Remembering Barbara Gatewood
(Remarks given at her funeral by her husband)
My mother said she had never heard of a husband giving remarks at his wife’s funeral. Well, Barbara and I were science fiction fans, commonly called nerds, and we did not always color inside the lines or do things the normal way. That’s just who we are.
There is a parable that comes from India about six blind men who come upon an elephant. One takes hold of the tail and says “An Elephant is like a snake.” Another takes hold of an ear and says “an elephant is like a leaf or a sail.” One grabs hold of a leg and says, “an elephant is like a column in the biggest temple.” Another reaches the side and says “an elephant is like a house.” One grabs the trunk and says, “an elephant is like a river, constantly moving.” One steps in the droppings and says, “an elephant is like a horse.” None of them could see, so none of them knew that they were all partly right and all partly wrong.
I tell you this parable because we are like those blind men — we only see partly when it comes to people and we are blind to the rest, even people we love. Only God can see all of us. I am going to focus on what I saw and will leave it to you to decide if I have the tail or the trunk — or the droppings.
When I hear people talk about how sweet Barbara was, I want to laugh.
Yes, she had her sweet side. That was a big part of who she was. And that was a face that she had to put on to go out into the world and do what she had to do. She told me many years ago that she used to be almost as blunt as I was until she realized that it was hurting her career and some of her relationships, so she made a conscious choice to control that part of herself. It did not go away, she just controlled it. Despite all of our time together, I was never more than a very poor student of her when it came to learning to control my own bluntness. Her self-control was so good that many of you saw her only as someone sweet. Only those of us who knew her for a long time and those she got to know very well ever realized the courage and the effort it took to be so sweet.
I say it was courage because what else would you call it when she got up every day and went forth to work, knowing that it would wear her down before the end of the day? I say it was effort because she was in pain for a long time, much longer than almost anyone knew, yet she did what she had to do. She was a fighter and her biggest challenge was always to overcome the issues that her body threw at her every day. She was an introvert, so she was drained and exhausted by the end of each day, just from being around so many people. She had heart problems from when she was a child, came close to having diabetes, tried and failed to lose weight on a long list of diet plans, had gastric bypass surgery to lose weight and it didn’t help, and she gave so much of herself to so many people who did not deserve her.
She was a warrior and a smart and moral person. So, she chose her battles with care and always took the side of justice and protecting those most in need of protection.
She had a strong and warped sense of humor and she lived for words — reading them and writing them and twisting them into “Barbara-isms” that would make you stop and roll your eyes or laugh until your belly hurt or make your eyes bug out at the cleverness of what she just said. She could communicate an entire conversation with a look or an expression, and she did not hesitate to give me grief when I needed (although she let me off the hook more than I deserved).
She was opinionated and stubborn and she could be unforgiving at times. She was smart and kind and showed mercy easily and rarely kept a grudge. She was one very special lady.
Now, I could tell you stories. We are going to have a memorial service at some point where we can tell stories about her. I ask your indulgence for one story that gives you a sense of who Barbara was.
We met through the Memphis Science Fiction Association, fondly known as “the club,” back in 1990 or 1991. The club meetings were being run then by a lady named Angie. Well, Angie had always worn her hair a certain way, at least for the years that I had known her. At some point, she changed her hairstyle and proudly showed it off at the next meeting. It was none of my business how she changed her hair, but, being Mr Blunt, I went ahead and commented on it anyway. Barbara was sitting there listening and could tell that every single thing I said was just making Angie more and more upset. I would try to back-peddle and I was just digging myself deeper and deeper. Finally, I said “But it’s just not logical to go from what you had to this…” Barbara interrupted me with “Women and hair are not subject to logic. Now, shut up, Tim.” And I did. Others told me that I also had a goofy grin on my face, but I don’t know about that. I just know that I noticed her much more afterward.
That kind of set the tone for our relationship. She became the person that people would go to when they wanted me to shut up. She could look at me and I would get the message.
People who think she was Miss Sweetness and Light would be surprised that she would say “shut up” to someone she had met just once or twice. And we really had only known each other a very brief time at that point.
We did all sorts of things together. We were involved with religious groups, writing groups, and with the community of science fiction fans. We were involved together in a bunch of stuff. Over the years, all that stuff fell away except MidSouthCon (the convention) and the Darrell Awards. On the convention, she served on its Board of Directors and she ran the Art Show there for many years, staying active right up to the end. This volunteer service was recognized a few years ago when the convention gave us their Lifetime Achievement Award. She was an early and long-term participant in the group that chose the Darrell Awards and was pleased to receive a First-Runner Up for Best Midsouth Short Story for her first published short story, which ran in the Best of Memphis anthology. She will be widely remembered in the communities that she served.
