NANCY JEAN AIELLO GEHLEY
June 1947 – June 2008
Remarks by Dennis at Celebration of Life, Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home: 5 June 2008
“…in sickness and in health…’til death do us part”
Psychologists tell us that the death of a spouse is probably the most stressful and traumatic event that a husband or wife will ever face in their lifetime. Likewise, the loss of a parent through death is often associated with a period of intense suffering for his or her children. I thank all of you here tonight for coming out to be with me and Lisa and David and our families in our time of sorrow. We are also comforted by our belief that my deceased parents and ancestors – the Sedlaceks and the Gehleys – and especially Nancy’s deceased parents and ancestors – the Tagliaferris and the Aiellos – are anxiously waiting to welcome Nancy to her new home.
Our Capital Hospice family counselor gave us a booklet to help us deal with Nancy’s dying. The booklet has a short essay that helps remind us that our focus should not be on our grief. Our focus should be on Nancy.
“Gone From My Sight”
By Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”, there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”
And that is dying.
Tonight’s remarks started out in January with the title “A EULOGY FOR NANCY, MY WIFE”. After many title changes since then, in the end, I call my comments simply “A LOVE LETTER”. And the letter begins like this.
I begin with three words: SHORT, HAPPY, and JOURNEY. A number of months ago I asked our son-in-law, the Reverend Jay Angerer, what advice he might give me to help prepare a eulogy. He told me that he gives the same advice to those preparing a eulogy as he gives to those preparing a wedding toast: keep it short. Tomorrow our son will deliver a short eulogy at the end of your funeral Mass at St. Bernadette. Our daughter Lisa helped David edit those remarks. As they say in her household, she gave him much assistitude. My love letter tonight is not so short.
The second word is HAPPY. Nancy, you were a happy person and you brought happiness to those around you. When I met you at a dance in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September 1965, you were a happy college freshman. Four years later, in 1969, you were a happy bride. Two years after that, you became a happy mother for the first time when Lisa was born in Heidelburg. And 32 years later, in 2003, you became a happy grandmother when Lisa gave birth to Renee.
Someone sent me an email sympathy card a while back that contained a sentiment I found very useful in preparing this letter.
“When I am dead and gone, do not frown and be sad. Instead, smile and remember me when I was happy.”
But how are we supposed to smile when we sit here stressed and traumatized and grieving over the loss of a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a sister, a sister-in-law, a neighbor, a friend? Maybe I can help your family and friends smile with a list I made. I call it List 1: People, Places and Things That Made Nancy Happy. I stopped when the list grew to over 60 items. Here are just a few.
• Amusement parks
• Carnival Cruises, castles, canolis, and Cirque du Soleil
• Dancing and drummer boys from Springfield, Tulsa and Vienna
• Emailing and Entertainment Tonight
• Family, friends, and funnel cakes
• Grandchildren, girlfriends, and gondola rides
• Hot fudge sundaes, helicopter rides, and the Hubcaps
• Line dancing
• Movie watching and marimbas
• Puzzles, painting, parades, pasta frolla, Peanut Buster Parfaits, and your PT Cruiser
• Roller coasters
• Saxophones, shagging, snorkeling, S.O.S., and sex (but not necessarily in that order)
• Underwater adventures with tropical fish and rainbow-colored coral and me
• Water parks, waterslides, watermelon, and weddings
• Zoos and zucchini sticks
The third word is JOURNEY. I borrowed the word from something my father once told me and something my mother gave me many years ago. My father told me that he thought travel was a great education. When you travel, you see new places, meet new people, and learn lessons that you can use in the future. And if you travel with the same partner for a long enough time, you learn a whole lot about that partner, too, and about yourself.
My mother’s contribution to the word JOURNEY comes from a small piece of paper that she gave me almost 30 years ago. It was an essay by a Southern Baptist minister named Robert J. Hastings. According to Reverend Hastings, reading his essay out loud should invoke the feeling and rhythm of riding on a train. My mother’s father had been a Union Pacific railroader for 49 years, and she often told me railroad stories as I was growing up. Some of her happiest memories involved riding trains, and she must have known that some day Reverend Hastings’ essay would have special meaning for me. Today is that day.
By Robert J. Hastings
Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day, at a certain hour, we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true, and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering – waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.
“When we reach the station, that will be it!” we cry. “When I’m 18.” “When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz!” “When I put the last kid through college.” “When I have paid off the mortgage!” “When I get a promotion.” “When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!”
Sooner or later, we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.
“Relish the moment” is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118 Verse 24: “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are two thieves who rob us of today.
So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more, cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.”
Reverend Hastings did not know Nancy, but I am convinced that it was her he was talking about in the last paragraph of his essay. The Nancy I knew was the girl eating more ice cream, going barefoot, swimming, watching sunsets, laughing more, crying less, living life as she went along, and definitely not thinking about The Station.
And yet here we are at the station with her, at the station that came much sooner than we thought it would, or should. How hard it is to smile. To help us remember Nancy when she was happy, I made another list. I called it List 2: Places and Sights on Nancy’s Journey That Made Her Happy. There were over 175 places on that list – places in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, England and Canada; places in Mexico and the Caribbean and the Mediterranean; places in North and Central and South America, places in the wild wild west, places as far east as Istanbul and as far west as Hawaii.
But I came to realize that List 2 did not need to have 175 places on it. List 2 should be a much shorter list – a list of the places that made her journey the VERY HAPPIEST. Those would be the places that involved her family that she loved so much. Places such as Ashburn, Virginia, and Bear, Delaware; Bren Mar Drive, Barnack Drive, and Brenham, Texas; Cove Haven, Pennsylvania, and Great Wolf Lodge; Horseshoe Drive; Moon Glass Court in Columbia, Maryland; Lawrence and Medford, Massachusetts; Plano, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I have a disclaimer to read about the original list of 175 places.
