This is grief: Your 11-year-old boy, your baby boy, is dead. You cannot find a suit that fits him, because he died too young and too short to fit into a nice funeral suit.
This is reality: Judah Benjamin Evans Smith died of epidural hematoma, of massive internal bleeding caused from a blunt blow to the head. He died Saturday evening, but was really dead before that, on life support, after two brain surgeries.
This is what you said to the boy’s father when he got off the plane from Aberdeen, Miss.: “Joe, we’ve lost our son. They have him on life support, and I told them to leave him on it until you got here.”
The details are still unclear, but this is what is known: While running, Judah apparently fell and hit his head on the bench-style seat attached to a cafeteria table at Dimitt Middle School Thursday afternoon.
Judah slipped on spilled milk, his parents say.
After the fall, he told a friend he was “OK” and walked on his own to the school office, where a health room aide applied ice, checked vital signs and called the boy’s mother, district officials said.
Later that night, Judah went to the bathroom and collapsed. He was admitted to Seattle’s HarborviewMedicalCenter at 2:54 a.m. Friday, undergoing two operations to lessen the blood clotting in his brain.
He died at 5:17 p.m. Saturday.
Now it is a rainy Monday night, and Judah’s mother, Laura Evans, is in the bedroom of her Renton apartment, trying to celebrate her son’s life, rather than dwelling on his death.
There are pictures of Judah to look at. Baby pictures, school pictures, a picture of Judah beaming behind his project on dolphins.
The project is sitting in the hallway, with its true-to-life drawings and all the dolphin facts, the one Judah did so well on in school that his mother bought him a Pokemon set, the most expensive one they had, with all the cards, $179.99 before tax.
The family – Laura Evans, Judah and his 15-year-old brother, Andre – moved to this apartment two months ago from Tacoma. The walls are still bare.
But the photos are unpacked, and on this night Laura Evans sits in her bedroom looking at them, and can hear Judah’s father, Joe Smith, telling visitors about their son.
“I feel myself waking up in the middle of the night shedding tears,” Smith says, fighting them back again. “I don’t dream. I go to sleep with Judah on my mind, and I wake up with him on my mind. I miss him.
“Sure do,” then lower, “sure do.”
“He wanted to be a minister,” says Judah’s aunt, Leah Evans. “His strongest love was God.”
And on the coffee table is a poem Judah wrote, about judgment and forgiveness. “He hated badness,” Leah says, her voice flat from saying this over and over to visitors. “He wanted everything good, he wanted everyone to get along.
“One mother came by tonight – she brought food, everyone has been so nice bringing food by – and she said that her daughter just started school at Dimitt, and no one would talk to her, but that Judah came over and gave her a tour of the school and took her around.”
Judah started playing soccer at his new school. He loved his Nintendo 64, his computer.
When he would visit his father in Mississippi, he would shoot hoops on a basket that his father bought for him.
Smith says all this, constantly correcting himself from using the present tense, looking apologetic when he corrects himself.
“I can’t believe it happened,” Smith says again. “That my son, who I saw six weeks ago, slipped on some milk and fell and was here laying there dead, with tubes sticking out of him.”
There are friends calling, neighbors stopping by.
A Dimmit secretary, Marilyn Terry, spearheaded community efforts after she realized that most family members did not live in the area. Terry made meals, helped pick up family members at the airport, brought groceries and offered other assistance to the family.
It is all appreciated, and there will be a memorial service for Judah tomorrow at 2 p.m., in Kingdom Hall, 805 North State Street in
Tacoma. A memorial fund, the Judah Smith Memorial Fund, has been set up in care of Transportation Northwest Credit Union, P.O. Box 80847, Seattle, WA98108.
From inside the bedroom Leah Evans hears Smith tell somone “I lost my only son,” then lower, “my only son.”
-Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Oct. 12, 1999