“Today we laid my sister Carolyn to rest….she fought a good fight she finished the course and she kept the faith…l will miss her dearly. Till we meet again in the presence of our Lord and savior Jesus…. rest in peace big sis.”
These words came from my younger brother, which he posted on Facebook. I borrowed them because I had none of my own to share. I’ve been borrowing family quotes since the day it happened.
But it’s true. Today we celebrated my sister’s life and mourned her death. Before I tell you anything about the service, let me share a little bit about my sister’s life with you.
As a junior in high school, Carolyn received a state-wide award for writing an essay about the importance of libraries, and was invited, along with her mother, to meet Pennsylvania Governor Shapp. Throughout her four years, she was active in her student government and served as President of her senior class. She graduated from Rice Avenue Union High School in 1974. Following high school, she trained to become a police officer and also attended secretarial school. She worked for several years at a half way house in Erie, for women coming out of prison. Later, she took time off work to raise her family, and eventually began working at the State Correction Facility at Cambridge Springs, where she was in charge of the sally port, retiring from there in 2008.
She was actively involved in the Federated Church of East Springfield, and served with her husband on the board of directors at Love Inc. (Love, In the Name of Christ). She, along with her husband, also counseled soon-to-be wed couples through the church. She enjoyed ice skating and bargain shopping with a purpose. Her family was her priority, and she loved taking care of her grandchildren.
I heard several people say she had a beautiful service. One said it was the best he had ever seen. I don’t have much to compare it with as I haven’t attended many. I cried through most of it. I can’t imagine my life without my sister.
But for a long time I couldn’t imagine my life with a long white cane either. Until I began to use it as a tool to help me “see” where I was going. Walking with a long cane isn’t the same as walking without one. But it’s beautiful in that it gives me continued independence.
Likewise, if I sweep my cane ahead of me and take my life step-by-step, I’ll be able continue my journey forward.
My life will never be the same without my sister. I think I have to learn to walk in a brand new way. It will take awhile to embrace it but I know it’s going to be beautiful in that the “cane” my sister willed to me was her life example.
In short, it was her Christ-like spirit.
I have watched my sister model various techniques throughout her life and especially over the past three years as she learned new techniques like long-suffering, patience and an uncomplaining spirit as she dealt with her leukemia.
Caring, compassion, warmth, an outstretched hand, generosity, thrift, a welcoming smile, forgiveness, a positive nature, wisdom, responsibility, intimate knowledge of the scriptures and a personal relationship to her Savior are all legacies my sister shared.
Sometimes I move ahead confidently with these skills. Other times, I flounder. I haven’t practiced some of them very well. I need to make them second-nature. I get my cane tangled as I try to move forward. I drag my cane in puddles of self-pity and catch it on scraps of anger and discontent. But now when I run up against these, I’ll try to toss off the rubbish my cane comes up against and sweep my cane smoothly to move straight ahead.
When the hospice nurse told my sister that her days left were few, she planned her own funeral. She was always a great organizer. In fact, she told the minister she felt so blessed to have input.
She wanted everyone to take part in the celebration of her life. She asked my mother for a song choice, and me to help write the obituary. She asked my brother to be pall bearers (similarly to how she had asked them to be ushers in her wedding). She chose the rest of the music, the scriptures, and even involved the grandchildren she adored by asking them to dance for her. (They love to dance).
Three points stand out in my mind from the service.
1. God gave her “increased faith and strength” in increments to handle the challenges of increased pain.
He promises that He will meet our needs.
2. She is hidden in the shadow of (an eagle’s) wing
He promises to protect us and be with us through the fire.
3. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, a temporary death.
It’s not a real one, for she will live with Him forever.
After the minister talked, “the girls” (five granddaughters, ranging in age from seven to a year old) danced on stage to the song, Soon and Very Soon. The girls wore little white dresses and angel wings. In the beginning, the girls’ mother danced with them in a circle, holding hands but they left to let them dance for her alone. It was the most beautiful dance I’d ever seen. I cried all through it.
We had a few more songs and finished with In The Sweet By and By and I’ll Fly Away. It was a celebration of her life and envisioning her flying after being bed-bound opened another floodgate in me.
The service finished with touching testimonies by friends and family.
I realize that it’s very personal to blog about a funeral of a loved one, someone others don’t even know. Though my sister led a private life, maybe she wouldn’t mind me sharing now. She’s on my heart and in every thought I have. I can’t not write about her.
I asked my niece how the girls are doing. Of course, they don’t really understand. It’s difficult to tackle the confusion of where “Ga-ga” is, the question all the granddaughters are asking, including the littlest, who asks it often.
I like to imagine it this way. She has come out from the shadow of the eagle’s wing and is flying freely with the angels. Just like the song she ended her service with says,
I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away
When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away
When the shadows of this life have grown, I’ll fly away…
To a land where joy will never end, I’ll fly away