I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at my Father’s memorial service on Saturday. The church was full and I was overwhelmed by the way family and friends came out to honor this man. You may have heard about him in many of my family stories but this kind of rounds the story out, and I believe it belongs here for others to read.
Thank you all, family and friends, for being here for this last formal celebration of my dad’s life. There are 28 of us from all over the country staying over at Par Place. You have blessed our family overwhelmingly with meals, campers for temporary lodging, your visits that have been welcome distraction from our grieving and your words of caring. Thank you from all of us.
Last Monday as we were sitting int the conference room with Mike, the funeral director, talking about this service, I got a call and stepped out to talk a few minutes with my aunt Irene, Dad’s sister. I came back in the room and found out I was giving the eulogy. Is there a lesson in that? I think so. I decided I probably could do that without trouble. It is not hard for me to think of many good things to say about Owen Smith, my Dad.
These days there aren’t many people who can say that they spent their whole life in one community of people. Dad was born on the same property where he was on the day he died. He attended the Wesleyan church as a child, was married in that church, took his own children there for many years, and now here we are, again in the Wesleyan church, remembering all that in the same community of people. There was something very dear to dad about this community of people. For many years his workaholic nature made it difficult to have a lot of close friendships but even then he was adding to his network – clients he worked for, business people in town, visitors he met at church, neighbors, parents of his childen’s friends. Roots were growing deep. He loved Hayward. In the last few years each time one of us children came home there were drives out in the country, or motorcycle rides that Dad looked forward to and he would point out places “I dug that basement”, “I put that driveway in.” “We hunted that 40 over there” He liked pretty much everyone he met. His big sister Irene told me that from boyhood on she couldn’t think of anyone that didn’t like her little brother Owen, or anyone that he didn’t like. And as another one of us put it “he was overall a conservative person but when it came to his time he was generous to a fault” usually ready and able to help those with physical needs.
Typically you would not hear Dad talking about his spiritual life or his inner thoughts. You would hear him talking about his work and his people. The Bible tells us that God had a work to rest ratio of six to one and Dad had at least that. One of our nicknames for Dad was after the cartoon character “Tasmanian devil” because he was attacking his work with a sort of frenzy that seemed never ending to us. Of course farming meant long hours, so did the excavation work. I can imagine the pressure of providing for a growing family weighed heavily on him and he took it very seriously. He was a good provider. But it often meant coming home late and missing out on family time. We started knowing our Dad better when we became old enough to join him in his work, sometimes in the field or in the barn, or out on the job.
Work was his escape and stress reliever but also the source of much of his stress. I remember one summer, coming home to visit after my parents had moved to their cabin on Round Lake. There had been a lot of frustration about remodeling it to be their permanent home and Dad followed an impulse to put the house up on jacks and dig a basement under it. And that’s how we found things. The house up swaying on it’s stilts, and Dad not knowing what to do next with an anxiety level so high he was having heart arrhythmias. And of course, in all his occupations he had close bonds with his machines that always needed some kind of fixing. I have seen Dad, hands covered in grease, lying under one machine or the other all my life. As recent as last year I arrived on a visit and found Dad with a gash healing on his head – he had been under a big mower which had fallen on him and trapped him until help came.
We always knew that Dad loved us. He rescued me from various perils, he surprised me with my first car, he always stopped in to check on us when we lived on the farm for a few years, he was willing to change his wintering place to the town in Florida where we moved, always glad to see us when we visited. But because he was always doing something, or looking for something to do, there wasn’t a whole lot of relational talking going on. I think toward the end of his life, Dad realized that friendships could be rather superficial and he wanted more than that.
Some of that changed in these last few years. His eyesight diminished and he could no longer see to do much of his work. He had to stop driving. His hearing loss often left him unaware of things being said around him. As frustrating as his disabilities were to him, I really believe that God used those disabilities for Dad’s good. When he couldn’t see to work anymore, he got in touch with humility in a different way because he often had to ask for help. He became more dependent on Mom. Every morning after coffee, she would read out loud to him. They would do a few chapter of scripture and then spend a while in some other book Mom chose – usually something she thought would be especially interesting to him. They would talk about what they were reading. He really enjoyed this time with her.
He started looking after friends in his neighborhood, checking to see how they were every day. He got an iphone, as intimidating as that might be to any elderly person, and learned to use it to keep in touch with people on his call list. When he wasn’t talking on it, he learned to set it to his Pandora app. He would put it in his pocket, loudly playing his country favorites, and walk around in a cloud of music. We could always hear him coming.
I think we all have had the experience of knowing something in our life was not right, that God wanted us to work on it and was patiently dealing with us, and that maybe we were avoiding his efforts. These past couple of years I think Dad was going through this process. It was important to me as his daughter to see him respond positively to this spiritual assignment. He became more humble, more open about questions and doubts, more grateful for God’s blessings, more sweetly loving and appreciative of family members. I think he was in a better position with God when he died. And some of that is even evident in the circumstances of his death. Dad saw his own father and many others go through their last years with confusion, dementia, and some with cancer, and pain, He had expressed how nice it would be to just be here one minute and gone the next without all that struggle. And that is how he went. Having just asked Mom a question, he left and went elsewhere to have it answered. By God’s mercy, he was not the surviving spouse left to deal with the issues of what to do next. By God’s mercy Mom was not alone with him when this happened but had her grandson there to help her. By God’s mercy there was no crucial unfinished business. By God’s mercy we all have made it here to remember him, to celebrate who he was and to comfort each other.
I had a good father. I knew I was loved. He worked hard to provide for us and to give us a secure childhood, but also had fun times. In this day and age I realize how blessed I am to be able to say these things. At the same time I know that in some of this telling I may have sounded a bit harder on my dad than you would expect in a eulogy. What I want to leave you with, … what I’ve learned from knowing my Dad, is that none of us has to be perfect to be deeply loved. As children and on into our adult lives, we Smith kids weren’t perfect but Dad loved us, worried about us, kept on trying to provide for and parent us. As a father, a husband, and all the other hats he wore, Dad wasn’t perfect either but it is clear that he touched many lives. He touched mine. I loved him so much and will miss him in so many ways.