A Tribute to My Dad

Pinkie Around Christmas 2010 183

My dad, Maurice Gilley, began having health issues about the same time as Libby’s cancer returned, in fact, Libby and I were visiting the assisted living facility with my dad on the day before Libby was admitted to the hospital.  My dad’s Alzheimer’s took his mind away from us over the next two years while Libby’s cancer took her away from us over the next three months. The following is the tribute that I delivered during my dad’s funeral:

I met an old man in 1985 who, as a young man, knew my dad’s dad in the early 1900’s and he told me about a time when my Granddad (L.H. Gilley) was building houses in Chattanooga and St. Elmo, then selling them to war veterans returning home from Europe. My Granddad eventually became a one-stop-shop for the first-time home buyer, personally financing dozens of houses so the buyers didn’t have to go to the bank for a loan.

My friend also said that by the 1920’s L.H. Gilley, had become one of the wealthiest men in Chattanooga; at least until early September of 1929 when he was warned by his banker to gather as much cash as possible because something “bad” was about to happen. As the Great Depression swept the country, the housing market crashed and Granddad lost his fortune, one house at a time, becasue tenants were unable to repay their home loans.

With a few hundred dollars to his name, my Granddad left Chattanooga and moved his family fifteen miles South to High Point, GA where he bought a farm and few animals, just to feed his family. That depression left an indelible mark on my Granddad, changing him from a freewheeling confident businessman to a cautious, somewhat cynical man, who believed everyone was one bad decision away from poverty.

I had heard bits and pieces of that legacy growing up and I remember telling my Granddad with a childish whine in my voice, “You should have made those people pay you back for those houses”. It was difficult to get him to talk about it but I kept pushing the issue until he answered, “You don’t understand, no one had any money, no one. What I had was eight children to feed, I needed beans, corn and milk, not money, besides those poor people living in my houses needed their money to feed their kids.  We were all just trying to survive.”

My dad, Maurice Paul Gilley was born into this, hardworking, strictly disciplined, but ironically compassionate family in December of 1928 just as The Great Depression was ending; its influence, however, would continue to shape him and our family, for generations.

Libby used to tell a story about how resourceful my mom and dad were and how cautious they were with their money; my parents had just moved into their new house in Winchester and decided that the seven tall windows facing the lake needed window blinds. Walmart had some blinds on sale for $9 each, but they were six inches too short.  Custom blinds would have cost $45 each so my mom and dad bought the cheap blinds along with one extra blind, then they took out enough string and slats from the extra blind and lengthened each of the other blinds by sewing the ends of the strings together and adding slats.

My dad hated spending money but he was always very generous with his time. I can remember as a teenager, my dad would gather the older boys and put us in the back of his pickup truck after school to work on a side job.  Dad would say, “Our neighbor needs a new roof but he can’t afford to pay someone to put it on, so we are going to help out and you boys will get to learn a new trade.”

It could be a neighbor, a family member or even a stranger who needed our help, but we knew we would be working until dark every night, we also knew that there was going to be a serious argument when we finished. That argument always started the same way when our neighbor would say, “Mr. Gilley, how much do we owe you for the help?” “Nothing” my dad would mumble gruffly (as if he was offended by the offer) as he headed toward his old blue pickup.  Our neighbor would shout, “Mr. Gilley I will not take charity, please take something for your trouble.”

My brothers and I would load up the tools and settle down in the back of the truck, because we already knew how this was going to end, our neighbor never had a chance of giving anything to my dad “for his trouble”, because the more he insisted on paying my dad the more stubborn my dad became.”

We always perked up a little when our neighbor would say something like, “If you want take my money, at least let me take your boys down to Pace’s Grocery so I can buy them a Coke and some candy”. But when my dad shot us a stern look we repeated the stock Gilley answer, “No, sir we couldn’t accept anything for our work, besides we may need your help some day and then you can pay us back”.

