Caralee was rich, but not with money or possessions or other things of a temporary, self-serving nature. She was rich in friends and family, character, personality, and joy.
On April 26, 2010, a perfect angel left the earth and walked through the gates of heaven.
She passed away after a year-long battle with a type of cancer called CNS (central nervous system) lymphoma. Her name is Caralee, a friend of my family. The daughter of my parents’ best friends, Doris and Emerson. The sister of my sister’s dear friend Jennifer.
In the pictures displayed at her visitation and memorial services, Caralee’s riches – her enthusiasm for life, for her family and friends, for every person, is evident in her smile and in her eyes. Pictures with her two sisters, one older, one younger, both who live in other states and visited so often this past year. With her wonderful parents. Nephews and nieces. Friends. Her golden retriever, Kaylee.
Many of the pictures were taken before she was diagnosed with CNS lymphoma. Some were taken after she lost all her hair. After steroids caused her to gain weight. After treatments, laying in a hospital bed at the hospital, and toward the end, at home in a bed in the living room. Genuine, warm smiles unchanged by the cancer. And not just for the sake of the picture. She was happy to see the family member or friend that was part of the photograph. At the hospital, she was thrilled with canine visitors through the animal-assisted therapy program.
Even when she had no visitors, Caralee never complained.
At the grocery store where she worked for 18 years, customers would often go to her line specifically to have HER bag their groceries. She She greeted them with that warm smile, and with such friendliness, that people fondly remembered who she was even though she has not worked for the last year. Caralee’s parents, who did not know most of the customers, were comforted and amazed at the number of them who came to offer their condolences.
Extroverted. Never met a stranger. Interested in people. Talkative. Able to communicate well enough. Loving. Upbeat. Selfless. Kind. Happy. Always smiling. Thoughtful. Polite. Tidy. Unforgettable. These words describe her.
Intelligent. Ambitious. High-achiever. Eloquent. Graceful. Thin. Beautiful (on the outside in the worldly sense). Sure-footed. Average. These words do not describe Caralee. You see, Caralee was mentally handicapped and slightly palsied all her life.
She had that slur in her speech, and that something in her appearance, that revealed her disability. She had those variations from what we see as “normal”, things that would have caused many of us to withdraw into a shy cocoon.
At the age of 2, when her condition was realized, a doctor advised her parents to consider institutionalization. Instead, they empowered her to rise above her disability and become the inspiring person she came to be by simply being herself.
At one time, I thought too highly of intelligence, ambition, and the ability to achieve. My self-esteem depended too greatly on what I could do and how my performance in life was perceived by others. I would evaluate others by my misperception. I still struggle occasionally with these tendencies, praying and talking myself over the hurdle. While I realize these are desirable traits, especially in certain occupations, what I am saying is that it is a shame to judge ourselves and others by these measures.
God agrees. Just read His book. He does not love intelligent, etc. people more than he loves those that are not.
In the New Testament, Galatians 5:22-23 says “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.” It is these character traits for which we should strive, whether or not our goal is obedience to Christ’s teachings. I believe that Caralee’s ability to produce this selfless kind of fruit was enhanced by her freedom from the trappings of society’s idea of normal.
She was a perfect human being and the most pure soul I have ever known among any person I have encountered.
Several different people spoke at the memorial service. Her father repeated what a friend at the grocery store had said – “She is the most inspiring human being I have ever known.”
May Caralee be a reminder to all of us that it’s a positive attitude, a warm smile, a friendly greeting, and kindness to others, for which we will be remembered.