Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron died March 13, 2022. She was 71.
“You see, it’s all clear
You were meant to be here
From the beginning…”
~From the Beginning, Emerson, Lake and Palmer
From the day I met Abby Milligan, I liked her, and from the first date we had together, on January 17, 2003, I was comfortable with her and attracted to her, thought of her as rational, intelligent, and affectionate, and very soon felt very much in love with her.
Abby and I met in April 2002 when she asked me to photograph one of her clients, Fun Time Pools, when she was working as an advertising sales representative at my newspaper. We got along fine, but I spent my time and energies on other women during that era.
Abby asked me out in January 2003, since I hadn’t yet asked her. We had our first date January 17. We had dinner at Papa Gjorgjo downtown, followed by taking her to see the house on 17th Street I was thinking of buying from Ann Kelley.
Because I’d washed my car earlier in the day, the passenger side door mechanism was frozen, so she had to climb over the center console to get in my car.
For years afterwards, Abby would proudly tell the story. “I broke his car on our first date.”
Journal, January 18, 2003: Abby and I met last night and had dinner, then went to [Ann’s] house and talked about fixing it up. We held hands and held each other by the fireplace for a while. Back at my apartment, we curled up on my futon, held each other close and talked. She purred. I held her hands and touched her hair, and she nestled closer and closer. We traded back rubs. It turned into kissing, so much gentle kissing. We were so close, so warm, so happy to be together.
The next day on the phone, she said, “I think I woke up smiling.”
Later she told our coworkers that our date was “even better than she wanted it to be.”
Our relationship grew by leaps and bounds in the spring of 2003.
In our first weeks together, she helped paint my apartment and add shelves above the living room. On nights we did this, we got a carafe of wine, and while tipsy one night, Abby called it a “giraffe.” After that, we referred to drinking wine together as “getting giraffed.”
Several times in the spring of 2003, Abby and I drove to Shawnee, where I was renting airplanes at the time, and went flying a Cessna 152. We both had a terrific time, and I even let her fly the airplane a few times, which came very naturally to her.
In June, Abby and I flew to Florida to meet my parents and sister, and we all had a great time. My father seemed the happiest about this, both because Abby knew tools and how to use them, and because he had a bit of a crush on her.
From the start, our sex life was amazing. Abby was gentle, playful, kind, caring, creative and patient. She always smelled great. We always held each other close afterwards. Always.
In July 2003, Abby and I took our first road trip together, The High Road. It was an amazing time, hiking in the desert, which she had never visited, all day, followed by raucous motel sex in the evenings. It was a bellwether week for both of us, alone together intensely like a married couple, under stress and having fun at the same time, exploring our sexuality and the high desert. I had initially thought of the trip as being a northern New Mexico jaunt, but together we got more and more ambitious as the week went by, and made it as far as the Grand Canyon, which she’d never seen.
Prior to our wedding, I asked my parents to pay for us to have Abby’s teeth fixed, which they did, which was very generous.
The feel of her hands in mine, the light in her eyes, her smile, her laugh, the way she looked at me, the smell of her hair, and everything else about her said “home” to me in every way.
Abby made me into an animal lover and owner. Before we got married, Abby got two goats, Coal and Buxton, who were mostly my pets since I worked in the garden and the back yard. They have since died.
We talked about marriage, and decided we were engaged, on the anniversary of our first date. I’ve always thought it was smart plan to be with someone for at least a year before getting married so you can experience each other through all the seasons, holidays, and anniversaries, good and bad.
Abby and I married on October 12, 2004, and were happy, faithful, and in love until the day she died.
On that sunny wedding day in the adventure playground of southern Utah, neither of us felt “nervous” like you sometimes hear brides and grooms say… we were both 100% invested, confident and committed.
Abby was among the most empathetic people I have ever known. In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, including my sister’s home in the Lower Ninth. For weeks afterwards, Abby couldn’t pick up a spoon or a bar of soap without thinking, “Nicole doesn’t even have this.” She ended up going to Walmart, buying a suitcase on wheels, then buying enough clothing and housewares to fill it, which we then sent to my sister who was staying with Mom in Florida.
