The Eulogy for Cathy Robinson, delivered by Rev. Jeff Edwards outside on her daughter Tiffany’s lawn on August 3, 2019.
People are holy mysteries, full of seeming contradictions. This is true for all of us. Our stories are holy, and need to be told, as best we can tell them.
Cathy Robinson was born into a loving family with a mother named Peggy and a father named Arthur and an older sister Penny. Between the births of Penny and Cathy, another daughter was born who died in infancy.
Cathy was particularly close with her maternal grandparents of whom she would later share many warm, happy memories with her children.
Cathy’s mother was a strong-willed woman who — in the words of Taylor — his mother “respected,” whereas she “adored” her father. Cathy’s father instilled in her a love of nature, a love absorbed through the course of many summers spent by the family by Glenwild Lake living in a cabin. Cathy spent countless happy hour leisurely swimming and quietly exploring the beauty and wonder to be found outdoors. She learned the names of birds and plants and flowers.
Penny remembers her little sister’s wonderful sense of style being expressed early on as a child in the enjoyment she took in dressing and accessorizing the outfits of her Barbie. It was also, I suppose an expression of Cathy’s maternal, nurturing instinct that would find full expression later with her children and grandchildren.
Although Cathy was by nature sensitive and somewhat soft spoken, she could at times be quite strong-willed. Penny tells two stories expressing this capacity of her sister that took place at a young age.
The first took place when Cathy was in 1st grade. Penny was home sick with the measles, back in the day when doctors still made home calls. The doctor came to the house to check on Penny, after which he turned his attention to Cathy with the intention of giving her a shot to fight off the measles. Cathy wasn’t having it, and took off running. The doctor chased after her throughout the house before finally catching her to force her to “take her medicine.” As Penny puts it, Cathy never seemed to fear standing up to authority figures if she disagreed with them.
The same quality is expressed in the second story which took place when Cathy was in 2nd grade. By that time the family had moved five times and her parents were talking about moving yet again. Both Cathy and Penny hated the idea of another move, but it was Cathy who went to her parents to tell them in no uncertain terms that this had better be the last move or she would run away and they would never see her again. It must have worked because her parents lived in that house in Montclair up until the year Cathy bought her first home.
The girl could speak her mind.
In high school Cathy was on the Dance team that performed at half time of football games. She studied Spanish and had dreams of studying to be an interpreter in college. She also expressed interest in physical therapy.
She went off to college at Florida State, but unfortunately Cathy wasn’t emotionally prepared to take advantage of the opportunity that college presented. She felt pressured to give up her own dreams in order to follow the path her mother had in mind for her, which was to follow in her footsteps and become a Home Economics teacher. But without a love for this path, Cathy couldn’t follow through with it, and she ended up dropping out of college.
Possessing the qualities of beauty and grace, Cathy worked briefly during college as a runway model. After returning to Montclair, she took a job as a stewardess for TWA which gave her the opportunity to travel and see something of the world. She continued in this work up until she became pregnant with Tiffany.
Back in Montclair, Cathy began dating a man she had dated back in high school. An intense love grew between them, and they ended up getting married. They were, in retrospect, too young for the great challenge that is marriage.
To some degree we are all broken, and whether consciously or unconsciously we spend our days seeking healing for our brokenness. Cathy was broken, a truth she could readily acknowledge in the course of her life, but the psychic wounds of her husband were far greater than those of her own. The marriage was tumultuous, ending in a painful divorce.
Nonetheless, the marriage brought forth the two greatest blessings and joys of Cathy’s life: her daughter Tiffany and her son Taylor.
Taylor remembers the sweetness of his mother when he and his sister were young children. Their mother was, he said, “a hugger and a kisser.” She spoke “with a soft and kind voice.” He remembers fondly how when they were sick, their mother would sit patiently by their bedside and stroke their foreheads to comfort them.
The marriage finally dissolved the summer Tiffany was to enter fourth grade and Taylor second. Taylor remembers how in spite of the severe pain his mother experienced as a result of the collapse of her marriage she consistently made a point of attending to the needs of her children. She took time to listen and talk with them. In spite of having little money, his mother took Taylor to a therapist to help him deal with the pain he was experiencing. He remembers that although not always successful, his mother attempted to refrain from speaking badly of their father, even though at times he behaved very badly.
Cathy worked hard to support her children on her own finding work wherever she could: as a waitress, a bank teller, and a bookkeeper. She studied computer programing in the hope of being able to make more money to provide for her family, but wasn’t able to find work in the field.
Even though there was little money to go around, Cathy would go above and beyond to make birthdays, Christmas, and Easter special occasions for her children.
The years immediately following the divorce were difficult ones, but with help from Cathy’s sister Penny, and their parents, Cathy and Tiffany and Taylor made it through.