She was a bookkeeper for the local John Deere heavy equipment dealer here in Memphis for about 20 years and she worked as a Broker at FedEx Trade Networks for about 5 years. She would come home from work exhausted almost every day, even back when she worked for John Deere. She was fighting to put on that sweet face, to do the work to the best of her ability, to be that bright and shining star that everyone believed she could be — and was. She was struggling and many nights found her so worn out that she’d take a nap, maybe get up and have something to eat or have a phone conversation with one of her sisters or her mother, then go back to sleep.
Toward the end of last year, when the exhaustion and shortness of breath got so much worse, it became obvious that she was a very sick lady — or, at least, her body was very sick.
We are not our bodies. People look at us and see our bodies, but that is not who we are. We are spirits traveling around in meat sacks. The spirit is who we are. The meat sack will break down, but the spirit will live on. It takes a special way of looking to see that spirit within most people. With Barbara, it shone through like the noon sun.
Anyone who judged Barbara by her body simply did not know her. They did not look deep enough. She was huge in spirit, strong in devotion, unrelenting in faith, and loyal to a fault to those who had earned her loyalty.
She was a passionate woman, not at all afraid to express her opinions to those whom she let close to her. We would have heated discussions at meetings and other folks would think we were arguing, but we rarely argued in public. In fact, looking back over the almost 23 years we were married, I can recall very few actual arguments.
Well, okay, we did nag each other about stuff, of course, we did. It was just always done out of concern and love for each other.
Barbara was just about the best person I have ever known and one of the best people I will likely ever know. She put up with a lot more from me than she should have, way more than I deserved. She kept me on the path toward becoming a better person moreso than anyone else, which was not an easy job. She gave me grief at times like nobody’s business. I don’t think she ever gave me grief when I didn’t deserve it. Not saying I always appreciated it at the time, but, looking back, I can see her love in every instance.
Even after she had her stroke and couldn’t talk any more, she could sometimes make me laugh just by giving me one of those looks that wives give to husbands. She was a huge person in all the ways that matter and she will leave a very big hole in the lives of all of us who loved her or knew her as a friend.
There will be days when the sky will be so blue or the weather will be so perfect and I will look out there and say, “Barbara is going to enjoy this.” There will be movies seen and books read that remind me of the love we shared for all forms of well done art. There will be days when I accomplish something, especially something she encouraged me to do, and I will say, “I can’t wait to tell Barbara about this. I would not have done it without her.” The time will come when disappointments or other grief comes my way and I will know that we endured worse than that already and the memory of those events will give me the strength to push on. She taught me how to love and how to live and how to go on despite all the pain that is our lot in life. I will miss her more than I can say.
It is going to be so, so hard to go on without her. But that’s what you do. You suck it up and pull up your big boy pants and go on down the road. She taught me that.
Barbara was in pain the last several years of her life. She had all sorts of issues that brought pain to her. I know that some of the things I did worried her; some of the things I did not do worried her. She certainly worried me on more than one occasion. As often happens when you are married for a while, sometimes I wondered, “what in the world did I get myself into?” But more often, I wondered “what did she get herself into? Why is she putting up with me?” Marrying me seemed like such a bad choice. I’ve never been a good provider. I am not always easy to get along with. Heck, when we met, I was a devout dog person and had no desire to convert to being staff for cats. She took me as I was and made me a better person.
When people started getting reports about her declining health and some of you praised what a wonderful husband I was, all I could think was “Not hardly!” I was just paying her back a smidgen of what she gave to me.
The world is a darker place because a light has gone out. We will celebrate the light that was her life and we will refuse to curse the darkness.
I know that I can talk with her at any time, and I will. I will miss her voice, her smiling face, her hand in mind, the touch of her spirit in all the ways that it used to touch us all. And, yes, I’ll miss her sweetness, too.
Thank you, God, for sending your child Barbara to me. She was better than I deserved and I will never forget her. Amen.
If you have not yet seen her obituary, here is the one on the funeral home’s site: http://www.memorialparkfuneralandcemetery.com/obituaries/Barbara-Gatewood/ and this is the one that the newspaper posted: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/commercialappeal/obituary.aspx?n=barbara-d-gatewood-green&pid=180046036&fhid=3693