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.