My cousin Jerry died suddenly yesterday morning. He was in the prime of his life. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and their six wonderful children. He also leaves behind a huge void and I can’t even begin to understand what his family must be going through right now. Jerry was a provider, a comforter, a guardian, a champion and all of the other things you think of when you define what a good man should be. No doubt his physical presence will be sorely missed but he will always be close in spirit.
Death is a funny thing. It ignores our schedule and no matter what death’s agenda is there is one thing you can count on, it leaves heartache and suffering in its wake. There’s a Samoan proverb that I often quote in times like these:
E le falala fua le niu, ae falala ona o le matagi.
[Sometimes when you look up and see coconut fronds swaying high above on towering coconuts trees, despite the lack of wind below where you stand, understand that the leaves sway because there is a breeze blowing them].
The proverb is vague at best but it alludes to the fact that even though we may not understand nor can we explain why something is happening or has happened, there is a purpose in all things.
Why are wonderful, caring and exuberant people like Jerry taken from us so soon? No one will know for sure. But we do know that while Jerry was with us, he had a specific purpose for each person whom he shared his life with.
When we were kids, I looked up to Jerry. He and my brother Eddie were best friends and maintained that relationship throughout life. I idolized both of them growing up. They were excellent basketball players and they both shared similar qualities. Jerry was witty, selfless, playful and always kind. He was soft-spoken and easy-going and he had this subtle quality about him that always made you feel at home around him.
In adulthood our paths rarely crossed as we pursued different goals and aspirations life but every time we came in contact it was if we had never drifted apart. That was one of Jerry’s many talents. He was always interested in everything I had to say, even when I was that lanky, awkward kid who never said a word unless I was prompted to speak with a little bit of prodding. It meant a lot to me that Jerry made me feel special even when I felt so insignificant in the shadow of his and my brother Eddie’s many talents.
I recall one occasion in which Jerry displayed his trademark ability to show kindness and compassion. When we were kids the older cousins were preparing to take off for a night of fun at a local arcade. Being excluded from the fun was not a new thing to me at the time and I was prepared for another evening of ‘fun, party of one’ when Jerry said, “What are you waiting for, get your shoes on.” I didn’t know that he was talking to me until I realized he was standing over me. “C’mon man, let’s go.” That one simple act of kindness is what solidified my belief that Jerry was one of God’s chosen spirits.
Everyone has a “Jerry” in life. We may not know why they come into our lives, but we know that they have a purpose and for me, Jerry’s purpose was to give me confidence and to reassure me that I am loved and that made all the difference in the life of an awkward young teen.
I’ll miss Jerry for many reasons, but I know that when I look up at the stars each night, he’ll be one of the brighter ones shining in the heavens, right next to those who have gone before him. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have known him in this life and to be a part of his life. I pray that in some small way, I can be a “Jerry” in someone else’s life, just like my cousin was for me.