Thursday, July 19, 2007
My cousin, Jeff Gagnon, told this story at the beginning of a memorial service last Thursday:
The paper arrived 20 minutes before the hospital called. My cousin Peter read his dad’s (my Uncle Jerry’s) horoscope:
“A unique variety of freedom will be yours to enjoy in the coming week. You’ll be free to be aimless and clueless; you’ll be under no pressure to be focused and smart. You’ll be free to be quiet and meek; you won’t have to be brave and articulate. You’ll be free of wanting to be needed and understood; you won’t be plagued by the longing for someone to love you and see you for exactly who you are. You’ll be free to be anarchistic and apathetic; you won’t have to believe in or care about anything. And finally, you’ll be free to not be yourself. You will have so much freedom that you’ll even be free from freedom.”
My Uncle Jerry passed away less than an hour after his horoscope was read.
Gerald J. Gerard was born July 25, 1934. He died at 4pm on July 10, 2007. The paper was the Monterey County Weekly. The paper’s editor is my cousin, Eric Johnson.
My mother had read me the horoscope when she called from San Jose to tell me Jerry was gone. It was a comfort to her — the idea that in his death, her beloved nephew had been set free. It was also a comfort to Jerry’s wife Aline and their son Peter, who were there with my mom. I know they all believed it was more than a coincidence that the paper came when it did. Jerry’s sudden sickness and death had seemed so impossibly wrong. Those words were a balm to that hurt.
• • •
Jerry and Aline had come to California in June to visit my mother, who had just begun receiving care from Hospice. They were with her for a week, but when it came time to go home to Rhode Island, Jerry didn’t want to leave. He stayed so he could help take care of my mom.
Jerry was my mother’s nephew, but they were more like brother and sister. (My mom was the baby in a big family, and Jerry’s mother, my Aunt Doris, was the oldest.) They spent summers together when they were kids—for years, my grandfather sent my mother to Rhode Island to stay with Jerry’s family, to get her out of the heat of the Bronx. A hundred times I heard Jerry reminisce about riding on the handlebars of his Aunt Virginia’s bicycle when he was 5 or 6. They remained close for 70 years.
Over the past three years, as my mother has dealt with some health problems, Jerry came to stay with her, each time for several weeks. He did it out of love for her—he was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known—but he acted like he was on vacation.
During those visits I would steal him away once in a while to go to a ballgame or a drive up to the redwoods. In his 70s, right up until the day he left us, Jerry was a blast, as sharp-witted as he was sweet-natured. I felt lucky for the chance to hang out with the man who was a hero to me when I was a kid.
Two Saturdays ago, Jerry and I spent an afternoon at a car lot. We test-drove a cool old Mercedes Benz and a newish Audi—I was used-car-shopping and he’d come along. The following day he woke up disoriented. He’d been having night-sweats, and my mom was scared, so she called my cousin John, who lives nearby, and he took Jerry to the hospital.
We were relieved to learn a few hours later that Jerry had pneumonia—we’d been fearing that it was a stroke. But over the next several days his condition got worse and worse. The doctors said we should call Aline and tell her to come.
Last Monday, the day before he died, I went to see Jerry for the last time, to say goodbye. I thanked him and told him I loved him. He couldn’t reply. If he could, I know what he would have said—“Take care of your mother.”
• • •
Next month, I will be leaving Monterey, leaving the Weekly, and moving to San Jose. It’s hard to say goodbye to this place, which has come to feel like home. And I feel sad to have to leave this newspaper.
For the past six years, I’ve been proud to work with a team that tries every week to create something that can make a difference in people’s lives. Two weeks ago, when a small piece in these pages helped my family through a time of grief, I was reminded how important this work can be. I’ll miss almost everything about it, but it’s time to go.