This is the ninth and final part of a series about Jerry, a gentle spirit, with a need for speed. 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 I lamented, “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.” Instantly my sadness was transformed to thankfulness. I was thankful for our forty plus years of friendship, the adventures, the heart-to-heart talks, the sharing of our faith. 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).
I’m reminded of what my 95-year-old friend, Ed, said following the death of his son, “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.” It’s been about two months since Jerry departed but Jerry’s melody lingers on in the hearts, souls and minds of his family and friends, and will continue to linger on for generations.
Personally and professionally, I’ve observed the human tendency to look back and focus on the things we, “coulda woulda shoulda,” said or done. I’m reminded of Peter denying Jesus three times the night that Jesus was arrested. I’m still astonished by Jesus’ response to Peter the first time He encountered him after His death and resurrection. Jesus simply asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me,” then he commissioned Peter to, “Feed My lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep,” (John 21: 15-19). Jesus didn’t rub Peter’s nose in his failure or disqualify him. Jesus simply encouraged Peter to get back in the game, to keep working for His kingdom. It’s no wonder that it would be Peter, years later, who would tell his fellow believers, “Above all else, keep loving one another earnestly, for love covers a multitude of sins,” (I Peter 4: 8, ESV). Love does cover a multitude of sins doesn’t it; for when it’s all said and done, what really matters is whether or not the person knew we loved them.
I’ve also observed the tendency to idolize or blindly adore a person after their death, to make them out to be something they weren’t. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jerry would get fighting mad if we idolized him. How do I know, because Jerry got fighting mad a few times? There was the time he was walking down the street in Ft. Wayne when he was a teenager. Keep in mind that Jerry was about five-feet-eight and 130 pounds. Jerry recounted, “I was so mad that I jumped on this guy’s back. He was a giant. I started pounding on the top of his head but it didn’t faze him. That was a mistake. Afterward, I went into a restaurant and asked them if I could clean up and when they saw my face they asked, ‘What happened to you?’” And there was the time, when Jerry was still truck driving, that he stopped for the night at a motel. He got up early to checkout and the oriental desk clerk accused Jerry of making long distance calls on the room phone. When Jerry explained that he had charged the calls to his personal account the clerk yelled, “Jerry, you’re a riar!” Jerry confessed, “I tried to grab hold of him. I almost went over the counter for him.” Jerry and I had fun with that one for years. I can’t count the times I told Jerry, “You’re a riar!” You see, love covering a multitude of sins goes both directions doesn’t it?
Jerry understood and experienced the grace of God. Jerry and I frequently reminded one another, “If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse where would this ship be.” We concurred that based upon the trajectory of our lives when we were young, that if God hadn’t intervened that we would have ended up in jail, a mental hospital or dead. Therefore, it’s no wonder why Jerry loved the song, “Rock of Ages.”
Jerry’s wife, Mel, recounted, “Neil (their pastor at the time) 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,’”.
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 because who will do my eulogy?” 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 on my children and grandchildren. I want the opportunity to put my spin on things.” Only true friends can talk to each other like that.
Jerry’s memorial service closed with the recording of Jerry playing and singing “Rock of Ages.” Jerry’s son, Joel, commented in a text message, “It’s surreal how perfect it is for an ending to his service and life here. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times…I’m thankful to have it, and it reminds me how much he means to me. It sometimes feels like he’s still singing it.” Sarah, Joel’s sister, responded, “For all of eternity.”
My son-in-law, Shane created a YouTube account for Jerry before he passed and downloaded Jerry’s recording after the memorial service. I encourage you to take a listen at “YouTube, Jerry Hammond Rock of Ages”:
“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).