photo by david cubberly
I arrive alone. I’m a bit reluctant to actually enter the building because I see that everyone is dressed to the nines and I don’t recognize any of their faces. Am I in the right place?
Wearing dark denim, a striped knit shirt, leather jacket and no makeup I make my way up the few steps and through the doors into the lobby. I am second-guessing my attire now. At least I’m wearing heels. I should just go home.
The pit in my stomach is growing. I feel sick. The emotion is almost strong enough to make me turn around and run right back out to the car and get the hell out of that church. I hate churches.
I glance over to my left at a group of shirts and ties. Finally, there’s
a familiar face. And another. And another. We exchange hugs, few words (as the lobby was particularly quiet and solemn) and then finish with hung heads. I am already having a hard time holding back the tears and the service hasn’t even begun. I knew this would be hard. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
His family had placed a memorial wall of photos over near the left of the entrance to the sanctuary. No way. I know my emotional limits. I’ll hold my spot in line and wait to sign the book before I go in. The photos can wait. I’m not ready for them, yet.
I’ve been here before, in this building with him, twice: Once for Christmas Mass and once when his sister married. It looks different than I remember.
A woman from the church enters the lobby from the sanctuary and tells us we’ll have time to sign the book later. Will we please come in and be seated. I’m not ready. My mind is swimming. Why can’t I just be calm?
The crowd funnels in through the doors to the sanctuary. I stop at the sign-in table and reach over someone actively writing to grab a program and postcard with his picture on it. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Just sit down.
I’ve lost my associates. I am alone, again as I sit down on a hard pew, next to a stranger. I attempt to breathe, to relax. I look over and a comforting face motions for me to come join the group once more. I’m thankful.
I sit down next to a friend and finally allow myself to take in a long deep breath. It’s darker over here. The sound equipment is to my right and to my left, a row of people I know and trust. I’m feeling a little more prepared.
My leg won’t stop shaking. I can’t keep my fingers from fidgeting. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I hate churches. I try to distract myself by turning over the postcard to read the words. I make it no further than the fourth line and try to switch my focus to the people slowly sifting in. That works for a short while until we’re asked to stand and I see his family walk down the middle aisle, embracing each other, almost holding each other up as they approach the altar. My heart goes out to his entire family, but when I finally catch sight of his brother, hot tears begin streaming down my cheeks. I can’t stop them.
Some religious image appears on the large screen overhead with words to a hymn and a background of cloudy skies. People start singing. It doesn’t feel right to me, so I don’t. We sit. One of the preachers refers to his notes and invites his mother to come recite Psalm 139. His mother, she’s just as sweet and petite and soft-spoken as I remember her from years ago. She begins reciting the passage and I use my thumb like a windshield wiper as I listen less to the words and begin concentrating more on her face and mannerisms. I think about how incredibly strong she must be to keep her composure.
I see her influence on him.
We stand and sit and stand some more. Finally we take our seats and a preacher, I guess the correct term is father, isn’t it? A father comes forward and turns toward an oversized black and white photo of him, (same one that’s on the front of the postcard), and says, “That’s Jerry.” There’s a dramatic pause and then he says again, “That’s Jerry as he’s greeted by God.”
The more this guy speaks the more upset I’m getting. I find myself, in a bold way, looking around the room thinking, “Does anyone else think this is absurd? C’mon!” I don’t mean any disrespect to the father, I really don’t. I know he means well. I just cannot stomach the audacity. And I’m not talking about this father only speaking a sentence or two about it… he goes on and on. He crescendos when saying, “This is Jerry saying to God, ‘AWESOME!’ And God gives him 20 drums and 10 drumsticks and Jerry is really going to make a beat.” I’m paraphrasing now, but you get the picture. He was reaching the climax of his homily.
I started to shake my head. This is so wrong. And maybe I’m the one being presumptuous at this point but this is not what he would have wanted. He would have been pissed. He would have thrown something at this guy. And just as I’m thinking this, the best thing ever happens:
In an instant the church goes black. The mic cuts off and my wish, it comes true, the father shuts up.
It was phenomenally strange. It made me smile.
The father regains power and says, “That was Jerry,” which was followed by a nervous laugh.
Your damn right that was Jerry!
I leaned over and whispered to my friend, “That was Jerry and he’s pissed off.”
The nerve of that guy!
I don’t know what I believe in. I guess I’d say I’m a spiritual person, but maybe not a religious person? I will tell you this though: I don’t believe for a second that what happened was just some coincidence. I don’t.
His dad’s words were sad for me to hear for many reasons which I won’t mention, but I’m just thankful (for his sake) that he was able to meet and briefly speak to so many people that loved his son, that adored him and miss him terribly.
The best part of the service was when his older sister and younger brother took to the podium. They talked about the Jerry I knew- The one that was just as mean as he was sweet, just as sensitive as he was hard, just as removed as he was the center of attention, just as reserved as he was boisterous and just as funny as ever. I laughed really hard for the first time that evening. And I found myself wanting to share funny stories, too.
There was another speaker, Jerry’s long-time friend, roommate, band mate, Fred. He brought the tears again and the genuine words of someone that truly knew him. He told the story of how Jerry ended up in NY and how he became so easily rooted in the music scene. I knew one tiny slice of that Jerry and found myself remembering him in his first apartment during a week long trip that a few friends and I had planned. Good times.
There was communion and then a short silence as the presenters prepared the next part of the service.
The lights dimmed and a Baby Jerry was illuminated onto the large screen. I awkwardly sucked in some air and tried my hardest not to completely lose it. Watching the slideshow was awful in the best way something can be awful. And when it was over, I didn’t want it to be. I wanted more Jerry.