On June 17, 2018, my cousin Candace Howlin Kay died after a longtime battle with cancer. There aren’t enough words to convey the type of person Candace is, but here is my best attempt, read at her funeral.
Candace Howlin Kay is many things to many people. She is a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin and a friend. But she is more, too. While she was here, she was the person who lit up a room when she walked into it – the one with the most contagious laugh and love for life which you couldn’t help but be captivated by. She always made sure those she loved knew it. Whether it was through a hug, a text, phone call, Facebook comment or card in the mail, Candace loved others well. I am here today to share a little more about all that she means to my family and I.
As her cousin, I remember and treasure all the adventures we had together. Our times together became less frequent as we got older and life got busier, but every time was special. I remember all the walks around each other’s neighborhoods, late-night movies in the den way past my bedtime, and the fun – and trouble – we would all make together growing up at Grandpa’s Ben Franklin. All the summers at Aunt Carla and Aunt Jill’s house during Fourth of July, and the Christmas’s that changed location throughout the year but were always full of laughter, some pretty intense ornament exchanges and of course Grandma’s pound cake. Remembering her many expressions of pride in my accomplishments and excitement when I found out I got into UNC can still bring a smile to my face. Candace had a way of making everyone feel important – including all the younger and, I’m sure at many times, annoying cousins. Growing up, I remember feeling like the coolest kid in the world when Candace and Faith would let me hang out with them all the many times Alex and Anthony were over. It occurs to me now that as teenagers, they probably never wanted to watch the Grinch as often as we did, but I never felt like a pest or an annoying kid to them. With Candace, I just always felt loved.
And it wasn’t just me who experienced this love. Cassidy, Caitlin, Sarah, Jacob, Faith, Candace and myself – the dream team as far as cousins go in my opinion. Candace, as the oldest, was so good at loving and knowing each of us. We weren’t all together often, but during the 4th of July trips each summer, we could always just pick up where we left off the summer before. I wouldn’t trade the memories of all the board games, playing cards, s’mores or swimming together for anything. As the oldest, Candace always looked out for us, but she also had a mischievous streak. During a Disneyland trip in 2004 that Cait, Cass and Aunt Donna took with Grandpa, Grandma, Candace and Faith, they learned not to let Candace pick out any movies without checking them out first. Because the movie she picked was “White Chicks,” which didn’t turn out to be the most appropriate movie for elementary-aged Cait and Cass to go see. They can all still laugh about Grandma leaning over to Candace and saying in shock, “I thought you said this was a kid movie!” to which Candace replied with a smile, “No grandma, I said it was a funny movie.”
As a sister, Candace was supportive and loving in all things. Together, her and Faith overcame so many obstacles. Candace’s joyful and happy spirit never faltered – in the good times like celebrating each other’s marriages, Faith’s nursing accomplishments or each other’s graduations, but also in the hard times like after my Aunt Allison died or when Candace found out she had cancer. Candace was so excited to be an aunt to baby Zora, and even near the end was optimistic about doing so. Anyone who knew them, knew that Candace and Faith were the epitome of power sisters. They were not always dealt the best or the fairest cards, but together, they always did their best to play a good hand. I have always looked up to their relationship and love for each other so much, and I have learned an incredible amount about what sisterhood means from watching them do life together.
As a granddaughter, Candace was such a blessing and joy. I remember being jealous as a child watching how close Faith and Candace were to Grandma and Grandpa. As I grew older though, I was just happy to see they had two people in their lives who loved and cared for them so well. Candace always knew how to keep them on their toes too. My grandma, who is many incredible things, including being one of the strongest ladies I know, is not the most perceptive of sarcasm. So watching Candace tease Grandma and always knowing it would be followed by Grandma’s sighs of “Well” was always amusing. There are many ways to tell someone you love them without telling them, and I think Candace’s easy way of joking and making conversation with others helped teach me that. In her last months, Candace shared with Grandma and Grandpa her growing faith and also her love and appreciation of them. They were able to share so many special times together with Josiah, and Candace’s dedication to being a mom was so sweet to watch. Candace will live on through Josiah as he grows into a strong and good man, and I know my grandparents will truly treasure seeing her in him as he grows.
As a mother and wife, all of Candace’s joy for life was best captured. The love she shared with Lamar was evident from the beginning in how I watched her smile when I first heard her talk about him to my mom. Her love for Josiah was also amazing to see, and even now, as heartbreaking as it is to know he will have to grow up without her, as her family, it is so comforting to know just how many people he will have to remind him of the amazing woman he has to call mom.
So yes, Candace is many things to many people. But above all else, she is called Beloved by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She put her trust in him as a young girl – believing that she was sinner but that through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection three days later that she could be reconciled to God. Caitlin and Aunt Donna were blessed to talk to Candace on the phone the day before she died – in the conversation she remained hopeful and was looking forward to going home, but also expressed she knew God was looking out for her and she trusted it would work out the way it was meant to be. As hard as it is to be without her now, how comforting it is to know that today Candace is the presence of Jesus. She is reunited with her mom, Great-grandma Tillman and all of her other loved ones gone too soon. And without any pain or chemo – and with all of her beautiful hair – she is making all of them laugh a deep-down-in-your-belly-laugh. Our relationships with her all look different now, and it hurts to love her without having her here to hug or to laugh with. But our hope in Jesus Christ is that our relationships with her are nowhere near over – they have only just begun with the brief time we spent here on Earth knowing and loving her. So when the pain and grief feel like too much to bear, hold on to the coming eternity we will all have together in order to get through this life here without her.