Right after we got married, we got our first dog together, Sierra Kayenta Avenue, a long coat Chihuahua, as a puppy. Sierra died in early 2018. In 2006, we got Maximum Speed Boulevard, a smooth coat Chihuahua, who died in May 2019. In 2017, we got an Irish Wolfhound, Hawken Rifle Trail, who I walk every day. After Sierra died, we adopted Summer Time Lane, a young female Chihuahua.
“Days go by, I catch myself smile
More than you’d ever expect
It’s been a long while
Since it’s been okay to feel this way…”
~Duncan Sheik, Days Go By
I had never been married before. Abby was married to Paul Milligan for 23 years until his death in 1992 from metastatic lung cancer. They have a daughter, Dawna Michele Milligan Reeves, who I adore. Dawna, who grew up known as Chele (which we call her) married Tom Reeves in 2009. They had a baby, our grandson, Paul Thomas, in 2011. They live in the Baltimore, Maryland suburb of Parkville, and we saw them two or three times a year, but they hope to move to Dallas soon.
The thing we talked about the least was Abby’s nephew Mitchell, who we often referred to as “our son,” and of whom we were both guardians. He was a very troubled child. His mother, Abby’s sister Gwyn, died in his presence, unattended on her bathroom floor, in 2000 of meningitis when Mitchell was 8. She was 33.
Mitchell’s father was an abusive alcoholic and drug user, but was out of the picture by the time Gwyn died.
Mitchell was prone to fits of violence, crying, acting-out, and depression, and was completely selfish. He was so addicted to video games, despite our efforts to control it, that he was in danger on a number of occasions of flunking out of school. He would hurt any feelings or disobey anything we told him to play video games. In 2010, it came to a head, and we threw him out. We never regretted that, or any other actions we took with Mitchell. We offered him a home and a life, and he declined.
The rest of our families and we got along fine. Abby loved my family and I hers. My parents were delighted when we decided to get married: at Christmas 2003 in Florida, I asked Mom, Dad, and Nicole “what they thought” about me marrying Abby. They paused and looked at each other, then nodded in approval. When I got up to use the restroom, they all high-fived each other.
A huge difference between Abby and me was that I am something of a minimalist, while she was decidedly a collector. Though fundamentally at odds, it is something we simply accepted about each other.
As nice as our daily lives were, Abby and I had the best times when we were on the road. We have been all over the country, from the woods in Maryland where The Blair Witch Project was made to the home of London Bridge, and dozens of locations in between. And it wasn’t just our destinations that we love, but the travel itself. We loved opening the tailgate of her pickup and sitting on it to have lunch at a truck stop. We loved the great big cups of black coffee in the center console. We loved the wind in eastern New Mexico and the sunset in southern Utah and the giant twine ball in Kansas.
Abby retired from Legal Shield when she turned 65.
Growing older was not easy for Abby. Rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren syndrome took their toll. It was the one thing I would have changed about her if I could: her health. The failure of modern drugs like Rituximab and Humira mean that Abby and I managed her pain with opioid and conventional medications, and patience.
I lost count of the number of her hospitalizations, ICU stays, and near-deaths. Some details…
- In 2005, she was hospitalized for several days with her third bout of shingles.
- In 2006, she was prescribed methotrexate, which eased the arthritis, but caused her hair to thin and fall out.
- In 2007, her rheumatologist tried adalimumab (Humira), which also reduced her arthritis, but “felt like hot lava” when injecting, and gave her a serious rash that didn’t itch, but eventually covered her whole body, and took three months to resolve.
