In Memoriam Barbara Bennett Cooke (1923 – 2011)

In Memoriam
Barbara Bennett Cooke (1923 – 2011)

While sitting at the breakfast table on Monday morning, January 24, Barbara Cooke slipped peacefully into eternity. Like many of her era, she was born in the family home in Boonville, Indiana on September 23, 1923.

Barbara Bennett Cooke MemoriamIn her youth, mom was very athletic. She played softball, tennis, and basketball competitively, and was a Physical Education major at Hanover College in Madison, Indiana. She held the record in discus there for some time. Her studies at Hanover were cut short because of Rheumatic Fever, and the doctors told her mother that she would only live for four or five more years. Mom always took pride in being strong, and even in her mid-80’s as she was recovering from injuries sustained in the car accident that took my dad’s life, she periodically would challenge her doctors to an arm-wrestling match.

Barbara met Kenneth Cooke while attending Hanover, and following WWII (my dad served in the Navy), they were married on August 22, 1946 in Scottsburg, Indiana. Dad began pursuing what would become his lifelong career as an educator, and in 1949, they had the first of four sons (I was number four).

When it came to manners, doing things properly, and speaking properly, mom would have made Emily Post and Noah Webster very proud. When my dad passed away in 2007, mom was unable to attend the memorial service because she was still in the hospital recovering from her own injuries. Shortly after that, I showed her a DVD of the funeral service, and mom watched with great interest – not only because it involved her husband’s memorial service, but because she was very interested in etiquette, dignity, and decorum… she wanted to make sure things were done right. The only “suggestion” she offered from her hospital bed – as she lay there recovering from multiple injuries – is that it would have been more appropriate for me to have referred to him as “father” instead of “dad.”

But Mom was far from stuffy. She loved having fun, and could be a real cut-up at family gatherings. Barbara enjoyed antiques, church activities, decorating, gardening, painting, arranging flowers, and playing bridge. Mom was also a life-long learner; not only was she a reader, but she also took various courses at the Indiana University extension campus in Kokomo.

At her memorial service (January 29, 2011), I shared what I believed were the three most important things in my mother’s life.

1. Friends

Mom absolutely loved being with people. Whether it was her bridge club, small groups through her church, or volunteering in service and philanthropic organizations, Mom was always involved with people. She loved entertaining, and always gave events a special touch with decorations and other expressions of gifted hospitality.

Mom formed friendships that lasted decades, and in some cases, a lifetime. She often spoke of her childhood friends from her hometown, and it was obvious that she treasured these relationships greatly. The value that Mom placed upon friendships, and the fact that she had so many friends, was indicative of a sense of community, loyalty, and interest in others.

2. Family

The second thing that was valuable to Barbara Cooke was family. All the way back to her Boonville roots, she spoke frequently of her family, of her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. My brothers and I heard countless stories from generations past. She highly valued her roots. Later in life, she even bought the house that sat on the corner opposite her birthplace, and remodeled it.

As a mother, she was extremely conscientious and diligent in raising her kids. They could have easily patterned the June Cleaver character after her. We were always cared for extremely well, and probably the most-oft heard question in the Cooke household was, “Did you wash your hands?” After we said yes, the next statement was, “Let me smell your hands.” Verbal confirmation was not enough. Many people have credited President Reagan with the phrase, “Trust, but verify,” but I’m pretty sure he got that from my mom.

As we all grew up and moved out, no visit to Mom and Dad’s house was made without hearing multiple times, “Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?”

Mom absolutely loved her kids, she adored her grandkids, and she really, really loved her great-grandkids.

3. Faith

Barbara often spoke fondly of a godly, Methodist grandmother that regularly taught her Bible stories when she was a little girl. Mom made sure that all of us were in church when we were little, and she taught us important morals and values.

There are two statements I remember hearing mom make when I was young, and both of these made an impression on me. The first statement that stands out to me is when she said, “If you can believe any of the Bible, you can believe all of it.”

Another time (we must have been talking about Christians in other nations being persecuted for their faith) she said, “I’d let them cut my fingers off before I said it wasn’t true.”

In the last several years, mom spoke of God, the Bible, and Heaven often. Even within the last year, when her memory became more and more challenged, she would sometimes say, “Let me see if I can say the Lord’s Prayer,” or “Let’s see if I can say the Apostle’s Creed.” Remarkably, she did extremely well in reciting them verbatim. These seemed to be deeply ingrained in her, and even when other details were fading from her memory, these remained very precious to her.

When I was with mom in early December of 2010, we were preparing to leave to go back to Oklahoma… my wife said, “Why don’t you pray for your mom before we leave?”

I did, and I concluded my prayer with the words… “In the Name of Jesus, Amen.” Even though it was a challenge at that point for her to recognize her own children, as I said those words, she repeated them almost simultaneously with me – “In the Name of Jesus, Amen.” Those were the last words I heard her say.

Weeks and months prior to last December, mom had expressed to me on different occasions her desire for Heaven. She said she was looking forward to seeing her mother and father, and even asked for me to pray that she go to Heaven soon.

Of course, that got me thinking more about the reality of heaven, and I was reminded of some wonderful statements…

“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
– C.S. Lewis

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
– C.S. Lewis

“Thoughts of heaven quicken our faith. Our only sure and solid foundation is the hope of heaven. The only solution to earth’s mysteries and the only righter of earth’s wrongs is heaven. We need an infusion of heaven into our faith and hope that will create a homesickness for that blessed place. God’s home is heaven. Eternal life and all good were born there and flourish there. All life, happiness, beauty, and glory are native to the home of God. All this belongs to and awaits the heirs of God in heaven. What a glorious inheritance!”
– E.M. Bounds

My mom has made the transition that all of us must make. I am thankful today that the mother who raised me was a person who loved friends, loved family, and was a person of faith.