This is the eighth and final part of a series about Jerry, my departed friend, a gentle spirit, an old hippie with a need for speed. Jerry was a friend who “Sticks closer than a brother,” (Proverbs 18:24). Five minutes before Jerry died, I stood beside his bed, placed my hand on his chest and told him, “I Love you brother. This is the last time I’ll see you here, but I’ll see you at home.” As I drove back to Portsmouth from Springfield that November night I prayed, “Father, it feels like Jerry took a piece of me with him when he left.” Then I suddenly realized, “No! Jerry left a piece of himself with me.” I realized that I am who I am, to a large degree, because of our friendship, for, “As Iron sharpens Iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend,” (Proverbs 27:17).
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Friendship requires a foundation of affinity, a common love, a common vision that can’t be created, it can only be discovered,” (Essay on friendship). C.S. Lewis wrote; “We think we have chosen our own friends, but for the Christian there is strictly speaking, no chance. There is a secret master of ceremonies who is always at work…At the feast of friendship it is God who has spread the board and it is God who has chosen the guests…The typical expression of opening friendship, would be something like, ‘What, you too! I thought I was the only one…Friends are side by side, shoulder to shoulder absorbed in some common interest…The very condition for having friends is that you would want something else besides friends…Those who have nothing can share nothing, those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers,” (The Four Loves).
Tim Keller, acclaimed Christian author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, explains, “A friend is someone who has chosen you. Friendship is the only love that is not a biological or sociological necessity. It is the only love that is absolutely deliberate. It will not push or force itself on you.” Perhaps that’s why friendships are so susceptible to death by neglect. Friendships must be tended, cultivated and nurtured or else they will die on the vine.
Charles Hanson Towne wrote: “Around the corner I have a friend, in this great city that has no end. Yet days go by and weeks rush on, and before I know it a year is gone. And I never see my old friend’s face, for life is a swift and terrible race…Tomorrow, I say, I’ll call on Jim, just to show him that I’m thinking of him. Tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, and the distance between us grows and grows. Around the corner yet miles away, here’s a telegram, ‘Jim died today’. And that’s what we get and deserve in the end, around the corner a vanished friend,” (“Around the corner”, by Charles Hanson Towne, 1877-1949).
Jerry and I bantered back and forth for years about who was going to do whose eulogy. Jerry would say, “I want to go first”, and I would say, “No, I want to go first!” Just a few weeks before Jerry departed this earth I told Jerry, “On second thought, I hope you go first; because I’m afraid of what final impression you might leave with my children and grandchildren. I want the opportunity to put my spin on things.” Only true friends can talk to each other like that, especially when one is in the final stage of a terminal illness.
Jerry’s memorial service closed with Jerry singing and playing, “Rock of Ages”. Jerry’s wife, Mel, explains: “Neil had asked him to sing it at church, and it’s a bit different from the original. I loved it so much when he did it that I asked him to record it. I got to listen to it a lot while he was learning it and it always blessed me.” Jerry’s daughter, Sarah, added, “It has always been a special song to all of us, but probably because it was special to Dad. He had been talking about it and looking for it, and even though he didn’t say it, I felt like that was what he wanted played at his memorial service. Mom said they had searched high and low looking for it, and the Wednesday after he passed, she was in her room and looked over and the CD was just sitting there. She said, ‘Jesus found it for me…’ Mom had said ‘My one request for the funeral is for this to be played,’”.
“Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flows, be of sin a double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power. Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy laws demands, could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Savior or I die. While I draw this fleeting breath, when my eyelids close in death, when I soar to worlds unknown, see Thee on Thy judgment throne, Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee,” (YouTube, Jerry Hammond Rock of Ages).
What my ninety-five-year-old friend, Ed, said about the death of his son, is also true of Jerry, “The song is ended but the melody lingers on,” (YouTube, Frank Sinatra, song by Irving Berlin).
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at [email protected]. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course” at Amazon and Barnes and Noble .