I saw my wife pass away, her talk had ceased before she leaned heavy on me, then slumped to one side and did not move back. It felt as if I dreamed, it was a strange sensation - was what I thought I saw really happening? I had never seen anyone die before.
To make sure I felt Anne's pulse and found none, then I knew that my wife had passed away.
Since his body had quit on him it was John's desire to exchange his life on earth for the one in the presence of God, yet it was hard for me to believe that I would not be able to talk with my brother about things that he and I were the only ones familiar with.
After a few days thinking this over I wondered how I myself would wanted to be remembered, even for as little time as it takes for a funeral service to last. I think I would wanted to be remembered by some merits of value, some good or positive things achieved during my life, and then I thought about John's achievements, besides him being a loyal husband, good father and grandfather and great great-grandfather.
John was very active in church life and became a builder of two Lower mainland church- buildings, both through free labor, the Christian Reformed church in Richmond, now owned by the the Tapestry crc, where John up to his death was a member, and the first Christian Reformed church of Ladner, where all four Smid brothers churched together at one time, and where now the funeral service of John was held.
Shortly after finishing the church in Richmond John was chosen an elder, the authoritative arm of the congregation, overlooking and 'keeping watch over the flock,' the congregation.
Though in our private talks about faith and dogmas we often strayed from that old-time Calvinist religion, John seldom had a problem to return to what we had grown up with.
He was a firm believer.
John worked on the Massey tunnel in Delta BC, and after that was the right hand carpenter of the general foreman of a large house building company for several years, where he helped our brother Sidney and myself on a job, Sidney as a painter and myself as his partner.
Those early years when John and I worked together there, were of the happiest working years in my life.
We started our own company, Smid Bros construction Ltd., of which John was the manager, in the early 1960's and build successfully several houses in Vancouver, Richmond, and in Tsawassen. In Ladner we purchased an entire subdivision of twenty lots from brother Sidney and his partner for $4.000 per lot, and build houses for mostly Delta police at a purchase price of around $30.000 per house, when the salaries of police-men at that time were under $10.000 per year, and, because most of them could not qualify, even after we bypassed the real estate, we provided second mortgages to them of from $500 to $2.000.
Working hard our company grew rapidly and our assets went up every year but at times we experienced also hardships, when the housing market was in a slump and one time we were stuck with two houses in Vancouver. We were dangerously low of cash while mortgage and tax payments on these houses loomed like dark clouds over us, putting us in low spirits.
We decided on the spur of the moment to go for a ride and wound up at the north-shore mountains, climbing as far as we could and dejected sat down.
Out of frustration we started throwing down rocks until we couldn't find rocks anymore and sat down again.
“Do you think we are allowed to pray that someone will buy our houses?” I asked. We'd never thought about that before as we were taught to limit our prayers to asking forgiveness for our sins, and for when someone was very ill, but John said
“Why not, farmers pray for a good harvest, they even have a special prayer day for it.”
We did not pray for a sale but had considered it, and low and behold, after we came down from the mountain there was an offer waiting for us on one of the houses, not a very good offer, but an offer none the less.
Then came the time that a dark shadow appeared over our building activities, and worse yet, over our our friendship – we did not see eye to eye anymore, which became so bad that we decided to go each our own way. Our book keeper came up with an idea to split up our company in two parts.
One part was the name of the company and the houses under construction, the other part was 60.000 dollars plus one of the building lots for a sharply reduced price.
John chose the money.
I was the looser because John was a fine finishing carpenter which I was not, and when our main work force started their own company, was Smid Bros successfully gutted.
I missed John much more than he missed me and when my house burned and my son lost his life, and my relationship with Anne suffered, my spirit was broken and made me feel a looser.
For a while things looked up when I went a semester to college, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I did not regain my vitality in bussiness, which never had been my first choice anyways.
My dream of having a company comprising four brothers never came to pass.
I made sure to call John regularly after I heard he was very ill, and those talks were fruitful but John's health declined so much that he called his kin to say that his doctor was not able to help him any more and that he was ready to die.
Durk and myself had recently said goodbye to our dying brother, and Durk who lives more than 550km north from where the funeral was held in Ladner, together with two of his sons were planning to attend John's remembering service.
Durk's wife Brenda, who is severely disabled, was refused a place in the local recovery home of Williams Lake for a day because there was no place available.
A very frustrated Durk had to give up his plans doing the last honor to his brother and family.
By setting up the remembering service for John the family did, probably by oversight, not make John's brothers part of the service, for which I do not fault them, but I was prepared to say a few words, since I as oldest brother remembered John from his birth onward.
Here follows what I had wanted to say -
“It feels good to be in this church where once the brothers, John, Sidney, Durk and I, together with our families used to worship, and where John served several years as an elder.
John and I left a family of 9, father, the first superpake, mother, and seven children in the Netherlands 65 years ago, of whom are now four left – brothers Frank and Anne in the Netherlands and Durk and I in Canada.
Our generation will soon be gone, the next one, our children, wander already toward retirement.
It is exciting for me to see what the generation after them, our grandchildren, are going to do into this world and to witness that I like to live a little longer before I too join John's destiny.
John told me once that father had given him advise, which he never forgot - to meet things head-on after John, then about eight years old, told him that he was often scared in the dark attic of the small house where we slept. We were in the middle of the second world war and it was dark in the attic since our house had no electricity, the only light in our house was a gas-lamp in the living room, and when toward the end of the war the gas was cut off as well, dad's bike was put upside down in the living room, we turned the pedals by hand to run the dynamo that produced a little light from the bike lamp, enough to read a story by.
John literally had to feel his way along the wall to find the steep stairway to the attic which was pitch-dark, and had to feel his way around over the attic floor to find his place to sleep.
My sister and I were allowed to stay up half an hour longer, so John, Frank, and Sidney were by themselves up to the time we crawled into our beds as well, no wonder they were scared of the nightly war noises of airplanes droning over the house and the distant racket of bombing and shooting. The quiet in between was just as frightening for the young brothers as they then were anticipating more scary things to follow.
'If you're scared, dad told John, face it head-on and call it out, just say - Show yourself! and when you hear no answer, there is no danger – then you can safely go to sleep.'
I am sure that by calling all his brothers, saying that the end of his life was at hand and he was ready, that John remembered those words and before he called us, called out –
'fear of death - show yourself!'
Fear of death did not answer because his heavenly Father had already taken his fear away - and now he could safely go to sleep.
Our comfort is that our brother John then without fear or hesitation, accompanied by the singing of his beloved family, committed his life into God's hands."