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'When I saw her she was running sideways to say hello to someone'

'When I saw her she was running sideways to say hello to someone'

From the The cost of COVID: Remembering lives lost in Southeast Nebraska series
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Four years ago, Justin Gibson grabbed his camera and headed out to the Lincoln Marathon route to get some pictures of his mom.

It was already tricky because Lillian Gibson -- aptly nicknamed Lil -- was short and easy to miss in the throng.

But there was another reason.

“When I saw her, she was running sideways to say hello to someone, which was kind of typical,” her youngest son said.

Lil was a registered nurse and worked at the Dialysis Center of Lincoln. She’d run in lots of half-marathons and a few full marathons, too.

Gibson Wedding

Lillian "Lil" Gibson in a photo taken last summer at her son Jared and daughter-in-law Lana's wedding. She is flanked by her youngest son Justin and husband Jim.

After the 61-year-old died of COVID-19 on Nov. 2, a fellow runner remembered meeting her during a hard stretch of the 2012 Lincoln Marathon.

“She was the reason I finished that race," Laura Miller wrote in a tribute. "Her positive energy and kindness were infectious.”

It was that personality that drew Jim Gibson to Lil when the pair met at Union College. Lil’s father taught at the Seventh-day Adventist college and the family had moved here from the Philippines when Lil was in elementary school.

“I wasn’t very outgoing and she was pretty much a people person,” Jim said.

The opposites married in 1983.

Jared came first and four years later Justin arrived. Lil worked in the ICU at Lincoln General Hospital -- before it became Bryan -- and in emergency rooms and small hospitals, when the family spent several years in California and South Dakota before returning to Lincoln.

She was a busy mom. Proud of her boys, sharing stories about them with her co-workers at the dialysis center.

She crocheted arm-warmers for her patients and filled the dining room table with masks she sewed during the pandemic.

She and Jim traveled to Zambia with other members of their church to help build houses and community centers. After she went for a run with a fellow church member, they learned a man-eating lion had been in the area. A local joked that they were lucky: Lil was too small for its supper.

Everyone agree that she was small but mighty. She lived with an “inactive” form of leukemia for nine years, Jim said, but she wasn’t sick, didn’t take medication.

After her sons left home, she became a TeamMates mentor. Her mentee wrote a memorial about all the years they’d been together. “I grew up with her, she gave me a safe person when I felt like I didn’t have one ... she listened to me as a child, not a lot of people are willing to do that.”

Lil was an elder in the church at 48th and Prescott, bringing Holy Communion and making home visits.

Her family laughed that she adopted Jared and his wife Lana’s dog because she so wanted to be a grandmother.

“She was good at adopting grandchildren,” Jim said. “If she had the opportunity, she’d kidnap any of them.”

The couple babysat the children of two of their pastors -- surprising them with the little ones obediently tucked into bed after their books, bath and prayer.

Lil liked to cook for their family and her boys’ friends, always asking: Are you still hungry? Have you had enough? Are you sure you’ve had enough?

She made a Filipino dish called pancit made with noodles and vegetables.

She taught Justin how to cross-stitch when he was little.

When Jared and Lana got married in Jim and Lil's backyard last summer, Lil insisted the photographer take loads of photos after the wedding, both at home and at Holmes Lake.

They groaned then, but they're happy they have them now.

Her husband finds some comfort in hearing from people who loved Lil and grieve her loss, too.

Lil’s youngest son is still cross-stitching, using his mom’s old patterns, her handwritten instructions, after she gave him a refresher course during the isolation of the pandemic.

It helped him through.

“I’m just wanting people to remember all of their choices have an impact,” Justin said. “The people who have been lost have names, they have stories, they have people who miss them.”

-- Cindy Lange-Kubick

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