Getting acquainted with death at an early age

When I was 11 years old in 1985 I first experienced death. My sister Cheryl was 7 at the time. My mother’s side of the family had a history of hereditary heart issues. Cheryl contracted rheumatic fever that eventually lead to a unsuccessful surgery in the 80’s. As a result she could only live connected to a machine. 33 years later death revisits my family over the span of a year taking my parents.

Both of my parents decided to pull the plug for budget purposes. Health insurance wasnt a thing during that era, but they couldn’t afford to keep her alive on a machine. When they came back to my aunt’s house in New Braunfels TX to break the news that dreadful day, I was playing in the backyard. They both confronted me with a napkin filled with a lock of her hair in tears. From age 11 I grew up the only child in the house.

For many years after my parents argued which of their faults it was over her death. Hind sight is always 20/20 vision isn’t it? She was simply coughing at night during bedtime. By the time she was diagnosed the damage was done. We were on summer vacation while school was out in Oklahoma City. Down in Cedar Park, TX with my uncle Billy, Grace’s only brother. Very close to where both my parents graduated high school from in Leander, TX.

At 11 years old it was very difficult to see so many of my family members then affected by her death. All I could do was try to console the group as a whole instinctively. I remember standing in a circle of seated adults in my uncle’s garage in Buttercup Creek. Letting them know all about themselves. How they treated one another as a family in person and behind their backs from previous functions. Attempting to take the focus off of Cheryl, and how this death could bring about positive change through examination of collective actions toward each other.

Sleep is the cousin of death

In November of 2017 my mother Grace fell asleep in her chair watching TV like she always does at night. Only this time my father couldn’t successfully wake her later that night. They were both in the living room of their apartment spending time together. I just couldn’t stomach what it must have felt like for my father David to experience seeing his best friend dead in their home.

When he called to inform me that night I broke down. It was the first time my kids ever seen me cry in their lives. I just spoke with her 2 weeks ago while I was in Dallas at a Cowboys game. She is a big reason behind my social media antics with the Cowboys fan base. Allowing her to vicariously live through me with her beloved team.

I shared with my wife it wouldn’t be long before my father passed as a result. I knew how much they meant to one other. He depended on her for a lot of things. It would be hard for me to live in my house after that. He did it for 11 months almost. The last 6 weeks leading up to however he was in long-term care in Kennewick, WA. He was an Army veteran diagnosed with PTSD that served multiple tours in Germany. Released on October 25, 2018.

Death helping me to tie this all together in the aftermath

Fast forward to October 28, 2018 while returning from an overnight trip out-of-town with our neighbors down the street I received the second phone call while driving. This time from my parents next door neighbor, Jackie Watkins. While checking in on him Saturday the 27th she found him laying on the floor in the fetal position, dead. Three feet from the chair my mother fell asleep in forever. During the call however, I was able to not break a tear. Only asking the timeline of events since his release from long-term care.

When it rains it pours doesn’t it? Just weeks earlier I was taken into an emergency appendectomy.

During the time after Grace’s death my father and I became much closer. After leaving home at the age of 19 for the Navy I had never spent so much time with my father over the span of 25 years like I was currently. From November of 2017 until October 2018 I learned just how much like my father I am. I was happy he was able to spend time with his grand kids before dying. He did manage to share with me one detail that would forever change my life moving forward.

He too was a big Cowboys fan. Originally from Oklahoma City. Grace was born in Dallas. Growing up every Thanksgiving we watched America*s Team as a family in the 80’s. He loved Ezekiel Elliot because of his raw skill for the game, and flair as a player. Saying it was reminiscent of the GOAT, Emmitt Smith. The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree however. Although we lost on Christmas eve to my wife’s Sea Hawks in 2017 we managed to get this beautiful family shot in the process. I just knew time was running out for David.

Death, Barry Gipson,

Pictured (L) to (R) my father David, my sons Bryant, Josiah, Bryce, myself, my sister-in-law LaShawn, my youngest son Brayden,  and lastly my wife Stevie, and daughter Adrienne who are Sea Hawks fans.

I was also able to get this men’s shot of 3 Gipson generations though. Taking more pictures of my family is something I must do now. Unlike my father my keyboard is actually my camera.

He was actually wearing my mothers Dallas Cowboys jacket in this picture. She purchased it on our trip to Texas stadium in 1985, where I attended my first ever Cowboys game ever.

What death actually taught me about my mother Grace

Grace was very social, and strived to keep the peace between family and friends at all cost. It’s sad that it took her death to see our commonalities. In fact, I had never thought of it until then.  My wife Stevie and I love to host family, and friends at our house. SHe visited us in California when both her grandsons Bryant and Bryce were born. Many functions we had Stevie’s side of the family there with us. I now understand why we are so compatible in this aspect. Grace was a gatherer of people. A social butterfly. We (my wife Stevie and I) too are gatherer’s of people.

