Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Final Word for Our Father

My brother and I spoke at our dad's memorial service today.  While dad was in hospice we shared memories and compared notes about what we remembered about dad.  As a follow-up to my roller coaster ride here are the two speeches we gave today.

Rob's speech:

This is one of John’s lunch boxes.  Don’t worry, he’s not in there.  Though that’s not a bad idea.

John Gibb was my father and one of the finest men I've ever known.

A while ago he wrote a few pages about what he considered to be his life's accomplishments.

He was foremost a husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather.

He was an engineer, a builder, and a world traveler.

And he started as a paperboy, lifeguard, and Boy Scout.

I think the last sheds a lot of light on his life.  How can you not think of John when I say a Scout is:
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, (my favorite) thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

I'll also throw in the Boy Scout motto, Be Prepared.

When he got his diagnosis two years ago, he became the Project Manager of his cancer.  He also had an amazing Project Assistant in Carol.  He took charge of his medical decisions and treatments and put up a good fight for two years.  He also chose when to stop fighting.

A week ago Saturday, my husband Dave and I went to visit him and Mom.  There were a few seconds when he and I were alone and he said "I should've died two days ago."  He was pissed.  He was behind schedule.

Because he took control, there are no regrets. And we are here today to celebrate his life!

John Gibb is the man who taught me how to camp, how to canoe, how to swim, how to travel and how to drive a stick shift.

He constructed a permanent model train layout on a platform which would retract into the basement ceiling on a pulley system.

He helped me build pinewood derby cars in the Cub Scouts. When it came time to paint the car, instead of a high-gloss paint with a racing stripe and number, I insisted on staining it Walnut.  I'm sure John just rolled his eyes. But we got second place due to his perfectly placed weights; it's good to have an engineer for a father. 

He tried to teach me sports, but mom and dad finally gave up and produced Gibb 2.0.

He also taught the entire family the card game Qualify.  He learned it from his parents and it has now been passed down four generations of Gibbs.

John, Carol, Eric and I are very different people with very different interests.  But whenever we got together we laughed.  We are officially “The Fun Family”.  Yes, it’s official because we have a wooden plaque which says, “The Fun Family”.

And today, when the extended Gibb family gets together, we laugh.  Our family Christmas dinners at Eric and Aimee’s are epic and legendary.

When dad decided to end his treatment, the family got together Labor Day weekend and went through boxes of dad's photos and mementos.  As we passed things around, dad would identify friends and family and tell us stories, many we had never heard before.  And we laughed.

Even in the last three days when Dad was in hospice the family gathered, reminisced, and laughed.  I'm sure he could hear our laughter and I know he enjoyed it.

I want to share two words of wisdom John gave me:

“There's a difference between wanting something and needing something.”


“When you pick a college, pick one that you can drive to, but you're not home every weekend.”

Here's a short story from his travels.  He and mom were in France, I think, and John was walking around on his own. He came across a guy working on the foundation of the house. He stopped, observed and the guy saw him watching.  Speaking no French, dad pointed at something that caught his eye and gestured to the other guy who spoke no English but seemed to understand and made some other gestures.  Suddenly they were having a conversation which spanned language.  I guess guys who build houses can do that.

Dad spent his last few weeks sleeping most of the time. He would wake and tell mom the most incredible, detailed dreams.  My favorite is when he was arguing with Donald Trump.  Dad was in charge of 4000 construction workers, waiting for instructions.  And Donald Trump didn't have a plan!

Finally, quite a few years ago, my friend Donna asked me to go to a psychic session with her.  Sure, why not.  During the session the psychic told me, “Your parents have sought each other out over and over, life after life. They enjoy each other’s company.  They have played with all types of relationships, currently they are husband-and-wife.”  When I told my parents, my mother said “Yeah, we're going to keep doing it until we get it right.” Well, Mom, I think you got it right.

The psychic also told me I specifically chose John and Carol to be my parents.  “You chose them because you felt you could learn something from them.”  What they taught me was how to be myself.

So Dad, we love you and miss you and I'll be looking for you again.

My speech:

When dad first decided to stop his chemo treatment I knew it was only a matter of time before he would be gone.  I wanted to write his eulogy so he could read what I was going to say about him.  Primarily how much I felt people admired and respected him.  The more I thought about it the more I realized two things.  First he probably already knew that.  Second he probably didn’t care. 

If he already knew, it was because of the type of people around him.  Quality attracts quality.  He respected those around him and they respected him. 