Despite what Nancy may have told some of her Best Friends Forever – girlfriends such as Audrey, Barbara, Jerry, Nancy, Penny, Sandy, Sherry, and Sharon – I want to assure everyone here present that, in the words of one of our recent 20th century presidents, I DID NOT HAVE SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH THAT WOMAN in all of those places. (But I thought about it.)
My father would want to know what I learned from traveling with Nancy during our 38 years of happiness, and I would tell him that Nancy taught me 3 LESSONS in particular. They are what I call the ISTANBUL lesson, the WATERSLIDE lesson, and the HELICOPTER RIDE lesson.
The ISTANBUL LESSON comes from the very first cruise that Nancy and I took in 1971 when we were in Europe.
We took a week long cruise of the Greek Isles, including a stop in Istanbul, where we took a tour called Istanbul by Night. So there we are with one other couple in this very large cab and our driver/tour guide Abdul. Abdul takes us to this scenic but quite desolate hill overlooking the city. As Abdul is describing the history of the city, its architecture, its people, Nancy pulls me aside and says “This place is giving me the creeps.” I asked “Why?” She said “This is exactly the kind of place where Ali Babba and his 40 thieves would show up, steal all your belongings, kill you and chop you into a thousand pieces, and that’s the last time anybody ever sees you.” I told Nancy “That’s not going to happen to us,” and she asks “Why not?” I replied “Because the tour book says that we are supposed to go to a night club and see a belly dancer, and we haven’t done that yet.”
Nancy gave me one of those looks that only a wife can give a husband, that Marge Simpson kind of look that is somewhere between “I can’t believe I married such a moron” and “It is possible, just possible, that he could be right.” So she says to me: “OK – go find the belly dancer.” And we did, and it was fine, and many years later in the ‘70s or ‘80s, Nancy actually took up belly dancing herself, complete with costume and soundtrack for her dance routine. I have photos to prove it.
So, Nancy’s ISTANBUL LESSON is this: When you are cruising on your journey of life and you get to Istanbul, do not worry about dying or about Ali Babba and his 40 thieves. GO FIND THE BELLYDANCER!
Nancy’s second lesson – the WATERSLIDE LESSON – comes from the time we were at Disney World’s water park in 1983. Nancy is coming down the waterslide. You can hear her laughter before you can see her. She shoots out of the waterslide like a cannonball, hits the water, stands up like Bo Derek in the movie 10, and has a major wardrobe malfunction, just like Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl. Nancy is not aware that one of her “girls” is on the loose. She thinks that my wild jumping up and down and pointing in her direction has something to do with the awesome splash she made. I point with both hands. She gives me two thumbs up. I wave my hands in the air. She waves back. Finally, I give her the international symbol for “nice rack.” She catches on and covers up. She comes over and says “I am so embarrassed I think I could just die.” Later that night at dinner, Nancy tells me “You know, of course, that it could have been worse.” I ask her “How so?” She says “Hey, it could have been the bigger one that got loose. Or maybe even both of them.”
So, Nancy’s WATERSLIDE LESSON is this: When you slide down the waterslides of your journey and you have a major wardrobe malfunction, do not worry. You will not die from embarrassment. It could have been worse.
Finally, there is Nancy’s HELICOPTER RIDE LESSON. Nancy and I are on a 3-week rental car vacation out West in 1994. We are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. We visit the Grand Canyon. We decide to take a helicopter ride. The helicopter takes off. Nancy has her headphones on and is listening to Kenny G and snapping her fingers. She is sitting up front with the pilot. I am in the back seat. The pilot tells us that we are now approximately 2 miles up from the floor of the canyon. I start thinking like Wile E. Coyote, right after he has gone over the edge of the cliff. I’m thinking “If that helicopter engine quits, we are goners.” I have sweaty palms and beads of perspiration. I am thinking about a fiery crash and burn scene. I am thinking about dying. We finish the ride and return to the heliport. Nancy says “Wasn’t that the most awesome thing you ever saw?” I say “Actually, no. Most of the time I was thinking about plummeting and crashing and burning.” She gave me another one of those Marge Simpson looks, only this time there was a short lecture to go with it. “Listen, mister, we did NOT spend good money just so you could start being a wussy boy. And we are not going to die on any helicopter ride. If you can’t suck it up, I won’t be taking you on any more helicopter rides.”
And sure enough, when we went to the Big Island of Hawaii in 2003, the very first thing we did was to take a 3 hour helicopter ride over the flaming volcano and the whole island, and I was not a wussy boy. When we returned to Hawaii in 2005, we took another helicopter ride on the island of Maui. By this time I was mui macho about helicopter rides.
So, Nancy’s HELICOPTER RIDE LESSON is this:“When you are on your journey of life and you get the chance to go on a helicopter ride, do not be looking down and thinking about dying. Instead, hold your head up, enjoy the view, enjoy the ride, and enjoy the journey.”
Do you remember Reverend Hastings talking about the day that the Lord has made? Nancy, too, was a believer in God. And heaven. And the resurrection of the body. And all of that is very good news.
Why is it good news? Because it means that Nancy’s journey does NOT end at The Station. It means that The Station is actually the place where one journey ends and another journey begins. It means that The Station is the place where we celebrate changing trains. The funeral home and the church that we gather at are not just a funeral home and a church. They are part of something bigger. They are parts of The Station.
Reverend Hastings began his essay by referring to an idyllic vision where we see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. I do not claim to be a visionary when it comes to describing Nancy’s next journey. Whether it is long or short, it most certainly will be happy.