In the spite of the responsibilities and pressure her mother bore, Tiffany remembers her mother as being a fun-loving and spontaneous person during their childhood. She remembers her mother having them skip school so they could go horseback riding together, and evenings spent together going for walks around the various lakes near where they lived. Later when Tiffany was older she remembers coming home from her job to find her mother packing for a spur of the moment weekend trip together.
After living with Kathy’s parents for two and a half years, Cathy was able to move out with her children to a house in the little country village of Pattenburg, NJ where I happened to be the young pastor fresh out of seminary of the local Methodist Church. Tiffany was 12 and Taylor was 10. It was a fresh start for the family. Cathy took delight in fixing up their home with what her sister described as “an amazing sense of style.” She loved going to paint stores where she would patiently choose just the right color. She loved working in the yard, designing landscape, and planting a garden. Hunterdon County provided an abundance of outdoor settings to explore with her children.
I have a distinct memory of meeting Cathy that I’ve carried with me for what must be now 36 years. Cathy’s house was on the one little residential street in the center of Pattenburg with the church located midway down the street. One Saturday there was a street-long yard sale, and I wandered from house to house. Cathy was sitting on the front steps of her house with some items laid out on the lawn for sale. She greeted me warmly and I introduced myself and Cathy introduced Tiffany and Taylor to me. I sat and talked for a while. I can’t remember specifically what we talked about, but certain clear impressions remain: her clear sense of style and beauty, her soft spoken sensitivity and kindness, and that Tiffany and Taylor were her life.
Cathy began attending my church, and it was through the church that she made several friends and was introduced to Al, a successful business owner. A romance blossomed and before long Cathy and Al were married at a wedding at which I officiated.
Taylor remembers the early years with Al as “fun and exciting.” They moved in with Al to a new, larger house along with Al’s children — an older step sister, and two older stop brothers. No longer stressed financially, there was more opportunity for Cathy and her children to relax and enjoy life. They often ate out with a large group of friends, and made summer trips to a vacation home Al had in North Carolina. In Taylor’s memory this period of time in their lives was sweet for all of them.
But over time the clouds began to cover the bright sunlight of this period of their life beginning with the tragic death of one of Tiffany and Taylor’s step brothers who was killed in a car accident. I remember Cathy calling me on the phone early one Sunday morning the night after it happened, asking me to come to the house for the sake of Al who was devastated. The whole family was rocked with grief.
Over time Al’s alcoholism became more apparent. Their marriage deteriorated and the sweetness faded. Tiffany was 19 and Taylor 17 when Al and their mom separated, moving out of the house to a place in Flemington.
Tiffany headed off to college, first locally and then in Florida. Before long Taylor – exhibiting his mother’s spirit of adventure – headed west, first to Alaska and then to Seattle.
Tiffany remembers fondly a summer vacation to New Hampshire she took with her mom after college – just the two of them. Her mother’s spirit of adventure and spontaneity was expressed in a one particular memory from the week. They took a ski lift up to the summit of a mountain. After taking in the spectacular view they came upon a sign at the entrance of a descending trail that claimed it was only a 1.5 mile hike to the base. As Tiffany tells it, that sounded like “cake”, so they agreed to hike down instead of taking the ski lift back. It turned out not to be “cake.” They joked about the various rescue scenarios that would play out if they didn’t make it back before the sun set, but they did, with a good story to last a lifetime.
After her marriage to Al ended, Cathy entered a relationship with a man named Joe and together they started a successful foreign repair business, but eventually that relationship ended as well.
In the last twenty-five years of Cathy’s life she moved often. She lived in various places within Hunterdon County, then briefly in upstate New York, then in Lancaster to be with her sister, and then in a townhouse in Millersville, Pa.
When her beloved father was dying with ALS she spent over a year in Virginia caring for him, after which she returned to Lancaster. When Taylor and his family were living in Vermont she moved to there to be near them, remaining for a time after they moved back west. She spent some time on Orcas Island, WA with Taylor’s family before returning east to live for several years in Bethlehem, PA.
Last year Cathy decided it was time to settle down in one place, taking a home in a 55 and up community in Lakewood, NJ. It was there that she became sick and would take her leave from this world.
Her frequent moves expressed a restlessness to her soul, but also her spontaneity of spirit and openness to adventure.
Her greatest delights in these latter years came from her children and their grandchildren.
She adored her five grandchildren (Diansa, Kupono, Lokahi, Sawyer, and Payton) and was always proud of all they did. Penny noted that Cathy’s homes were always filled with pictures of them – they were her joy.
Tiffany remembers her mother’s happiness in taking her grandchildren out to eat or the times she was able to join them on a hike. When Cathy lived nearby she made an effort to be at her grandchildrens’ school performances and such.
