How do you want to be remembered when you leave this earth?
By the wealth you amassed?
The material possessions accumulated?
The professional milestones you achieved?
The hours logged in at the gym?
Jill Sifinksi Gibson will not be remembered for any of those things.
For those who don’t know, Jill Sifinski Gibson was a warrior special needs mother, who along with her 13-year-old son, Shane, died in a tragic car accident on Christmas Eve.
By society’s high standards of perfection, Jill’s life was not a standout.
She didn’t have very much money.
She didn’t take exotic family vacations.
She didn’t live in a fancy house or drive a fancy car.
In fact, she barely left her family’s apartment, after suffering from complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which left her primarily bedridden.
But Jill’s lack of mobility didn’t stop her from doing what she did best – moving people with her acts of kindness.
Her poor health, financial worries, concerns for her special needs sons, and confinement to her home might have caused her to be angry and bitter, but Jill chose to spend her days making the most of what little she had.
From her bedside, she underwent an intense program at Capella University in pursuit of a degree in healthcare management. She earned straight As, and constant recognition on the Dean’s List. Despite her pain, she managed to get up in a wheelchair to keep her family’s apartment clean and fill their hearts and bellies with special meals she had lovingly prepared for them.
While Jill was passionate about her education, there was nothing she was more passionate about than advocating for the education of her two special needs sons, Shane and Matt, who had autism and bipolar disorder respectively. Jill spent many difficult days battling with school systems and insurance companies to find the right care for her boys. Despite years of hardship, she was able to steer Matt on a positive path through home services and Shane participated in ROTC and a Science Olympiad, where he was building a robot. Jill was thrilled, telling her friends, “This is the first year I feel like they have a chance.”
We came to know this selfless woman from Hopkinsville, Kentucky in our Facebook community, where she was among the first to share her struggles, hopes, and heart to help other special needs caregivers. People were so struck by her kindness and compassion that she quickly formed friendships outside the page with folks from around the world. Her impact on their lives was inspiring.
When a friend she had met from the community’s sister was involved in a terrible train accident, Jill stepped forward to help. Writes Sethany, “She lit candles and checked in on my sister’s condition every day. When she heard about how badly Amanda was being cared for in a nursing home in Florida, she started a letter-writing campaign to the nursing home, the Department of Health, and reporters. When my sister got better, Jill sent her a care package with snacks.”
Another Facebook friend, Deb, writes:
“When I was having really rough times, I would get surprise cards in the mail that Jill had made to let me know she was thinking of my family. Although she was in constant pain, she complained very rarely and put her family and friends’ needs before her own.”
Eileen, a close friend and fellow chronic pain sufferer who met Jill on the Facebook page, shares her story:
“She was so sensitive and so caring… like a mother bird bringing everyone under her wings. She showed me how to handle my chronic illness as well. When I felt sorry for myself, I would think of Jill and how she cooked and cleaned for her family FROM A FREAKIN WHEELCHAIR!!!! And I’d get on my damn feet because, even though it was difficult, I could still walk! Her spirit kept me alive sometimes when I thought I might die from the pain.”
Jill’s kindness to others was a gift that she was able to pass on to her late son, Shane, as another special needs mother and close friend, Laura, shares:
“Shane obviously followed in his loving mother’s footsteps. She raised him to be a generous, loving kid. He would spend hours talking to my son (who is also perfectly imperfect) to help him install apps, so they could chat online while they played games together. My son has one friend at school, but Shane was the only friend he had that he actually got to spend time and play with. To anyone who says that Internet friends aren’t “real friends,” I disagree. You don’t have to be able to see someone face-to-face to feel their love.”
Another woman from our Facebook community sums up Jill’s impact on her life even more succinctly:
“Jill saved my life.”
Reflecting on Jill’s connection to others, Facebook close friend, Heather, shares:
“I really believe Jill’s pain and disability was for a reason. If she was working outside the home, she would never have touched so many lives the way she did. I know she had her moments of feeling anxious and hopeless and downright angry from the pain, but she always stayed positive and she always put others first. You kind of had to tweak it out of her to know how she was really feeling. She didn’t want to complain.”
A Final Act of Kindness
Knowing Jill’s heart, it’s not surprising that she lost her life doing one final act of kindness for her loving family. Though she didn’t have much money, she managed to surprise her family with tickets to see the Tran Siberian Orchestra perform on December 23. She arranged for her family to drive from their home in Kentucky to the concert in St. Louis with friends. The long car journey would not be an easy one with Jill’s severe leg pain, yet that wouldn’t deter her, as she shared in a final text to her friend Eileen: “The pain is not good, but it will all be worth it. My family is happy and that’s all that counts.”
Fortunately, Jill and her family did manage to get to that concert and have the time of their lives. The accident occurred on the way home the next day.
Jill’s 11-year-old son, Matt, and her loving husband, Chris, survived the accident. Matt remains in the hospital in St. Louis and Chris hopes to bring Matt home and transport Jill and Shane so that they may be laid to rest at home in Kentucky. A special fund has been established to help Chris at http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/help-bring-jill-gibson-shane-home/120282
Compassionate. Selfless. Kind. Positive. Loving. Fiercely loyal. Beloved.
That’s how Jill Gibson will be remembered.
How will you be remembered?