|Jerry, his wife, and all his kids|
I've lost family members before. I've lost friends before. Last night I lost another. I was awakened by a text from Mr. Lime who had gotten word while he was at an early morning race, that our beloved friend Jerry was gone. I am stunned beyond belief. He was 66 and generally healthy. He was suddenly struck by a massive heart attack while out fishing with his son-in-law. There is some comfort in knowing he was with a family member and enjoying himself and that we are told he did not suffer. The suffering is left to his wife and step-children and their children, and we his friends (of which he had so very many).
I met Jerry in a weekly prayer meeting nineteen years ago when I had recently returned from Trinidad. He had recently been left by his wife at the time, losing, so he thought, her three children whom he adored as if they were his own. He had lived a hard life and he began to see the need to make some changes in his life. His wife viewed that as rain on her parade and opted to continue a life of partying. He was devastated. He came to tears easily. I was deeply saddened by my own loss of Trinidad and the fears that my relationships there would fall apart due to distance but I felt my reasons for sadness paled in comparison to his. Still, even in his sorrow he was sensitive to mine.
I could remember being the child who was pulled away from stability. I encouraged Jerry not to give up on the kids he loved even though custody was obviously out of the question as their step-father. I told him from experience it could mean the world to them to have him continue to express his love for them. I can't take credit for his choice to do so but I was happy that he did.
Over the years our friendship deepened. Jerry and our family came to be a part of the same close circle of five families who are friends. I watched him move from grief to being a great encourager of others who were struggling in some way. He had a heart for teens and was a youth group leader for our girls. Although he was no longer involved in the youth group he reached out to our son later on. Jerry and I continued to look out for each other.
I think friendships begun under adverse conditions but which grow beyond that can be especially tender. He and Mr. Lime were good friends too. He exhorted us to be better partners to each other during times of real difficulty in our marriage. He exhorted the other husbands in our circle of close friends as well. His advice was given gently and often with the caution, "Learn from my mistakes."
It was with great joy that we were all able to celebrate when love came into his life again several years ago. He remarried and was welcomed with boisterous affection into a big, loving family. His step-children this time were already grown. It is testament not only to their welcoming love but his character in how he loved them that his younger step-daughter asked him to escort her down the aisle along with her father.
For his 65th birthday, his wife and current step-children arranged to fly his previous step-children and their children up from Texas as a surprise "unwrappable" birthday present. This time his tears over those children were ones of joy, that they had sustained a caring relationship all these years, that they loved him enough to want to surprise him for his special day, that his current family cared enough to include them. A crowd of friends showed up to celebrate with him and shower him with the same love he showed all of us.
Jerry may have had a misspent and selfish youth by his own admission but the last two decades were marked by gentle and giving love, by quiet service to those around him, by kindness and compassion that endeared him to everyone he knew. The man who once thought he'd never be blessed with a true family found a vast and varied one pieced together in unlikely ways. That family is utterly devastated today after his sudden death.
Jerry, I miss you more than any of these words can convey. I will miss your smile and laugh, your kindness and compassion, your hugs and encouragement. Mr. Lime is barely able to allow himself to think of your absence. Our children have shed tears for you. Keep an eye on us all, if you don't mind.