Secondly, if he didn’t care it was because he was at the top of Maslows Hierarchy of needs.  Physiological needs, safety and love, the first three levels, were achieved early in his adult life.  I would say once he married my mom.  The esteem and self-actualization, the top two levels, would slowly build as he became the great man that he is.  He didn’t need anything.  He was already filled with morality, creativity, lack of prejudice and acceptance.

As we look back at his youth, he delivered newspapers, was a life guard with significant responsibilities, and a scout.  Each of which took a certain amount of dedication, initiative and drive.

He was a hard worker with a 38 year career at NASA.  Ted Olsen, who was head of the Propulsion Division at the time of my dad’s hiring, commented his two greatest hires were Neil Armstrong and John Gibb.  To me one was a great man, the other was an astronaut.  Our family workcations to Cape Canaveral were a unique way to spend time together.  Dad would pile us all into the station wagon and drive down to Florida.  Even though he was working on a launch I always enjoyed our beach front accommodations.  I was even fortunate enough to witness the launch of both Voyager missions in 1977.  These trips weren’t all about work.  For some strange reason I remember one night we were driving through Atlanta when we hit a opossum trying to cross the highway.  Rob always said it was a racoon.  No Rob it was a opossum and dad agrees with me.  As part of his final ten years with NASA, dad was a member of the Senior Executive Service.  Members of the SES serve in the key positions just below the top Presidential appointees and are links between these appointees and the rest of the Federal workforce. 

Dad was humble about his work and accomplishments.  Mom admits to not really know what dad was working on most of the time.  Yet she worried about his health because he would spend long hours getting the job done. 

This lunch box, to me, is a symbol of hard work.  Sturdy and solid, this was used by a man with the same qualities.  If he had still used it in retirement it would have, of course, been filled with Double Stuff Oreos...his favorite cookies.  Don’t worry…I brought enough for everyone.

At the same time he was building a highly successful career he had time to meet the needs of his family.  In fact he was the first Renaissance Man I knew before I could appreciate what that meant.  “A present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.”  That was my dad.  His involvement with scouting continued as both he (Pack Leader) and mom (Den Mother) took leadership roles for both Rob and I.   His scouting also led to our family camping trips to the Adirondacks, Canada, Florida, New Orleans and a host of other destinations that involved hiking, canoeing, exploring, learning and playing cards. 

After retirement, his hard work continued for 18 more years with Habitat for Humanity.  When he wasn’t out golfing with his friends, he was working at a Habitat house twice a week.  His work with Habitat and golfing were the primary means of getting dad away from the house, keeping him busy and out of moms hair.  It was a highlight of his retirement.  A renaissance man doesn’t stop learning.  Through Habitat he met many excellent people who shared their talents with him.

He also had a religious faith that carried him through to his death.  Wherever he was he became so involved with the church: finance committees, usher, sound system, youth groups, ground maintenance.  It seemed like he wanted to know more about the church than the guy who built it. 

All of the things I have mentioned above have one common thread.  And it is something that a person either has or does not.  Some are born with it and some it has to develop.  Leadership.  Dad had it all along.  How else do you get your office staff to call you Mr. Gibb, Sir.  That’s like a double dose of respect.  To this day one very special person still simply calls him Sir.  And that is something that is earned.  As we gather in the barn later you will see many awards that are a result of his leadership abilities.  But the unseen reward is the love and respect of his family, co-workers and peers. 

I have heard so many good things about my dad from so many people that I cannot recall them all .  Comments from the NASA community, church community, Habitat and Weslyan Village. 

I share these words from a neighbor at Weslyan Village.

Sadly, we lost one of our wonderful neighbors this week.  John seemed to live his life finding ways to help others.  Despite battling a terrible disease, he maintained his good humor and helpful nature.  One would never know that he bore this burden. His manner with everyone was unfailingly upbeat and pleasant.

I cannot recall any specific words of advice he offered me.  Instead, everything I learned is through his character and actions.  Hard work, Respect (of others / by others), compassion towards and acceptance of all people.  How else could he have handled “unique” situations presented by Rob (a gay man in the early 80’s) and I (becoming a father at age 19).  He never wavered.  He never hesitated.  He accepted the situation.  He accepted his son’s for who they were.  Rob was the first to thank our parents, and I wholeheartedly agree, for not (insert colorful language) screwing us up. 

I am still learning from my dad.  I am still learning how to be the man he is.  But I have a pretty good blueprint to follow.  

I can't say these are our final words about dad.  If you ask about him we will talk and share our memories of our lives with him.  With these memories he will always be with us.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Ironman Roller Coaster

Talk to any Ironman veteran and the topic of emotions is sure to come up.  There is this roller coaster of emotions that one rides during training and racing.  I have been there, filled with doubt in the middle of Musselman Triathlon I went on to have one of my best races.  You can also ride the roller coaster during training.   Whether it is one more f'in hill or snapping at the one you love because your favorite pair of socks are STILL dirty.

