Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).
We lost a precious member of our family yesterday. My father-in-law, James Smith (“Jake”), passed away at seventy years old from pancreatic cancer. He fought a hard battle for two years and was just worn out. The void he has left is indescribable. We are all dealing with immense grief and unable to share it with each other due to the current quarantine. Several members of our family are elderly or immunocompromised, so it would be too dangerous for us to get together right now.
So, here in my space, I want to share a little bit about this man who was a beloved husband of fifty years to my mother-in-law, Nancy; father to my husband, Jamie, and his sister, Kathy; father-in-law to me and Kathy’s husband, Stephen; PaPaw to Chris, Tyler, Hannah, Ephraim, and Harmony; and brother, uncle, cousin, and friend to so many.
Jake was the oldest of six children raised on a tobacco farm in Greensboro, NC. My husband tells me that his grandparents (Jake’s mom and dad) didn’t even have indoor plumbing until my husband was 10 years old! It was a hard life with a lot of work involved, but it also meant a tightly knit family unit. Jake’s four brothers and one sister adored him and wanted to follow in his footsteps. Their children begged to play with Uncle Jake and even now are missing him terribly.
As soon as Jake could get a job, he did, working long hours on a farm and long hours in a labor-intensive job as well. And when he came home with a paycheck, he handed it right over to his mom and dad to help feed a family of eight. Even after he got married, he still helped out on the farm and with paying their bills.
He never stopped working. In fact, by the time I came into the family, he was struggling to even get a good night’s sleep because he was dreaming he was working in his sleep. He just couldn’t stop. By the time I met him, he had left the farm to move his wife and children to South Carolina (the only one in his family to leave the homestead) in order to work for Flowserve. He finally was able to retire in 2016.
One thing I will say about my father-in-law was that he loved me. He loved his whole family. And with that love, he always wanted to make sure that I was taken care of. When Jamie lost his job about six months into our marriage, Dad Smith immediately helped us move into their basement apartment. At the time, the apartment was still mostly just a basement, so there was only a half-bath, meaning we had to walk outside (come rain, snow, or sun), through the back gate, up around the side of the house, and in through the garage before going to the second story to take a shower. It was pretty rough for this non-morning person! The next thing I know, that man was at the hardware store buying lumber to build me a set of stairs that went right out our door and up into the back of the house. He did that for me. Those stairs are mine.
When we moved into our first house, he was our go-to handyman. He helped Jamie replace our flooring, hang cabinets, fix doors, etc. When we wanted to become foster parents, he built us a trundle bed to go under our son’s bed for any foster children we would have. When he and Mom Smith decided to get a playhouse for our kids, it wasn’t enough to just buy a simple playhouse. That man insisted on a cement foundation. Then he bought and remodeled a brand new shed. He installed new windows and a new door. It was the most elaborate shed I have ever seen! And Mom Smith, his partner in crime, was right there with him, painting that shed a pretty pink! (I wonder what the new owner is doing with that playhouse!) When he decided to let us have their old swingset, complete with a pirate’s lookout, tire swing, and slide, he spent a few days out in our backyard measuring and sawing, rigging contraptions–doing anything and everything to make it a swing set the kids would love. And they did. We were very sad when we couldn’t bring the swing set to our new house.
One of his most annoying, adorable habits was that he couldn’t just sit in comfortable silence. He felt the need to say something in the space. So, he would just say I love you over and over again. “I love you, girl.” Silence. “I love you, girl.” I once asked Jamie if he really meant it or just didn’t have anything else to say! But Jamie assured me it was genuine.
He was a very gentle man who loved his family in a very quiet way. I don’t believe I ever heard him raise his voice. He was extremely patient with my kids, especially when they wanted to be involved with whatever project he was working on. He was generous to a fault and worked an incredible amount of overtime just so he would never have to tell anyone in his family no.
I remember when he worked at Flowserve, which was just down the street from our old house, that he would often have items to give me that Mom Smith had purchased at the store. They were very generous to help supply diapers for our children when they were babies. I don’t believe there was a single time that I went down there to pick up the already-generous donations from them that he didn’t also give me a twenty dollar bill and tell me to take his grandbabies to lunch. He adored them.
One thing he was known for was his love of baseball caps. He was always wearing a cap. When our son was about three or four, he thought that any man in a baseball cap was PaPaw! So, he was often passing on baseball caps to my son to keep. He also instilled a love for golf in our son. Those two would sit on the couch and enjoy a game of golf on TV; they would play golf on the Wii; they enjoyed a couple of visits to TopGolf when it finally opened in our town; and they always made sure to get at least one round of putt-putt golf in at the beach.
With my girls, he was especially enamored. When his first granddaughter arrived, he was overjoyed. She has had him wrapped around her finger from day one! But when he had the chance at a second granddaughter, he was receiving a double blessing. He wanted to make sure they had whatever their hearts desired, and he worked hard to allow Mom Smith the freedom to buy them those things.
My husband was always quick to call his dad to ask his advice any time he set out to work on a project around the house. In fact, Dad Smith was quite upset when he became too ill to help us with some of the many projects we have going on in our new home. He helped as long as he could, giving Jamie advice on ways to repair things at a reasonable cost.
The last gift I received from him was a newly finished dining room table. My table had become scratched and stained from the children’s use. My in-laws generously allowed us to store a lot of our belongings at their house while we were in the process of searching for a new home. During that time, Dad Smith decided that he wanted me to have a nicer table. So, he took my table and six chairs out to the garage and spent weeks scrubbing, sanding, staining, and fixing that old dining room table and chairs. My mother-in-law recovered the seats for me. They were still working together after fifty years of marriage. I broke down today as I wiped it down after lunch with seven children. What love and care he poured into making that table like new. It’s a precious gift.
I do believe that my father-in-law is in Heaven today, but his faith was quiet and personal. He didn’t make any great displays about what he believed. He was a faithful family man and a good provider, and I know that he was clinging to His Savior in the end. Sometimes, he didn’t want to admit his weaknesses to his wife and daughter, but he would confide a little bit in me. His main concern was that he was a burden to them–something he never wanted to be. But he told me that God was going to heal him in one way or another, and he was holding onto that hope.
My precious father-in-law died yesterday, Monday, April 20, 2020, at 1:09 p.m. While the kids and I could not be there due to the current quarantine, my husband, his sister, her husband, their two sons, and my mother-in-law were able to be by his side as his slipped peacefully into the arms of Jesus from the comfort of his own home.
There is definitely a void that is left behind. The family is in deep mourning. Even as we sat outside tonight eating supper on our screened-in porch, my husband was talking about how we would need to replace the flooring in the porch–a project he would love to have done with his dad. The thought of rebuilding our home without his help is a hurt that goes beyond words. It’s just not the same.
But while we grieve for our time without him, we are also renewed with the blessed hope and promise that we will see him again some day in Heaven. And so, we mourn for now, but we rejoice in knowing that he is no longer in pain and that he is finally at peace.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8).