When our group of cyclists would regroup at an intersection or stop sign, the group-leader would yell out to no one in particular, “Where’s Jerry?”
As one of the slowest in the pack, I was always coming up the rear. And since I was new to the group and didn’t know the routes, I always had someone looking out for me….for which I was thankful because riding with a group was brand new to me.
I had always exercised with Patty. From our early days of swimming before work at the YWCA on State Street in Jackson, we moved on to running and biking. And other than the years when taking care of kids took most of her time and she couldn’t join me, we never exercised with anyone else….and neither did I until I found several groups of people last year that took me in and were always asking, “Where’s Jerry?"
It wasn’t just cycling groups. It was hunting groups. It was different church groups. It was a group of pastors. It was a group of people that had experienced the same tragedy that I had experienced; and they were all asking, “Where’s Jerry?” The support, encouragement, and prayers of these folks have helped me to find life again. Cause after Patty died, the line in John Cougar Mellencamps’s "Jack and Diane” was something that I was living. He sang, “Life goes on, long after the living is gone,”….and my life was certainly going on, except now I was just existing instead of living.
There were many months that even I didn’t know “where Jerry” was. I was at the hospital when our first grandchild was born 5 months after Patty passed, but I couldn’t find any joy in that moment of celebration. All I could think about was how spoiled she would have made “Baby Hayes." I took my daughter on the camping trip that Patty and I took each Fall, and we came home early because it just wasn’t the same. I drove to churchmornings by myself after having my partner in ministry “ride shotgun” for 32 years (except those two churches where we walked to church because we lived in the parsonage…at those churches, I left early so I wouldn’t have to help with the kids! Ha). I had never pastored a church without her, and the only word that could describe how I felt is “weird.” All of these instances, as well as many more, made me wonder who I was, where I was, and if I would ever be “normal” again.
And that's why I am so blessed! I would NEVER be as far along in this grief process without all those people that have asked,“Where’s Jerry?”
I find joy in my ministry, friendships, family, and LIFE! None of that could be possible without all the people who cared!
In the months since Patty’s passing, I have read enough books on “grief” that I should be awarded some kind of a degree! But though I have matriculated in area of life that registers as many dropouts as graduates, I feel that it was the “people” and not the “books” that had the greatest influence. It was the connection that I had with others that gave me strength…not unlike what happens with Sequoia trees.
The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest living thing. Its’s a Sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in California. The strength of this tree, as well as the other Sequoia trees in the park, is found in the inter-connectedness of their root system. The roots of ALL the trees strengthen one another by intertwining themselves. They share nutrients, hydration, support, and stability. And the same can be true in each of our lives. If we intertwine our lives with others, especially when they (or we) are struggling with the various issues of life, there will be a strength afforded us to continue to grow, thrive, and most importantly, SURVIVE!