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.

Adopting Hudson

Last March we adopted Hudson, a three-month old red-heeler puppy.

The boys had been begging for a dog for years, as boys their age are prone to do. I knew in my heart that it might be a good addition for them to have a companion to play around with, an animal to care for, all kinds of life lessons and responsibilities would be learned, plus the joy of a pet.

But I also knew in my head that a puppy would be additional work and mess for us all (ahem, me!) and we’re gone so much of the time I worried would we have the time needed not to just care for a dog but to really love and spend time with him.

I mentioned in passing to a family at church that the boys wanted a dog and that I was researching different breeds that might fit in with our life — something low maintenance but fun, trainable but able to be on its own while we’re gone during the day.

A young man at church heard me and said his uncle had a litter of red and blue heeler puppies that he was giving away. I had never heard of a red heeler but when I looked it up it sounded like a possible fit.

We drove out to see the puppies and I assured the boys emphatically: We will NOT leave with a puppy today. We are going to see them, then we’ll talk about it and see what we think.

Of course we thought they were all so cute and adorable little fur balls. But I stuck with my guns and left without a dog.

A few days later I asked my parents (my dad knows dogs) to ride out there with us and give me their opinion on this breed and if these puppies in particular were a good choice for us. We will NOT leave with a dog today, I said.

Dad’s opinion was favorable, so armed with all of the research I’d done and the opinion of my dad, we selected our puppy and made arrangements to pick him up a few days later after we’d had the chance to buy all the things we’d need.

When we picked him up and got him in the car, he cried little sad whines, missing his puppy family I’m sure. But he quickly bonded with the boys and they (we) became his new family.

He’s been such a precious addition and all those things I thought he’d add, he did and more.

Missing MaMaw Miller

My MaMaw Miller died Nov. 7, 2010. I wanted to write about her — her life and her death — at that time, and I even looked through photo albums to find these photos to use. But I didn’t know what to say other than that I had loved her and she had died.

Sometimes it takes a while for death to catch up to you. I think it took this long for me to really start to miss her for who she was and thus for me to know what to say about her here.

Sometime before her death her only daughter, my aunt, notified the children and grandchildren that she needed to clean out a lot of my grandmother’s things. If there was anything in particular we wanted we should come get it. My grandmother was being moved from her two-bedroom, independent living apartment into the assisted living facility. There wouldn’t room for all of her things. I didn’t want to go through my grandmother’s things, like rummaging at a yard sale, while she sat in failing health in a room nearby. I felt “things” could wait until someone had actually died. But it wasn’t up to me and I’m sure my aunt felt she was doing the best thing in the circumstances given to her. Besides, I thought, I already have my grandmother’s china which is what she wanted me to have and what she had already given to me.

So I didn’t go. But my older sister went for us and collected a few pieces of MaMaw’s jewelry for us to have. I received a few broaches and pins, a cross necklace, a ring and a pair of earrings.

I kept the items in my jewelry box, in the same clear plastic bag in which they were given to me, until she died. To her funeral I wore her cross necklace.

MaMaw and me, age 9

She’s been gone more than a year now, and as happens when someone we love has died, I miss her. Also as happens, I realize that I didn’t visit her as much as I should’ve the last few years of her life, and I wish I had visited her more. Selfishly, I wished I’d spent more time with her so I could learn from her wisdom. Those who have lived long, full, hard lives have a lot of wisdom to impart to those of us who are just getting started or in the throws. She was married, raised children, widowed, went back to school as an adult and had a long, good career as a nurse. She lived — and by lived, I mean, she went and did and participated in life. She was always going on trips with my aunt or the senior center or various groups. She had photo albums full of her adventures. She made crafty things and taught us how to make crafty things too. She played dominoes and bingo at the senior center. She dressed up for Halloween as a California Raisin. She enjoyed living.

She didn’t put up with “crap.” There’s no better way of saying it than that. She didn’t tolerate disobedience or talking back or excuses. She’d put you in your place and keep you there, and that wasn’t a bad thing. It’s one of the things I now value most about her. She wasn’t afraid to tell you how she saw things. She sometimes said “well, sh*t” under her breath before telling you how she saw it. Most of the time she was right.

She made chicken fingers in the Fry Daddy and introduced me to frozen pizza with the square pepperoni. She took us to Dairy Queen and the occasional movie.

A few months ago I had the ring that was hers sized to fit me, and I wear it daily. Lately I’ve wondered, “What would MaMaw say about this?” After an under-her-breath “well, sh*t” I think I know, and it’s a comfort to me to imagine what she’d say. I can hear her voice. “Heather, you have got to …” and on she’d go. Her presence is ever with me in the memories I carry and the jewelry of hers that I am blessed to have received.

MaMaw with five of her great-grandsons; the two youngest are mine (2006)

Survivor’s Guilt

My grandmother is dying. There’s all kind of medical explanations but the bottom line is it’s just her time. Her body is worn out and is giving up the fight.

I’m going to miss her; I do already. Funny how you can miss someone who is right in front of you. She was there today in front of me, asleep in her hospital bed, and I missed her.

The drive to see her was about two hours through curvy mountain territory, and it was just gorgeous! The fall colors were starting to show through, the sun was shining gloriously, there was so much nature to be appreciated. The kids were at their Granny’s, so I had the luxury of quiet. The drive was just … so refreshing. However I soon felt bad for enjoying life — nature and freedom and beauty — while my grandmother couldn’t, while her life was slipping away. I’ve felt that way a lot since John died, that I’m doing something wrong if I laugh or do something fun. Survivor’s guilt, they call it.