Instead of kindergarten, All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Ironman.  I've come to realize that as this past weekend was one of the craziest roller coaster rides I have ever been on....and am still on.

Two of my worlds, past and present, looked to collide the weekend of October 9 - 11.  My 30th High School reunion and Ironman Louisville.  Living close to my alma mater, Westlake High School, made it hard to avoid the weekend activities that involved friends I have known 30 - 40 years.  But many of my tri friends were going to Ironman Louisville to either participate or spectate/volunteer.  Aimee and I were going to volunteer and also spend time with my son Andrew and daughter-in-law Jess.

Most roller coaster rides allow you to share the fun with someone sitting next to you.  I'm lucky enough to have Aimee by my side during my rides.  She supported me when I said I wanted to stay in town Friday night for the reunion social.  She said she would drive my tired ass down to Louisville Saturday morning. 

Friday night was a lot of fun.  I was able to re-connect with many people.  One of the best things I noticed is that the wonderful people I graduated with 30 years ago are even more awesome now.  We shared memories from the past and talked about what our lives are like now.  My only disappointment was not seeing people that had shown up and left before I was there.  I would not be at the formal Saturday event so I would miss those that would be there.

The rest of the weekend would be shared with Aimee and my triathlon friends at Ironman Louisville.  We signed up to be volunteers in the morning changing tent and would then be on the bike and run course cheering for our friends and over 3000 athletes.

We drove down to Louisville Saturday morning to get into the CTC group picture and wish our friends good luck.  The rest of the evening was spent with Andrew and Jessica.  No matter what we are doing we always have a great time in Louisville.

Sunday morning, similar to Saturday morning, came very fast after staying up too late and getting up early.  We got to the transition area around 6AM and were able to see several friends and give them hugs and encouragement for their big day.

We helped collect and sort the special needs bags before our duties in the changing tent began.

In the changing tent we would great the athletes coming in from the swim and help them get ready for the bike.  Some athletes didn't need any help while others took their time and welcomed the assistance.  I would help someone get their gear in order, struggle with putting a cycling top on, stuffing their pockets with bars, gels, sandwiches and whatever else they needed for the ride.  When they were done I would stuff the wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and whatever else into the transition bag and throw it in a corner to be sorted later.  It was controlled chaos and I was loving every minute of it.

At one point I took a moment and looked up.  I saw a tent full of athletes in varied state of undress, some completely naked, with steam rising off of their warm bodies.  I was in a corner helping as many people as I could so I had a good view of the entire tent.  It was amazing.

Somehow I managed to see some friends like Jeff Geagan and Chris Martino and missed Christian and Adam.  There were so many people that I helped get through the changing tent.  However I couldn't help them all.

One athlete came in and sat down on an open chair.  He sat there and put his head in his hands.  I asked if he was okay.  He responded saying he was a little dizzy.  I told him to take his time and I would be right back.  I returned a couple minutes later and he hadn't moved.  Still sitting there with his head in his hands I sat next to him and asked how his swim was.  "Okay.  I'm just dizzy now." was his response.  I didn't want to rush him but I also didn't want him to loose momentum or not be properly prepared for the bike.

I helped him get a jersey on but he just kept sitting back down.  Just as I was looking for the changing tent captain to get some medical help an Ironman Staff member walked over and made the call for a doctor.  I was able to continue helping other racers but kept an eye on Mr. Dizzy.

I was close enough to hear bits and pieces of the conversation.  "I checked my numbers this morning", said Mr. Dizzy.  Shit....he's diabetic.  "The numbers were odd all week", was another response.  Now it was getting serious.  The doctor finally said he couldn't let Mr. Dizzy continue.  They removed his timing chip and contacted a friend to pick him up.

As a volunteer you try to help everyone have a good race.  Unfortunately there are some that you just can't help.

When the last athlete left the changing tent our work continued.  We started to pile up all of the bags to hand off to more volunteers who were putting them back in numerical order on the lawn.  Aimee was already sorting bags.  I also helped with garbage pickup around the bike racks.  It was best to clean up the area without the bikes on the racks.

Once we were all done we went back to the volunteer tent to get some food.  It was now 11:00 and we were hungry.  We started to talk about our changing tent experiences when Aimee told me about the envelope in her jacket pocket.  One of the female athletes handed it to Aimee while getting ready for her bike ride. 

There were two Starbucks gift cards and a note the choked me up each time I read it.  Aimee gave one of the gift cards to another female volunteer she met and shared the story.