- In spring 2008, our rheumatologist turned to rituximab, a very powerful chemotherapy drug, infused in doses so high that the nurses felt the need to call the pharmacy to recheck the dose. The drug worked, and she and her former mother-in-law flew to Baltimore and had a great time, with Abby’s arthritis in remission. However, the consequence of this powerful treatment was an extensive destruction of her immune system, and in May she developed pneumonia. On Saturday May 10, 2008, she was so weak that EMS had to transport her to the emergency room. She was admitted to ICU. Monday morning, we had to intubate her. The entire hospital stay lasted nearly six weeks. You can read a complete synopsis of the event here (link.)
- In early December 2011, Abby had a heart attack, and flew to Oklahoma City to have a stent inserted.
- On four occasions in 2012, Abby was hospitalized with serious infections, including a MRSA infection, and three kidney infections, which were the result of a very large kidney stone, which she had removed by lithotripsy in 2013.
- In May 2015, Abby was hospitalized for eight days with a kidney infection so serious that at one point a nurse handed me a list of nursing homes.
- In February 2021 Abby was hospitalized for several days for dehydration and high calcium levels, and because of the coronavirus epidemic, I was unable to be with her to advocate for her care, which was very difficult.
- In August 2021, Abby was very sick with a urinary tract in infection that resulted in her falling on her left shoulder, breaking the head of her humerus, and leading to a long hospital stay.
- On October 15, 2021, Abby was again admitted with weakness and confusion. At first it looked like another UTI, but a chest x-ray supported a diagnosis of pneumonia. By October 22, she was admitted to Coal County Memorial Hospital for continued care. On November 10, 2021, Abby was admitted to Ballard Nursing Center in Ada, Oklahoma.
- I visited Abby every day I was able during her stay at Ballard.
- On March 10, 2022, medical personnel and I concluded that it was time for Abby to be in hospice care. Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron died at 7:50 a.m. Sunday, March 13, 2022. She was 71.
Abby fit with a lot of my ideas of an ideal woman: she was sweet, she was bright, she was smart, she was a little bit of a tomboy. She had a country-girl saltiness I found attractive but hard to describe.
Some other things about Abby…
- She loved Christmas more than anyone I know.
- She loved her parents with all her heart; I know this sounds like a lot of people, but Abby took it to the next level. She cried when she talked about them. Her mother died at age 60 in 1986, and her father died just before his 87th birthday in 2010.
- Many things made my wife cry, but none more than the death of a pet. On the several occasions when I was present when her dogs died, and Abby cried louder and more intensely than I have ever witnessed anyone cry.
- Abby loved John Wayne and his movies. Part of this was that her father resembled Wayne in many ways, including his rugged attitude. Abby collected John Wayne memorabilia.
- Abby collected playing cards.
- Abby cheered out loud for good guys in movies. She laughed with all her might when things were funny.
- Although she always went through the motions of study like watching political debate, she and I almost always land on the same side of the issue. Abby’s politics were always about compassion.
- Abby was moved by the U.S. Flag and what it represented, but understood why it was sometimes necessary to protest symbols and institutions. She was an NRA member, but often questions their core policies.
- Abby thought tactical was cool.
- Abby and I called each other the usual spousal nicknames like Honey or Sweetheart, but our unique nicknames for each other stem from our first vacation together, The High Road, when we drove up Cedar Mesa on a narrow, winding gravel road called the Mokee Dugway. Through our entire marriage, we both answered to Mokee, and sometimes our conversations only consist of that word.
Our songs were Our Little World by Susan Ashton, Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell, and Crystal Baller by Third Eye Blind…
“Can we try and take the high road
Though we don’t know where it ends
I want to be your Crystal Baller
I want to show you how it ends…”
~Crystal Baller, Third Eye Blind
“Come and hold me, hold me tight
I wanna love you with all of my might
‘Cause all is good and all is right
In our little world…”
~Our Little World, Susan Ashton
“I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line…
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line…”
~Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell
Despite the fair amount of pain she dealt with every day, she seldom took it out on me, and when she did, I knew it meant I needed to address her pain, not get angry at her.
She loved me every day, as I her, and we never went a day without “I love you.”