Deacon Philip (Frank “Lane” Gilbert, Jr.)
Walk, Run, or Roll on the Path of Righteousness
THE HEAVENLY TREK
The narrow path. We cling to our true faith as we journey along together. And occasionally God gets our attention in a way we never imagined. He allows us to witness an extraordinary life. This person is God’s servant who’s on the same path as we are, struggling toward salvation in the grace of the Holy Church. We can see him, just ahead of us on the pathway. He inspires us to walk a little faster, with a spring in our step–just like his. We are heartened by his faith! We are challenged by his fiery love of God, his exuberance for the journey toward redemption. Let’s press on! Go! Let’s fight the good fight! Let’s finish the race!
This is the legacy of Deacon Philip (Frank “Lane” Gilbert, Jr.). Only given 39 years of earthly life, his impact will last generations. He lived his faith with action. Always more action! As a long-time deacon at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Hobart, Indiana, he loved when he was able to bow before his priest in preparation of the Divine Liturgy and proclaim, “It is time for the Lord to act!” When he venerated the holy icon of the Theotokos, he smiled at her, so thankful she is interceding on our behalf. As the Youth Leader he tried to bring the Light of Christ to every kid who walked in the door. He’d make them laugh with his made-up songs on the guitar. He planned countless youth outings, listened to the details of their lives, and endlessly encouraged them. He loved his parish with zeal! To all, he was quick with a compliment, ever-ready with a smile, and always knew something to make those near him laugh. Lots and lots of laughing!
NO TURNING BACK
He loved serving the community of Portage, Indiana as a fire fighter/paramedic, (voted 1994’s Paramedic of the Year in Indiana). Nick-named “Rev” by his co-workers, he was the department’s chaplain, a title he boldly lived up to. He saw Christ in the eyes of the men and women he worked with, as well as, the people whom he helped in times of emergency. He not only fervently served the community, but also the country in the Naval Reserves. Usually going in 10 directions at once, he was keenly aware that his words and actions reflected his faith. He was the guy who would go the extra mile every time, and everyone expected it of him.
As he went to work that beautiful fall morning in October 1996, the greatest test of his faith would came in an instant. Always enjoying being in charge, when the 9-1-1 call came in, Deacon Philip was the paramedic who supervised the care of the patient, an overdosed teen. Speeding to the hospital, a dump truck pulled out in front of the ambulance. The driver swerved to avoid the truck, smashed through a fence, and into a tree. He was violently thrown in the back of the ambulance. Severing two vertebrae high in his back rendered him unable to move. When the ambulance finally came to a horrific halt, he tried to calm the screaming teen patient with soothing words, and told his partner to take care of her. He immediately knew he was a quadriplegic. Emergency crews, guys he had known for years, now extricated him from the crumpled ambulance. Breathing became difficult. He repeated the “Our Father” prayer as they worked to get him to the hospital. The narrow path had now taken a dramatic twist.
Before a ventilator was used to help him breathe, he had the chance to tell his family how much he loved them. He adored his wife and their three children, and wasn’t sure he’d live through that day to be with them. He wanted to make sure they knew all he wanted to say. But his words were cut short when his wife, Kim, reminded him in the Emergency Room that she knew all he’d want to say. She knew his heart. He had been living that love for a long, long time. His body was bruised, bleeding, and completely still. Able only to move his head slightly, he now had to mouth words with a tube in his mouth. He no longer had a voice. But did this stop him from taking action? Not a chance. He made sure that everyone who walked in the room knew one thing, “I LOVE GOD!” Although he had no voice, his words were louder than ever!
For seven months in Chicago he fought through surgeries, infections, setbacks, and rehabilitation. He offered his suffering as a sacrifice for others. No longer would he fight fires, treat patients, serve as a Navy Medic Reservist, or go with the SWAT team on raids to be ready for potential injuries. No longer would he be able to drive his beloved youth group around, or be able to hold up his deacon’s stole and chant, “Wisdom! Let us attend.” No longer would he strum his guitar, trying to figure out the next chord for a song he wrote to glorify his Lord. Though there was pain, frustration, dashed hopes, and discouraging days, was he angry at God? No. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” He repeated this often. He knew he had to “reinvent” himself as a quadriplegic who would never again be able to breathe without the help of a machine. He made big plans. From the wheelchair he could control with puffs of air, he would shine God’s light to others. Evangelism! Let’s go!
THE LIFE-GIVING LITURGY
Only once was he strong enough to attend the Divine Liturgy. He was escorted to St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, home of “The Miraculous Lady of Cicero,” the icon of the Theotokos which began to weep in April 1994. With a great deal of effort to maneuver Deacon Philip in his “sip and puff” wheelchair, which is very heavy, he was carried up the church’s stairs. Tears flowed as he was placed in front of the miraculous icon. How he loved the Theotokos.
The very gracious priest and a long time friend of the deacon, Father Nicholas Dahdal, approached Deacon Philip, and placed the stole around his neck. He gave him the kiss of peace and blessed him. All who were there wept with joyful tears. The clergy again approached him later in the liturgy, holding the Holy Gospel above his broken body. It was read in English and Arabic. The Gospel of the day? Mark 2:1-12, the story of the paralytic being carried to Jesus. “My son, your sins are forgiven..:I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” The Sunday of the Paralytic. What glory! What mysterious wonder!
Father Nicholas referred to Deacon Philip in his homily of the gospel, as one would imagine. Full of grace, he said that one does not need to walk to get to Heaven. One does not need to be able to move or DO anything with the body to gain the Eternal Kingdom. The only thing that must be healed is one’s soul. “And your soul,” he said, turning his eyes upon the deacon, “is healed.” Hope. Light. Precious, endearing words.