Rather than speculate on her next journey, I want to focus on a question that has been of some concern to Nancy’s older grandchildren, Renee Antoinette Angerer, age 5, and Matthew David Gehley, age 4. It seems that for the last few months Renee and Matthew have been having difficulty trying to imagine just how Nanny is going to get to heaven. Matthew seems to think that it will take lots and lots of ladders and will take a very long time to climb.
I told Lisa & Becky to tell Renee and Matthew that Pops has one answer. (I am Pops, by the way.) Pops says that it will be a very special train that will take Nanny to heaven. I can not tell Renee and Matthew much about Nanny’s next journey, because God is in charge of that, but I definitely have a vision about Nanny’s train. The name of the train is “The Nanny Special,” and it looks like this.
The locomotive has a steam engine with lots of smoke coming out of it. It has a special kind of car behind it to hold water and coal to feed the engine. Next is a passenger car with the name Nancy on one side and the name Nanny on the other. The passenger car is painted a brilliant Candy Apple Red, just like Nanny’s PT Cruiser, with all kinds of shiny chrome trim and leather seats with butt warmers. Then there is a dining car and a caboose.
The engine is long – very, very long. It is called a Big Boy, and Big Boys were the largest steam engines ever made in the United States. Nanny and Pops saw one of the Big Boys in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1996. At the time, we thought we were just looking at the past. Little did we know then that we were also looking at Nanny’s future ride. The Big Boy engine and its tender stretched almost 50 yards – half the length of a football field – and had a top speed of 80 miles per hour. From front to back, the Nanny Special would be over 100 yards long.
Even more special is the crew. At the throttle in the engine is God the Father. In the passenger car is God the Son, the conductor who looks a little like Tom Hanks in the movie Polar Express. In the dining car is God the Holy Spirit. And here is what happens at the station.
Nancy climbs the steps to the passenger car, where the conductor welcomes her aboard. “Nancy” says God the Son, “I have 3 QUESTIONS for you before you start your journey. The first question is “Did you have a happy life?” And Nancy replies “Yes, Lord, I had a very happy life. Look, I even have two lists to prove it.” The Lord looks at the lists and says “You had some help with these lists, didn’t you?” And Nancy says “Yes, Lord, I married someone who likes to make lists.” Then the Lord says “Nancy, did you make other people happy when you were on your journey?” And Nancy replies “Yes, Lord, I believe I did make other people happy. I know I tried.” And the Lord says “Do you have any proof that you made other people happy? Another list, perhaps?”
“Silly Jesus” says Nancy. “I know that this is a trick question.” “What do you mean, “trick question?” asks the Lord. And Nancy says “Because you already have the list. You have the list because you were the one who made it up. That is List 3 – the names of the people who came here to the station to be with me while I am changing trains. I do not know how many are on the list. There are way too many people to have their names read, but I have a pretty good idea of who is liable to be on that list.
They came from all over the East – from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri.
And if they could not come to The Station themselves, they sent Bon Voyage cards from places like Alaska, California, Colorado, Texas and Washington.
And the Lord says “OK, Nancy, it looks like we are just about ready to go. 3 Words? Check. 3 Lists? Check. 3 Lessons? Check. 3 Questions? Check. Let’s roll!
Then Nancy says “Lord, before we go, I have 3 questions for YOU. And the Lord says “OK, Nancy, that sounds reasonable.” Nancy begins with “Lord, I do not know how long this next journey will be. May I have an ice cream sundae along the way? Or maybe a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait?” And the Lord replies “Nancy, just go to the dining car and God the Holy Spirit will take care of you for all eternity.”
Then Nancy asks “Lord, that cancer thing that I had for the last 30 months of my life was a real downer. One time I spent 3 weeks in the hospital, looking at nothing but the ceiling and hospital walls. Could I maybe have a really comfortable seat on the train, with a really good view?” And the Lord will say “Nancy, your train has your very own passenger car. You may have any seat on the train that you would like.”
Finally, Nancy says “Lord, I am really going to miss driving my PT Cruiser. I am going to miss going to Delaware to visit Lisa and Jay and Renee and Cole and Pete the Wonder Dog. I am going to miss going to Ashburn to visit David and Becky and Matthew and Michael and Dylan the Other Wonder Dog. I am going to miss taking my Cruiser to Sherry’s to pick up a fresh batch of home-made cookies. I am going to miss going to Barbara’s for a girlfriends’ lunch out.”
And the Lord says while tapping his fingers on his clipboard “Nancy, is there a question in there somewhere?”
Nancy replies: “Lord, could I drive the train?”
I do not know what the Lord will answer. And I do not know how long it will be before it is my turn to show up at the station. What I do know is that the Lord will be there and he will remind me that my major wardrobe malfunctions could have been worse. He will remind me to keep my head up and enjoy the view and the ride and the journey. And then he will tell me to “GO FIND YOUR BELLY DANCER!”
Nancy often told me over the years that she thought I was a good writer. She liked my letters and emails and said that I should have been a writer rather than an auditor, because I would have been happier. If I am such a good writer, then how should I end this Love Letter?
I will end it where it began, on that night back in 1965 when we first met, at a dance almost 43 years ago. When Nancy got back to Longwood College the day after the dance, she wrote her parents a 10-page letter. Much of it was about me. Nothing I ever wrote could come close to making anyone as happy as her letter made me when she eventually showed it to me years later. Here are a few of the things she wrote:
“That’s when I saw him!…I said to myself “I would give my eye teeth to talk to him. To me, he was the sharpest and best-looking boy at the whole party.”
“He is the most fabulous dancer alive … We made such a perfect pair! … I tell you he’s everything I have ever wanted! I just wish he could be the one!”
“I am completely snowed, completely gone over that guy … if, by some miracle, I was able to start dating that guy regularly, I would marry him as soon as I graduated. To me, he was it.”
