Goodbye and Godspeed, Gwen

Gwen Frances York, 1956-2018

Gwen Frances York, 1956-2018

words won’t bring her back.
tears can’t wash away the pain.
a hole in my heart…

My sweet, wonderful cousin, Gwen died this past week, and is winging away from us now. She had just traveled to San Angelo for the funeral of our uncle, Tom Massey, and fell backwards down stairs at DFW while returning. sustaining a traumatic brain injury. She lingered in a coma, unresponsive for over a week, and then died last Wednesday, devastating all of us who loved her.

Today, family & friends bid farewell at a memorial service in Dallas, that we will, unfortunately, be unable to attend. Our thoughts are with everyone remembering Gwen today, wherever we all may be.

Our two families were particularly close. My mom followed Gwen’s mom, her older sister Marion, to the University of Texas in the late 40s. They both got degrees and married UT students, and started families. The Buller and Williams families spent a lot of time together growing up, bonding me and my brother closely with our cousins, Gwen and her older sister, Wanda. Our two families had also shared the heartbreak of losing a child: Marion & Willie’s first-born, Chuck, was run over by a car as a toddler, and my youngest brother, Brian Craig Buller, died 2 days after his birth.

Though they lived in Dallas (Garland actually) and we lived in Houston (Hedwig Village, actually), the families visited each other often. We shared UT football games in Austin, as well as the annual UT-OU weekend in Dallas, and more than a few Thanksgiving Day games. They owned a beach house on the Bolivar peninsula east of Galveston, and that was my childhood beach experience. Growing up, us kids shared the 60s, from the Beatles and rock & roll through the tumultuous times of civil unrest, riots and the Vietnam War. Then the 4 of us each had our own UT experiences. We all grew up, and eventually started our own families. Though we did not see each other as often any more, those close ties remain even today.

My memories of Gwen are long and extensive, stretching back to childhood and up through watching her career blossom at Southwest Airlines and raising her beautiful daughter, Alyson. My heart aches for Alyson especially, and my thoughts are with her during this painful time. The day a parent dies, the world changes forever in ways we can never really imagine. I hope her memories of her mom can help carry her through this time.

When we first heard of Gwen’s injury, my heart sank into the deepest, darkest pit. I had spent a dozen years working with survivors of traumatic brain injuries, and knew all too well the devastating possibilities. When they said she’d had 2 surgeries to relieve pressure on the brain but remained unresponsive, I feared for the worst.

And I thought of her lingering in that nether region of consciousness deeper than sleep but short of dying, an unknowable state between coma and consciousness. Within that twilight dimension, I felt I could see Gwen visiting with Tom  — not just “old Tom” who had just died, but 14-year-old comatose Tom awaiting his awakening. And then I thought of all the spirits she might encounter from the “Other Side”  — her beloved parents, the older infant brother she never knew, lovers and friends and acquaintances lost along the way through the years. It is hard not to think that such a host of loved ones might serve to beckon one closer to that edge.

Knowing all too well the bleak outcomes faced by many traumatic brain injury survivors with residual deficits, I worried not simply whether she would survive but whether she could ever recover. Too many survivors suffer far beyond the original injury. When we received word that she had died, there was that strange mixture of sorrow tinged with a hollow relief, knowing her suffering had ended.

Each death serves as a reminder that we are all temporary here. We must love everyone every day as long as we have the chance.

me & Gwen laughingThe last photo I have of Gwen and me shows the two of us laughing. Taken 3 years ago when we managed to meet up with her for a quick dinner in Austin, this is forever how I will remember Gwen — enjoying our time together, whenever and wherever we could get together. That memory will never fade.

Finally, I am reminded of something that Gwen had shared on social media not long ago, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was one of the last things I remember her posting, and I saved it at the time, thinking what a perfect summation of a good life he had made. Thinking about it now, I see how perfectly he described Gwen’s life.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…

This is to have succeeded.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes, that’s Gwen, through and through — we are all richer who knew her, and we will carry her forward forever in our thoughts.

Gwen Frances York — obituary


About bullersbackporch

I am a native Austinite, a high-tech Luddite, lover of music, movies and stories and a born trainer-explainer.
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