Monday, August 31, 2009

My Sister-in-Law, Lisa Cotharn, died tonight

from a heart attack an unknown cause. She was 48 years old.

[Updated, at bottom, with info from Lisa's Memorial Service.]
[Update 2, at bottom, with Dr. T. C. French, Jr.'s audio message]

The following photo is not fair to my Mom, because she was recovering from a brain hemorrhage, and didn't have a fair chance to fix herself up. Still, it's the best photo I have. Sorry, Mom (and Dad). This is the best photo.

Lisa is in blue, I'm above her in red, Bruce is in blue/yellow stripes, then Kris-in-Law, Mom, and Bro64. There will be a hole, in our group, from now on. It's funny how things work: I miss Lisa, already.

Lisa was the oldest of two sisters in Woodway, TX, which is just south of Waco. Her mother died of Lupus when Lisa was 16 years old. For several years, while her mother was incapacitated, Lisa nursed her mother and mothered her sister and cooked and cleaned house for her family. As a result of her early self-training, Lisa was a take charge personality: she got things done. She produced results.

Lisa was a drum major in her high school marching band. In fact, only a week ago, she attended her Midway High School 30th Reunion. After h/s, Lisa attended Texas A&M (Gig em, she loved it), later got her Masters in Education, and was a schoolteacher for 26 years - most recently teaching 7th and 8th grade English. Lisa was, for some years, the cheerleader sponsor for her school. She sang in her church choir, and loved her church. Lisa and my brother raised a daughter - now an Elementary Education Major in college, and a son - now entering his sophomore year of college, and I don't know his official major!

Lisa was paralyzed in a vehicle accident at the very end of 2002. She could struggle to fire some of her muscles, yet she could not use her arms or legs or fingers to perform functions. She acquired a motorized wheelchair which she could zip around with, using her head to control it with amazing swerve and verve. She could stick her wheelchair into the tiniest of spaces. And she went right back to teaching school. It was amazing. I wrote about it here: My Sister-In-Law teaches From Her Wheelchair.

Over the years, a lot of people who love Lisa and my brother confided to me that they sometimes felt emotionally torn up over the difficulties they knew Lisa and Bruce faced. And I always said the same thing: don't. Don't feel emotionally torn up. Lisa and Bruce led a life of difficulty, yet it was also a rich life, a life as fulfilling as anyone might be leading. Their life revolved around different routines, and different challenges; yet their life was no less rich and wonderful, no less filled with everything life ought be filled with. It was, in every way which counts, the fullest experience of life.

I quoted Lisa this February:
Always remember: you have arms embracing you. If you feel like you are falling, go ahead and fall. They will catch you, and lift you back up.
Lisa said that to our friend whose 19 year old son had just died. I hugged and listened. Lisa didn't waste niceties on a mother whose world had shattered. Lisa spoke immediately and directly to the most important point. Because of Lisa's own suffering, her words carried extra authority. I thought, in the first moment, Lisa was speaking of helpful friends. In the very next moment, I realized she was speaking of God.



From Sept 3, 2009, at Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.

Click to enlarge:

Some speakers in the first audio download:
  • Courtney Cotharn speaks at 16:00. Courtney is Lisa and Bruce's daughter.
  • Shelly Malone's remembrance is read by Robin Cotten at 20:40. Shelly is Lisa's sister.
  • Lisa and Bruce's friend, Pastor Tom Allen, of Crosspoint Fellowship Church in Pearland, TX, remembers Lisa at 35:20.

First audio download, comprising the beginning and middle of the Memorial Service, at this link:, download "O1 Entire Album.m4a" (via the indicator at the bottom of the page).

Update 2:

Second audio download (of the final part of the Memorial Service), which includes Dr. T.C. French Jr.'s Message:

Dr. French's message begins at the 4:25 mark. Excerpts:

Romans 8:18
"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us."
1 Corinthians 15:37-39
"You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own."
For those like me, who were wondering if we correctly understood the message, Dr. French explained: we on Earth are the seed; we do not fully come to life until we die and receive our heavenly form.


leeann_ryan726 said...

She was such an amazing woman! She inspired me so much! I loved being around her, because she was one of the strongest most lovable people I knew! She had her good days and her bad ones, but she she was such a tankful person! I will never forget her and she will always be my inspiration in the classroom!!

gcotharn said...

Lee Ann, I know exactly how you feel.

Southern Brother said...

Thanks Greg...I Love You
editorial corrections...Lisa's Mom died in Dec. '78...she was 16...Sr. Yr of HS...She and Shelley grew up @ 300 Mustang, Woodway TX...tought from Dec. 83 till 2009...26 yrs...

gcotharn said...

thx. made the corrections.

Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Greg,

My heart goes out. I'm a bit older and have probably seen more tragedy amongst family and friends - but it still hurts really bad.

Peace and love to you and yours,


brent carpenter said...

My wife said it best in that she was never identified by her disabilities, but in her courage and strength. When we think of her we always think of courage, strength and a smile. She made everyone around her a better person.

Liz Arreaga said...

My thoughts and prayers are with Lisa's family and friends right now. I grew up with Lisa in Waco. She lived just down the street from me. She touched many lives then and seems to have continued doing this for many years.

Carlo Gulina said...

Mrs. Cotharn has always been one of my favorite teachers I've ever had. I had her for 7th and 8th grade history and she got into her accident during my 8th grade year. A bunch of us held a car wash at the junior high to raise money for her. She was such a great person, and Lee Ann is right, a huge inspiration. She will be greatly missed.

Lee-Ann Ryan said...

We also sent cards weekly/monthly to her when she was in Texas at TIRR. I remember the first time we saw her after she had the accident, it was at out 8th grade day. It was just so amazing and she was so happy to see us. I helped her in the classroom after she went back to teaching and she didn't let anything stop her. She was such an inspiration (I can't say it enough)!!! She is actually the main reason I am going to be a teacher!! Se is always going to have a great piece of my heart and she will never be forgotten!! (Every time I see or have Reeses, I will think of her)

emjay said...

I read once that "Courage is not the lack of fear, it is acting in spite of it." Lisa was one of the bravest persons I've ever known. We'll all miss her so much.

Webutante said...

Hi Greg, just got home and read your sad family news and can only say how fortunate you all were to have had her. You all will be in my thoughts and prayers.

Gayle Miller said...

May God rest her lovely and completely worthwhile soul and may He hold those who are grieving her loss be comforted in the embrace of the Lord.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your stories about Lisa. I enjoyed reading them. I too went to school with Lisa and we hung out our Senior year. She had a great strength that I admired. I am so thankful and blessed that she was able to attend the 30 yr H.S. reunion and we got to visit with her. My heart breaks for the family and we will continue to lift them in prayer. May God give you comfort and only He can.

gcotharn said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. It's nice to be surrounded by good people such as you. Comforting.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss of your sister-in-law. God bless.

gcotharn said...

Thank you, everyone, for your gracious comments. Much appreciated.