I have stalked found Jennifer and she shared with me her story.  That will be something for another post.

Before heading out to the bike course we saw newlyweds Mark and Jen who were getting ready to be bike catchers. 

A quick drive out to the bike course put us in the same spot we were at last year.  Due to traffic closures we couldn't get to where the majority of CTC IronFans were located.  But as soon as I jumped out of the car in my speedo and hat we joined the other fans cheering for the athletes.

We spent about 2.5 hours on the course cheering for Jeff, Brian, Tariq, Desiree, Barb, Elizabeth and Danette.  We just happened to miss some of the other people.  We had signs like "Shut Up Legs" and "You are all Nucking Futs."  A highlight of the day was when a female athlete was riding by and yelled, "Were you at Triple T!!!".  I quickly yelled back yes.  Of course she recognized me.  She saw me three days in a row wearing my hat and speedo on the run course at Triple T.

After we saw Elizabeth a second time it was time to go back to Louisville.  We were excited to get onto the run course and cheer louder and closer to our friends.  This is when the roller coaster took a sudden dip.

Flashback to Labor Day 2013.  Feeling bloated and out of sorts my dad drove himself to the emergency room leaving my mom a note because he didn't feel it was anything serious.  He was then transported to the hospital with Stage IV liver cancer.  After two years of treatment, and almost normal lifestyle, his options were exhausted.  Two years to the day from the original diagnosis he decided to stop all treatment and enter into the program at the Hospice of the Western Reserve.  He received weekly hospice care at home for 5 weeks. 

Checking my phone I missed a call from my brother.  I called him back and was told my dad was transported to the hospice center and they didn't know how long he would last.  This is where having Aimee and my co-pilot pays off.  My mind was confused and I heard her say, "Go to the hotel.  We will get our stuff and drive home."  On auto pilot I did as I was instructed and told my mom we were coming home.  She said there was a 50/50 chance of me seeing him before he would pass.  That was good enough odds for me.

I felt bad leaving my friends behind when I wanted to badly to see them cross that Ironman finish line, but I knew they would understand.  They aren't assholes.  They are the best people I could be friends with.  Once we emptied the hotel room of our luggage we started the 5.5 hour drive home.

I called my son Andrew and told him to sit tight until we knew more about what was happening.  Three hours later he called me to say he was leaving to drive home to see his Grandpa.  Yep, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and I didn't blame him.  I just wanted him to drive carefully.

Our drive was fairly quiet as we both thought about what we were returning to.  Would we be there in time?  Is this really happening?  When will it end?

We arrived at the hospice center around 8:30PM.  My dad had been there about 8 hours so far and they said his condition had stabilized.  We were all there supporting my mom and waiting for Andrew to arrive.  Aimee went home to get some rest and unpack the car of our bikes and gear...she is my angel.

Andrew finally arrived around 12:30AM.  We stayed another hour before leaving my mom with dad.

Monday was a long day of waiting around.  The time became magical as we told stories and cheered each other up as only the Gibb Family can.  We watched videos of a little girl turning a tissue into a "bird" and recounted how dad wanted a viking funeral (setting him adrift in the canoe and lighting it on fire).

Actually my dad is cool enough for this.
Mom finally left for the evening and slept at home.  We were all still in a state of limbo.  Just not knowing what or when.  Tuesday morning was more waiting around.  My brother's spouse Dave was able to visit before going to the hospital for knee replacement surgery.  Yes, can you say worst timing ever.  I was very happy that he was able to stop in before his surgery.  He was able to see dad and we could give him our best wishes in person.

After lunch Aimee returned to work while Andrew and I went home to cook lunch.  45 minutes later mom called with the final announcement.  Dad had passed away quietly without her hearing a sound.  Andrew and I rushed back to the hospice to be with mom and see dad for the last time.

He looked peaceful and as mom said, he never made a sound.  Mom had her things packed up and we bid farewell to a most wonderful facility that made my dads last moments comfortable with care that exceeded anything I could have anticipated.

Hard to believe the roller coaster ride started 90 hours ago.  At this point I don't really know when the ride will end.  I know there are many ups and downs still yet to come.  I have shared his passing in my own special way and the response from friends has been the most supportive.

So I relate this roller coaster ride to something I understand, Ironman.  In both situations there will be ups and down.  Sometimes you never know when those dips will occur.  But no matter what, you always ride it out because change is just around the corner and it is bound to get better.

All I know is that I am happy to share this ride with a great family, fantastic friends and Aimee sitting with me in the front row of the first car.  I only wish that I had asked my friends to join me on this roller coaster two years ago.

Regardless, I'm still one lucky guy. 

Game On.