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Devoted till the end

Published February 16, 2007


The obituary read: "Kilbourn, Patricia, passed away on Dec. 8, 2006, at the age of 87 & her husband of 61 years, John Kilbourn, 90, followed her on Dec. 12, 2006." For more than six decades, theirs was a story of devotion, familiarity and shared identity. Here, in the words of those who knew them well, is the story behind the obituary.

Tom Kilbourn, their son: I think a lot of people will resonate with my parents' story. It could be anyone from that generation's story.

Roberta Rowe, the couple's neighbor: We see this often in Sun City Center, the closeness of two souls.

Tom Kilbourn: Dad was very hard to know. Mom was the only person in the world who had his trust.

Betty Wilson, Patricia's sister: They weren't overly demonstrative in front of other people, but there was a definite devotion.

Phyllis Isley, caregiver: John told me he used to say to Pat, "Do your eyes hurt, because they're sure getting to me."

Tom Kilbourn: Mom was the classic 1950s-era housewife, but she was also an artist. She drew, painted, sculpted, sewed. Her identity was wrapped around Dad's, financially and publicly. She always introduced herself as Mrs. John Kilbourn, except when she was doing her artwork. Only then was she Pat Kilbourn.

Mom and Dad moved to Sun City Center in 1980. Retirement gave them a chance to play. Dad took up creating stained glass.

Roberta Rowe: I used to hear him swear at the stained glass.

Tom Kilbourn: Mom would draw out patterns for Dad to create. The stained glass brought them closer together. Mom got to share her art with Dad.

Roberta Rowe: They were conscious about what to eat, what to drink. They exercised, but they got older.

Phyllis Isley: At first Pat didn't want my help, but I won her heart. In the end, as soon as she saw me at the door she wanted to pray with me. I would hold her hand and ask for comfort and peace. John and I were pals. He confided in me that he wanted to die first.

Tom Kilbourn: Mom had congestive heart failure. She entered the nursing home for the last time in February 2006. Dad wanted to take his golf cart to visit her. But his eyesight was bad and it was too dangerous for him to be on the road. So I found a path through the golf course. I drew him a map.

Phyllis Isley: They could fight like cats and dogs. But if one went in the hospital, the other would be beside themselves. They were frantic with worry until they heard the other was okay.

Tom Kilbourn: Dad broke his hip in July. Mom was already in hospice care. I put Dad and Mom in the same nursing home room.

Phyllis Isley: John was confused. He would say, "Where's Pat?" I told him to just turn his head and he'd see her in the next bed. Sometimes I wondered if he didn't want to see the condition she was in.

Tom Kilbourn: Everyone but Dad accepted Mom's impending death. He wanted to catch up. He didn't want to be left behind. If he passed first, Mom would still have her sister but Dad would have no one.

Phyllis Isley: I wheeled John to Pat's bed. She was sleeping most of the time at that point. John just looked at her, and then he shook his head. I think he finally realized what was happening.

She held on for so long. I read in a hospice book that sometimes people hold on to life if they have unresolved issues. The day before she died, she was different. She kept sitting up, sobbing and looking blankly around the room.

I asked what was wrong. She said she wished John would say something nice to her. He loves you, I told her, now go to Jesus.

John shut down after her death. He stopped eating. He cringed when the nurses tried to bathe him. He stopped speaking.

Tom Kilbourn: He didn't show any signs of understanding that Mom died. But the fact that he passed away four days later, I think he understood.

On my flight to Florida after their deaths, I wondered if I would feel anything when I walked in their door. I didn't feel their presence and I knew for sure at that moment that they were at peace.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 661-2439 or

[Last modified February 15, 2007, 07:43:41]

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