Those who knew may dad well understood that he didn’t want to be paid back for helping, others had to learn the hard way. Dad’s neighbor from Winchester called me yesterday with condolences and told me how dad helped him complete a botched deck project and managed to get it ready just in time for his daughter’s wedding, but then he said that he made the mistake of mailing a check to dad for his labor. “Oh no” I said, “What happened?”. “Well “, dad’s neighbor said, “He brought the check back over here, stood in my doorway, tore up the check and threw it on the floor, then he didn’t speak to me for the next two weeks.”

My mom and dad started their second life when they retired and moved into the last house that my dad ever built on Tim’s Ford Lake in Winchester, TN. Daddy called me one night from the lake and said, “I think I may have to get Joyce to take me to the hospital.” “Why” I said. “Well my right arm hurts and the pain goes across into my chest”.  “What?” I said, “Why are calling me?  You need to get to the hospital now. That sounds like a heart attack.”  “No,” my dad said, “ I’m pretty sure it’s just a pulled muscle”. “Dad, you are not a doctor, besides what makes you think it’s a pulled muscle?” “Well…….” he said, drawing out each word for maximum dramatic effect, “ I was out in the boat…………The rockfish got into the ‘jumps’………….I started catching fish, one after another until I had 25 fish in the boat………… each one 18 to 20 pounds.  My arm is so sore I may have to fish left handed tomorrow.

Dad enjoyed his retirement and his fishing. He LOVED fishing, he loved talking about fishing, preparing to fish, cleaning up from fishing and woodworking, when the fish weren’t biting. But it wasn’t hard too hard to convince him to come out of retirement for a year to build a new sanctuary for the church where four generations of Gilley’s had worshiped (Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene).

We had one particularly interesting conversation one day soon after Dad started the church project, he called and asked if I had ordered a portable toilet for the job and I told him that I had. He asked, “How much is it?”  “Seventy-Five dollars a month”, I said, “Why do you ask?”   “Cancel it” he said” I’ll do something different” and he hung up his flip phone.  Now, I wasn’t sure what he could do IN LIEU OF a toilet (pun intended).

By the time I got to the job site that afternoon my dad had built an outhouse from scrap plywood, sat it on top of a plumbing clean-out and ran water to it. We had the only flushing outhouse I have ever seen.  I said, “Dad, the rental is only $75 per month for a portable toilet” . “That’s right”, he said, “And $75 per month might be all that some little old lady is able to pledge  toward the building fund.  Now, do you want to the be one who tells her we are taking her life savings and literally throwing it down a toilet……… and a rented toilet at that”

The Winchester house lost most of its luster when my mom died. We eventually had to move my dad back to the Valley when his Alzheimer’s progressed to the point that he got lost going to Walmart and Hardee’s, two life sustaining essentials for my dad.

Not long after we moved dad into his new home in Flintstone, GA, dad started getting lost in his subdivision with its four parallel roads so he made the decision to try an assisted living arrangement, but he couldn’t remember the name of the local assisted living center so he referred to it as the place that Libby said he would like.

Dad’s Alzheimer’s continued to progress over the next several months and although he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast that morning he could often remember his childhood in vivid detail. I picked him up from Rosewood a few months ago and drove him by the old home place in High Point, just to see if he would recognize anything. Dad sat in the passenger seat of my truck and it appeared that he didn’t even glanced at his old house as we passed by.  Another minute or so passed and he said, to no one in particular, “TEN IS DEAD”.  I thought at first it was the dementia talking, so I waited another minute to see if he was going to elaborate, then I asked, “TEN is dead???”………”What does that mean?”

In a rare moment of clarity, my dad explained, “Your Granddad had a strict rule for his daughters and their dates, the girls had to be home no later than 10:00, so my sister took a pocket knife and carved the number 9 into the cedar tree on the left side of our driveway then she carved the number 10 into the tree on the right side of the driveway.  The next morning”, my dad explained, “When your Granddad asked what time my sister got home from her date she would always respond, ‘Daddy, I came in between 9 and 10 last night’.”

Finally, my dad’s comment made sense to me. There, next to the driveway, was a rotten stump where a large ancient cedar had once stood.

