A Tribute to My Cousin Tim Bailey

I went to see my cousin Tim today.  He is in pretty bad shape.  His liver is shot after forty years with hepatitis C, a disease he contracted during a blood transfusion.  At age nineteen, he wrecked his vintage corvette when someone ran him off the road. Life has been a struggle for him since then.

He is too tired to keep his eyes open, but he wanted my brother Gary and I to stay in the room and talk.  Without opening his eyes he would chime in with a word or two.  He is mostly immobile and in a diaper waiting to die.  He even told me he wished he were dead.  “I want to go on,” he said.

Tim sustained a brain injury in the wreck and would be on seizure medication for life. Tim never married.  He never had children. He never lived on his own.  The jobs he held were usually temporary and didn’t require a lot.

His father told me that a friend had stopped by earlier and summed up Tim’s life by saying that Tim had a “Shitty” life.  In tears, Tim’s dad and my uncle just shook his head.  I am sure it was easy for him to view Tim’s life in contrast to the dreams and promise he had as a father for his young son.  He was most qualified to say that his son had a shitty life. It is a painful and bitter idea.

But I am too afraid to embrace my bitterness.    I am afraid of what it would do to me.  So I must choose to see something different.  To put on some rose-colored glasses.

The Tim I knew before his accident was the life of the party.  He was a comedian.  He was not particularly blessed with good looks, but he had charm that drew people to him and especially the girls. Tim loved cars and as soon as he could save enough money he found his dream car a 1963 Black Corvette.  It turned the heads as he cruised down the strips at Russellville and Florence.

Tim was four years older than me and I will never forget the night he talked me in to playing the blind kid as he and my brother Gary cruised the Florence Strip looking for chicks.  I was going to be the bait that would attract the girls.  I would attract attention and he and my brother Gary would ask the girls if they wanted to ride around with us.

We would all cram ourselves in the little Corvette.   Of course, to us boys the tighter the better.  I had to keep up the blind act for the entire night.  They talked me into going into McDonald’s and ordering. The place was crowded and people were staring at the blind kid.

I ordered, reached into my pocket and pulled out a twenty and held it out for the lady behind the register.  She took it, made change and held out the change.  Tim took it, took ten dollars and put it in his pocket and handed me the rest.

Of course every one in the place was watching the transaction and they all scowled at Tim.  He shrugged his shoulders as if to say to the crowd, he will never know as we walked out.  Tim loved that moment.

Later that night we took the girls in a restaurant for burgers and Cokes.  He told Gary to argue with him about who was to pay the tab.  When they brought the tab Tim said to the waitress, “I am going to treat.”

Gary argued, “No I am,”  and they went back and forth a few time.

Finally, Tim looked up at the young waitress and said, “Does it matter to you who pays the tab.”

She said, “No.”

Then Tim handed her the ticket and said, “Then why don’t you pay it.”  Everyone howled with laughter and of course the girls were all Tim’s after that.

I will never forget where I was when I got the word that Tim had been in a car wreck and was in intensive care at Eliza Coffee Memorial hospital in Florence, AL.  Our tenth grade basketball team was getting dressed in the locker room about to play against the Hamilton Aggies.  It was one of those moments that you never forget. I still see myself walking out the tunnel but thinking about Tim.

Tim was in a coma for about 4 months and his recovery was slow, but he did recover.  He would never be the same Tim, but he didn’t lose his charm, his love for cars or his sense of humor.  Within a few months of Tim being able walk again, his dad bought him a brand new 1975 Chevrolet Camaro.  Thirty eight years later, that Camaro still looks like it just came off the showroom floor.  Few days passed that Tim didn’t shine on his car along with the 68 Chevy pickup of my grandfathers he restored.  Tim ended up with a room full of car show trophies.

Tim lived almost 40 years after his accident.  It is hard not to regret I didn’t make the effort to spend more time with Tim.  When we were together, his charm came out because he liked making me laugh and always did.  I could have lived with a greater awareness of how I could have made his life happier.

It troubled me today when I heard he was near death.  Hospice is moving a hospital bed into his room.  When I arrived, they needed me to pick up one end of the sheets and pick Tim up like a sack of potatoes and transfer him from his bed to the hospital bed.

I was afraid that the Tim I knew would be gone, but I was wrong.  He opened his eyes long enough to see Gary and I come in the room.  He let us know he wanted us to stay even though he couldn’t hold his eyes open.  I said, “Tim, if you will get up we can ride the strip and I will play blind.”  He laughed a hard Tim laugh without opening his eyes.

We teased a bit more.  As we transferred him from one bed to another I thanked him for not passing gas.  He held up his hand with his thumb and finger about an inch apart to indicate he had a little.

I asked him if he had a lot of time to pray.  He grunted, “yes.”

“What are you praying for?”

“I wish I were dead.  I am ready to go on.”

“What are you looking forward to Tim,” I said.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

I said, “it looks like you may beat us there.  I am not sure Gary here is going to make it,” I said teasing.

“Yes he will,” Tim said.

Gary said, “I have done some bad things in my life.”  (I don’t know why Gary says this sometimes.  I can’t even name a bad thing he has done. I think he still feels guilty for beating on me when we were kids.)

Tim said, “It doesn’t matter,” giving us a glimpse at his theology.

Then Tim’s sister Jean Ellen came in the room and she told us that Tim, even in his weakened state had remembered that her birthday was the next day.  Tim mustered his strength and said, “I want Jean Ellen to have a thousand dollars for her birthday.”

We all laughed, but Tim said, “I am serious.  Don’t laugh at me as a tear ran down his cheek.  I want Jean Ellen to have a thousand dollars from me. “

“Ok,” Jean Ellen said, “Thank you Tim.”

He said, “I love you so much.”

“I love you too Tim.”

I couldn’t resist giving his humor another opportunity.  “Tim, now that you are in the mood to give out money, how much money are you going to give your favorite cousin Clay.”

For this he opened his eyes and delivered his line perfectly. “I’m not giving Clay crap.” We all shared a hard laugh together.  He still has it, I thought.

As I left I went over and patted his shoulder and told him I loved him.  I had never told him that before.  I suspected this was a last good-bye. He told me “I love you too.”

Fast forward six weeks…

Tim Bailey died today.

Tim didn’t’ have a “Shitty” life, at least not to me.  Well, it may have been shitty for him, but not to me. To me it was valuable.  And I know it was valuable to his father and sister and all his family and friends who loved him.
I will always remember the beautiful life of Tim Bailey.  He faced a life of great adversity with courage, faith, and good sense of humor.  Tim turned out to be a great man.  He was my cousin and I am so proud of him.

You can tell a lot about a person by what he loves.  Tim loved his family. Mother Francis, Father Wafford, Sister Jean Ellen and brother-in-law Steve.  He loved his English Bulldogs, The Russellville Golden Tigers and the Crimson Tide.  He loved cars, collecting coins and as he said, he was looking forward to being with Jesus Christ.

Tim’s health ordeal was not only his ordeal.  It was the ordeal of his mother, father, sister and brother-in-law.  His struggle had a profound effect on them too.  In the life of ministry they lived, they could have never ministered so effectively without the love and compassion they learned from caring for Tim.

I will miss you cuz, but I am coming to see you soon.  We will have lots of time to hang out then.

  • debbie

    I didn’t know your cousin Tim but you gave a very good insight of his life!! So sad for your loss but he sounded like he blessed all who knew him! God bless your families!!

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