My uncle and namesake, Jim Nesbitt, died suddenly Wednesday while grocery shopping in Sante Fe, New Mexico. He lived out his final years there making friends and making impressions on people that would last a lifetime. He was in his late 60s and had a multitude of health problems, so hearing that he had died was not a shock. But, coming to terms with the fact that someone who was so intimately familiar with my personal failures and triumphs is no longer around, is incredibly difficult to accept.
From the summer of 2010 to April last year, I lived in Beijing, China, working for an English-language newspaper. During that time, Jim and I would talk once or twice a year on Skype. After I moved back to the States, our conversations became a weekly affair. We’d talk basketball, politics, complain about relatives; they were always free-flowing conversations, but the common denominator in every chat was, at the end of every conversation, he’d tell me, “I love you and will talk to you soon.”
Jim and I in Santa Fe, N.M. in 2013.
My first memory of Jim is visiting him in Columbia, Maryland, with my family when I was around 8 or 9. We were watching a movie — Crocodile Dundee, I think — and I stepped out to use the restroom. Jim and his wife at the time, Marcia, had a stack of magazines near the toilet and while flipping through them I found a Playboy. I lost track of time, but apparently spent quite a while in the bathroom. When I returned to the living room, Jim asked me why I had been gone so long and said something like, “You found my Playboys, right?”
Jim loved women, and women loved him. He was the kind of guy who could steal your girlfriend, but charm you to the point where you’d still like him. On Thanksgiving Day in 2007, Jim got sick while on the way to Lexington, Kentucky, for a family get-together and nearly died. I went to visit him in the hospital and he looked horrible. He was pale, and the doctors had taken off his clothes so they could insert tubes and wires in his body.
I immediately began crying when I saw him. Jim, who couldn’t speak because a tube had been inserted in his trachea, pointed to an attractive nurse in the room, looked at me and then nodded his head.
In case I was having trouble understanding him, he pointed to the nurse again and made a humping motion. Here’s a guy on his deathbed, still thinking with his penis instead of his brain.
Relatives have told me that Jim could be incredibly difficult to deal with, and I believe it. He fought in Vietnam and according to my grandmother (his mom), he was never the same after the war. He struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, and only became sober after my father, his baby brother, died in 1989 at the age of 34. Jim was married several times, but never had any children.
Oftentimes, he would say I was like a son, which in reality was accurate. I only had 10 years with my dad; Jim and I got almost 37 years. He never criticized me, but was always honest when I asked for advice or how to handle a problem. According to friends and family, he always bragged about me and my accomplishments as a journalist.
To lose that kind of support is devastating; there is no replacing it. But I’m going to choose laughter and good memories over crying and being sad. Jim and I talked about death many times, and he always said that he didn’t want a typical funeral when he died. “Fuck that shit. I want to have a party,” he would say.
I’m glad his last moments were in public, because Jim loved to be around other people. I imagine him telling a joke to a stranger, checking out the woman in front of him or thinking about a friend in need.
Jim, who wasn’t into organized religion but was very spiritual, told me several times that if he ever saw my Dad again, the first thing he would do is punch him in the face. My father died of an abdominal aneurysm, but was an alcoholic and that addiction undoubtedly contributed to his death.
If there’s life after death, I have no doubt Jim already hit Dad in the face, and then helped him up and gave him a hug.