Taylor writes, “Our mother was there when we got married – happy, excited, full of joy. When our children were born, her love and pride in them was instant and unrestrained. We were her family, and she would have done just about anything for any one of us.”
Cathy had a strong capacity for friendship. She had a close friend named Joan who was always up for one of the adventures suggested by Cathy. Unfortunately, Joan was diagnosed with cancer. Tiffany remembers that before Joan died, she was able to attend her wedding to John and the great joy it gave Cathy to have Joan there with her. Tiffany fondly remembers the shared delight of Cathy and Joan dancing together with happy abandon at the wedding reception.
Cathy missed Joan terribly after her death.
Other special friends who blessed her on her journey included Sue and Judy, as well as Jean here today from Bethlehem.
During the last year of Cathy’s life Don McCarthy was a godsend, a wonderfully kind and patient friend who watched over Cathy when she became ill, taking her to doctor appointments. (Don is also here today.)
And for 72 years there was Cathy’s friendship to her big sister Penny. Together they persevered in love for one another throughout their life in spite of the inevitable struggles that arise between big and little sisters. As Penny described their relationship, “It had its ups and downs as we struggled to find who we were and how we fit into the world around us. I think our relationship was always changing, and although we are very different, we loved each other and truly enjoyed our times together.”
Penny described her sister as “very giving, receiving joy from helping others.” Penny misses her sister’s friendship immensely.
Taylor wrote the following in regard to his mother’s parenting: “(She) was sensitive, kind, loving and gentle. She always believed in us and gave us a wide berth to live our lives. She let us experience life, and even when she disagreed with our choices, she never harshly judged us. Her love was unconditional, and while I sometimes took it for granted, I never doubted the unending depths of her love. (I strayed down some scary and self-destructive paths in my youth, and through it all, our mother was steadfastly loving and supportive.)”
Taylor described his mother as an intelligent and gifted woman who sometimes had a hard time believing this truth. In the end, the greatest source of pride in Cathy’s life was the adults her children had become, and the goodness she saw emerging so beautifully in her grandchildren. This is her legacy, and it is no small thing.
Cathy had an eye for beauty in its myriad forms: in art, nature, architecture, and in the hearts of people. She created beauty, whether by creating homes that were warm and welcoming or in planting gardens with life-giving plants and flowers.
Being in nature, and especially by water gave Cathy joy. She loved to sit in the quiet of an early morning or to go for walks. Being outdoors always brought peace to Cathy’s soul. She loved pets and taking care of them.
A sensitive soul, Kathy knew a fair share of pain in her life, and perhaps in part because of this fact, she had the capacity to empathize with the struggles of others.
Inequality, poverty and injustice in this world weighed heavily upon her heart. She sought to be a good steward of the earth by lowering her carbon foot print and supporting various conservation efforts.
She had a big heart.
My seven years as the pastor of the Pattenburg Church weren’t easy ones for me. Following the birth of my first born son, I too went through a painful divorce. Although the congregation was consistently supportive of me, I sensed a particular compassion and understanding from Cathy.
The hymn that Cathy had chosen for her memorial service because it had special meaning to her – “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” – is striking for its sensitivity to the fact that life can be very hard sometimes, and that the God revealed in Jesus is one who enters into our pain and transforms it.
I was reminded of the words from a Leonard Cohen song:
“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
There was in Cathy a mixture of fragility and strength, of pain and joy, and ultimately a trust in the light that sines through the cracks of our broken lives.
According to Taylor, his mother was confident that there is life beyond death. The prospect of dying didn’t seem to frighten her; she saw it as a transition towards something more wonderful. It was the leaving loved ones part of death that saddened her.
In the passage I read from 1Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul reminds us that love is what life is all about. We were created out of love and for love. In the course of our lives we often lose track of this truth, but in times like this when someone we love leaves us by death, the truth becomes once more clear.
We are not perfect beings, so as Leonard Cohen said, “Forget the perfect offering.” Cathy knew how to love, imperfect though that love was. And love, as the Apostle Paul says, is the one thing that never ends.
The Apostle Paul refers in Romans 8 to suffering of this being “a slight momentary affliction to the glory to be revealed to us.” That is a remarkable statement, because the suffering of this life can seem at times overwhelming. But Paul tells us that when we gaze upon the glory of God – the radiant light that awaits us when we take our last breath – the radiance that I believe Cathy now can see clearly – the sufferings of this life will seem like but a mere drop compared to the ocean that is God’s love.
Cathy loves you still, in fact in death everything that got in the way of her capacity of love while she was on earth has fallen away. And I believe you will see her again at the great wedding feast that is the Kingdom of Heaven, dancing with Joan and all those who have gone before us.
So in the meantime, let us persist in loving, because in the end, that is all that matters. When we stumble in our imperfect efforts – which we will do time and time again – let us get back up and try again. Because that, and that alone, is why we are here.