Carolyn, our dear friend for over 50 years died Tuesday, September 8, from cardiac arrest. After her daughter called, I could do nothing except cry. As I wrote in my journal that she was gone, I said aloud to myself “I need to let my sibs and kids know about Carolyn.” So, I jumped up and went to my study to email them. After I sent the email, I continued writing, surprised that a brief email could inspire writing a tribute. All week long, recalling Carolyn’s significant contributions gifted to our family, church family, and influence on my counseling, writing, and teaching monopolized my mind and time. Since the grieving process functions best for me through writing, reminiscing on paper about Carolyn graduated into story-telling and eventually to this blog to share with you. I’ll start from the very beginning.
One evening in 1968, when Jim returned from making a church visit to the home of Carolyn and her family, he said, "Ruthie, I met a lady tonight that you are really going to like." And he was so right. Her husband, Dale, an Air Force pilot, was battling terminal cancer. The doctors projected ten years but he only got five. They joined our church and we had only a few months to get acquainted with Dale until he was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital and Carolyn was permitted to be his nurse for his last weeks. Jim and I made a visit to the hospital and were amazed how quickly our friendship with Carolyn and Dale solidified.
After Dale’s death Carolyn resumed her nurse-manager position at York Hospital. She struggled with apprehension about being a single mom so since our children were older, I was privileged to be her encourager. Carolyn was my first example in understanding the grieving process. She shared her memories about how she and Dale met, where they’d lived as military and reminisced the various ways that she missed him. My goal was to assist her emotionally, spiritually and as a parent in any way that I could. She was particularly pleased to hear Dale’s name since I was of the few in York who actually knew him.
We had many family visits at their home. She loved animals and had a couple big golden retriever dogs and a cat and her binoculars were always handy as she watched birds, deer, ducks and geese around her pond. She loved the out of doors and hiked every day. Her pond was open for church kids to swim, and Steve and Roger became good buddies. Our children loved and respected Carolyn and sought her advice.
In 1980 when I learned about the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator, Carolyn became a sounding board for what I was learning and also a fan of the MBTI’s positive focus. She typed out an INTP- private, a perfectionist, unusually tender, tearful and unselfish with time and expertise. Good in crises. To aid communication with nurses under her, she requested they fill out MBTI questionnaires. My gift to her. She patiently listened to people with all kinds of difficulties, including offering a few nights at her house while they got on their feet. She gave extraordinary care to her immediate family. Our vibes were often on the same page; we knew what the other was thinking.
Carolyn was extremely conscientious. Along with nursing, parenting, mowing and taking care of the pond, she also became caregiver for both of her parents, an aunt and her brother. Jim and I were there for her through their illnesses and funerals. Despite responsibilities at home, work and church, for a while she was a Contact phone volunteer for those who called after hours for encouragement and advice. She was an extraordinary nurse and was approached several times about teaching at the hospital but she turned them down because of her strong passion for personal involvement with patients. I told her often, if I’m ever in the hospital I want you to be my nurse. Doctors still ask about her even though she’s been gone for more than five years. One doctor shared “Carolyn was one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with. I don’t think she ever sat down.” In fact, while Jim was in the hospital, a couple of the nurses who tended him worked under her as beginning nurses and had warm memories of her.
I owe a lot to Carolyn. She expanded my understanding of people and forced me to play. She was not only my best friend but my medical advisor and confidant. She advised me about which doctor I should choose. When I informed her that a physician I had been seeing, suggested I needed back surgery and ordered an MRI, I asked her if he did back surgery, she replied "Yes, but not yours". The only doctor to touch your back is Dr. S.” On her recommendation, I got in immediately. She and I rarely sat together at church but managed frequent talk-time during monthly lunches where we attempted to solve the problems of the world. We co-taught classes at church on Making Peace with your Past, Understanding Anger, and Adult Vacation Bible School. I still remember how overjoyed she was when my book Self Esteem—Gift From God was published.