“… he’s got the most fabulous personality! … And he spent the night at the party with me! I couldn’t believe any of it! I was Cinderella and I was sure it was all a fantastic dream!”
“Even if he doesn’t write, I know I had the most fantastic weekend of my life … Maybe he’s not as great as I think [he couldn’t be] but he sure is the first guy that made me really think of marriage! He’s everything I ever dreamt of … maybe, hopefully, he’s the one!”
Nancy and I married 4 years later. I can still hear her laughter when she told her girlfriends: “I chased him until he caught me.”
That night in 1965, Nancy, you were my Cinderella. Tonight you are my Sleeping Beauty. Tomorrow you have a train to catch. I will be at The Station to see you go. Before the train pulls away, I say these words to you tonight from the song that we always played at weddings:
“You Ask How Long I'll Love You, I'll Tell You True,
UntilThe Twelfth Of Never I'll Still Be Loving You.”
Yours for all eternity, Dennis
Some People Hate Their Sixtieth … Nancy Loved Hers
NANCY JEAN AIELLO GEHLEY
David's Eulogy At St. Bernadette Church: 6 June 2008
As Nancy’s son, David, I feel blessed to be able to speak about my Mother today. My father Dennis, my sister Lisa and I especially thank you for being here to help celebrate the life of my mom and to honor her in death! Our entire extended family truly appreciates all of your support as well…it has been so comforting. Everyone here understands how special Nancy was and how thankful she was that she had the many friends and family supporting her throughout her life. We are fortunate to have you here with us today.
Mom was one of those individuals gifted with an enormous personality. She had so many wonderful character traits, and played numerous roles throughout her life. Because of how important music has been throughout our lives, Lisa and I find it fitting to describe that being in Mom’s presence was like standing in an auditorium, listening to a full band – hearing the individual instruments, combining notes together to create one full-bodied symphony of sound. Some days you could swear her “spirit” was emoting a top 40 hit, or perhaps some upbeat shag song.
Like the sounds of gentle wispiness of the flute, Mom was a lover. She and Dad were known to act like teenagers throughout their married years. For this first recollection, it is important to know that our annual family vacation was a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, to spend the week hanging out at the beach. Well, Lisa and I were mortified to learn later in life that our beach snack “pretzel time,” was really a disguise for Mom and Dad’s alone and romantic time. As youngsters, we merrily crunched away innocently on our pretzel snack, watching the Ocean, while Mom and Dad…well…as we say…T.M.I. – I’m not telling any secrets, though, since many of our friends know this story and understand how adorable Mom and Dad were as a couple… even with their “P.D.A.”!
Like listening to the lively, charming tones of the clarinet, Mom was a dancer. From an early age Mom loved to dance. We love seeing pictures of Mom in costume, and Lisa remembers playing dress up with some of Mom’s great outfits! We grew up with stories of Mom’s dancing performances and how much she enjoyed dancing. When Lisa or I struggled with a mistake we made, Mom liked to tell the story of how she managed to survive the embarrassment of performing an entire dance facing the back of the stage — she was so focused on the actual dance steps, that she failed to realize she entered facing the back of the stage instead of the audience. Oh well…stuff happens. We grew up with examples of Mom’s dancing – the belly dancing with all the cymbals — you go Mom. And the phase of country western dancing – WOW did we see more accessories than one person could ever wear (Dad, you’re guilty here too). Lisa and I will always have fond memories of Mom and Dad’s friends at our weddings with all of their shag dancing steps.
Like listening to the mellow, sustained, gentle tones of the baritone, Mom was an advisor. She was always there to guide us through the good times and the bad. Sometimes her advice was common sense. Other times she bluntly tried to “smack” some sense into us! I have to share a fun story where even in the most ridiculous of circumstances where mom really CAN’T help, Lisa and I still turned to Mom for advice. Lisa was joining me for my college graduation trip to Europe, and we had flown in separately to London. Lisa and I called Mom in the U.S….yes from separate locations within Heathrow Airport, as we were lost trying to meet each other at the airport. After several phone calls with each of us…an understatement…Mom finally exclaimed, “what are you people doing calling me…go find each other!” Well mom, whom else would we call but our advisor- even across the seas?
Like the strong, supportive sounds of the tuba, Mom was a protector. From as early as the age of six, I remember Mom watching me get kicked and punched in the face at karate practice…however, even with the sight of blood Mom managed NOT to jump in there herself. After mutual consideration, we decided to discontinue karate. I think Mom rested a bit easier at night…. I know I did. One of our favorite stories, is how Mom and Dad protected the house from Christmas-bulb-stealing youths. We will always laugh when we envision Mom and Dad hiding in the neighbor’s bushes, popping out and flying down the sidewalk to catch the kids stealing our bulbs for kicks after coming off the school bus. Mom, thanks for always being our protector.
Like discovering the earthy, jazzy sounds of the saxophone, Mom was a homemaker, a job that she completely mastered. She also ran the home with a sense of humor. Nothing was ever dull at the Gehley household! Lisa likes to remind me of the story of us doing homework at the kitchen table, a frequent occurrence growing up. The whole family was gathered in the kitchen when Lisa exclaims, “I’ll be right back, I have to grab a book downstairs, will you still be here when I get back?” We all rolled our eyes, but then as a joke hid in the small bedroom upstairs. Imagine Lisa’s chagrin when she returned to find us all gone as a joke! Mom and Dad even kept homework time fun!
Like hearing the tap, tap, tap of a snare drum, Mom was definitely a complainer. She loved to let you know what her comfort level was at any given moment. Although much of her complaining was interpreted as pessimism…or as we say…“attitudinal”, Mom ALWAYS had a positive outlook on life. Complaining was just an easy way to talk more and interrupt, so you could hear exactly how SHE felt…because that’s what really WAS important. Mom was one of the few people that could complain while she was in Hawaii but in the same breathe tell you that there’s no better or more beautiful place on earth!
