Even after the ushers had lined the aisles of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral with folding chairs, the memorial service for Lin Christenberry was standing room only in downtown Knoxville last night.
You knew the flowers would be beautiful. Lin, an award-winning floral designer, would have loved the lush arrangements of hydrangeas and cream-colored and pink roses on the altar and adorning the processional crucifix.
“Those were Lin’s go-to flowers whenever she was doing an arrangement,” said Martha McClellan, a member of St. John’s Flower Guild and close friend of Lin and her husband, Chris Christenberry. “Lin loved pink roses of every shade.” The Guild is divided into teams, with each team being assigned to arrange flowers every week at the church. “It was a coincidence that Lin’s team happened to be assigned to do the flowers this week,” McClellan said. “It’s safe to say those flowers were arranged with extra love.” They were stunning.
Lin, a pillar of Knoxville’s civic life and a frequent presence on the Blue Streak, passed away just a few weeks after having been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The community is still reeling from the shocking news. Her friend Anne Sprouse, a chaplain at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, noted from the podium, “I’m sure many of you didn’t even know she was sick until you heard that she had died.”
Her friends and family members described at the service how they discovered a bag labeled “Lin’s funeral” after she had passed. In it, she had placed clippings from funerals she had liked, along with Bible verses she wanted to be read at her own memorial.
As a result, the service was as upbeat and comforting as any memorial service could be. The Very Rev. John Ross said he was bowled over by the number of stories he’s heard about Lin since she passed away on Friday. “Lin loved stories,” he said. “And I keep hearing stories and stories and stories about her from all kinds of people. I’ve never heard so many stories!”
All the speakers remarked on the adjectives used by others to describe Lin Christenberry: beautiful, poised, kind, funny, gracious, loving. “She might have been an angel,” the Very Rev. Ross noted during his homily.
Her daughter, Mary Grimm, said her mother loved three things: flowers, entertaining and “being Nana” to her seven grandchildren. We all chuckled when Mary related how, at Christmas, the grandchildren looked forward to the arrival of “Nana Claus” even more than that of Santa Claus.
Lin’s sister, Marti Neblett Tyler, brought smiles when she related that after Lin died, Mary came to her and said, “Aunt Marti, Mom was my Google. I’d always go to her with questions like, ‘Can I wear white linen after Labor Day?’ and she’d give me the answer. Now you are going to have to be my Google!” Marti’s reply: “Mary, I have bad news for you. Lin was my Google, too!”
Pastor Ross said Lin did not want people to be sad at her service. “She wanted us to be happy. She wanted us to celebrate her,” he said. Because of that, the closing hymn of the service was the Easter anthem, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Have you ever heard a more joyous sentiment?
And the poem that Lin’s daughter, Anna Ottaviano, read also was very appropriate for that goal. Contained in “Lin’s Funeral” bag, it was called “Miss Me, but Let Me Go.” Here it is:
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all a part of the Master’s plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me, but let me go!
Click here to read the paid obituary for Lin Christenberry that ran in the News Sentinel.