Giving Thanks When It Hurts

My sister-in-law's tribute to her mother shows the way

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15 (ESV)

As I have written, we lost my mother-in-law, Carolyn, in early October following a tragic accident on a Florida bridge. Because her husband, Jack, was still in critical condition, we decided to postpone Carolyn’s funeral until Jack had recovered sufficiently to be able to attend.

Neighborhood, Gainesville, west side, sunlight, shade, warmth, gratitude, grief, mourning, joy, flowers, blossoms, bloom, blooming, blooms

There is beauty all around us, even as we grieve. Give thanks!

We held the funeral on Saturday, November 11, at Jack and Carolyn’s parish in northern Florida, and it was beautiful —  joyous and solemn at the same time. As part of the service, my sister-in-law, Jane Hinson Wald, delivered the following remarks, and I asked her permission to share them with you here in their entirety. Enter Jane:

It’s difficult to convey in a few brief minutes our mother’s depth of character and personality. But that’s probably not even necessary, because no matter in what way each of us has known her, she was always and everywhere the very same Carolyn.

Mother loved the times when her family – any part of it or all of it – could get together even as we are here and now. These times were full of love and fun and, often, quite a bit of silliness. But these gatherings didn’t just happen. Oh, no. Carolyn planned, cooked, and choreographed so each occasion was the best it could be for every one of us. To get ready for these events, she made lists. The lists might begin days ahead or weeks or even months ahead. She went through all her preparations with energy and creativity, sometimes a little over-extended, but always with the ultimate goal front and center: the comfort and pleasure of those she loved.

Don’t think she didn’t make lists for today.

Last Sunday, on the Feast of All Saints, the readings included a list of eight promises, the beatitudes from the gospel of Matthew. I used to think of each one directed toward a different individual or group so that Jesus could offer assurance to followers who grappled with various flaws and exhibited various gifts. But in that moment, I heard only a list summarizing our mother’s life.

Blessed are the humble in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Now that we’re making a list, there are a few more things to enumerate.

Carolyn was fun and spirited. Our mother had an innate sense of playfulness that knew no generation, and a sense of humor that indulged a healthy dose of irony. Perhaps this had something to do with being the only girl in a family with six brothers. Most endearing were her ability to laugh at herself and her pleasure in letting a story or situation run to its hilarious and improbable end. She told stories on herself – such as the time she was racing down the road, late for work, when another driver caught her attention to tell her that our family cat was hanging on for dear life to the roof of the car; or the time she searched hours and hours for the shoes that were on her feet.

Carolyn had a lively mind, vibrant curiosity, and ever-present eagerness to know more. She read constantly, especially biography, theology, current events and civic affairs. Jack has said that she knew the definition of every word they came across. It’s true. She had an enthusiasm for words, the power of words, and for “grammatical correctness.” All of this had a lot to do with her sense of humor.

Carolyn was patriotic. She cared deeply about her country and what it stood for. She had her own youthful rebellion against New Deal politics and was very clear about the importance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and all that flowed from those founding documents. In fact, she hung framed copies of them in the family of her house where they remain to this day. My brother remembers that more than 50 years ago, Mother subscribed to the Congressional Record and there were stacks of them around the house. It’s hard to imagine, in this day of TV and internet news, wading through issues of the Congressional Record. More recently, her self-appointed duty was to carry her country’s flag down the driveway from the house in Starke to the flagpole near the road.

Carolyn was beautiful, inside and out. As a child, I used to think of our Mother as looking a bit like a movie star. Elizabeth Taylor came to mind, but that probably had more to do with the 1960s hairdo than their actual features. (And there was something about my Dad’s eyebrows that reminded me of Gregory Peck — but what kid doesn’t want to have movie stars as her parents?). Of course, it was her inner beauty that made her true outer beauty shine. Her warmth, gentleness, patience, and kindness made an immediate first impression, which only deepened on further acquaintance, which she generally turned into friendship.

Carolyn was loving and nurturing. In her more than six decades as a wife, mother, and grandmother, she created a loving and stimulating home and a beautiful and nourishing environment. Music and art and books were everywhere in her home. Her love of music and art was infectious and all of her descendants caught this bug. After years of attending concerts and performances, she eventually took up performance herself by joining church choir and civic chorus. Mother had an eye for color and design. She created a home – a house she kept for visits of children and grandchildren after moving to Starke with her beloved Jack — a home that was visually arresting. Wandering through her home, the eye falls on all kinds of photographs, prints, and objects that had some meaning and memory in them for her and for those she loved — a place she filled with little gifts for contemplation, resting spots for the soul.

Our mother was clever, industrious, and resourceful. She was an accomplished seamstress who decorated herself, her children, and her house with her own hands. Just weeks before her youngest child was born, she was out on the carport refinishing an armoire for her new baby’s things. She had an engineering kind of mind that allowed her to fashion conveniences out of bits and pieces of other things. Just last night, we were trying to figure out the purpose of her creations that involved a throw pillow, oddly placed loops of cording, and elastic bands. One of us predicted that we’d be discovering some of her contraptions, or “booby-traps” for some time to come.

As a mother, she always available, always listened, always helped, always created memorable moments for each individual in her life. Something as small making a birthday cake in the shape of a pumpkin (I was born the day after Halloween) to the big productions of weddings, reunions and holidays.

But lest you get the idea that she was too sweet, you need to know that Carolyn was also resilient and determined. She met numerous physical challenges head-on and willed herself into recovery with a determination to keep active and able. She made herself overcome doubts about things she didn’t like to do. For example, she didn’t like to fly, but when my daughter was born, our father called her a “miracle baby” because Mother got on a plane to come take care of her grandchild. Mother took her sense of adventure on the road, for many years driving by herself up and down the east coast and over to Tennessee to visit her children and grandchildren and family. And then she and Jack, who shared and expanded her sense of adventure, did that very thing together.

Carolyn was faithful. Her faith, her love for the Lord, was the bedrock of her being, the center of her own self. Our Mother was on a lifelong journey to grow closer to God. So much so that she learned Greek so she could read scriptures in original language, taught Bible classes, and mentored others on the same journey. She instilled this same dedication to seeking after truth in her children and, to her credit, it’s a characteristic of every one of her grandchildren.

Carolyn was and is ageless. The wisdom she earned through her years of life experience was offset by an outlook and inner sense of self that embraced a youthful inner sense of self. She admitted that she thought of herself as a twenty-something, with all the optimism and possibility that goes with a youthful spirit. Her self-awareness of her inner life corresponded to a sense and promise of eternal life. Especially in these last five years with her beloved husband Jack Lakes, it seemed that the things important to her deepened, and the things that were not easily fell away. She became a distillation of all those wonderful qualities we recognize in her, a more pure version of herself.

Blessed are the humble in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Which of these doesn’t describe Carolyn Scobey Hinson Lakes? The list of blessings promised to her are that she has been comforted, inherited the earth, been filled with righteousness and obtained mercy. She’s been named a child of God and has gained the kingdom of heaven. Even now, she sees God face to face.”

Since we in the US are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I’m sharing these thoughts with you with deep gratitude to God for the blessings of this life — especially for my wife and the family that made her who she is. Although we miss Carolyn and we will continue to, we are giving thanks in all things, and rejoicing that we will be together again.

So how about you? For what are you giving thanks in this season? Add your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Bring your best manners, please.

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