Like the rhythmic, steady sounds of the bassoon, Mom was a caretaker. She spent so many years generously giving her time, love and support to her mother who we called Bubba. We grew up seeing Mom’s example of loving support for Bubba. Boy did she set that bar high. Lisa, Dad and I can only hope that we were able to be as good a caretaker for Mom in her last years.
Like hearing the climbing, slurring scale on a trombone, Mom was an investigator. She passed along Bubba’s saying of “get to the bottom of things.” Mom believed that there were always more facts to be found, one more supervisor to talk to and umpteen MILLION ways to research things or get the best bargain! Mom taught us to persevere, and to always remain strong. Lisa remembers Mom saying “well, you’ll just have to get to the bottom of things,” when in Lisa’s sophomore year at college the financial aid department notified Lisa she didn’t qualify for aid….because she WASN’T a U.S. citizen? Mom assured Lisa that once we “got to the bottom of things” everything would work itself out! She always had a great call to action and knew that everything happened for the right reasons!
Like hearing the rich, full, gentle tones of the French horn, Mom was a teacher. Not only did she substitute teach many of my classes in middle school and help us with subjects in school, but more importantly she taught us the “facts of life”. She taught us how to lead an amazing and wonderful life and to live by example. She taught us about love, support, generosity, truth, honesty and courage! Way to go Mom! I still love Mom’s advice to Becky on our wedding day….”Never go to bed angry”. Thank you for these gifts, as we will teach our children the same way!
Like the vibrant and youthful tones of a xylophone, mom was a trend setter. She always had new and exciting ways to demonstrate her love to her grandchildren. Whether it be surprise visits, presents or family vacations, Nanny was the “coolest Nanny in town”. She was our one and only “tricky trickster”. Our children will forever cherish…her hugs, kisses and generosity.
Like the poignant, haunting sounds of the oboe, Mom was a believer. She always had a strong sense of faith. She raised us with the support of God and taught us how to worship as a family. She taught us how to incorporate God in our every day lives and to believe in God’s plan, whether or not it agreed with the plan we had in mind. As a family, we would hold hands as we recited the Lord’s Prayer at mass. She even managed to keep a straight face when Bubba had a kneeler dropped on her foot during service, and yelled out “Jesus” loud enough that everyone within the church heard as well. Dad tried to deescalate the faux pas, by following the “Jesus” with “Where? Where?” Although we take God seriously, we didn’t always have to take ourselves seriously too!
Like hearing the triumphant blast of a trumpet, Mom was a fighter! Mom conquered adversity with a bold brash style. She fought her illness with purpose. Her email updates were always a “hoot,” often more graphic than we needed but always with an underlying message of strength, hope and optimism. Everyone here knows how hard Nancy fought this disease and should remember her strength, but more importantly, to DRAW from her strength in our own struggles. Picture Mom in one of her fancy hats fighting to go on one more vacation!
Like hearing the applause of the audience after a performance, Mom was our biggest fan and our cheerleader. She supported us in anything we did. She always said we made her proud, regardless of outcome….even if we did COMPLETELY embarrass ourselves. I’ll never forget one of the swim team meets when I false started before the gun went off. The point spread between teams was tight and our team needed a winning performance. As I dove into the water…yes, by myself…and tried to disappear within the silence of an empty pool, I resurfaced to the sounds of a crowd murmuring, but among it all I could hear my mother clapping and yelling…”don’t worry honey, you’ll still get em”. Thank you Mom….I hear you among the crowds, now and always!!
We saw Mom as a lover, a dancer, an advisor, a protector, a homemaker, a complainer, a caretaker and an investigator. She was a teacher, a trend setter and a believer. And yes, she was a fighter. She was our best friend, our biggest fan and a bundle of energy that will forever live through us and within us. All the roles she played wove together to make a brilliant, larger than life personality. We know that the tones of her life’s music will continue on. As Bubba liked to say to Mom “visualize this” or “see the picture in your head.” So, picture a beautiful, peaceful, tremendous song that encapsulates Mom’s spirit, and know that it will continue on through us.
I thought for quite some time of what would be the right thing to say on this day…and it’s really quite simple – you knew my mother. As my father has said countless times….”that’s the beauty of mom’s legacy.”
REMARKS BY FRANK M. AIELLO
AT CELEBRATION OF LIFE,
FAIRFAX MEMORIAL FUNERAL HOME,
IN MEMORY OF HIS BELOVED SISTER,
NANCY JEAN AIELLO GEHLEY
5 JUNE 2008
Since I know that Nancy’s husband, Dennis, has many heartfelt thoughts about Nancy that he wants to share with you, I will keep my comments brief.
When I was a little boy, no more than eight or nine, my parents would trust me to watch out for my little sister, Nancy, who was four years younger than me. It wasn’t very hard to do, because Nancy was an adorable child. She was the personification of innocence, although even then she had a knowing twinkle in her eyes, and she trusted me completely, listening carefully to whatever I could teach her. I felt so proud to be Nancy’s protector and teacher.
As Nancy grew up, I watched her change into a self-confident, smart, no-nonsense, can-do, loving and lovable teenager and then woman. She no longer needed me to be her protector or her teacher. In fact, she taught me a number of things over the years, including goodness, love, the power of positive thinking and maintaining one’s sense of humor and courage in the face of adversity. She even taught me how to do the jitterbug (to the tune of Purple People Eater, for those of you who can remember that far back).
