12 years ago, Jerry moved to Calgary to take a job after graduating from SFU. I was heart-broken to lose my best buddy to another city. We kept in touch over countless e-mails. While in Calgary, he e-mailed me one day and said he was going to Dallas for a business trip, and on the way back he will be stopping in Vancouver for a few days to visit friends and family. He asked if we can meet up for lunch when he arrived in Vancouver. Of course I said yes; I couldn’t wait to see him.
The day before he was supposed to arrive in Vancouver, my cell phone rang, and his name showed up on my call display. I just assumed he was calling me to confirm our lunch appointment the next day. I picked up the phone and didn’t even say hello, but just blurted out, “Hey, are we on for tomorrow?” The voice that responded to me wasn’t Jerry’s. It was Jerry’s sister’s.
She said, “Angela, I am sorry to tell you this: Jerry is dead.”
If someone says something completely unexpected, I think our brains just automatically discount the message to be undeliverable. I didn’t even think what she said was ever possible in reality. So I responded with something stupid like, “Yeah right, that’s funny.”
She said again, “Jerry is dead.” And then I heard her sobbing.
Wait a minute, she was serious. But how is that possible? Jerry is supposed to have lunch with me tomorrow. We had only exchanged e-mails two days ago about the lunch plans.
His sister told me he died in the hotel in Dallas, and they will be shipping his body back to Vancouver for burial. I didn’t even ask how he died or what happened. I was in so much shock that I listened to her and then just hung up. I sat in my chair, completely dumbfounded, numb to the core, with millions of thoughts racing through my head.
Jerry wasn’t even 30 years old. He had always been a little bit on the chubby side, but has just recently lost some weight with new healthy eating habits. He was exercising. He had a great job with colleagues who love him. He had lots of loyal friends. He had everything going for him. It turned out that he had an “unusually large heart”, and his heart just stopped one day. At least that’s what the autopsy report said.
The days following the news of Jerry’s death were a blur to me. I was working full-time at a co-op job that summer, and I took an entire week off because I could barely think straight. I vaguely remember multiple times of my roommate holding me in her arms while I sobbed for hours. Jerry and I have been friends for many years. We were young, excited about our lives, and were always talking about our future. He gave me a lot of advice about life in general. He was always gentle, but never backed down when he truly believed in something. He was always encouraging, but also dished out the truth in love when needed. He gave his life to the people around him, loving them and serving them. Often he was broke at the end of the month, and asked me to drive him to school because he has no gas money left after spending his last pennies on his friends. He had an endless amount of energy to organize events, getting people together, leading Bible study groups, and spending time encouraging others. We would talk on the phone for hours on end, or e-mail back and forth all day long. We argued often because we didn’t always agree, but he never made me feel like our disagreements were personal. With Jerry, there was never a lack of conversation. He just had the ability to draw things out of me. We had a little fling, but it didn’t last long. We remained very good friends after the fling.
When Jerry died, it was the first time in my life I realized that we were not invincible. My world was forever changed. I was so mad at God. Jerry was only in his 20’s. How could God just let him die when he had such a promising life ahead of him? I felt like a big piece of me died with Jerry.
Some things never fail to remind me of Jerry, even after all these years. Every time I see a Hyundai Pony on the road, I can’t help myself but look to see if the driver is Jerry. He drove that little $500 Pony to the ground, but all I remember was the fun times we had driving around town in that beater, singing silly songs and bantering back and forth. Each time I drive by the Chinese food place, On Lok, on Hastings, I think of Jerry insisting that we go there to eat every Friday night after the campus ministry activities. The food isn’t even all that great, but Jerry loved that place and he was always able to talk a big group of us into going. For many years, being around the Commercial Street area reminded me of Jerry, because after stuffing our faces at On Lok, he would round up a few of us to go watch a late-night Chinese movie at the old Chinese theatre no longer in existence today.
For the years that followed his death, I would often go visit his grave site. Sometimes I leave him a letter telling him how much I miss him. Sometimes I talk to him in my head, telling him things going on my life, and I can even hear his voice telling me that he doesn’t agree with something I said or a choice I’ve made. I wish I could turn back the clock just so I can see him one more time and give him a big hug, and look into his big bright eyes and tell him how much I love him. But every time I go to the grave site, it’s the same bronze plaque sitting on some grass, staring back at me in silence. It never fails to shock me how quiet it is without him talking back to me.
I miss him today as much as I did 12 years ago.