By Lisa Batten Kunkleman
My hometown lost a treasure recently. A popular music teacher and friend to so many, Carol’s unexpected death left people speechless, unable to fathom the senselessness of the loss. Unable to accept that someone took her life. For those of us fortunate enough to know Carol, we each have cherished memories and stories to share about how she affected our lives.
In the 1970’s, as our young, energetic Baptist church youth and choral director, Carol worked diligently to keep all her teens involved. She provided us with opportunities for learning and service. Here’s my story.
Although there certainly were far better pianists to choose from in our church, she recruited me to play piano for the children’s choir. She also founded a close harmony sextet named Starshine, consisting of five of my friends and me. She taught us to appreciate some lovely pop ballads, like Cherish and More, that we performed for adult functions, civic groups, and for our own church. We performed as an a cappella group before that was a popular style of singing.
Fortunately, I didn’t procrastinate in telling our friend how much she meant to me in those teen years. Twenty years later, I told her how influential she and Starshine had been in my life. I told Carol how she nurtured my love of music by encouraging me to sing solos in church. Assuring me that the more I did it, the less I’d be nervous, she was always a smiling face or a winking eye in the audience helping me through my fear.
I explained that her nurturing of me had trickled down into the lives of my own kids who sang, played instruments, and performed in our family’s current church. When I told her that our oldest daughter majored in music, she lit up with my story of gratitude, so proud and pleased, yet humble. Always humble.
I was not alone in feeling her support. We all received her attention and nurturing. She went on from her church work to teach public school music for twenty-five years. I cannot imagine how many lives she affected, undoubtedly making every student feel important, special, like they mattered.
Our friend passed away this week. Someone took the life of one of the kindest, most talented people many from our small town will ever know. My hometown is in shock and disbelief. Murder does that. People wonder how such a horrendous event could happen to a lovely, caring person, one who lived her Christian beliefs, always putting others first. Carol’s pure kindness and caring made the world a brighter place.
I’ve decided there are Three Truths in Life: We’re all born. We all live a life filled with stories. We all die. The last part is difficult to accept. Whether by natural causes, accidents, old age, or tragedy of any kind, celebrating a life well lived is a positive and affirming way to deal with grief and sorrow. Sharing life stories and memories keeps people “alive” with us. Carol’s stories are well worth sharing. People’s stories tell so much more than how they died. Their stories show how they lived.