Melanie passed away on May 24, 2018 from metastatic melanoma. I wrote this eulogy, which was masterfully delivered at her funeral by my friend, Pastor Nathan Rogers.
Melanie Carlton was a passionate person who found joy in many things. She was gifted at sharing that joy with others, especially through teaching. She loved dancing and baton twirling, so she opened her own dance studio in their house on Ninth Street. She loved her dance students and the time she spent with them, watching them grow and progress. Melanie loved to read, and she was passionate about her job as a reading teacher at De Queen primary school. She loved her students, her coworkers, and her administrators.
She loved her family, especially her amazing daughters. She showed them how to love others, and how to be compassionate. She gave them her gift of dance and her love of music. Their house is full of crafts they did together, and their hearts are full of memories she made with them.
Things were rarely boring if Melanie was in the room. She was the queen of random. Her thoughts were unpredictable, and her plans grandiose. When she had a grandiose plan, she always had a way to pay for it. Jason called it “Melanie math.” Melanie would tell Jason about money she had been spending on frivolous things, but that she would now start saving so that they could afford to go on their next adventure. Melanie math often worked, and they went on many great journeys as a family.
Melanie loved beautiful things. She had a genuine talent for drawing and painting. She loved music as much as anybody ever has… from worship music to Justin Timberlake. She always had a song in her head. She said there was a constant playlist in her mind, continually hitting shuffle. There was always a song in her head and her heart.
She loved people, all people. Melanie never met a stranger. People would often show up at church needing help of some kind, or for somebody to simply listen to them. Sometimes, people don’t feel comfortable coming into church, for fear of judgment or not fitting in. Sometimes people wonder if they have the right clothes, or if they need to hide their scars or tattoos. One of Melanie’s unique gifts was that she could make anybody feel at ease. She wasn’t intimidated by anybody’s appearances, or their issues. Melanie didn’t hide her own scars or her own tattoos. In fact, when Melanie’s first cancer surgery eight years ago left a large scar on her back, she looked at it as a canvas, and got a colorful tattoo to decorate the scar. It was very her.
Melanie had a unique gift of bridging cultural divides. If the music had a beat, she could dance to it. On more than one occasion, she and Becky Beck went line dancing at a nursing home. Jason wasn’t invited. She loved Jesus. And like Jesus, she loved people on the margins. She was perfectly at home at a Ouachita homecoming tea, or at a pawn shop.
Her love of Disney World was so profound and well-known that friends would call so that she could help them plan their own family trips. One of her dream jobs was to be a travel agent for Disney, to help people experience the same joy that she found there. Using Melanie math, she tried countless times to convince Jason that they should just sell everything and move to Orlando and get jobs at Disney World. Melanie, of course, wanted to be a princess. She told Jason he could, “just drive the monorail or something.”
There are a few things that you might not know about Melanie.
- Just after high school, Melanie tried to join the National Guard. She showed up at the recruiter’s office in heels and a sun dress, with every intention of signing that day. The recruiter was genuinely surprised. He told her she needed to gain some weight and come back in a year. She never got around to going back.
- She was a licensed pawn broker. For quite some time, she worked at American Pawn on State Line in Texarkana. During her time there, she learned to interact people from a broad cross-section of humanity. She could spot a fake diamond from across the room, but was kind enough never to say it.
- At first, Melanie didn’t want to move to De Queen. When Jason entered the ministry, Melanie told him, “I will go anywhere in the world with you, but I will not move to De Queen.” But it wasn’t long until Melanie fell in love with De Queen. She used to tell her friends that living in De Queen was like living in Sweet Home Alabama. She became a proud De Queen Leopard. She loved football games and the Christmas parade. She loved this community. And when she was struggling these past six months, the community she loved so much rallied around her and eased her burden. Melanie came to learn that De Queen is the kind of place where your pharmacist will hand-deliver your prescriptions in the middle of a thunderstorm, and then get soaked while chasing down your runaway kitten. Melanie loved De Queen.
- Melanie considered it a personal outrage when McDonald’s switched from Styrofoam cups to plastic. To her, Diet Coke in a sweaty plastic cup just didn’t taste the same. She was a big fan of the complicated order. At drive throughs, Jason would lean back in his seat so that Melanie talk directly to the restaurant. She consistently ordered her grilled chicken well-done.
- Melanie struggled greatly with depression and anxiety, and she wanted to help others through the same valleys. She would be amazed if she could know how much joy she brought to others. She was open about her own struggles. She was anything but the typical pastor’s wife. But her unique personality and her willingness to share her personal pain allowed her to minister to hurting people beautifully.
- She was always for the underdog. About 10 years ago, Jason and Melanie were at a national church conference. One night as a large worship service dismissed, there was a man in the main hallway, apparently homeless, and asking for help as people left the conference. Melanie watched as pastor after pastor walked past the man without helping. Then she heard one of the pastors say something derogatory about the homeless man as he walked past. Melanie looked right at the pastor and said, “Are you kidding me?” And since Melanie never, ever had cash, she asked Jason for money to give to the man. Then she stood and talked with him for a few minutes. She listened to his story. She made him smile. She told the man that he mattered.
One time in Searcy, Melanie and Jason were in the grocery store and there was a mother yelling at her daughter. The daughter looked to be about seven or eight years old, and the mother was in the daughter’s face, saying that the child couldn’t ever do anything right. Melanie walked right up and stood between the mother and the daughter, and knelt down in front of the little girl. Melanie told the girl how pretty she was, and that she was special. The little girl’s face brightened. Then Melanie stood and faced the mother. Melanie didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to.
Melanie was always for the underdog, especially when she was the underdog. After her diagnosis, she said more than once, “Either Jesus will heal me now, or He will heal me forever.”
A list of her favorite things, in no particular order: Funyuns with bean dip, Ruffles with onion dip, Diet Coke, 2 a.m. baths, Disney World, Will Smith, George W. Bush, Ben and Jerry’s, crab legs, road trips, Sunday afternoon naps, presents, prizes, tickets, holidays, and craft projects.
She was tougher than any of us realized, and that was never more evident than during the past two weeks. On Thursday afternoon, Melanie finally began to experience a heavenly joy, peace, and rest like she had never known here. And beauty beyond her wildest imagination.
The family would like to express their gratitude:
To their Memorial Baptist Church family, for their love and support these many months of Melanie’s illness, for their understanding and for their wonderful care of the girls.
To the administration of the De Queen School system, especially Mr. and Mrs. Hill, for their compassion, generosity, and for the amazing environment they have created.
To all of Melanie’s caregivers, especially to Dr. Jason Lofton and his staff, Amedysis Home Health, De Queen Medical Equipment, and Harris Drug Store. And to the wonderful, caring staff at UAMS, especially Dr. Sarah Beth Harrington. God was with us through each of you. You all went above the call of duty to care for our family.
To this community, for your concern and abundant care. You have made this difficult burden lighter.
And to each of you gathered here today, thank you for your love and prayers for the days ahead.
We know that since she is with Jesus, she is healed, and happy and whole.
When you lose someone you love, take something that you loved about that person and make it part of your life. Have a pint of ice cream in the bathtub at 2am. Find something that brings you joy, and teach someone else how to enjoy it just as much. Stand up for the underdog. Wear sunscreen. Let your own scars help you minister to others. Love everybody like Jesus loves them.
A friend passed along a quote yesterday, and it’s perfect to use here: “There are souls in this world which have the gift of finding joy everywhere and of leaving it behind them when they go” (Jean Paul).