When I returned to New Hampshire two years ago for a pastoral internship at First Congregational Church of Manchester, I had no idea where I would live. My parents had moved out of the state, my sister and brother-in-law were moving to Maryland only a month after I would arrive, and living with any of my high school friends would have just been asking too much. One afternoon, my mother had an inspired idea--why not live with the Carlisles? Lucia and Tyler Carlisle were outstanding members of the church--active in church leadership and activities, and present on every Sunday in the third pew from the front on the right side of the aisle. Mrs. Merritt, Lucia's late mother, had been the "Church Lady" par excellence--not the Dana-Carvey-on-SNL type, but the real kind, who wore hats to church and who was an adopted grandmother to everyone, dishing out equal amounts of hugs during coffee hour and stern words of rebuke if she found out that grades were slipping in school or attitudes towards parents needed adjustment. It was the perfect solution to our problem, and it worked out beautifully!
Lucia, Tyler, and their 15-year-old son, Tyler William, took me in like a daughter and sister, respectively. Lucia and I cooked and cleaned up after meals together, gossiping about the day and asking and dispensing advice as if we'd lived together for years. Tyler William and I took to posting notes ("'Ello, guvnor. Have a jolly good day!") on our shared bathroom mirror and teasing each other like siblings. Tyler Edwin, the patriarch of the family, quickly became yet another father figure, interrogating my then-boyfriend as to his intentions and making sure I came home at a decent time each night. The family watched me preach my first sermon, took me to their lakehouse a few times, and welcomed me into their home and hearts without question. They are as dear to me as any family members, and that is why I've been sitting in a daze ever since I received the news this afternoon that the elder Tyler passed away last Thursday. It wasn't entirely unexpected--Tyler had been fighting a battle against COPD for years, and was rarely seen without his portable oxygen tank. His health had been deteriorating in the past few months, and it was all but unspoken that although "Mr. and Mrs. Tyler Carlisle and Tyler William" had RSVPd to the wedding, only two of the three Carlisles would be present that day.
It's funny, though. Even as I type this, I can hear Tyler behind me, "Oh, stop making all that fuss about me, you go and have yourself a great time! Lucia would love to see you, and we all think about you often...." I often find it difficult to know how to feel at the passing of a loved one--sad for my loss? Happy for their gain? I think this time, I'll choose to rejoice in the life of a man who lived so fully--who loved his meals piping hot and with extra salt on the side, who took uninhibited joy in the family's miniature poodle, Curly, who was a Korean War veteran, who was and is so proud of all his son has already accomplished, who was an actor, an engineer, a Nascar fan, a fantastic father (and father figure!), a deacon, and who is now--I have no doubt--taking a long walk around heaven, free of the oxygen cords he was embarassed to step on in the house. He's finally made it Home, and that is something for which we should rejoice.