I met Jerry during the year I worked at the Whirlpool factory in Clyde. I had moved back home because Youngstown State invited me to no longer attend the university. (What? Apparently you're supposed to go to class when enrolled in a college, who knew!)
Jerry and I met while hanging back panels on washing machines. He was in his late
40s at the time and I was 20, it was late winter 2000.
Jerry and I would chat about life and family whenever we worked together. We went out a few times to the movies and to karaoke at the local Moose Club. I floated through the factory on line one, so I didn't work with him every day, but we would talk a lot. Jerry had had some really crappy friends and family in his life so that Easter I invited to come hang out with my family.
April 23rd 2000 he came and went to church and ate Easter lunch with us. We made him an Easter basket and just hung out all day. He gave me a beautiful necklace.
The next day my friend was killed.
We lived in a smaller town and the news of my friend spread like wildfire. Media outlets descended and people were jostling for information, for a piece of the "action" and for gossip. The day after she was killed Jerry left a message on my parents answering machine telling me that he loved me and that if there was anything he could do all I needed to do was ask.
In a world that had exploded he was one of the only people outside the immediate family of my friend that didn't make any demands on me. It seemed that everywhere I went people asked me the most shocking things, assuming that since I wasn't actually related to this woman that it would be ok. Jerry never once did anything other than hold my hand and hug me. He never once demanded information or my time. He never once made me feel that I was being selfish for focusing only on this one gigantic thing that had just happened. He just sat beside me and was my friend.
Jerry was a ladder out of a very deep and very dark hole that I had suddenly found myself in. I clung to him for the sanity that he brought.
Jerry taught me through that time that one of the most important things you can do for someone is to just sit beside them and be their friend. No strings attached, listening, empathyzing, loving.
In the years that have followed Jerry and I have stayed friends. He got sick on my birthday in 2002. He had been bleeding internally and hadn't told anyone, in truth because he didn't really understand what was happening. There was an ulcer in his duodenum and it perforated (I think that's what happened). He was a little under an hour away from bleeding to death by the time he drove himself to the emergency room.
He was in the ICU for awhile, we told people I was his daughter so I could come and see him. In the ICU Jerry cried when he saw me and said that when he was in the emergency room he told God not to take him because he wasn't done living his life yet. He said that he thought of me. I cried when I saw Jerry too. I was so scared to lose him, I love him very much.
I can't explain the connection between Jerry and I. He calls me his special lady friend, but in truth my friendship with Jerry has blessed me so much more than I could ever think to bless him. He is steadfast and kind. He doesn't lie and he doesn't wound. Jerry's friendship has catapulted me closer to God than I could have imagined.
Jerry doesn't read barely at all. He hasn't really been a part of an organized church and has a pretty atrocious ex-wife and son. But he has been steady on his belief in God, on his belief that God is there and that God longs for us. At a time when I believed that most Christianity was a result of influence and brainwashing Jerry disproved me. There was no one in his life up to that point that could have brainwashed him. There was no one that really taught him about Jesus, he just knew Jesus. Jesus made himself known to Jerry despite (or because of I can't really figure it out) his not being able to read, his not having a home church, him not being beat about the head and face by a bible. Through Jerry I saw the first glimpse of a Jesus I wanted to know.
I live in Cincinnati now, and don't get to see Jerry nearly as much as I would like to. About 24-48 hours before any given holiday (including MLKJr, Sweetest and all sorts of other "minor" holidays) I can expect a call from Jerry wishing me a happy day. He's come to see me a few times when he can hitch a ride with a friend and I see him whenever I can when I go up to BG to see my parents.
Jerry slows me down in a good way. He has taught me that it's not about running running and getting the most done in the least amount of time. He's taught me to love God even when I don't understand him. Jerry's taught me to offer grace and compassion and to love without strings.
My life is more because I met Jerry that winter in a dark factory. It's brighter and more loving because of the love that he has always so generously given to others.