November 11, 2008

The Passing of my hero

The Summer flew by and the scent of Fall was in the air, but Jer and I were looking forward to our favorite time of year, his 60 th birthday and almost two weeks of vacation. I had been working full time as a favor to my boss, knowing Jer and I would have plenty of time together soon.

Labor day, September 1 st, was the first day of our long awaited vacation and we wanted to get the mundane out of the way, so we went out grocery shopping to fill the cupboards before getting caught up in the freedom our vacation would bring. Jer always helped me with the shopping, the loading of the car, the unloading and the putting away of the items when we got them home. I was always so grateful for his help, but especially this day, as I wasn't feeling well.

Jer always did the cooking, but he had a lesson to give that evening, so we splurged and ordered take-out. After all the groceries were put away, we sat down to a nice meal together and I apologised to Jer for being so grumpy that morning. I had taken some medicine for my pain and crampiness, and planned to take a nap when Jer went to teach his guitar student. Jer jumped in the tub as I drifted off to sleep.

I awoke a 8:30 p.m. I was feeling much better. Jer wasn't home. He had mentioned he might go to Bingo, so I got busy with my dolls. As midnight approached, I was filled with anticipation and listening for Jer to drive up in his Jeep. Our kitty always got excited too and would run to a window to look out at him and then wait for him at the top of the stairs. I would hear him come in, and hear him say in a sing-song voice, " Zillaaaa ! I'm home ! "

In our 6 years living together I had NEVER spent a night without Jer. As much as he liked to stay busy and was always on the go, I could count on him being there in the mornings and at the end of the day. But this night would be different. When he didn't show up just after midnight, I started to worry, but then reassured myself with the thought that perhaps Jer won at Bingo and was trying his luck at the slot machines ... on the rare occasion he would win on the slots, sometimes he would come home thrilled for the win, and sometimes he would stay out late playing it back .... he must be playing it back, I thought.

2 a.m. came and went ... I couldn't sleep so kitty and I watched a T.V. show ... the show had sled dogs in it and I chuckled as the kitty was actually watching T.V. with me, excited for the barking and the movement on the screen. I couldn't wait for Jer to come home to tell him how cute she was ! 4 a.m. came and went ..... now I was REALLY worried.

I had told Jer the few times he did this that I would worry, not because he was out late, but because I would worry he would fall asleep coming home and end up on the side of the road somewhere. By 7 a.m. I was frantic.

Jer's brother Tom came through the door. He always stopped in during the week for coffee before he went to work, but this was too early ... then I heard his wife ... not a good sign, as she almost never came over in the morning ... I rushed downstairs and said " Where's Jerry !?! "

Tom explained, " I was called to the Emergency room late last night and Jer was in surgery all night ... he's in the I.C.U. now.

My heart sank. There was no time to chastise Tom for not calling me. I threw some clothes on and was out the door headed to I.C.U.

Tom had filled me in while I was dressing. Jer had been headed up to play bingo, but never got there. He had a friend in the car with him. He had said, " I feel dizzy " and pulled the car over, then suddenly went limp over the steering wheel. The friend flagged someone down who had a cell phone and EMS was called. Jer was rushed to the E.R. and told he needed to go into surgery or he would die. He gave verbal consent and was rushed to surgery. Jer had experienced a leaking abdominal aneurysm - a weakness in an artery wall had perforated. He was losing blood fast.

When I got to the I.C.U. I saw Jer hooked up to no less than eleven I.V.s and he was on a breathing machine. But he was AWAKE and alert and he KNEW I WAS THERE ! He reached out for me and I held his hand. He squeezed my hand in that tender way that only he could. I asked him a few questions and he was able to answer appropriately yes or no. I was so glad to be able to communicate with him. He fought against his respirator to say " I LOVE you ! " and " It'll be alright ! "

But as a nurse, it was soon obvious to me that he was doing very poorly. His organs were shutting down. His blood pressure was extremely low and dropping. The nurses were working fervently over him, a constant whirl of activity keeping up with all the I.V.s and blood transfusions. Nothing was working.

I had all day Tuesday with Jer, and only stepped away from him as other friends and family would come in to shake his hand and say a few words to him. I stayed by his side all evening and was pleased that his favorite vocalist, Eileen, stopped by in the late evening around 10 p.m. She sang a few songs to him and it was clear he was glad to see her. He squeezed her hand and shook his head yes and no to her questions.

The change of shift came and I was asked to step out of the room so the nurses could reposition Jer. I was allowed back in at Midnight. I returned to my position at the bedside and reached for Jer's hand ... there was no response ... I went to his face and looked into his swollen eyes. His pupils were dilated and he no longer followed my movements. My Jer was unconscious.

We had turned the corner and it was now time for me to tell Jer it was O.K. to go now. His body was broken and unable to be repaired. I told him to go be with his Mother, that I would be O.K. I told him Tal Farlow had a great gig for him and he would be playing with the angels now.

