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Eulogy for Carole

My favorite course in college was taken while I was working on a Masters Degree in Music Education. It was called “The Philosophy of Music Education”, which quickly turned into purely the philosophy of music for me. I didn’t care about teaching rug rats then, and I still don’t now.

There was one perfect thought from that course which still lives within me. It is the idea that a person’s emotions are much like the surface of the ocean. Sometimes there are angry waves, and sometimes the surface appears calm, but never is the ocean, or a person’s emotions, still.

Since Carole has passed, my understanding of this thought has deepened.  While for the last four years my emotions have been defined by storms and violent waves, I now find myself in a dead calm, and in this stillness random memories are washing up on the beach, like driftwood. The ocean is returning bits of my life to me that I thought were lost forever. And this is a very good thing because in Carole’s final days I struggled to remember her before cancer.

I fell in love with Carole in December of 1990 – sight unseen. I heard her singing in the next room and thought to myself that what I was hearing was the perfect voice.  It was a voice I had often imagined, but never heard in person. 

When I turned the corner and saw her, my first thought was, “Damn, I’m in deep trouble now.” Honestly, that was my first thought upon seeing her. She was that beautiful.

As I spent time with her, I began to realize that I already knew her. The details of her life were interesting, but somewhat trivial because I had dreamt of her so often before we met.

It was soon after that the “CAROLE EFFECT” started. She shared her excellence with me.  She gradually increased her demands and forced me to grow as a musician and as a person.

I have recently heard similar stories from actors that Carole and I worked with in 1991 and 1992. They say that Carole gave them their first break. It was Carole who taught them professionalism and excellence. Most of these actors are working on Broadway today.

And less than a week ago I heard from a young woman who is pursuing her Masters Degree at the Yale School of Divinity, and she directly credits Carole, this choir, and this parish for putting her on this path in her life.

This is the “Carole Effect.”

She taught me music. She demanded I keep getting better. I promise you our greatest successes and our most fierce disagreements were not about money, sex, religion, or politics. It was always about the music.

She unintentionally taught me photography. It was because of her that I bought my first camera; I wanted it to capture her beauty.

I taught myself how to fight, because never had I someone so precious to protect, and I taught myself how to write because I had to share our story with the world.

This is the “Carole Effect.”

But there was also a “BOB EFFECT”.  It is most easily explained by saying I was Kirk to her Spock. She was the one who used her 140 IQ points often, perhaps too often; she used to deeply consider everything before committing to even the smallest of things while I was the one who jumped off cliffs without looking, both musically, and in life.

I was passion; she was precision.

Eventually we inherited the best of each other, so much so that she was the one who asked me to marry her. Talk about jumping off cliffs…

Carole is now the owner of a parenthetical life. On the day you’re born you’re given an open parenthesis, the one I call the “optimistic” parenthesis, followed by the year you were born and a hyphen.

On the day you die, they add the year of your passing and a closing parenthesis, the one I call the “judgmental” parenthesis. This is the parenthesis of power; not only does it complete your existence, it invites others to examine your life as a complete package, a single intentional entity. The second parenthesis bids the living to judge the dead, as though beating hearts provide infallible hindsight.

As with all of us, there are many versions of Carole to judge. There was Carole the musician, Carole the artist, Carole the friend, Carole the enemy, Carole the wife, Carole the co-worker, and finally Carole with cancer.

Which Carole you choose to judge and how you judge her is your own prerogative, but I would like to address the Carole with cancer.

Carole and I consider Halloween of 2010 as the beginning of this cancer journey, and in the 1,224 days she lived with cancer, I can promise you she did not have a single hour without pain.  I watched her from her initial struggle with the word cancer up until she fought for her last breath. I saw everything, some of which I wish I could forget, but mostly I saw her at her raw and most honest self.

I tell you with absolute certainty that few people on earth have endured her level of human suffering for as long as she did, and from that suffering most of you would judge these cancer years as horrible years.

I am of a different heart. I choose to judge these as her most honorable years.

I saw, as many of you did, a woman of enormous personal strength suffer with the greatest grace.  She taught me caregiving by example. I reflected her grace and strength back to her. It’s that simple.

Many of you are asking how I am doing after the passing of Carole Marcotte.

The answer is not simple. Keep in mind that I’ve been grieving for four years. There were so many times we thought her life was over and we “settled up.” Ours was a brutally honest relationship at the end, no room was allowed for interpretation or hurt feelings; there were no filters. We knew where each of us stood, and how close we were. We somehow had welded ourselves together in love.

In my heart, her last moments were both painfully inevitable and impossible to believe. She was my champion and my hero; she still is. I badly wanted her suffering to end, but I still didn’t want to lose her.

I sometimes sit in denial about her death, but I am always filled with a satisfaction that I loved her as completely as one person can; and I still do.

Here are some facts. Please walk away from here knowing these things:

Cancer did NOT win.

HER body, and MY soul, died last Friday, but she GAVE me HER soul with her last breath and I gave it residence within ME. As she had done all her life, she filled the worthless with the priceless, and her soul now fills me, and now I have a purpose.

I cannot let HER story, or her BRAVERY go silent. I will not keep her struggle to myself, nor will I allow her heroism to be kept as a personal treasure.

I will share Carole with anyone willing to listen with the same brutal honesty that she and I shared. I will share all she taught me about music, and life, and most importantly, I will NOT STOP caregiving. I will share our love with any family or group touched by cancer until MY last breath.

Sharon Johnson, Cynthia Burton, Dina Ibrahim, Elizabeth King, Denise Brown…sign me up. There is no group too small or too far away. I am your guy.

In my opinion, the toughest prayer to God is only four words long: thy will be done.

The toughest life lesson Carole taught me is also four words:

I will not quit.

So, as the waves of your own sorrows crest, please know this:

That storm offshore that is Carole’s death, the one that is pushing the breeze on your face and past your tears – will not hurt you. Take solace in knowing that Carole is alive. She is alive and I can hear her singing inside me right now. Watch carefully, for the memories that will wash upon your shore are precious gifts from Carole; she wants you to have them. Embrace them.

You can choose to leave here in sorrow or joy.  As for me, I will leave in joy.

She is alive. She is within me. She is happy. She is without pain.

Today is about joy. She has gifted us.

Thank you for being here today.







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3 Responses to “Eulogy for Carole”

  1. Nickie says:

    Thank you for sharing, it is a beautiful tribute. God bless you.

  2. Brenda Condley says:

    It was a beautiful service and an even more beautiful speech. Carole is absolutely proud of you.

    With a million hugs and tears,

  3. Mary Axworthy says:

    I finished your book last night, Bob. It was beautiful. You gave me a copy when you met with our Cancer Registrar’s group at the California Cancer Center. You moved us with your story of Carole and her bravery and we’re all so pleased to have you as our guest speaker in the fall. But your and Carole’s story resonates more strongly in me today than it did several months ago when we met. My heart went out to you because I was a caregiver to both my parents during their battles with cancer. But my heart breaks for your dear Carole and the pain she had to endure over 4 long years. I was diagnosed last month with diffuse large b-cell lymphoma and started chemotherapy 2 weeks ago. I’m not a survivor yet, but I will be, and I can only hope I have half the courage of Carole to complete my journey with such grace and dignity. With all my respect, Mary (Cancer Registrar)

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