Although I was a bit sorry at the loss of the role I previously played, I reveled in the strong, independent person she was becoming. I watched traits of my parents become a greater part of her personality. From my mother, “Bubba,” Nancy got her spark, her spunk and her zest for life. From my father, “Pookie,” Nancy got her quiet, rocklike strength, her ability to solve problems and her willingness to tackle any handyman challenge and get the job done with dispatch. Nancy could take things apart and put them together in ways I never could.
Our family was thrilled when Nancy met and married her soul mate, Dennis, who could help her fulfill her dreams and become more than my sister and Bubba’s and Pookie’s daughter. In Dennis, Nancy found her perfect dance partner – literally, as well as figuratively. They celebrated each other in so many ways, and their mutual love of dance and music added an extra dimension to their partnership.
And then they were blessed with wonderful children and grandchildren.
Nancy was a very kind and loving wife, mother and grandmother. And in turn, her husband and children and grandchildren adored her and did everything they could to give her a happy life and ease her transition to the place where she waits, with her sweet smile and her laughing eyes, for all of us.
Many people say that my sister was heroic in the way she battled cancer over the past 30 months. Her courage, fearlessness and good humor in the face of death was deeply moving and should inspire hope in all of us. Although I, as her former protector, regret that I could not spare her the challenges she faced over the last 30 months, I know that all of our collective love and support and Nancy’s faith in God comforted her. And we should all rejoice that Nancy is together again and at peace with Bubba and Pookie.
Although Nancy was truly heroic, her husband and children are also heroes. They did everything humanly possible to help her fight this terrible disease, and to make her final days and her passing easier for her, when it was clear that she could not win the battle.
Accordingly, my wife Susan and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the heroism of Dennis, David, Lisa, Becky and Jay, and to thank the other members of the immediate family and all of you, Nancy’s very good and loyal friends, for helping them to take such good care of our Nancy.
With Love, to Nancy
(June 7, 1947 – June 1, 2008)
from her friend Barbara Bass
Nancy, we’ve been friends, as you told the home health nurse, “a long time.”
Your life was always a whirl of activities, though you took care to fit me in. When we went out for lunch, you drove up as solid, shining, vividly real, and ready to roll as your PT Cruiser. You wore necklaces, bracelets, and rings of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies, and aquamarines—treasures born of the earth, each one of them bold, bright, beautiful, and totally real, like you. Your manicured nails were the crimson of azalea blossoms. You were color coordinated, well-groomed, and accessorized. You were always on time. You smiled and said, “Hey!” You made me decide where to eat.
I was rarely busy with anything that didn’t come down to daydreaming, but more than once, even in winter, I flew out of the house not ready and carrying my shoes. As for how I appeared, to you, at first I didn’t understand it. I didn’t even quite grasp the fact of it. Even in the unaccustomed mode of meeting the world right side out, face painted, fully dressed, and with shoes on, I don’t have your reality. But I loved your company, enough so that you’d eat and then sit there and wait for me to notice my food. Early in our friendship, discovering I paid better attention to our conversation than to the road, you insisted you’d do all the driving.
We recognized each other not merely by eyes and ears, but heart to heart. And yet I’m an introvert, while you were a party girl. I’m scattered, vague, and meandering; you were focused, definite, and straight to the point. Unlike me, in or out of your Cruiser, you were a hotshot at getting where you wanted to go. When we went to Costco, you’d scoped out all the merchandise and got all your shopping done before I got past the visual overload. Your life was a lusty love affair with the physical world—the sensual extravagance of rich desserts, clothes and jewelry, music and dancing, cruises and beaches, hot tubs and Dennis. Given to passionate emotional involvements, you were open and expressive, gutsy, big-hearted, loyal, and devoted to family.
You were, in a word, at heart as well as by blood, a true Italian.
In a salute to your Italian origins, in May of 2007 you and Dennis set sail on the Mediterranean—a Carnival cruise. Inviting me along, in virtual mode, you gave me a series of day-by-day Carnival Web links. I clicked on the links, and every one of those sun-drenched, earthy, colorful, vibrant, beautiful Mediterranean cities and seaboards looked just like you.
This past Christmas you gave me a plaque. It said, “Barbara and Nancy: Friendships like memories are treasures of the heart.”
When I thought you didn’t know me anymore, you called me by name. For my May birthday, twenty-one days before your upcoming June one, you signed a card you’d picked out for me during your winter visit to Myrtle Beach. The card said, “Every night has its day. Every valley has its mountain top…”
Your signature said “Nancy.”
This past month, whether I got to see you or not, every day I’ve worn the pendant you brought me from Italy. It’s not a treasure born of the earth, like you. It’s an artifact, an expression of something intangible, a montage composed mostly of blues. I believe it’s how I appeared to you.
My nature is sky, yours was earth. I’m wispy clouds; you were solidity, clarity, and life at its bravest and bloomingest. You loved me anyway, or maybe—like me—you loved what you weren’t. I’ve always approached life by standing at the edge of it and maybe sticking a toe in, the rest of me undecided.
It’s ironic that I’m still here in the flesh and you’re not. As someone made to dream, I’ll make the best of it that a dreamer can make. I treasure your memory and celebrate your friendship—Nancy Gehley, who leapt into life with both feet, wholehearted, and danced.
Mary Anne Allman
Nancy and I met at Longwood College in 1967 where she roomed down the hall from me with an old high school friend. Even at our first introduction, Nancy was vivacious and friendly. She had the ability to virtually light up a room or a group of people with her presence. This ability remained with her all of her life as we can attest. Nancy loved life and it showed.
When Nancy and Dennis started dating, Don (my future husband) and myself would join them on double dates (e.g., Skyline Drive) where we would laugh and joke and simply enjoy each other's company. Later, Nancy and Dennis attended our wedding and Don and I attended theirs.