At about 4 a.m. the nurse requested I call the rest of the family back to the hospital. We all gathered around and waited, and talked about days gone by ... we talked about how Jer loved to make people laugh. It was just after 10 a.m. when Jer's cousin Greg, who was more like a brother to him, had re-told a story about him and Tom and Jer goofing off around the table as kids. Greg got us all laughing and Jer's vital signs all seemed to pick up for a minute ... then crashed to zero.

The nurse said. " He's gone. "

Greg jumped up and said, " I KILLED him ! " and quickly exited the room. We all followed him to reassure him that Jer left BECAUSE we were laughing and " his job was done here " .... there would have been no better time to leave us then right then while we were all laughing about a funny stunt he pulled when he was a kid.

After consoling the family, I went back into the room. It is my belief that the spirit lingers over the body for a time, kind of like stopping to say goodbye to it. I asked the nurse to help me get a lock of Jer's curly hair. She consented.

The nurse watched silently as I picked up Jer's head and cradled it in my bosom one last time.
I then kissed Jer full on the lips and said, " Goodbye shell of my beloved " and looking up, said to the spirit of Jer that I could still FEEL in the room, " I WILL see you again ! "

Without further words, the nurse handed me her scisors and I clipped a lock of hair.

With that, I thanked the nurses and left to go home and tell Jer's 95 year old Dad that he had lost his son.

It's been a bit over two months since Jer passed on Sept. 3 2008. Life without Jer has been hard. He was my Rock, as I wrote about him in a previous blog entry. I spent my vacation packing to move into my own place and I was mad at the universe for taking my Jer before I had the chance to spend his 60 th birthday and some quality time with him.

I had tremendous support from his many friends and the musical community. There was a musical celebration and dedication a few weeks after his death, and the Mayor of Plattsburgh declared a Jerry Lavene day to continue to honor his memory for all time.

Jerry Lavene Day

I was so pleased to see Jerry honored this way. He SO deserved it !

I was also comforted by my online community. So many people had come to " know " Jer through my forum posts and Flickr photo stream. I got over 800 views and 87 comments on this Flickr photo alone ! ( see below )

My Jer is playing with the angels

( Click photo to enlarge )

Even now, I don't know what I would have done without the many far away friends that helped me NOT feel alone !


I now busy myself sorting through the music Jer left behind. It is my single-minded task to gather his music together and transfer cassette and CD recordings to DVD. I have found some treasures among the many cassettes. Some recordings will need to be " cleaned up " for better sound quality. I also have a years worth of guitar lessons that Jer gave to me which I had recorded on VHS. I recently bought a VHS to DVD converter/ recorder so that I can transpose these memories to DVD and then be able to share them on line. I want to get Jer's music out to the masses. It is a Herculean task to gather the bits and pieces into a compact music collection, but it is my hearts desire and will help me to heal.

In time, I will be able to get past the pain and remember all the love, laughter and music Jer brought to my life. I was so Blessed !!



Amanda said...

Aah, bz, there are still no words that are right... it seems shocking to me that two months have already passed - hugs, my dear.

Cozy said...

I have been married for more than 30 years now and the thoughts of one of us needing to tell the other it is okay to go for whatever reason has crossed my mind. I hope if I need to do this for my husband I can be as brave.

How rich and wonderful your six years living together must have been!

jodie nicholson said...

BZ, you are amazing. Truly amazing.
Thank you for sharing your stories and photos of Jer. The more I get to learn about him (and you), the more incredible I think you both are.

Pie xx

Marty said...

I had no idea.... and what a wonderful tribute. I feel like I know you, really I do, and I know you are a wonderful person. Thank you for taking the time to share.

~B.Z. said...

Somehow I messed up when I " Allowed " this post:
Email obscured for privacy ...

c**** has left a new comment on your post "The Passing of my hero":

Jerry is heavily missed and thought about often by me. I met him at Trinity Episcopal Church and insisted on taking lessons with him. His virtuosity was so beyond my realm of comprehension that he allowed me to bring a video camera and tape our sessions. You really get a sense of his humor in the tapes. I deeply deeply regret not taking more lessons with him. I have "Real Time" with him and Ellen Powell and it gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. Unfortunately I lost the CD somewhere and would love another copy. I read on your post, the one that talks about that last horrible day, that you are compiling all the archives and making them accessible to the public. I would absolutely LOVE some hard copies of whatever you are willing to part with. I am still playing guitar, I love Tal Farlow, Ted Greene, Mick Goodrick (Jer's teacher I believe in Boston), etc and someday, in 30 years, it is my dream to carry a fraction of the legacy Jer has laid out for the musical community. I would love to show you the couple tapes that I have and get you some copies of them. Please if you're interested, email me, "C****"
My name is Corey and I would love to hear from you. I hardly knew Jerry outside of a few guitar lessons but I really miss seeing him around the church.

****I am smiling so big right now - to think there is still video footage out there of Jer that I am going to get to see !!!!!!! :D