But then I got to thinking: I wonder what my grandmother was doing when her grandmother died? She couldn’t have been driving through the mountainside like I did (no cars), but I imagine she was living her life, whatever that was at the time.

Death ends one life, not them all.


My co-worker and fellow blogger shared this article with me in which the columnist challenged people, in the new year and the new decade, to look at a few things through fresh eyes. The writer listed 52 suggestions, one for every week of the year. This week’s topic is Your Spouse.

The No. 1 thing I love about you — that I loved about you from the beginning — is your spontaneity. Before you, I had never before gone to a movie theater at the drop of hat and saw what ever movie was playing next. Do you know how unsettling that was to someone like me — someone with multiple calendars, lists and maps who plans put every minute detail — but also how awesomely freeing it was to experience and to experience it with you.

Your outlook is refreshing. “It’s all part of the experience.” I don’t remember the events or circumstances that caused you to say that the first time but how comforting this phrase has been to us many, many times. I would not have got there on my own and love you for bringing me there.

Your childlike zest for life is fun to watch and is contagious.

Your mind is brilliant with ideas, both on-the-job and for our family.

You have passion for the talents and interests God has blessed you with. While I may not understand all the technical parts of the great ideas you come up with, I see the lightbulb go off in your head and see the excitement on your face. I see your eyes dance with glee over an idea that just might work.

You don’t let what others say or think bother you or get you down, and that makes you strong, independent and an all-around great person.

You are able to calm me when I need calming and help me see a new and fresh perspective on the things that stress me out.

I love that when you met me you said, “I want to be with a girl like that,” and I hope I am still that same girl you wanted. I hope life’s stresses and hardships do not rob you (or me) of that person you saw.

I remember crying every time I left you at the airport and praying for God to help me get me through the four long (but actually short) days you’d be gone. Four days without you felt like an eternity.

You are so strong in times of adversity, but when our six-month-old son was having brain surgery you fell to your knees in the hospital and cried and prayed. That wasn’t weakness, that was the love of a father for his son.

You love our children and make life fun for them. You make countless passes in the living room when they want to play football with you and pitched thousands of baseballs trying to help Finn get ready for coach pitch.

You check Finn’s school work on Mondays to make sure he’s doing well in math.

Finding time for each other now is harder — life is so busy — but we try and will keep trying.

I love that you believe in me, more than I am even capable of believing in myself.

I often take you for granted and for that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that when you talked about someday walking across America I didn’t take you seriously. There is no one else I’d rather walk across America with than you.

For us, the Jerry Maguire line “You complete me” is all wrong. Our line is “You complement me.” Where I am weak, you are strong and thus make me stronger. I can plan the life out of a vacation and you can inject life back into it. When I stress out and you are able to make stress melt away.  You help me see things I don’t see on my own.

I love how my head fits in your shoulder and my hand fits in your always-warm hand. You are patient, and I love you for that too.

We are in this for the long haul. I still feel so new at this marriage thing, but wow, 11 years have passed. It’s been a roller coaster ride of school, job changes, moves and children, and now we are raising those children and have so much life together yet to enjoy.

I love you.

Thank you for choosing me. Thank you for marrying me. Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for loving me despite my faults.

Seaing the World

I know, I know. We came here for Disney and on our first full day we went to Sea World. But there was a method to our madness. Because we are staying at a Disney resort we are using Disney transportation and not renting a car. But, we needed to go to a grocery store early in the trip to get drinks, snacks, etc. So, we rented a car for one day (using the Alamo/Disney car care center) to go to a grocery store and do something non-Disney. With Sea World’s Hero Salute military families get in free, so Sea World was the obvious choice.

A few highlights: The dolphin show was the best (even better than Shamu, in my opinion). I videotaped parts of the dolphin show and Shamu show with the iPhone. Very cool to have quick video recording at my fingertips!

Finn and I rode Journey to Atlantis, basically a log plume ride with a spooky plot (at one point we were in a dark spot clicking up to the top of the hill before the big drop and Finn points up and says “green eyes”).

The park had a special Halloween themed section with trick-or-treat stands and workers in costumes.

And finally the iPhone took great underwater/ fish photos!!

The Magical World of Disney

Schools here are on Fall Break next week, and we’ll be taking our family vacation for the year to Disney World!! We actually went to Disney World last year too, right before Spring Break for a three-day weekend, but on this trip we’ll be vacationing for 8 days!

We’re flying down because we still don’t think the boys are able to handle a 10-12 hour car ride. (Or rather, we don’t want to have to handle a 10-12 hour car ride with them. They can’t even get along from here to Target!)

This kinda feels like an anniversary trip to me — the 25th anniversary of the first time I went to Disney World.

Minnie & Me

Minnie & Me, 1984

The story goes that there were a crowd of kids and families around Minnie Mouse, but I broke through and grabbed her in a big hug (the big hug you see here).

I was quite a cutie at age 4!

I was quite a cutie at age 4!

My sister would die if she knew I was posting old photos with her in it, but that’s what little sisters do right? Besides, my mom and I agreed that I look cute here.

small world

It's A Small World

I look cute here too. ;)

This photo is actually from my second trip t0 Disney World — I was 9. I include it only because my mom and I had a big laugh while digging through the old family photos at what a cute picture this might have been if whoever took the photo had, say, centered it up with more of me and Mickey and less wall and ceiling. The photographer was probably my sister, because that’s what big sisters do, right?