20-year-old Cleveland man dies after asthma attack; family is one of many postponing a celebration of life because of the pandemic

Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A young Cleveland man’s family says he died a few weeks ago after suffering a severe asthma attack.

James Jackson’s mother says the emergency itself had nothing to do with COVID, but the pandemic has certainly lead to tough decisions for her.

Except for a small goodbye at a local funeral home, she is postponing an official celebration of life for the safety of his loved ones.

His family and friends don’t plan to gather all together until at least a year after his death.

They’re hoping by then the COVID situation will allow them to include everyone.

“The people who didn’t get to come say goodbye to him,” his mother, Julie Smith said.

Smith is understandably heartbroken over the sudden loss of her 20-year-old son.

She says Jackson was in school to be a car mechanic, but had taken the Labor Day weekend off to spend time with his sister.

They’d just returned from a trip to Niagara Falls, when Jackson’s asthma flared up worse than ever before.

“He collapsed on the stairs, and she dragged him down to the lawn and he wasn’t breathing,” Smith said.

She says Jackson’s sister did CPR until paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

He was there for a few weeks, but his mom says he just wasn’t improving.

“He just lost too much oxygen,” she said. “He had a massive amount of brain damage.”

His mother not only had to struggle with the decision of when to pull the plug at the end of September, but she knew people wouldn’t get a proper goodbye when she did.

“I knew we weren’t going to have an open to everyone funeral,” she said.

In the days after Jackson passed, Smith says she put together a small gathering at a local funeral home only for his closest friends and family.

Those who couldn’t attend made a Facebook page to share memories and grieve together virtually-- something they still plan to do in person someday, but likely not until at least next year.

“I couldn’t see putting people at risk,” she said.

19 Investigates discovered that’s certainly a shared sentiment around the nation.

“I don’t think it would do him any service if all of his friends and family got sick,” Smith said.

According to a 2020 report by the National Funeral Director’s Association, at least 50 percent of families postponed a loved one’s service so far this year.

It’s something Governor DeWine has encouraged for months.

“These lives are valuable. These lives matter,” he said while addressing the topic of weddings and funerals, in a press conference last week.

The virtual remembrance in Jackson’s case is becoming extremely meaningful right now, as his loved ones have raised more than a $3,400 donation to the asthma and allergy foundation in Jackson’s name.

Jackson was cremated, and his mother says she’s still waiting to receive his ashes.

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