I attended the memorial service for the passing of the library director’s sister Tinley Alicia Hood Combs. Tamara’s sister died just six months shy of 60, but had endured the pains of ill health of a person much older.
The ceremony took place at Grace Fellowship on County Road 33 in Fairhope.
Tamara gave me a quiet hug, a beat passed in the stillness of our embrace. She introduced me to her son Mallory.
“Alan’s the only guy who works with us at the library,” she said.
“We’ve met before,” I said, as we clasped hands.
“Yeah, at the library,” he said.
“I wish it were under better circumstances today,” I said, and found a seat in a row with coworkers and library volunteers.
Psalms were read, and we sang a hymn, “Great is thy Faithfulness,” which is very familiar to me.
“A Methodist classic,” I mentioned to my seatmate, Cheryl, who had the hymnal resting on her lap, so Susan and I could look along. The hymn, a spiritually uplifting tune, wasn’t quite belted out, but the chorus was sung enthusiastically.
Mallory, Tinley’s nephew, remembered her “giggles,” at the most inappropriate times in life, which drew vibrations of laughter, in the knotty pine-paneled chapel.
Tinley’s niece mentioned that her aunt and uncle were childfree, which allowed them to spoil their nieces and nephews. She remembered everything with her aunt involved “sugar,” despite their family’s diabetic history. We heard her husband Greg’s devotion to Tinley, and he nearly made it through without breaking up.
The pastor, Bill McMurray, spoke of Tinley being “Saved” at an early age. As examples of her faith, he read from Matthew, Ephesians I, and Colossians I.
I did not know Tinley, though we had spoken several times at the library over the years. I was there for the living. I only knew Tinley through Tamara, who told me about Tinley’s decision to terminate dialysis, and ultimately her life. The courage in that decision staggers me still. How much pain can one endure? How courageous, faithful, and trusting must you be to know the right decision? She had a plan, or perhaps she said, “God has a plan.” Greg, her four sisters, and caregiver, Susan, were by her side, vigilantly.
As Tamara said, on the day of her sister’s passing, “Tinley was in control,” somehow knowing when to have family around, and when to send them away. Tinley died at home, with Greg and Susan at her bedside.
As the funeral director wheeled Tinley out, Tamara said, “I kissed her on the forehead one last time.”
Listening to the song, “This One’s with Me,” performed by a three piece band and two singers, I looked out the arched window above the alter. Pink Crepe Myrtle blossoms danced in the foreground, and a stately pine comforted me, and perhaps others in the room. The blue sky, after heavy rains, made the greens and pinks more vibrant.
During another glance out the altar window, I saw a small jet climbing above the pink flowers. I thought about Tinley getting a ride to Jesus on that same jet. I smiled at my silliness. On second thought, I may have even giggled inappropriately, but not loud enough for anyone to hear. I quickly bowed my head for the final prayer.
In his closing the pastor addressed Tinley directly.
“See ya’ in a little while.” As he paused, I heard weeping, whimpering.
“See ya’ in a little while,” he repeated, and that melted me. I didn’t bring a tissue, so I pushed the tears onto my index finger and rubbed the saltiness into my hands.
Tamara walked out, arms looped with her sister, their tissues balled up in left hands. Their faces distorted by grief. I thought of, and then began to see, yellow marigolds on cloudy days.
I stood up and let the row empty in front of me. I looked at the collage of photos, resting on two easels in the foyer. There were pictures of life moments, especially her wedding with Greg, and with her parents, sisters, and family.
When I stepped outside, it was overcast again, gray, but not threatening. I said a brief goodbye to Mallory and thanked the pastor. I saw Tamara being comforted by a circle of family and coworkers as I walked to my car.
A picture of Tinley in her wedding gown graces the front of the memorial service program. As I looked at it, I began to think about and admire Tinley for her courage, faith, and trust in God.
If God sent Jesus for us, and Tinley was called by God, then I like to think Tinley got halfway to heaven on the wings of that jet.