We watched as they left in their brand new car for their honeymoon in the Poconos to start their brand new life together. We watched them later as they left for Germany, compliments of the United States Army. Nancy and Dennis traveled extensively throughout Europe during that time and even enjoyed a couple of Oktoberfests while serving their country, of course.
After their tour, they arrived back home with a baby girl named Lisa. While Dennis did some time in Viet Nam, Nancy put their new home in order in Springfield. And then along came a baby boy, David.
Don and I, as young marrieds with two small children ourselves, had some wonderful times with the Gehleys … dinners, birthday parties and get-togethers … but best of all, Nancy was always my friend. As the years passed and busyness took charge with husbands, children, extended family …life in general … Nancy and I would go for times where we were not in contact as much. But the great thing about Nancy, and Dennis, too, is the comfortable relationship we had …. no matter how much time had transpired we could always pick up where we left off.
Something that I would like to mention, besides my friendship with Nancy, is her character. She was a loving, supportive wife, a loving mother, a loving grandmother who adored her grandchildren. She was also a good and faithful daughter to her parents.
Nancy's father died suddenly in the 70's, but her darling mother lived several years more.
When Irene needed a ride to go shopping, run errands, go for a doctor's appointment or anywhere for that matter, Nancy was there for her. Nancy was at her bedside caring for her as she lay ill and dying. To sum it up, Nancy honored her father and mother. She modeled to you, Lisa and David, what a good daughter and son should be, what a good wife should be and what a good parent should be. This is one of the greatest gifts you could receive. And it is a gift that keeps on giving because we see this model being walked out in your own lives. This is an inheritance from your beloved mother.
Most importantly, I would like to mention Nancy's faith in Jesus. The courage with which she faced cancer was rooted in that faith and the belief of a loving God. She told me several times that she knew that her days were truly in His hands and that whatever the outcome, she accepted His will. How wonderful to have that kind of confidence and trust in God's plan. How many of us sitting here would say the same? Jesus made a promise to Nancy Jean Aiello Gehley and to all those who have accepted Him as Lord and Savior. He said that none of these would perish but that all would have eternal life. Nancy has not perished; she is with the Lord and is more alive now than she has ever been.
There is a song that reminds me of Nancy and her entrance into heaven. (I won't sing. for which we can all rejoice, but I would like to read the words).
I Can Only Imagine
I can only imagine what it would be like when I walk by Your side.
I can only imagine what my eyes would see when Your face, is before me.
Surrounded by Your glory what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You, Jesus?
Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence?
Or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing Hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the Son.
I can only imagine when all I will do is forever, forever worship You.
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine.
Nancy so loved to dance here on earth…I believe that she is dancing in heaven…..and I know that the Lord is taking great delight as she dances before Him.
We miss you dear friend.
NANCY GEHLEY: UNFINISHED BUSINESS
(The Gift of Love)A Tribute Delivered By Dennis At The Northern Virginia
Shag Club 13th Annual Capital Shag Classic: 26 July 2008What you are about to hear, and see, is something that often made Nancy a little nervous. Me, in the DJ booth, with a microphone in my hand. And the Power switch is in the “On” position. Nancy would give me what I eventually came to call “The Look.” “The Look” meant three things: 1) Nobody is listening; 2) Nobody cares; 3) Put the microphone down. They just want to dance.
Tonight, I hope you do listen. I know that you care.
Following is a tribute to my wife. I call it my 5 Minute Countdown to Love.
A Reading from the Book of Sisters
“Did you know that I longed for that smile on your face?
For the sound of your voice ringing true?
Did you know I grew stronger and better because
I had merely touched shoulders with you?
I may not have wealth; I may not be great,
But I know I shall always be true
For I have in my life that courage you gave
When once I rubbed shoulders with you.”
A Reading from the Book of Friendship
“Sometimes in life,
You find a special friend;
Someone who changes your life
Just by being part of it.
Someone who makes you laugh
Until you can’t stop;
Someone who makes you believe
That there really is good in the world.
Someone who convinces you
That there really is an unlocked door
Just waiting for you to open it.
This is Forever Friendship.”
A Reading from the Book of Michael
“I can not say and I will not say
That she is dead, she is just away.
With a smiling face and a wave of hand,
She has wandered into a far off land.
That leaves us thinking how very fair,
It needs must be if she lingers there.
And you, oh you, who the wildest yearn,
For the old time step and the glad return.
Think of her fairing on, as dear
In the love of there as the love of here.
Think of her still as the same, I say
She is not dead, she is just away.”
A Reading from the Book of Dennis
She was Woman,
Hear her roar.
She was earthy, and beautiful,
And so very easy to adore.
I was her Tarzan,
She was my Jane.
We met in college.
We were never the same.
And, that was a good thing.
I was her Roy Rogers,
She was my Dale.
We danced in the barn.
We rode the Happy Trails,
And we danced, and we danced, and we danced.
I was her Kermie.
She was my Miss Piggy.
DON'T GO THERE!
I was her Homer.
She was my Marge.
Our daughter is Lisa, our son, David.
And, we lived in Springfield.
She was my Lady Soul.
She made my life complete.
She was my PT Cruiser,
And I was her pothole.
I was her DJ
And she was my favorite song.
She died with her wedding rings on
As I was holding her hand.
She died with dignity,
Surrounded by her family,
And in the presence of God.
Nancy was a smiling, laughing, giving person.
She was positive, positive, and positive, in everything that she did.
Her happiest moments during the last 12 years were moments with the people in this room.
People from the Steel City Boogie Club in Pittsburgh when we played music for Charlie and Jackie. And they danced.
People from the D.C. Hand Dance Club, the night that the Band of Oz opened for Nancy and Dennis. And they danced.
People from the Northern Virginia Shag Club, who gave us a surprise Wedding Party. And they danced.
Nancy could influence people with her smile and her laughter and her good heart.
