Monthly Archives: May, 2013

Obituary

Several people have asked me about Francis’s obituary. I’ve included it here for those who are interested, and did not see it in the paper or elsewhere online.  My apologies for not sending this out before now.

 

Francis Boll Gibbs, 40, of Tallahassee, FL, passed away at his home on May 17, 2013.

He was born, 26 December 1972, at Jacksonville, FL, to Frances May Wentz and George Williams Gibbs, III.

He was reared at Fernandina Beach, FL, and graduated from Fernandina Beach High School in 1991.  He earned both his B.S. and his J.D. degrees at the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, and was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1999.

Francis’ career included practicing law at Fernandina Beach, FL, serving as Legislative Counsel for Congressman Ander Crenshaw and as Chief of Staff for Congressman Connie Mack, IV, at Washington, DC.  It culminated with his service as Chief of Staff for the Florida Department of Transportation at Tallahassee, FL.

Francis was a seasoned traveler from his childhood. He was an avid golfer and tennis player from his youth.  He enjoyed flying and earned his private pilot’s license.

Francis was a member of National Society Sons of the American Revolution, through his mother.  He took pride that several of his paternal ancestors were Florida residents before statehood.

Francis is survived by his widow, LeAnne Renee (Holdman) Gibbs, his son, Couper Marshall Gibbs, and his daughter, Riley Ingraham Gibbs, Tallahassee, FL; his mother, Frances Wentz Taber, Tallahassee, FL; his father, George Williams Gibbs, III, and his stepmother, Ann Darden Gibbs, Jacksonville, FL; his sisters, Elizabeth Winslow (Sean) McAuliffe, Tallahassee, FL, Catherine Gibbs Juan, Ann Gibbs Giampetro, and Elizabeth Stockton Gibbs and his brother Robert Kingsley (Melinda) Gibbs, all of Jacksonville, FL; and, three nieces and three nephews.

He was predeceased by his brother, George Williams Gibbs, IV, St. Augustine, FL, and his stepfather, Robert Weiss Taber, Tallahassee, FL.

Francis will be interred, with private graveside services, at Oak Lawn Cemetery, Jacksonville, FL, on May 23, 2013.  A celebration of his life will follow, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., at The Florida Yacht Club, Jacksonville, FL.  All who would like to gather and share memories of Francis are cordially invited to attend the celebration.

In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Francis B. Gibbs Memorial Fund.

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Life with a semicolon

Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through the woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.  ~Lewis Thomas, physician, educator. Dictionary.com Columbia World of Quotations. Columbia University Press, 1996.

I hate semicolons.  Don’t know how to properly use them.  You won’t see many, if any, here in this blog.

I feel as though I’ve just experienced a semicolon in my life.  I hate them there too.

We started this blog as a way to be frank and honest about what has been going on in our lives after Francis’s cancer diagnosis.  I didn’t realize just how fitting the name of this blog would be to my life.

I have said good-bye to and buried my best friend and love of my life.  I now begin to figure out where to go after this hated punctuation mark.

If I’m honest, I’m struggling to catch my breath and see the start of the path ahead.

The chaplain from Big Bend Hospice came for a visit a few weeks ago.  Francis was able to join us briefly before heading to bed and leaving us to chat further.  The chaplain asked me what inspired my honesty.  I told him that I have nothing pretty in my life behind which to hide.  I also told him I was worried about losing that honesty in the midst of my grief.

This blog has been a way for me to share what’s happening to us.  It’s also been an avenue for me to steal a few moments and process my own thoughts.  I hope to be inspired to continue to do this.  I also hope that through the blog I can hold on desperately to the honesty that was helpful to me and to others.

I’ve spoken to people who have been grateful for the words I’ve written, and I’d love to be able to continue to be a help to those who read this.  As I grapple with processing my own loss, I plan to use the blog to write about what my life “post-semicolon” is like.  It will be my own, and without a doubt unique in the path along which it takes me.

To kick it off, I can only reflect briefly on what the first week of grief has been like.

Once Francis passed away and in the days that followed, the house was a flurry of activity.  The drugs, medical equipment, and removal of his body all had to be addressed.

I had gone to the funeral home a few weeks earlier to make preliminary arrangements, so those decisions were already completed.  There were still hundreds of decisions, if not thousands of decisions, to be made.

There were emails, phone calls, texts, Facebook posts, and visitors that had to be faced.  There was a trip to Jacksonville and a service and celebration that had to be planned.

In all of this activity, I didn’t have time to face the fact that Francis was really gone.  I went to bed exhausted and my mind was racing the moment I awoke with all the items I needed to check off my to do list for the day.  The next day was just a repeat of the previous.