Leaving the nest from Thrall, TX in 1993 for the United States Navy was a big step. Grace specifically requested I not get any crazy tattoos I would regret during my travels later in life. As a result, not a single tattoo after serving 23 years in the Navy. Oh, I had many urges and temptations. That thought of what she said was always in the forefront of my mind however.

Years later after enlisting in the Navy she and my father moved to WA state. Kennewick to be specific located in Tri-Cities. It was nice having my parents finally within driving distance when I was serving onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln stationed in Everett, WA. A few years later I left WA though, for a tour in CA near my oldest son Josiah in the bay area. Ultimately meeting my wife Stevie, then starting our family in the bay area. Only to move to OK for a 3 year stint, then back to WA to retire. Ultimately closer to both of them so they could see their grand kids more.

As my father and I spent more time together after her death he shared many stories about here. How Grace would do so much for our family. Literally placing her own needs on the back-burner for the sake of her family. Much like my mother, when my wife and kids are happy I too am happy. However, learning when and how to place your own needs before others is truly an art. One that now at my age I am beginning to learn finally.

Point of the matter is we must MAKE time for ourselves if we want to grow. Invest time into a hobby or something you have a passion for. For me it’s blogging. We cant so get so engulfed into pleasing others that we forget to fulfill our own desires and needs. What my father shared with me on his last visit to our home here in Puyallup was the most important piece to this puzzle of all for me.

Opportunity, Knock, Luck, Preparation, Death

What death actually taught me about my father David

I never knew how much I was alike my father until he started to visit us more after my mother’s death. My wife and daughter would make fun of me about it all the time when he would leave. Calling me David junior. The more time he spent here with us I too came to realize how much we were alike. The best part was when it was just he and I talking about our family experiences, challenges, struggles, and successes.

He opened up and shared many stories about his travels in Germany while in the Army. LIke my mother, he too made his family his focus. The whole reason he enlisted in the Army was to provide for Grace and I while living in Leander, TX. We watched a military movie one night together, and he was overcome with emotion. He shared how he was driving his Army issued jeep on the side of a dark mountainside in Germany. All he could think of was he had to return to his family. Driving with only one headlight and continually rubbing the mountainside with his bumper as a gauge to not drive off the side with no rails.

The sad reality is I wish we could have had more of these talks. Much like he suppressed and compartmentalized those emotions I realized I had done much of the same over my career. Many of the things I seen and experienced have been buried deeply. We talked for hours that night and ultimately became closer as a result. Lastly he shared one small tidbit that ended up being the glue of this whole thing.

My father was a writer deep inside, and I never knew it until then. He was such the family photographer, musician, and jack of all trades first though. During those stories he shared of my mother after her death, he too shared that he reported for his high school newspaper at Leander High School. That’s when the light bulb went off. Here I thought I had picked up blogging by chance at the end of my career in the Navy. Boy was I wrong.

Are you building your own legacy, or someone else’s?

Now it all made sense. Over the span of one year much in life has come full perspective for me. Put your family first, but also make time to build your own legacy. Thanks to my father I have thousands of pictures he took with his flash cameras. Many of which I have here with me now. As I went to their apartment this November to pack out what to keep from both of them I had to select carefully what to keep, and let go.

My fathers passion for music lead him to starting his own music band as the drummer. Most of all he enjoyed creating music because of what it did it for others. As I sit here looking at his last picture taken before his death, it will ultimately be a reminder to keep documenting.

Blogging has become very therapeutic for me. Sharing and typing my emotions on this canvas actually helps bring closure to this all. Dont let this life slip by without investing time into your own legacy. My father left thousands of pictures and memories behind. Now I must document and publish accordingly like I know he would.

Instead of pictures I have chosen to document my legacy for my family on Google through blogging. Both here, and where I really invest my spare time. If you really want to know my blogging passion behind the Cowboys and it’s fans click here.

In the mean time I will continue to document my personal work here. Eventually serving a purpose to write my initial book. “Built By Fans For Fans.”

Once you can discover your purpose, the rest becomes easy. David and Grace have taught me more about my purpose over the span of this last year than anything. This is the blessing in death I talk about in the video.

Thank you for taking time to read about my education on death over the span of this last year.  If I were to only inspire one person who reads this then my job is done.

Finally, here I am during that raw moment of it all.

Has death had a positive effect on you and your passion?

Please leave me a comment below and share it here if you like.


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About the author

Barry Gipson AKA the "Cowboys Unifier" is just a die hard true blue Cowboys fan on a mission to connect America*s Team, and it's fan base globally with the first ever Cowboys fan website "Built By Fans For Fans!"

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