Ten was dead.

“New” Memories

Returning to my hotel room after a round of golf with some bankers I was met by my sons, both dressed in their little coats and ties, their mom in tow, as they headed toward the lobby. “Where are you guys going?” I asked, stepping aside to let the trio pass,  “Sorry dad” Nathan shrieked, “but we can’t talk now or we will be late for afternoon tea.” As Nathan and Jerod pulled their reluctant mother toward the tea room of the Greenbrier Hotel I looked at Libby and asked “Really?….  Afternoon Tea?” but she only managed to shrug her shoulders as her two short dates steered her toward the main dinning hall.

Extended pinky not withstanding, High Tea was just one of many unusual experiences enjoyed by our boys as they got a small taste of “how the other half lived” in our treks every spring to the Tennessee Bankers Association (TBA) annual meeting.  Like us, most of those small community bankers were out of their element as we made excursions to places like, Bermuda, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, The Greenbrier in West Virginia, and the Breakers in Palm Beach.

My primary goal during these trips was to promote our construction company to the bankers who where looking to build new buildings, but we always found ways to have some family fun as well. Our boys helped me in the trade show booth in the mornings, enjoyed the resort during the day and then they had to dress up in “church clothes” each night for dinner.

We all had very fond memories of our unique trips and our kids experienced many “firsts” such as getting to order room service “like big boys”, making introductions at the dinner table and tipping the bellman.  The experiences themselves were as diverse as horse back riding in Tempe, Arizona, skeet shooting classes at the Hermitage, hiking Pikes Peak, mountain biking in Lake Tahoe, Falconry training in West Virginia and white water rafting on the Arkansas river.

It has been more than ten years since  Jerod and Nathan both were able to attend the TBA meeting; that is, until two weeks ago when we all went to The Belmond Charleston Place in Charleston, SC, but making the event even more special was Nathan’s wife Bethany, as well as my granddaughters Elizabeth and Lydia, were able to attend as well.

The Belmond was the sight of the last TBA event that Libby attended with me just over three years ago and once again it coincided with our wedding anniversary, so its no wonder that nearly every event and every land mark in the old city of Charleston released a new memory from our time there.

It was not hard to image how proud Libby would have been to see our granddaughters helping in the booth, swimming in the pool, riding horse-drawn carriages and then dressing up in their “church clothes” for dinner at night.

Charlseston2 2016 TBA



The Gift

reduced Libby and GrandadGrowing up in a household with three brothers and no sisters, I rarely remember any of us boys volunteering to help my mom cook, much less clean; and with five males under her roof it’s easy to understand why mom rarely got her way, that is, until Libby came into our family.  Now, just so there is no misunderstanding, my dad was the final authority in our home, not that he ever made threats or even raised his voice, but all of us boys knew better than to question him or ever cross the line, that is, until Libby came into our family.

On June 9, 1979, in what I thought was a simple wedding to my best friend, the male dominated world of my youth saw a subtle, but lasting, power shift. A few months after our wedding it was apparent to everyone in the Gilley family that two women working in tandem easily trumped the four remaining men in my parent’s house.  My mom finally had a daughter and suddenly she went from being the “house minority leader” to the “house majority leader” without an election.

It all started the Christmas following our wedding when my dad decided to make use of his new “daughter” by having Libby do his Christmas shopping for my mom.  Libby, for her part, was excited about the opportunity to go shopping especially since my dad gave her three hundred dollars to spend on a gift. Keep in mind as you read the remainder of this story that three hundred was a lot of money in 1979 and it was way more money than I ever remember anyone spending on a Christmas gift.

Christmas morning the excitement around the tree was palpable following our traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, becasue all of us guys couldn’t stop staring at the one package neatly wrapped beneath the tree. When my mom was finally handed her gift, my dad couldn’t hide a huge grin as she carefully peeled back the delicate wrapping paper bound with an expensive bow.

