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November 11, 2009 > In Memoriam: James William May

In Memoriam: James William May

August 4, 1950 - November 4, 2000

In November 2000, exactly three months after Dad's 50th birthday, my step-mother Elaine (Dad's third wife) telephoned unexpectedly and broke the news he had died that day in a car accident on Highway 99 en route to visit my brother at Chico State. It is the ninth anniversary of his passing.

That evening, I assumed responsibility for gathering family members to offer support to Elaine who shared our grief. Even my dear Mom (Dad's first wife) accompanied us that night to offer Elaine her love and support. Cards, phone calls, letters of sympathy and condolence, flowers and plush mementoes were received. I was touched and moved by the great kindness shown by so many people whom I barely knew.

The family seemed to wait an eternity for the autopsy and accident reports. We finally learned the accident was caused by the other driver veering over the center line in her pick-up truck. Dad was killed instantly in the head-on collision.

The driver, Bianca, was a 21-year old girl who had shown no signs of remorse for what had happened. I was angry and insisted on attending every court hearing to follow the trial and hear sentence passed down to her. It was an exhausting process, driving many hours to and from Yuba City. No other family members accompanied me. It was a journey I made alone.

There were moments of levity as we mourned our loss; my father would have appreciated them. On one trip, I had collected a new lavatory for my business and placed it on the rear seat of the car. On entering my hotel room, I fell asleep and was awoken by a knock on the door. Hotel staff informed me I had not turned off my vehicle - engine running, lights on, keys locked inside - and I had a latrine on the back seat! I could just imagine Dad laughing heartily at the irony of such a thing.

He had not wanted a 50th birthday party. We threw one anyway, in the form of his memorial service which was a humorous affair. He would have enjoyed it. Mom was one of the first speakers, referring to herself as Dad's first wife. Kathy, his second wife, described him as the love of her life. My uncle continued the theme and introduced himself as "Jim's third wife." The crowd shed tears of laughter.

Then it was my turn. I could not match the humor of the speakers before me. Until that moment, I had only managed to point out the irony of my flirtatious Dad meeting his demise at the hands of a young, 21-year old girl. When I rose to speak, reality struck. I missed him terribly, was heart-broken and distraught. Weeks of stoicism for my family's sake caught up with me finally... I sobbed uncontrollably before those who had come to pay their last respects and celebrate his life.

More than a year later, the judge sentenced Bianca to 30 days' imprisonment. Her mother was present. After sentencing, I followed them out of the court room. Her defense attorney knew who I was and tensed when I approached them.

The lawyer then relaxed. I identified myself as I walked towards Bianca and she began to cry. I reached out, embraced and comforted her. I wept, too, and told her everything happens for a reason.

She apologized repeatedly as her mother, tears streaming down her own face, witnessed our exchange. Her mother and I embraced.

The anger I had felt, when Elaine called that fateful night, had dissipated after more than 12 months. The experience had been draining and prompted a re-evaluation of my framework of experiences, beliefs, hopes and aspirations. The only thing left for me to do, that I felt capable of doing, was assure Bianca and her mother everything would be all right.

We shall cherish our father's memory.

Anna Laveria May

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