Then, the day of the funeral arrived and I couldn’t get motivated to get out of bed.  I felt like throwing up all the way to the cemetery, and felt crushed by my grief at the service with Francis’s coffin sitting before me – a painful reminder that our lives had gone so terribly off track.  I was exhausted by the time the public celebration of Francis’s life was set to begin that afternoon.

Somehow, I was buoyed by the hugs and well-wishes at the celebration of Francis’s life.  That continued into the evening, spent with family and friends.

Since that time, I’ve struggled to really understand this new stage of grieving for a lost spouse.  I move from a sense of denial that Francis is gone to an intense awareness of my aloneness.  I often feel that I should be a crying, broken mess because that’s how I have pictured grief.

Perhaps though, my perception of grieving is a bit off.  More often I feel as if I’m just lost.  I wander through my day without a real clear direction or motivation to do much of anything.

I’m sure the tears will come, perhaps often.  I’m sure there will be tear-free days as well.  There will also be days filled with laughter with Couper an Riley.  All of these things are okay.  I just need to understand that the grief I feel today is all part of the process.

After all, the rest of the path follows this semicolon, and I don’t know what the rest of the journey holds.

 

Fast friends

Mindelynn and I (Sarah) were reflecting on the day, and since we know that many of you were not able to make it to Florida, we asked LeAnne if we could share a little with you.

It seemed ironic to gather under the Spanish moss on a warm, sunny Florida morning for the purpose of bidding farewell to our good friend Francis. The natural beauty of the day almost seemed to mock the grief that was palpable among the family and friends present at Oaklawn Cemetery. But the day was so much more than a day of tears–it was a day pulsating with life, with hope, and even with joy. Not the type of joy you experience when life is good and circumstances are easy, but a deep and abiding joy that comes with knowing how much a person was loved and admired by those who knew him. 

And Francis was–and is–very deeply loved and admired.

He is admired by high school friends who shared amusing anecdotes from the “early years” at the  life celebration held in his honor at the Florida Yacht Club. Some of their memories are captured in this great video. He is highly esteemed by his professional colleagues who celebrated his deep commitment to public service, his integrity in pursuing excellence, and his desire to bring out the best in them. This was evident in the tribute given about him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives recently.

And in honoring Francis, his friends and colleagues were also honoring his family, who–even in the midst of their own grief–comforted and served their guests with such grace and kindness that we could not help but feel overwhelmed. To lose a husband, a dad, a son, a brother, an uncle and still summon the strength to show hospitality and compassion to the rest of us is a reflection of the kind of people who are genuine and good. The kind of person Francis was.

One of Francis’ greatest gifts was his ability to befriend practically any one and to find ways to connect with people. So many people testified about his knack for making you feel as if you had known him forever, for being a “fast friend” who could be counted on to make you laugh, play a practical joke on you, talk about what is really important (whether it be Gator football, constitutional rights, etc.), and be there for you when you needed him. His loyalty, his service, his genuine love of people made him great. 

We know that people all over the world have been reading this blog and regardless of the extent to which you know Francis and LeAnne, you undoubtedly are a “fast friend” of theirs. Throughout the day, LeAnne was showing us texts, emails, and Facebook messages that she has received from many of you. Each of them obviously means a lot to her, even if she isn’t able to respond to each and every one, and they will be important for the entire family for years to come. So if you have not yet shared your memories of Francis, please do so by emailing them to couperandriley@gmail.com. 

In leaving Jacksonville, Mindelynn and I will continue honoring Francis by aspiring to be genuine and good friends to those in our lives. We can think of no greater way that you can honor Francis, LeAnne, and their family than by sharing your lives with others. For Francis, this meant sharing some of his life’s great enjoyments: golf, Gators, and good food. 

Whatever is precious to you, don’t hold back. Think of Francis, and share abundantly.

Francis v. The Shadow

Francis is now at peace and pain free.  He passed away peacefully yesterday (Friday) afternoon here at home.  It was perfect the way it happened and I was there by his side to hold his hand and tell him good-bye as he slipped away.  It was just the way he wanted.

Despite the awareness of what was to come, the blow of his death has been intensely painful.

Our family and friends have been wonderful over the hours since his passing, and I can’t speak highly enough of Big Bend Hospice and our nurse and chaplain.

Ryan Fisher, a friend of mine from my DC days in then-Rep. Mike Pence’s office sent me an encouraging email yesterday.  I read it to our chaplain and  nurse after we prayed over Francis.  I’ll share most of it here:

I was reading Psalm 23 in my Bible study this week and felt convicted to share a commentary, by 17th century minister Matthew Henry, with you.

