On the Death of My Brother, Terry Jenkins

What does one say to the bereaved? I know what not to say. I know because I was told this myself just yesterday, the day after my eldest brother, Terry Jenkins, died. I was traveling many hundreds of miles from my Michigan home and had not thought to bring funeral attire with me. When the call came, I knew I would need to do a little shopping. I found a recommended store and quickly found black slacks and two appropriate tops. I approached the check out line.“How are you doing today?” asked the young cashier.

A usual question. I am not good at dodging such questions and so I answered truthfully. “Not too well. My brother died last night.” The cashier’s face turned blank and she began processing my purchases. My eyes teared up. The cashier pushed buttons and crammed my nice clothes into a bag. I paid. Her parting words were, “Have a good one.” Dazed, I shuffled out.

“Have a good one.” Part of me wanted to go back and give that girl some much-needed, motherly guidance on common courtesy, manners, or humanity. She was clearly not raised properly. “Have a good one.” Indeed.

My brother died in western New York State. I chose to take the back roads all the way across the state to Buffalo, where I would pick up my husband, rerouted from a business trip. As I drove, I thought of Terry. He died Monday, June 5, 2017, just one day after his 70th birthday. He died peacefully in his home surrounded by his beloved wife and children, as was his desire. Terry was a passionate man whose heart embraced people. He will be remembered for his wild stories, his jokes, and yet also for his sincerity and integrity. Did I mention his wild stories?

Such adventures he had in his youth! Our mother used to worriedly wait up for him as he drag raced down country roads, returning in the wee hours. He graduated from Southwestern Central High School, but academics were not his thing. Terry was bright, but he excelled in physical intelligence. He had an inborn sense for motors and speed, making racing a dance of choreographic precision. A gear stick was the extension of his brain, arm, and hand. Under his urging, a backhoe could dig a ditch or a hole with inch precision. Terry was the owner of Jenkins Plumbing, plumbing being the trade he learned from his father and that he, in turn, passed down to his sons. Terry was a great teacher of practical skills, always finding a way to do things right. His grandchildren’s earliest memories will include a ride on Grandpa’s backhoe or, in later years, the golf cart. I appreciated the way he shared his knowledge with me over the phone, who, living several states away, sometimes needed a furnace, drain, or tap consultant. With Terry, you could count on more than what he knew. As vast as his knowledge was, you also had his honesty, his integrity, his kindness.

The fact that he served his community as a lifelong member of the Lakewood Fire Department is very ironic; as a boy and teen, Terry would faint even at the sight of a needle. Yet, he overcame this squeamishness and went on to help rescue people from accidents and fires. He encouraged people to live and hang on for professional help. Toward the end of life, he would have daily meetings with self-administered needles, a necessity for which he did not bat an eye.

My brother was loved. Despite his sometimes raw humor, you couldn’t not like Terry. In the end, his heart got him, that ticker that beat too weakly and that caused countless trips to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. How loudly he sang the praises of the good nurses and doctors there. He thanked them by telling them his best jokes.

I haven’t yet mentioned the love of his life, Carol. When awards are handed out for best wife, most patient partner, most long-suffering listener, and most faithful encourager, she will win every trophy. He blessed the day they met. Christopher, Terry, Tina, and Todd are grown now and they drive their own vehicles (additionally, Tina self-propels her racing bicycle) but they also carry on the traits of kindness and integrity modeled in their home. I trust they are passing on that heritage to the grandkids.

Our father (Eugene) died in 2010 and our mother (Mariam) died just last year. Terry was a good son. He and Carol cared for mom in her widowhood; mowing the yard, phoning daily, searching for Chester (the runaway cat), and keeping watch on her safety from across the pond to her house.

Carol and the kids are welcoming friends to the funeral home tomorrow night (Thursday). I trust there will be some stories, some laughter, some jokes, some tears. My sibs and I will be there (Jeff, Gena, Julie, Christine, and Jill) with our own stories to tell.

One story I hold dear is how peacefully he met his death. After years of suffering pain, Terry was ready. He made his peace with God and reports that God’s peace actually flooded his soul. He said his good-byes. He hugged his kids and siblings and friends. He thanked the hospice team. And then, he slipped away.

Terry has gone to be with the God he cried out to for help, courage, forgiveness, and grace. He has entered that place where there is no more suffering, or sighing, or crying anymore, for God is there in the midst of his people. In that place, Terry is walking tall.

And so, dear brother, have a good one. Eternity, that is. We will catch up some day.

Beth Ernest

Jeff, Beth, Terry, and Gena Jenkins, 1956

14 thoughts on “On the Death of My Brother, Terry Jenkins

  1. Beautifully written, Beth. I’m praying for you all as you grieve such a wonderful brother.

  2. Wonderful words for a great cousin, Beth. He, his visits to my mom and his humor will be missed,

  3. Yes Beth, It this is a wonderful tribute to your brother.

    I think the words my father wrote are fitting also:

    Carried by the Angels to the Fathers House Above,
    Where He’s Waiting With Open Arms of Love,
    To Welcome a Child From earth Below,
    To His Heavenly City of Pure Gold.
    (written by Hosea Humphrey)

  4. Beth, I feel as though I know Terry through your words. You honor him well. Seems all who knew him were blessed. May God comfort all of you as you gather to remember, grieve, tell stories, and I hope share laughter.

  5. You’ve always been an articulate thinker- pastor—friend, sister. This has the loving tender touch of familiarity and respect of a sister- and i know that you will read these words many times in years to come; they will comfort you again and again, Recognizing the “intellect” is expressed in many different ways is a fine insight- and his kindness and depth of character seems to run in the family, Beth Jenkins Ernest.

  6. Beth, my sincere condolences on the death of your brother. My faithful and beautiful husband of 45 years went to be with the Lord just 2 months ago and I too, have had some bizarre and ill-thought-out comments… and mainly it’s because people are stuck and don’t know what to say, so they say … stupid things. How blessed you are to have had such a brother… this is beautifully written… thank you .

  7. Such a beautiful tribute to your brother. This post makes me think of how everyone leaves a legacy behind and it is such a tribute to the God who made us that he even allows us to do so. Praise God for the blessed life of your brother. May you grieve well. Love to you.

  8. Thank you for a kind, loving and heartfelt tribute to your brother. My husband Larry, worked for Terry years ago. In the days before Terry’s passing, Terry called Larry and spoke with him regarding death. Larry told Terry that he had a choice at death of going one of two places. He told Terry to make it right with Jesus. He would spend eternity in heaven. I spoke with Terry a couple days after their conversation. Terry asked me to tell Larry that he had asked Jesus into his heart. A neighbor friend had stopped by and talked to Terry about salvation and at that time Terry made his choice. Praise God! Terry said that he knew he was different since asking Jesus into his heart and just couldn’t explain it any other way. It was “just a good feeling”. He seemed at peace with facing the days ahead of him. Terry loved Carol and his family deeply. I wanted to share this so others could see Terry’s heart and soul.

  9. I can barely read this to the end. Typing through tears. Your tribute to your brother is so heartwarming. Terry had a big part in our lives. So many memories, and not 1 phone call without a joke or 2 to tell. When you were with him, you couldn’t help but be happy. All the animals he saved and brought home and then joke about that too. “Carol is gonna kick me out for sure now” and then he would go into detail about the animals he rescued. Sure am gonna miss that guy and I am sure he and my Terry will enjoy their time together in the hereafter.

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