys, afterall. Google reveals an obituary, a boilerplate web posting by the funeral home we hired when he died that gets my name wrong and provides dates for the service with a play lock letter background, to make clear its for a baby I suppose. I am sure they asked if we wanted to write one. I am sure we declined. I do not remember. I do not remember much about the days after he died. When I wrote my grandparent's obituaries, the trouble was always with punctuation. The appropriate way to write survived by, etc., etc. Semicolons or commas? A host of nieces and nephew. I'm sure I used that phrase. What would I say about James, survived by three Uncles, no cousins, five great-grandparents, four grandparents, and two parents? Just as well I didn't bother.
The act of the obituary celebrates. It memorializes the life of the deceased, referencing the accomplishments and the family- the survivors- of the one who has passed. In James' cases of course no such memorial exists. James died without survivors except for his ancestors. He died without cousins, siblings, or anyone of his generation. I rather think that's not the idea of an obituary, From these old ones, they give a path as to what happened, rather than what did not. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews. There is no movement in the opposite direction.
Strange things like this pop up when you lose a child. The template fails you. I remember answering questions at the funeral home after he died. Education level? You actually just asked me if my eight month old son graduated high school? He did not. Yes, less than junior high. That sounds right. There's no place for it in the pantheon of grief, a fact reflected in all of the standard fare grief literature. Celebrate life, they say. How do you celebrate a life that never got off the ground? I wonder these things, and I wonder if I shouldn't have written James an actual obituary.
I wonder a lot of things. To me, an obituary provides a bit of finality to the community, who may open up their Sunday paper and watch their acquaintances go, one by one, with all the details of life conveniently congregated in one place. With James, its more personal. Sometimes it gives me comfort to think of James with his family, my grandparents and Kara's. Other times I just feel bitter, wondering if we aren't a few obituaries or a findagrave link short. Mostly of course, I just miss him, playing and slapping the dials on his toy, fascinated by the different sides of it. You miss all of the small things. The big picture is too uncertain to dwell upon.
Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.
Posted by Matthew Sikes at 9:58 AM