Verse 4 is the famous line by King David that reads, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”  The commentary I read stated this:

“It is death indeed that is before us; but, it is but the shadow of death; there is no substantial evil in it; the shadow of a serpent will not sting nor the shadow of a sword kill.  It is the valley of the shadow, deep indeed, and dark, and dirty; but the valleys are fruitful, and so is death itself fruitful of comforts to God’s people.”

It’s an angle I had never really considered before…that is, it’s not nearly as scary as the shadow would have you believe because every one of us beats death just as Christ did.  So in the epic battle of Francis v. The Shadow…the safe money is on Francis!

That shadow before Francis was terrifying for both of us.  But, the event was a beautifully exquisite and perfectly reassuring moment that I will always cherish.

Our valley was indeed deep, dark, and dirty.  But, it was so very, very fruitful.

I will miss Francis with every beat of my heart, but I am sustained by the fruit that we gathered and the faith that he is whole again.

The art of living in the moment

There’s no doubt our lives are really ugly right now.  This life isn’t what we intended to live.  The last year, apart from Riley’s birth, has been a flood of awful.

Ironically, under all this yuck runs a strong current of truly beautiful moments, experiences, and lessons.  One of these beautiful lessons has been about living in the moment.

On April 11, we met with an admissions specialist for Big Bend Hospice.  This was a big step for us because it felt like giving up.  I assure you that this was an equally difficult and simple decision to make.

Big Bend Hospice has been tremendous at managing Francis’s pain, and wonderful about addressing the needs of the whole family.  Their staff is easy to work with and incredibly comforting to Francis and to me.  At the same time, we also realize that Francis isn’t getting any better now.  We are trying to be intentional about living the best life we can under these circumstances.

Prior to Francis’s (our family’s) admission to hospice, we had reached the limits of Francis’s primary care physician’s expertise in pain management.  This isn’t a criticism, it’s just a fact.  His primary care doctor was amazing at tracking down the right information and unique delivery methods since a traditional medication delivery method is unworkable with the drainage opening in Francis’s stomach.  Most pill form medications and many liquid forms require an extended period of time in your system to work appropriately, and with Francis what goes in immediately comes out.

We also knew that the only option we had for emergency care was the emergency room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.  We both feared a trip to TMH with every fiber of our beings.

The solution to both of these concerns was enrolling in hospice, and we haven’t regretted it  since.

Our priority was getting Francis’s pain addressed.  I felt like Francis was slipping away because of the ever-present, intense, and at moments agonizing pain.  I felt I was losing him because his only relief and escape was found in bed and in sleep.  For much of the day we were separated from each other in different rooms of the same house, and when we were in the same room he was so often asleep that I was essentially alone.

Thanks to the experienced hospice medical team, Francis’s pain patch (Fentanyl if you’re wondering) was nearly doubled in strength.  He had also been taking a liquid morphine by mouth that was doubled in dosage for any breakthrough pain – pain that breaks through the constant relief provided by the Fentanyl patch.  We’re now using a morphine delivered by syringe into his PICC line for this type of pain.

Within a day or two of these initial changes, Francis was awake more and able to move about the house and even help with housework.  As an aside, it’s amazing how the mundane everyday tasks like washing dishes and doing laundry are the first things that he does when he feels like being up.  I suppose that’s because it makes him feel productive and, more importantly, normal.

I was ecstatic to have him back, but I was also struggling.

You see, I had gotten a glimpse of what I believe is the worst part of watching Francis go through the progression of his cancer.  I had witnessed a pain so intense to him that it made the strongest man I know break down in tears.  I had heard him begging me to make the pain stop.  I had seen his clinched teeth, balled fists, and writhing body.

Every moment that he seemed to be more normal was a moment I was struggling to enjoy because I was afraid that the normal moment was fleeting.  I feared that I’d soon be whisked back to that horrible place of his agony.

Thanks to the ugliness of the experience with uncontrolled pain, I’ve learned a beautiful lesson – one I hope I never take for granted.

For the first time, I truly understand what it means to live in the moment.  It means that when Francis has a good moment I can’t let my fear rob me of the immediate moment of joy.  Living in the moment has nothing to do with skydiving, whitewater rafting, or rock climbing – all the white-knuckled activities I once mistakenly thought allowed people to live in the moment.

Living in the moment isn’t about SEEKing anything special.  It’s about SEEing the special in anything.

It’s about keeping my mind open to seeing the beauty in the yuck.  I’m not perfect at doing this and I’m really not even that good at it, but I finally get it.  Now that I get it I can do my best to enjoy the here and now for what it is, and keep that fear of what may be lurking in the next moment from stealing the joy of this one.

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