She gave her heart to me. She gave her whole self.
Before she died, Nancy asked only three things of me.
She asked me to take care of myself. And I am. Just ask my Associates.
She asked me to take care of our family. And I am. Just ask Lisa and David.
And she asked me to be kind to her friends. And I am. Just ask Pat, Barbara, Sherry, Jean, Penny, Julene and Hilda.
Her family and her friends are grieving now, with tears of sorrow.
But believe me, with God s help, those tears of sorrow will be replaced with tears of joy.
It is happening to me. It will happen to you. If you let Him help you.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote that we who loved Nancy the most will grieve forever, until we see her again. So be it. Nancy would say Deal with it, crybabies. LOL
Life is not about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.
My time is almost up. I leave you with three thoughts.
An old African Proverb says When you pray, move your feet. That seems to me as if it means dance. That is what Nancy would want us to do.
The Tuscarora Indians have a saying: They are not dead who live in the hearts they leave behind.
Finally, God tells us that one day, we will all be with Nancy again. And with Him. For all eternity. I hope you believe that. I do.
And remember: I am the messenger. Nancy is the message. Nancy was, and is, The Gift of Love.
I have in this bag what is sometimes referred to as Christmas in July. In the bag are gifts from Nancy. Kelly Mann is Nancy's courier tonight. She will give you Nancy's gifts later in the evening.
And now, let s have a nice round of applause for Gary and Robbi Mann.
Gary and Robbi will dance to a song by Ron Holden titled LOVE YOU SO.
I dedicate this song to Nancy in her memory.
If you listen closely, you will hear Nancy and Lisa playing saxophones in the background. And that is David on the wood block. A chip off the old block, you might say.
Gary and Robbi Mann, ladies and gentlemen.
LOVE YOU SO
by Ron Holden
My darling, I love you so
More than you’ll ever know
Each night I kneel and say a prayer
Hoping when I wake you’ll still be there
I need your love with all my heart
Promise me we’ll never part
We have a love that’s sure to be
True love for all eternity
Always remember my love is true
No matter what I may do
And stay in this heart of mine
Until the very end of time
My dearest, I beg of you
To keep this love so plain and true
I ask the Lord, Lord up above
To never take away our love
No matter what I may do
Remember my love is true
We have a love that’s sure to be
True love for all eternity
NANCY JEAN AIELLO GEHLEY
(“My Angel Baby”)
Remarks By Dennis At Nancy's Inurnment
At Arlington National Cemetery: 13 August 2008
Several months before Nancy died, I looked into her eyes and I told her that I was going to miss her. I said to her “I am really, really going to miss you.” Several weeks later, she was sitting in our living room during a family meeting with our Hospice counselor. Nancy smiled, and with her beautiful grin and sparkling eyes, said to everyone “He said he was going to miss me.” Not long after that meeting, Nancy stopped speaking with her words and began speaking only with her eyes.
Today I have the privilege of reading to you two poems which, I believe, express what Nancy would say if she had words to say them. Instead, I will read them for her.
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times, of bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun
Of happy memories that I leave when life is done.
Look for me in your mind’s eye
Smiling as we often did together.
As I gently wave goodbye
Be assured our parting is not forever.
You’ll hear me in the giggles
Of children as they play.
I’ll be in the sense of wonder
On a Merry Christmas day.
When the winter turns to spring
Each petal covered with dew,
I’ll be in the flowers that you bring,
Our moments together far from few.
Look for me in your mind’s eye
Though details of my face will fade
As time does surely go by
Recall each memory that we made.
Finally, I now read a poem from all of us, and especially from me, her husband, to Nancy.
I Will Love You
As long as I can dream,
As long as I can think,
As long as I have a memory,
I will love you.
As long as I have eyes to see,
And ears to hear,
And lips to speak …
I will love you.
As long as I have a heart to feel,
A soul stirring inside me,
An imagination to hold you …
I will love you.
As long as there is a time,
As long as there is love,
As long as I have breath to speak your name
I will love you.
NOTE: Nancy was the loving daughter of Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Mario Joseph Aiello, United States Air Force, who rest not far from Nancy in Arlington National Cemetery.
GEHLEY, NANCY JEAN AIELLO
- DATE OF BIRTH: 06/07/1947
- DATE OF DEATH: 06/01/2008
- BURIED AT: SECTION 7-N ROW 6 SITE 3
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- WIFE OF GEHLEY, DENNIS MICHAEL
- CPT US ARMY
I “met” Nancy and Dennis through Nancy's brother, Frank, with whom I worked. When I heard of Nancy's struggle against the terrible illness she had contracted, I asked Frank if I could contact her. Frank said, “Sure,” and gave me her e-mail address and phone number and a “long-distance” friendship soon followed. When I learned that her beloved parents were buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Nancy and Frank provided me with the information that led to a remembrance to them here on this humble website.
As Nancy's illness grew worse, and we discovered that Arlington could be her home for eternity, she made me promise to work with Dennis, David, Lisa and Frank on her own remembrance here on this website. I made her that promise way back then and now Nancy that promise is coming true. I think that you knew it would be kept after the initial heartbreak that you knew we would all feel had been diminished ever so slightly with the kind passage of time.
Well, here it is , Nancy, and I couldn't leave it without adding my contribution of a song that I e-mailed to Dennis not long after I received that terrible e-mail from him that you had left us. From all of our talks and our e-mails, I thought that this song somehow captured your spirit, so here it is, “Sailing Around The Room,” by EmmyLou Harris.
I'm hoping that your family will indulge me with the last words here on the remembrance of the best friend that I never got to meet.
Here's wishing you peace and love in that wonderful place where we all get to go someday if we are as good and kind and loving and graceful as you were while you were among us.
Michael Patterson, April 2009
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard