This is the column I never wanted to write, the story I never wanted to tell.
I lost my lovely Gerry the other day. I lost the sunshine and roses, all right, the laughter in the other room. I lost the smile that lit up my life.
God loved Gerry. Everybody loved Gerry. She never went 40 seconds without smiling in her life. She smiled when she was dying. She smiled at life and all the people in it. When you thought of Gerry, you smiled.
She had these big gorgeous brown eyes and they were merry all the time and they looked at you with such trust and happiness. She never looked down or away. She never did anything to be ashamed of. Nothing. Never. She never did anything she didn’t think God wanted her to do. She was in charge of smiling for Him.
She never grew old and now, she never will. She wouldn’t have anyway. She had four children, this rogue husband, a loving family and this great wisdom and great heart, but I always saw her as this little girl running across a field with a swimming suit on her arm, on a summer day on the way to the gravel pit for an afternoon of swimming and laughing. Life just bubbled out of Gerry. We cry for ourselves. Wherever she is today, they can’t believe their good luck.
I don’t mean to inflict my grief on you, but she deserves to be known by anyone who knows me. She has a right to this space more than any athlete who ever lived. I would not be here if it weren’t for her. I feel like half a person without Gerry. For once, I don’t exaggerate. No hyperbole. If there was a Hall of Fame for people, she would be No. 1. She was a champion at living.
She never told a lie in her life. And she didn’t think anyone else did. Deceit puzzled her. Dishonesty dismayed her. She thought people were good. Around her, surprisingly, they were. Her kindness was legendary.
She loved God. I mean, He made the trees, the flowers. He made children, didn’t He? And color and song, and above all, babies. She knew He’d take care of her.
She loved babies. Anybody’s. She played the piano like a dream. Ask any of the football coaches, the basketball players, baseball pitchers or just newspapermen who leaned across their drinks and implored her for one more chorus of “Melancholy Baby.” She played “Galway Bay” every St. Patrick’s Day for a maudlin husband who wept over a moonrise he’d never seen or a sunset that existed only in a glass and an ice cube. She was fun.
She wasn’t afraid to die. She didn’t want to. But she knew she’d see the mother she lost, the son she lost. In a place where she could never lose them again.
You have funny ways of remembering things. The thing I remember clearest today, for some reason, is the habit she had of leaving notes for the kids when she was only going to be gone for the shortest times, the briefest moments. She would leave these notes on a table in this huge lettering, for her handwriting was like her heart, large and overflowing and joyous. “Gone to store,” it would say. “Be right back, Love, Mom.” She didn’t want the kids to think they were without her love for even a few minutes.
She has left no notes this time. But she has, as usual, left her love.
There is a line at the end of “Alice in Wonderland” that always hurt me to read because it reminded me of my Gerry. Alice’s sister is dreaming of Alice: “Lastly, she pictures to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even a dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple joys, remembering her own child life, and the happy summer days.”
Gerry took the magic and the summer with her. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was supposed to die first. We would have been married for 39 years this year and we thought that was just the natural order of things. I had my speech all ready. I was going to look into her brown eyes and tell her something I should have long ago. I was going to tell her, “It was a privilege just to have known you.”
I never got to say it. But it was too true.