Reflections on Losing a Man I Never Really Knew


john and winston t john and winston t b

I received an email today that the man whom I called my father-in-law passed away. He died April 23, 2015. More on why I’m just now finding out in a minute.

Winston T. Smith Jr., age 80 of Murfreesboro, Tenn., passed away on April 23, 2015. Funeral services were held on Sunday, April 26, 2015 from the Williams Cove Holiness Church. Interment followed in the Trenton Cemetery. Bro. Pat Coffee and Bro. Wayne Williams officiated.

Mr. Smith is survived by his daughter, Sandra Darley; sons, Tim Smith and Wendell Smith; eight grandchildren; ten great grandchildren; sister, Earline Allison. Mr. Smith was preceded in death by his son, John G. Smith; sisters, Emily St. Clair, Eloise Pogue and Willie H. Smith.

I’m glad that John was included as his son, preceding him in death, and that my sons are included in the “eight grandchildren.”

See, that side of the family — the “Smith” side — doesn’t really stay in touch with me, so I wondered when their father died if I’d know and how I’d find out. The email telling me was sent by a cousin of John’s, who stays in touch with me about a tract of family land that belongs to John but is cared for by this relative.

I hadn’t seen him in many years. He didn’t come to our wedding, but he came to John’s college graduation. We saw him about once a year from 2003 til about 2007. When John died five years ago I was told that his father was not well enough to receive the news about John’s death, that he was in an assisted living home with dementia.

I have mixed feelings about his passing. It’s one of those times that I wish John were here to tell me how he feels about it and tell me how I should feel, what I should do, if anything. Should I send a card to his siblings? I had to break the news to John’s mother today, and that was sad. I wish he were here to do that.

The reality is though that both John and his dad professed to believe in Jesus, so what that means, to me, is that John knew of his dad’s passing way before I did and that they’re together now, without the tension and problems that were part of their relationship here on Earth. I’ve never doubted John’s salvation, but I know John was troubled about making sure his dad believed and would be in heaven. I hope with all my heart that his profession was sincere.

John and his dad weren’t that close. Their history was hard. His parents split when he was young, and he spent summers and the occasional weekend with his dad. He had funny stories about fishing and country living. His dad lived in the sticks. He was a farmer and a truck driver.

I remember John telling me how hard his dad was on him to succeed and do well in life and to make money, and how he never felt he could live up to his dad’s expectations. When his dad gave him a hard time over and over again about not playing well at baseball, John quit the sport and didn’t play any more. The grief from his dad wasn’t worth it.

His dad was the one who encouraged him to study engineering and gave him money for a computer and other college costs. He pushed him into engineering because it would make good money. Turns out it was a good fit for John; he had a brilliant engineering mind.

My boys have lost a granddad they didn’t know they had. They’ve heard me refer to their dad’s dad and they’ve heard a story or two about when they were babies and we took them out to his trailer in the country. His dad didn’t keep his trailer very clean, and once the boys got mobile it was difficult to keep them from getting into the snuff cans and popcorn kernels that were scattered around.

One time John picked his dad up and brought him to our home to visit with us and we took him out to eat at Ryan’s. I remember that John called him the day before to tell him to be ready, but when John got there he hadn’t remembered and wasn’t ready. John helped him get cleaned up so he could bring him to our home. That’s the last time I saw him, I’m pretty sure. John saw him a few times after that, but we never went back as a family.

John was the only child of his mother and his father, but his father had three children from his first marriage, significantly older than John. Old enough that some of their children were John’s same age. He was never close to those siblings either. When John died, all of his siblings came to his funeral and expressed sympathies. I thought that was kind of them.

It feels strange to me to bear the last name of a family of which I’m not really integrated into, and for my sons to pass on that name and line and not know their relatives of the same last name.

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