Opening the small jewelry box my mom found an exquisite ring which had a center diamond surrounded by four birthstones representing each of her boys.   The ring definitely trumped the Popsicle stick napkin holder I made from scratch using my own glue when I was in kindergarten. Tears threatened to spill out of mom’s brown eyes as she looked questioningly from face to face to determine responsibility, finally Libby admitted, ” Well, I sorta of picked it out, but the gift is from your husband”.

When my mom left the room to regain her composure under the pretext of, “checking on the turkey in the oven”, my dad turned to Libby and whispered, “Wow, I don’t know much about jewelry but that seems like a really nice ring for three hundred dollars!” “Oh”, Libby said innocently, “It cost way more than that, I put the three hundred dollars down as a deposit and the little man at the store said he would finance the rest.  Wasn’t that nice of him?”.  Before my dad could respond Libby said, “Don’t worry there is no interest for a year,” then reaching into her pocketbook, she said, ” Oh, and here is your payment booklet”.

All eyes were now on my dad because Libby had definitely crossed the line; a line which she didn’t even realize existed, so it was a shock to everyone that Christmas morning when dad started laughing as he tucked the payment book away in his shirt pocket and said, “Well, I guess that’s the last time I will ask Libby to shop for me.”

In our shock and confusion the four Gilley brothers and their dad implicitly understood that there had been a power shift and we were just beginning to realize the influence that the “weaker sex” could wield in what was (up that point, at least) a male dominated universe.

Overcoming Obstacles



Our youngest son, Nathan, sat along side 200 other fourth year medical students waiting to receive his doctoral hood and take the Hippocratic Oath; that’s when the speaker asked each candidate to look into the audience, find their parents and thank them for the love, support and sacrifices they made which enabled them to be there. Emotions began to exact a toll as I sat in that audience next to an empty chair and made eye contact with Nathan.  I couldn’t help think about the long hours that Libby spent with Nathan to help him overcome a learning disability so severe that we had discussed repeating a grade during the first of many obstacles which threatened to derail his dream of becoming a doctor.


Nathan ascended those four steps onto the stage of the Bell Auditorium last week in Augusta, Georgia but for the newly minted “Dr. Gilley” that journey was more arduous than anyone present could have known.

Fourth year medical students are required to submit a personal statement to the group of doctors and administrators of potential residency programs telling them something about their journey into the medical profession which cannot be determined by their resume and transcript, here is Nathan’s personal statement:

Before I started kindergarten I knew that I wanted to be a Christian missionary, but after several stays at St. Jude Children’s Hospital with my cousin who was born with retinoblastoma, I decided I wanted to be a doctor-missionary.  As a child I desired to be the type of missionary that could help all kinds of sick people feel better; like the doctors who joked and played with my cousin when she was feeling well, but also comforted and gave us hope when she seemed to be slipping away. This desire to serve in a tangible way was strengthened by the stories of my faith that urged me to follow the example of the Great Physician, who healed and helped as often as he taught and preached.

With that goal in mind, and with an insatiable curiosity about the world, I worked hard to be the best student I could.  Unfortunately, despite enjoying school, having great support at home, and doing my best, I struggled to read and write, even into the second grade.  My first obstacle was unveiled when my mother insisted I be tested for learning disabilities and found out I was in the first percentile for dyslexia.  My parents did not allow this to become an excuse (in fact I did not even learn I was dyslexic until much later); they only assured me that if I worked hard and faithfully, I could accomplish what I dreamed. After my testing, I was placed in special education classes and my mother worked with me one-on-one every day after school for several years so I could work around my reading and writing mix-ups and catch-up with my peers. This time taught me the power of persistence, determination, and hope. 

In middle school I finally left behind special education classes and began working my way into advanced classes, so by the time I reached high school I was excelling in my classes and looking forward to college.  I attended Trevecca Nazarene University where I pursued a biology major with a chemistry minor as my premedical prerequisites in addition to a religion degree that concentrated on missions to fulfill the requirements for pastoral ordination in my Church.  During my junior year I worked as an intern at Medicos para la Familia and began to fall in love with the scope and diversity of family medicine, particularly in the unique context of under-served populations. 

