Elizabeth B. Lilley, d. May 28, 2000


There are less-than perfect days in Santa Barbara, too. When we moved from Ohio, we knew we would feel the stretching of the ties attached to east-dwelling relatives. From time to time, the telephone ringer would cause us to look at each other with that "uh-oh" expression and a brief helpless feeling. In most cases, the first few words from parent or child would replace the panic with happy news or just happy talk, and we'd be relieved that our suspected clairvoyance was really just misplaced dread.  Then on May 28, 2000, it happened.


Elizabeth B. Lilley died of emphysema in West Virginia. She also had Alzheimer’s disease, but at the end, she was lucid and knew herself and those around her. In a way, the Alzheimer’s buffered her a bit from the lengthy emphysema illness, and she would still end each day with the expectation that she would feel better in the morning and would get up and do all those necessary “Mom” things. Her passing was no surprise, but the final removal of all the hope and wishful thinking and denial was a shock nonetheless. 


We received the call at dinner time in Santa Barbara, in the company of Newcomer guests, and had a chance to talk a while about this being that "time of life" for many of us. One more time, the our relatively new California friends were a comfort.


Amid all the necessary arrangements, one of life's most difficult duties was to respond to Dad's desire for a few words to be spoken at her funeral. The words are intensely personal, but "Mom" is a universal concept shared by us all:




When we were growing up, it was... "Hi Mom; what's for dinner?" or, "Hi Mom, I'm home from school ... going out to play ... see you later..."


My Mom, our mother, grandmother, wife, friend, has passed and we both mourn our loss and celebrate her life.


Gold miners talked of the "mother lode";

Generals talk of the "mother of all battles";

There is "mother of pearl," the "mother ship," a "mother hen" ...


...but we don't call any of these "Mom." Gold veins run out, battles are won or lost, but "Mom" is always, and special.  We each get only one, and this graceful lady was the best.  She isn't really gone. Because we are here, she is here. That's an honor, and a tall responsibility.


Mom's last moments properly belong to her and to Dad alone, a supremely personal time. 


But, all the family visited with Mom over the Mother's Day weekend. She was physically weak, but very much "present." We had the opportunity to give her one of those cards with the gentle, wise (and fitting!) "Peanuts" comic-strip characters saying, "You're the greatest!"  I am so glad we had the chance to say "we love you" once more, out loud.


There are heroes here --


As their 61 years of life together began to come to a close, Dad has always been there for her and for us, in any role, all day every day. Family, friends and neighbors continue to help and to care. And mom herself, with never any misconceptions about the outcome, had a strong sense of self:


"I can't be in charge any more; you'll just have to take care of each other." 


When we would come to visit, a strong sense of us: “ ... my family all together..."


And throughout it all, her sense of humor, which sustained her and us together: " ... you tell me I am gentle and kind, but I can be a real rattlesnake when I have to!"


Mom is who you are when you just can't stop caring.


Mom, we love you. Our favorite picture is of you working in your flower garden; planting, pruning, shaping, helping things grow. It's a fitting image that extends to life far beyond those flowers. Your grandchildren Karen and Suzanne, and my sister Ruth and I share your heartbeat -- so strong in you until the fuel it needed just quietly ran out. Your presence influenced who we were, and now even in your absence, you influence who we are and what we will be. We can love, because you loved us.


Mom, things will never be quite the same again, but they will feel better than they do now. In time, we'll come to remember you by your life, not so much by your passing. We know now that you heard that glad shout at your journey's end: "Here she comes!"


 ... 'bye Mom; see you later.




Santa Barbara is home now, but this particular return trip from West Virginia stretched those distance-ties almost to the breaking point. It helps that Dad's own strengths showed so clearly through the sadness; we think he (and we) are going to be all right. And Mom, too.




Almost exactly one year later, immediate family members gathered informally on what turned out to be Memorial Day to have some time at Mom's graveside.  As we quietly remarked about the bright flowers and almost cheerful memorial holiday decorations and then fell silent for a while, nearby on a hill a lone piper played "Amazing Grace" for another family and their memories. Nevertheless, we knew he was playing for us, and that Mom used that perfect moment to let us know she indeed is all right. 




Robert G. Lilley -- d. October 8, 2002


Our world holds its breath as a good man departs. And before we exhale,  deflated, diminished, we presume to hope: “It’s not really true – just a clerical error, or crossed telephone wires – a typo – the bureaucracy. But no: the bell tolls, and this time it unmistakably calls to him – to us.


We hold our breath for a while longer, quietly remembering, remembering…


Robert Lilley was the last of six children, in a family whose elders saw the end of the Civil War, the Gold Rush, and on forward to the Cold War, the Internet and beyond, he was born in 1912 and married in 1938. He leaves his children Ruth and me, his grandchildren, Ellen’s and my daughters Karen and Suzanne, and the great grandchildren of their Andy Harshman and Duncan Chalmers families. Betty Bouldin, his wife of 61 years, passed away just over two years ago.


He spent his 90th birthday last February with us, and with the Harshman family and first great-grandson Brandon. He narrowly missed seeing the second (barely a month old) in person. But thanks to that same Internet and supportive neighbors, he saw Kai Chalmers anyway. A short time ago, the last time I talked with Dad, Kai was right there, next to Karen’s phone in Seattle -- the other side of the coin of life.  We were reminded once again that every new baby is one more opportunity for the world to be a better place.


A good man by any measure I know.  What words?


Trustworthy, loyal, ­helpful – you may recognize the Boy Scout Creed here. While Ruth and I were learning it, he was living it. He could make a simple purchase into a lifetime friendship.


Friendly, courteous, kind – When I came to Charleston immediately after his passing, I visited some of the people he cared about. Neighbors, the people at the bakery, the florist, the music store where he donated his high-school trombone as a “relic”… everybody remembered him as a gentleman.  I was moved by the feelings expressed by a nurse at Thomas Memorial who had been on staff when Mom was there for the last time. Dad visited those nurses every week after that. 


Obedient, cheerful, thrifty – Well, I guess Ruth and I were the ones who learned obedience! He worked hard and was respected and recognized for it. And, he quietly made a good life for his family.


Brave, clean and reverent – All together it adds up to integrity.


Dad, you taught us so much, just by living your life. I would have been honored just to know you as an acquaintance; for Ruth and me, growing up and growing older in your family has been our good fortune indeed.


Do we dare begin to breathe again?  We feel so drawn-tight, still denying – willing this loss, this transition, not to have happened.  But it’s time to turn the page; we now must tend the flame, and keep the light in the window.


He did not suffer in his passing; a mercy. But we are reminded of just how much he missed Mom these past two years.  So he holds his breath for only a split second, in transit to that shore where he is awaited. “Here he comes!” must surely be the glad shout.


How do I find some words that are as special as he is?


All I can do is ask for a simple favor: “Dad, we love you.  Please say ‘Hello’ to Mom and all the others for us. Farewell. See you later…”




There was an article in a 1939 Carbide News publication featuring Dad’s research group: