(Rae Marie Gilbert, 7/23/1939 – 12/15/2012)
Rae Marie Gilbert was a treasured friend of mine. Knowing her was a gift and a blessing. I had the utmost respect and admiration for her. I speak in past tense because, regrettably, she passed over on December 15, 2012 at the age of seventy-three. I miss her, as do all of us who attended her Tai Chi and Gentle Motions classes.
In her quiet, strong way, she was a paragon of leadership. She had a non-traditional, spiritual approach to life that never offended anyone. She and her husband, Bill, were both liberal activists. Bill’s thoughtful articles appeared frequently on the Gainesville Sun editorial page. Bill and Rae lived on the perimeter of Haile Plantation in a small charming house. They invited me to lunch there, and afterwards we toured their lush, well-tended yard filled with native plants. They lived a clean, healthy life, eating locally grown fruits and vegetables. They were ‘anti-war’ peace lovers. They were strong environmentalists, nature lovers, some might say tree-huggers, or peaceniks, like me.
Bill designed a magnetic bumper sticker which reads WE ARE ONE. He gave me one which still graces the exhaust hood over my kitchen stove. I went to Shands Hospital and sat with Rae once while Bill was in surgery. He had his own medical difficulties having lost his larynx to cancer.
Rae was in my home on several occasions. She and Sunny Bynum and I walked in the woods behind my neighborhood golf course and had lunch on my back porch earlier on the day that my husband died in a nearby nursing home. Rae and I were quite close, and shared personal information. We laughed at the same oddball things. I miss seeing her amusement, as she frequently commented on my sense of humor.
Rae recommended her Pilates physical therapist to me, and she did not steer me wrong. I not only enjoyed the Pilates experience with Nancy, but she greatly improved my body alignment. Later, I was invited by Bill and Rae to attend a stage play written by Nancy’s husband and performed locally at Santa Fe Community College Theater.
On one occasion, when Rae’s cousin was visiting from out of town, I invited both of them, and a few other ladies, for a simple lunch on my back porch. After nearby neighbor friend, Richard, was in my life, we three couples, including Sunny and John, met for lunch at Brown’s Country Buffet in Alachua.
Once, Rae asked me to accompany her to visit a mutual friend, a former Gentle Motions classmate, who was not doing well health-wise. We were served tea and cookies by the lady’s husband and enjoyed their collection of art gathered during their world travels. Later, Rae and I attended that lovely lady’s memorial service at the Unitarian Fellowship.
Rae was trained by The Arthritis Foundation to teach Tai Chi for Arthritis. She was a patient, thorough, and generous teacher, and I learned much from her Tai Chi classes. However, the late morning hour of her Gentle Motions class suited my lazy lifestyle better, so I became a regular in that group instead. Now and then, when Rae couldn’t be there, she would ask me to fill in for her. I would do anything for Rae, so I did the best I could as her stand-in to lead the class.
In that weekly Gentle Motions class, Rae had us work every joint – always gently. We breathed deeply, and stretched every muscle. To everyone’s amusement, the routine always started me yawning. Her Gentle Motions class attracted a certain type of person – thoughtful, introspective women with a wealth of life experience. We all loved her class, and we all loved Rae. We classmates, and Rae, became close friends, much like a support group for each other.
After enjoying several good years in that class, Rae started to have more frequent medical problems. Without being too specific, there had been a surgery gone awry, that adversely affected her bladder. We started to worry, but Rae valiantly pressed on. Professional substitute instructors were provided during her long hospital stays. We were discouraged from calling or visiting her at home following her chemotherapy treatments.
Finally, we began to suspect that she wasn’t going to recover. At that point, Rae courageously arranged to come to the classroom at the Senior Healthcare Center and say goodbye to her friends and followers. She was accompanied by her husband and their beautiful daughter, Leah. We sat in a large circle and went around the room, taking turns saying what our association with Rae had meant to each of us. It was emotionally difficult, but at the same time, a beautiful event. I had stopped by Fresh Market on the way and bought her a bouquet of pink rosebuds. We were photographed as a group, with me standing behind Rae, who was seated, my hand on her shoulder. Later, daughter Leah sent me a photo of herself and Rae, holding those pink roses. I treasure that photo and keep it always on my refrigerator.
The last time I saw Rae was when she, again courageously, invited herself to my house for a visit. We sat on my back porch which she loved, in perfect weather, drinking tea, and talking. I believe she knew it was a final goodbye. Considering how ill she was, I was surprised that she could drive herself, but she did. The visit lasted more than an hour, longer than we had anticipated. She seemed to want to spend the time with me and I felt very flattered and honored.
Then, news of her death came. We grieved the loss. No memorial service plans were announced. It was easy to assume that they had done something like a private family scattering of ashes.
Several months later my friend, Richard, and I were looking for an afternoon pleasure-drive destination. We decided to drive east of Gainesville to historic Rochelle and The Prairie Creek Lodge with the goal of having ice cream in Micanopy later. Someone had told me about the “green” Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, where the only grave markings are natural materials, such as propped-up dead tree stumps or roots. I had assumed the graves were so old nobody knew who was buried there, but I was to be proved wrong. We drove on a two-rut road through 78 acres of old oaks and wild grass, spotting numerous mounded graves randomly located here and there on both sides of the road, all with natural markings only. We drove all the way through, then past some beehives to a ramshackle old house.
Richard turned his car around in front of that house and re-entered the cemetery. He chose a good place to park in the shade of an oak tree, leaving room for another car to pass by. It was a beautiful day, and we wanted to walk and look closer at a few graves. After looking closely at two graves, we realized they each had a small metal marker, like a large copper nail, with name and dates engraved on the nail head. The third grave we approached was marked Rae Marie Gilbert 7/23/1939 – 12/15/2012 on the nail head. Richard was the one who was finding the markers and reading them to me. I felt the blood drain from my face. I could not believe this was happening. I felt weak and faint. Richard started comforting me with hugs. I was stunned. I hadn’t even known Rae had a grave! And here she was. I was trembling, and tearful. Richard had happened to park his car closer to Rae’s grave than any other, having passed up 68 other graves! Later, when I reported to friends about accidentally finding Rae’s grave, each and every one responded, “That was no accident”.
I learned then, that Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery was established just a few years ago, where anyone can have a natural, “green” burial, with everything being biodegradable, including a wooden casket or biodegradable shroud, and with no toxic embalming fluid allowed.
I have since visited three times, once with each of my grandsons, Andrew and Stephen, and once with Sunny and John Bynum. Each time, I bought roses, taking one rose for Rae’s grave, keeping the others at home to remind me of our close connection. It is the least I can do for my beloved friend, Rae, who I was privileged to know, and who will forever live on in my memory. I can feel her presence. It comforts me to believe that she is with me. If anyone can live on, promoting peace in a spirit world, it would be Rae Marie Gilbert.