It was at this time, during my Junior year of college, that my mother was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, which responded to aggressive treatment. At the end of my junior year and throughout my senior year I began dating a wonderful young lady who shared my heart for Christ, medicine, and missions. She showed me the unconditional love that can only be given by an individual already grounded and sustained by something greater than oneself. After graduation I took a year off from school to apply to medical schools, complete my Religion degree with studies in Eastern Europe, volunteer in primary care clinics back at home, and then take a trip to study abroad at a seminary in Ecuador before medical school.

My first year of medical school was unlike any challenge I had experienced.  The class sizes were 10 times larger, the content was more detailed, and the pace was seemingly impossible. Despite beginning with confidence, as I tried to master the content of each lecture I allowed myself to fall behind and isolate.  The harder I tried to catch up, the more difficult it became for me to concentrate and within a few months  I was advised to take a leave of absence, study my weakest areas, and start over with the next class; that is, if I was truly committed to medical school.

During my leave of absence I studied, worked as a research technician to support myself, and sought advice from trusted mentors.  Under their guidance and with much prayer, I committed myself to overcoming this obstacle and seeing medical school through to completion.  I also proposed to and married the woman of my dreams, who had faithfully supported and unconditionally loved me since college and continued to do so even as I began my first year again, this time with a humble but more determined outlook.

Four months into my first year, about the time I seemed to find my stride, my mother’s breast cancer returned as peritoneal carcinomatosis.  With her bleak five year survival, my wife and I began taking extra time to call and visit my mother; we also began trying to have a baby in time for my mother to see her first grandchild.  In my second year of medical school, my wife became pregnant but my mother’s health began to rapidly decline.  Meanwhile we requested a regional campus for my final clinical years, since the campus was closer to both of our parents and it used a longitudinal curriculum that seemed especially well suited for training primary care doctors in the variety and challenges of day-to-day community medicine. 

In the hectic summer before my third year of medical school; my mother breathed her last, my daughter breathed her first, I narrowly passed Step 1 Board exam, and our family of three moved to a new campus.  Despite the turbulent start, my clinical year was what I had desired since starting medical school- practical and tactile learning, centered around patients in need. 

We look forward to the journey of residency itself and joining a family medicine residency program for the next three years in a program that will help equip me for the scope and depth of demands that I will meet as a medical missionary in under-served communities and join our family with a community and take up the responsibilities and privileges of being a family doctor even as I complete my medical residency training.

Thank you,

Nathan Gilley

“I’m Not Much On Flowers…”

444The above photo was taken on a ski trip to Big Sky, Montana in Dr. Schlabach’s cabin.  


When Libby and I first began dating I wanted to do everything possible to make a good impression and so I would purchase fresh flowers before our dates (because, that’s just what you did) but the bouquets never seemed to generate the excited response that I had expected.

After a few dates Libby finally admitted, “Barry, I really appreciate you going to all of the trouble, but I’m not much on flowers”, she explained that since flowers are so expensive and only last a little while, the money would be better spent on something else. “Wow,” I remember thinking, “This girl is awesome and she thinks logically just like me”, of course as time past, and we got to know each better, I still thought Libby was awesome but I can’t remember ever saying to myself again, “she thinks logically just like me!”

Because of her pragmatic view of flowers it was no surprise to me that 37 years later, when Libby and I were discussing her memorial service she would say, “Please ask people not to buy flowers, I want the money to go to a good cause, not wasted on flowers”, and I knew just the “…  good cause…” for that money.

From the moment that Libby went into the hospital on New Year’s Day, friends and family asked if they could raise money or help in some other way and those constant offers to help were some of the reasons for setting up the Libby’s Living Legacy Fund. The initial goal of the fund was to raise $15,000 to build a small community playground but three months later as I was planning Libby’s memorial service the fund had already doubled that goal with no signs of slowing down.