I’ll always be deeply grateful to Carolyn for a few outstanding contributions to shaping my life. After Dale had been gone for about a year, she called to tell me that she had enrolled us in swimming lessons on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 10 weeks. I wasn’t particularly crazy about taking swimming lessons, but I went along with it knowing that she needed to get out. Even though I had a full schedule with four kids, substitute teaching, and church responsibilities, I met her at the Y. We had a great time together learning to swim. She taught me how to play.
As I began to write some little books about parenting and marriage counseling Carolyn and I discussed these subjects thoroughly when we met for lunch or talked on the phone. When we were studying Haim Ginott’s books on Between Parent and Child, Between Parent and Teen and Teacher and Child, she called to tell me that Dr. Ginott was speaking in the Philadelphia area, that she had purchased tickets for us and she’d pick me up on Friday at 7 am. She didn’t ask if I was free, she just informed me. One of the most important days of my life was meeting Haim Ginott who taught me the magic of using “I statements” and how to respect and communicate positively with children by understanding and appreciating who they were.
(Jim’s and my book Coaching Kids with Smyth & Helwys publisher discusses all that good stuff).
Then, it happened again, when we were reading Scott Peck’s books, she did the same thing, told me that we were scheduled to hear him speak somewhere near D.C. Naturally, having an entire day together to visit was a marvelous opportunity for both of us. She knew it would be a valuable investment of time. There are three more engraved experiences.
We arrived home late from vacation with camper in tow to find a huge purple peace sign painted on our white garage door. Our neighbors had admired it and thought we really had neat friends who would do that. Jim wasn’t convinced that it was nice to have purple paint on our garage door. Were we ever surprised to learn that Carolyn was behind that! She had involved the youth of our church to help her, thinking it would a great welcome home gesture. Jim merely got a gallon of white paint and painted over it without saying a word.
One Sunday, Jim was delayed until after worship had begun. As the associate pastor began to fill in extemporaneously until Jim finally arrived and walked to his usual place. The associate turned toward him and said “Do you want to preach?” to which Jim said “Of course”. So, the associate sat down. Jim had no way of knowing that the congregation had gotten caught up with what the associate was saying and were a bit shocked when Jim took over. When the invitation was given, guess who went down the aisle? Carolyn. She whispered, “Fix it, Jim, the congregation is upset that you interrupted the associate.” I’m laughing as I’m writing this. She courageously followed her vibes. Jim apologized to the associate and the congregation for not picking up on what was going on. An example of his trust in Carolyn’s observations and opinions.
Jim officiated at Barb’s wedding and a few years later Steve asked Jim to officiate at his wedding and flew Carolyn, Jim and me to California. Sharing these important family events strengthened our relationships.
Years later, when Jim was scheduled for a couple heart stents, I packed a bag of books ready to spend the day, at the hospital. Guess who was waiting there for me? Carolyn. She spent the entire time. I had no idea how comforting and helpful that would be.
After retirement from nursing for 35 years, Carolyn volunteered to transport patients to surgery. She didn’t want patients to be afraid and always assured them “You are not alone. God loves you and is with you. Several years ago, Carolyn reluctantly moved 6 hours away to be safer and closer to Barb. We nurtured our friendship through cards and phone calls and Jim and I made one physical visit. We missed each other terribly. She was devastated with the news of Jim’s death. But when she gained composure the first thing she said was, "Jim and Dale are getting things ready for us". Now, the three of them are getting ready for me.
I believe that God orchestrates the remarkable gifts of people who need us and we them. As I wrote before, that every person we get to know leaves a mark on us just as we leave a mark on them, Carolyn left extraordinary marks on everyone in our family, in her family, the hospital, her neighborhood and the two congregations that she shared and served along with us. Carolyn certainly understood and practiced grace upon grace, extended kindnesses to people she knew and didn’t know--the queen of Hidden Nuggets.
Our families have decided to combine the Celebration of Life services for Jim and Carolyn since the same people will be involved. From the mid 1960’s we’ve always considered our families as one.
This verse applies again: - “As Iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” Prov. 27:17
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” Isa. 41:13
“What time I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” Ps. 56:3
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:17 (NIV)