THE ROUGH, REWARDING ROAD
Throughout the last months of his life, Deacon Philip never gave up. He wowed the Rehabilitation staff by going beyond what they considered enough exercises. The staff would sometimes linger when prayers were offered. They were stirred by the powerful witness of this motionless, voiceless patient. One nurse in the ICU commented that on the side of the room where he lay, there was a “peaceful presence.” His repeated theme throughout the ordeal was, “God is trying to get your attention. LISTEN TO HIM!”
Sometimes co-workers would be afraid to visit, not knowing what they would say. But when they did come see him, they would leave saying, “Hey, he made me feel better!” Hundreds of “praying hand” pins were passed out to remind people to pray for him, and to honor the faith they all knew was the essence of their Fire Chaplain and friend. And in the many area orthodox churches Deacon Philip was sometimes referred to as the “Wounded Healer” because so many priests and orthodox faithful were brought together because of him.
After a tremendous amount of suffering, almost dying several times, then gaining strength, Deacon Philip was allowed to go home to Portage to begin a new life. The nurses at the Rehab wiped their tears as he prepared to leave. He’d become a favorite patient. Fellow firemen wheeled him to the lift-van. Chicago police officers, with sirens and lights, gave him and the entourage an escort to the border of Illinois. Fire vehicles continued the parade all the way to the fire station in Portage. Residents lined the streets! A huge celebration ensued. His church, co-workers, and community joined in the party as he thanked God for bringing him home.
Finally driven to his family home, he was taken out and rolled up the ramp, newly built by fellow firemen. The ramp was lined with flowers and signs. We sang to him, “God grant you many years” as he entered his house after seven tumultuous months.
THE PATH TO PARADISE
“Many years” sadly turned into only a few weeks. He was home only a day when an infection sent him back to a local hospital. The room overflowing with family and friends singing hymns and saying prayers, he “went home” to his heavenly reward on May 29, 1997. One Orthodox man, who had been saying prayers for hours on that day, said that after Deacon Philip passed, he sensed the aroma of sweet incense in the room. The Deacon had indeed fought the good fight, and finished the race. The narrow path led Deacon Philip to the blessed prize of Paradise.
Hundreds and hundreds of people entered an Orthodox church for the first time during the Vigil and funeral liturgy, overseen by His Grace Bishop Demitri, to say farewell to Deacon Philip. After the liturgy, he was taken to the high school auditorium where eulogies and affectionate remembrances were spoken near the flag-draped casket. We were encouraged to “emulate his life.” People smiled and dried their eyes.
Near the conclusion, the audience turned eyes upon a large screen. It was a home video of the good Deacon at an annual event–the church’s “No-Talent Talent Show.” As the Master of Ceremonies, he made a joke, people laughed, and then he turned serious. Guitar in hand, he sang, “How Could You Say ‘No’ to This Man?” Even at his own funeral, he was demonstrating his life-long commitment to his Lord…and asking others to come along on the adventurous journey of knowing, loving, and serving God. He had been a Kid of the Kingdom his whole life. He embraced the narrow path with every part of his being, when he could walk and move–and when he couldn’t. His life was spent inviting everyone he encountered to get on the path, the only path worth taking.
His earthly remains carried atop a fire engine, his fellow fire fighters-badges covered with a black stripe, donning white gloves – walked along in unison. Bagpipers led the way with blocks of cars following. Again residents lined the streets in honor of the local hero. The Lake County Sheriff’s Aviation helicopter, his friends from SWAT, flew over the long line of vehicles. At the graveyard, two aerial ladder trucks from area fire stations were parked. Their ladders extended, and met near the top where a huge U.S. flag hung down, flapping in the breeze. The entire procession went under the flag and to the gravesite. A Naval 21 gun salute was given by fellow servicemen. Words, prayers, incense…it was over so soon. The firemen lay their white gloves, many still wet from wiped-away tears, on the casket as they walked by him for the last time. The family added roses. Sadness mingled with the hope of resurrection. The seven month journey had been an arduous one for everone who loved this man. The time came to leave the grave, and begin the trek without the strong earthly presence of Deacon Philip. Memory Eternal.
A MEMORIAL AND A MISSION
Deacon Philip is being remembered and honored in his home town of Portage, Indiana, with a beautiful park being named after him, the Frank Gilbert, Jr. Memorial Park. The Line of Duty Death Memorial will be the centerpiece of the plaza. What observance of this man would be complete without the representation of the orthodox faith that he cherished? We are asking that all Orthodox Churches from every place purchase a brick (only $30-$35) with its parish name, that will be permanently fixed at the park. If numerous churches participate, orthodoxy will be well represented in a public domain. We expect that over many generations people will visit the park, and notice the beautiful names of orthodox churches. We hope people will ask questions, and seek the One True Church. We want them to join us on this precious Narrow Path that leads to the throne of God! Deacon Philip took his profound faith to the public. May his legacy of evangelism through action endure for many, many years!
Here are the details of how to participate:
-Bricks are 4 x 8 inches, standard brick size
-$30 for two lines of text, $35 for three lines (12 characters per line)
-Bricks will be in walkway around memorial
-Any size donation is welcomed, all will receive a brick as above
-A donation of $2,000 or more will recognize the organization or business on a “Major Contributor” stone near the entrance of the Memorial area. The stone is approximately 2 ft. by 6 ft., made of granite.
-Since the project is being officially organized by the firefighters’ union, tax exempt status has not been given yet, but is being sought.
Direct donations or correspondence:
In Portage, the address is–
Portage Police and Firefighter Memorial Fund
3311 Willowcreek #145
Portage, Indiana 46368
Contact Person at the Portage Fire Dept.:
Deacon Gregg Owen (219) 762-7404
Home number: (219) 762-6947