Prior to Libby’s memorial service I asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Libby’s Living Legacy for the sole purpose of building community playground to honor Libby’s love of children.  It was a credit to Libby’s friends and family that there were almost no flowers at her memorial service but the playground account swelled to nearly $45,000 because Libby wasn’t “much on flowers”.


The attached video is from Libby’s Celebration of Life performed by Holly Rudge (left) on viola and her sister Bethany Gilley (right) on violin.  Assisting Bethany is her daughter Elizabeth (lower right).

I Want To See Jesus

Libby had very definitive plans for her memorial service and those plans extended beyond her desire to have some funny stories told about our life together; she wanted her best friend Helen Hawkins to sing, “……..if Miss Helen thinks she can make it through the song without crying”.  In addition, Libby wanted me to ask our friend Doug Richesin to sing as well,  “That way,” Libby continued, “If Miss Helen doesn’t make it through her song, Doug will still be able to provide some music.”

In the days leading up to Libby’s Memorial service I talked to Doug and he said, “Barry, when I heard the news about Libby, I thought of the perfect song and I hoped you would call and ask me to sing. You see I believe that as soon as Libby got to heaven she greeted her friends and family, then said, ‘This is all great, but I want to see Jesus’, so I would like to sing  I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy.”

I told Doug ” I do love that song, but I’m just not sure it is appropriate for a funeral.”  Doug reminded me that Libby didn’t want a funeral or “funeral songs”, but he give me a couple of other options to consider as I thought about his original recommendation.  “While you are thinking about it,” he said, “listen to the words again, then let me know.”

The reason I hesitated to have Doug sing that particular song was because both the song and Doug’s voice are both so powerful I was afraid of the awkward moment at the end of the song when those in attendance would very likely feel the need to applaud, but like me, they had never been to a funeral where people applauded……….. for any reason.

I took Doug’s advice and began searching for his recording of the song but after looking in all of the obvious places I was about to give up, then I remembered that Libby kept some CD’s in the console of her car which had not been driven since she went into the hospital three months earlier.

I searched Libby’s car without any luck and then as a last resort I turned on the car’s ignition to eject whatever CD was still in the player.  Although some may find it hard to believe, Libby often listened to her “getting happy” gospel music at full volume, often rattling the windows, so it wasn’t complete surprise when music blasted from the speakers as I turned the key.  The surprise for me was that the song was “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried Holy” as Doug’s voice was belting it out in full volume from the car’s CD.

I am typically skeptical when someone says to me that some particular event was , ” a sign from God” because too many people use the term flippantly and many people bend the facts to fit their own personal agenda, but as I sat in Libby’s car on that March afternoon listening to that song repeatedly (still at full volume) I was confident which song I wanted for Libby’s Memorial Service.

In the end, I should not have worried about people clapping for a performance; oh, there was a lot of clapping and even some shouting, but there was no awkward moment as every one in attendance that day saw heaven through Libby’s eyes and the applause was for a life well lived not merely a song well sung.


“Barry, I don’t want a traditional funeral…”


23 The man said,“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,  for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.               Genesis 2: 23-24 NIV

Shortly after Libby died, I read those two verses in a email I received from Grief Share along with the following commentary which seemed to vividly describe my feelings: 

The pain that comes from the loss of a spouse is much deeper than most people realize because in a marital relationship two people become one flesh and when part of your flesh is abruptly taken away, there is a ripping and a tearing that leaves a huge, open wound. Until you have experienced the death of a spouse, there is no way you can tell someone how deep the hurt is. The Lord says that we are one flesh, and suddenly half of that flesh is torn from us,”

Several months before she died, Libby gave very specific instructions about her funeral, or more correctly, her memorial service, when she said, “I don’t want a traditional funeral with people standing around crying, and I don’t want a bunch ‘funeral songs’ sung, instead, I want upbeat music and a celebration. After the service I want all of my friends and family to visit with one another and eat together.”

Then Libby asked me for a favor that, at the time, I wasn’t sure I would be able to grant: “Barry,” she said, “I want you to tell some funny stories during the service, keep it light and make people laugh. But if you think you are going to cry you need to skip that part.”

