On Sept. 22 in the early morning hours my father in law passed quietly away. He was 85 years old.
Jerry Gerber was a man whose sense of responsibility to his family was rock solid. Who reinvented himself in midlife after a catastrophic business collapse. Who openly wept when his daughter’s husband passed then spent months helping her to shore up her life.
I used to marvel at the way he could retain statistics in his head and how much he knew about local and national politics. After a heated conversation at dinner, he’d fold his napkin, satisfied, and say, “Well, we’ve just solved all the problems of the world.”
Jerry holds a special place in my heart. For the way he embraced me at our wedding, for the way he wore his love, challenges and opinions on his sleeve, for the solidity and courage he exuded like a rock, like a mensch, like someone you could count on for a ride to the airport, stock market advice and for an experience of sheer joy watching the guy embrace his grand kids.
He loved talking about the weather and the price of gas. He hated cold French fries and dry chicken. He could fix faucets and install water heaters and was like Yosemite Sam with a Dust Buster. Even his Hebrew was pretty good.
Mitch adored his dad and regarded him as his model for what it means to be a man. I see it again and again in the way my husband offers to help family and neighbors, the way he weeps unabashedly at everything from the loss of a kitty to the devastating news of his father’s final illness. The way he tries so hard to do the right thing, his humanity, like Jerry’s, right there, simple and honest.
My mother and father in law were married for 61 years, their love and respect for each other so apparent right to the end. A year ago, helping Elaine unpack the kitchen in their new apartment, she told me that while holding hands in bed that night, Jerry said to her, “Elaine, I’ll always love you.”
“I know that, Jerry,” she said, like it was nothing and everything, like breathing.
We have such a rent in our hearts today, a tear we’ll carry forever. But this is as it should be. This quiet, lion of a man deserves our grief, the unfilled seat at our tables, next to Elaine, his empty kippeh, a void in our hearts and lives. What an honor and privilege to know him. And, oh how he’ll be missed.