I told Libby, “I’m not sure if I can do that, besides, what makes you think I can come with any funny stories?” Libby rolled her eyes at me the way she always did when she didn’t believe anything I was saying.

Made Perfect…



“But Honey,” I whined, “What does it matter if every single tassel on the stupid rug is pointed in one direction ?” The drama was repeated nearly every time I vacuumed the throw rug in the living room because, apparently, the tassels of the throw rug need to be “combed” into one uniform direction by the beater bar of the vacuum cleaner.  To be clear, just in case the sarcasm didn’t work, I don’t like vacuuming and I definitely don’t like combing the tassels,  which is what lead to more than one serious debate.

Ever since Libby and I were married I teased her about her perfectionist tendencies; whether she was remaking the bed because I allowed the sheet to hang over the edge one inch more on the right side than it did on the left side, or making sure the tassels mentioned above were “combed” before the vacuuming was finished. Libby lived by the old adage, “If its worth doing, its worth doing right”.  While I, on the other hand, was blessed with no such tendencies.

Even though I teased her about being a perfectionist by calling her Miss Perfecto on occasion (okay, a lot, I called her Miss Perfecto a lot) Libby was way too humble to believe that anything she did neared the level of perfection and she certainly didn’t like for me to joke that she was perfect.

One day toward the middle of March while taking care of Libby, I was trying to determine what she needed and I asked, “Does your back hurt?”….”No”…” Are you cold?”…”No”… does your belly hurt?” each time she shook her head “No”.  So I said, “Well if you are not hot or cold and nothing hurts then you must be perfect.”  Libby shook her head, frowned at me with a disapproving look that I had seen many times in our 35 years of marriage, and said,  “If I were perfect then I wouldn’t be sick and in this hospital bed.”

Later that same night I told Libby, “I feel so helpless, I wish there were something more I could do. I am so sorry this is happening to you.” Libby turned her head toward me (again with the frown) and said, “Barry, don’t feel sorry for me, I have the easy part, you’re the one who has the hard job.”

Incredulous, I asked, “What do you mean by that?”  Libby’s answer still echos in my ears, even I as write these words exactly two years later, ” I mean,” she said, “My part is easy, all I have do is lay here while you take care of me for a few more days and then I will be in heaven, but you have to stay here and go on living without me.”

On March 25th it was just past midnight when I made the difficult decision to tell Libby something that, at the time,  I didn’t really think she was able to hear, much less comprehend, becasue by then she had been asleep for three days solid. I remember saying, “Libby, I love you but you need to know that I will be okay.  You were an amazing mom to our boys and although they will miss you, they will be fine. Bethany and our new granddaughter will be okay as well, you have fought hard but you don’t need to keep fighting for us.”

That was it, no long speech, no change in Libby’s expression and absolutely no indication that she heard it; instead there was a calm, spirit-filled peace that filled the room and I just remember thinking we would both rest better that night.  I leaned over to tuck in Libby’s covers but as I did the loose board next to her bed squeaked and without ever opening her eyes, Libby strained upward for her kiss.

 Caring Bridge entry March 25, 2014:   … This morning a few minutes after 5 AM Libby was made PERFECT… 



The Kiss

me and Libby

Several years before Libby was diagnosed with breast cancer we remodeled our house and replaced the carpet in the living room with hardwood flooring, the only problem was that a squeak developed in one section of the living room.  The culprit was a loose piece of sub floor that now happened to be right beside Libby’s bed; the exact spot where I put my right foot nearly every time I leaned over to kiss her.

Regardless of how deeply Libby slept or how much pain medication was given, the Pavlovian response to the creaking board was always the same; Libby would turn her head toward me for a kiss and the scene would be repeated dozens of times every night.

In some ways my attempt to sleep during the three months of Libby’s Hospice care was like that of a mom with a newborn unable to get into REM sleep. Similarly, in order to be close to Libby, I either slept in my recliner next her hospital bed or about twenty feet away in my (or rather OUR) bed, making constant trips each time she called or needed a drink. As exhausting as it was to get up dozens of times during the night to check on Libby, it was far worse when I did sleep soundly becasue then I woke up in a panic realizing that I had gone an hour or more without checking.

On the same night following my failed attempt to snuggle with Libby and the subsequent Taco incident with the hospital bed, she was fully alert and wide awake.  Libby took my hand and said, “Thank you for taking care of me, I love you”.  Embarrassed by the attention, I looked down at our hands and asked, “Do you remember the first time we held hands?”  Libby didn’t have to answer and I could tell from the confused look that either she truly didn’t remember that particular “first” in our relationship or the cancer had stolen that memory as well.

“We were on our way home from a date,” I began, a little too proudly, “We were crossing the bridge over Chattanooga Creek on South Broad Street in my ’79 Camaro.  I remember the exact spot becasue we could smell the leather from the Scholze’s Tannery where new saddles sat on the window sills.” On a roll now, I continued my narrative, ” I used one of my irresistible lines which went something like, ‘Libby, you have such small hands, put yours next to mine and lets compare’. Then I closed my grip and I held on until we pulled into the Flintstone Baptist Church parking lot next to your house.”

I was so proud that I had remembered such a detailed account from our dating years and even though it was now dark in the house, I was sure that Libby rolled her eyes when I described my move to hold her hand.

When finished I waited for Libby’s response but then I realized that she had fallen asleep somewhere during my monologue (probably about the time I made my “move”).  Trying not to wake her, I reached over Libby’s hospital bed to tuck her in but my right foot landed on the creaking board. Unconsciously Libby pursed her lips and strained in the direction of the squeak to get her kiss and our nightly ritual began again.


“Barry, What Are You Doing?”

best gc

During her first visit to our house, our Hospice nurse walked over to Libby’s bed and gasped, “I know you” as she looked over and saw Libby for the first time, she then fumbled with her cell phone to show us a picture of Libby sent to her by a friend who asked if she would help pray for a sweet lady with stage four cancer, then looking at Libby she said, “Mrs. Gilley, we have never met, but I feel like I know you because I have been praying for you everyday for two months. ”

By the first of March Libby was sleeping for about twenty two hours a day but it seemed as if the girl who woke up after each one of those long naps was a little less “Libby” than the girl that went to sleep the day before.  In an attempt to make the most of the time when Libby was conscious and I came up with a brilliant idea for a surprise the next time she woke up (or at least I thought it would be a brilliant idea).

I knew very early in our marriage that Libby was a cuddler, she liked nothing more than to snuggle up on the couch with me to watch a Hallmark movie or take a nap.  Although I always had good intentions of reciprocating the cuddle, I could only stand it for a short time because my arm would fall asleep or it just got too hot to snuggle, especially during one of her hot flashes.

My “brilliant” plan was to lie down next to Libby in her hospital bed while she slept and simply hold her until she woke up. In my mind I imagined Libby gently waking in my arms as I brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes just like the hero did in the aforementioned Hallmark movie.  Now, this is where those pesky details hinder my storytelling because technically Libby didn’t have any hair, the gesture wasn’t romantic and she didn’t wake up very gently. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me tell you what really happened:

As I quietly slipped into the hospital bed my plan was coming together, Libby was still sound asleep and we were cuddling.  The problem was, I had accidentally sat on the bed’s remote control buttons and as the motors whined, the foot of the bed and the head of the bed began rising simultaneously in an attempt to make us into a Taco Supreme Combo. Suddenly awake, very upset and extremely uncomfortable, Libby said, “Barry, what are you doing?”

I finally quit butt-dialing the remote and managed to reverse the motion of the bed while trying to explain to Libby, “I’m sorry, I just wanted to cuddle”.  Libby had a look in her eyes that I had come to know well in last few weeks–she reached for her pink kidney shaped bowl and threw up. Not exactly the Hallmark response I was after.