When Tim and I were house hunting, we narrowed our choices down to four houses in similar neighborhoods. We chose the house we did for a couple reasons: 1) It was clean and ready to live in (minus some cosmetic details like painting). 2) It was VERY well maintained. 3) It had a nice big backyard. 4) The next door neighbors were about our age and had three young boys. We pictured our eventual children being friends with these boys and having them all running through both of our yards as though we had just one big yard together.
We moved in to our house in the winter, so it wasn’t until springtime that we really got to start speaking to those neighbors, Jeremy and Jen. One night that first summer, while I was pregnant with Aric, they invited us over for dinner. I’m normally pretty shy around new people, even people I’ve been living next door to for 6 months. But Jeremy and Jen are the types of people who you can talk to for hours and hours, even though they started the night as almost perfect strangers.
The ease in which I could sit and talk with Jeremy, even over mundane things like their wildly growing bush between our houses, is something that isn’t found easily with, well, anyone. It’s no wonder he loved to preach and spread God’s Word. He had a gift. I found myself enraptured with anything he was talking about. We never talked much about God or scripture or anything, but I always wanted so. I’ve been having personal struggles lately that I really wanted to talk out, and thought Jeremy would be the perfect person to talk to about it.
I mean, why wouldn’t he be? Since his early 20s, Jeremy’s body had been struggling through disease after disease, and he still held his head high, praised Jesus’ name, and gave thanks for every minute he had on earth.
Over the last couple years, we’ve had each other’s families over for dinner, got each other’s mail while on vacation, and used our nice, long driveway as a place for our boys to run up and down. Then, last October, Jeremy got news that the treatment that had saved his life from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was killing him. He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS (Robin Roberts recently came out and said she had this as well). His only hope for a cure was a bone marrow transplant, but due to a rare antibody in his blood, there were no matches for him at all. Any where.
He was given an experimental transplant; stem cells were turned into bone marrow cells for his body to take. He entered the hospital at the end of April for radiation to kill off all of his current bone marrow and the subsequent transplant.
Forty days after the transplant, Jeremy’s heart couldn’t work any harder. He passed away just as a thunderstorm was moving through.
And I don’t know what to think.
I do know that for the last several months, Jeremy had been given an amazing opportunity that few of us get, and even fewer take advantage of. He was able to truly prepare for his death.
“but we do not like to talk about it. we do not like the specter of death. we do not like its presence. we squirm and look away, talk about the weather and the game, insist that there is no possible outcome but the one we want, the one in which i don’t die. the one in which i live. to think of it any other way is intolerable.
that is not fair. it is not fair to the ones who live most viscerally with the numbers at hand. we need the opportunity to grieve, to prepare, to ready ourselves for one part of what could be ours to bear.”
- Jeremy Erickson; Death, the Possible II; Feb 9th, 2012
“another good friend, one who lost his mom to cancer when he was seven, wisely asked me what the one thing would be that i’d want my boys to know going into this. i answered, in retrospect, i would want them to know that my death did not take me by surprise. he said, yes, with tears, that’s it. that’s what made the difference for him.”
“should we refuse [death] our attention because it is not fair? because i’m young? because i am dad to three young boys?”
- Jeremy Erickson; Death, the Possible; Jan 26th, 2012
Go, read his blog. All of it (or at least the posts starting in October). Even now, looking back at his words, I can’t help but be awestruck at how profound his words have become, how prophetic they ended up being.
But that doesn’t help me understand this any better. It doesn’t help me find any amount of peace for his boys, who are now without their daddy. No peace for his wife, now without her love.
His funeral was on Monday. I can honestly say I’ve never been to a service that beautiful before. I knew that Jeremy had a hand in planning it; I’m certain he picked his own scripture readings and the songs he wanted sung. Songs that he, himself, wrote.
I may be alone but I am not so lonely
Not as far as I can tell
I may be frail but I am not so afraid
I’m not dependant on myself
And I won’t go alone
I will look up to the mountains
And I will see my savior coming
With all the love I’ve longed to know
I will listen to the heavens
And I will hear my father laughing
Telling me it’s time to go
And I won’t go alone
I may be a fool but I am not so foolish
To believe a God who cries
I may be dying but you won’t find me crying
Cause my home is in the skies
And I won’t go alone
My body’s broken
My body’s broken but I’m holding on
And I won’t miss it when I’m gone
-Jeremy Erickson, Not So Lonely (Nancy’s Song)
Listen to the song, please.
Throughout the service, listening to his family and friends speak about the amazing man Jeremy was, all I could think about was how I let this man live next door to me and I didn’t make more of an effort to befriend him. There wasn’t a single person who crossed his path (and there have been thousands) who wasn’t moved by his words and forever changed by his presence.
And then, as the congregation was singing another of Jeremy’s songs, I felt something. I don’t know what it was. I’m not going to sit here and say I felt Jeremy’s presence or the Holy Spirit or anything like that. But I felt something. In the stuffy church I was overcome with chills. Tears started flowing. This …. feeling came over me. And while I knew life was going to be hard for the boys, they would be OK. Jen would be OK. As the pastor told us all “Your story ends well.” And in that moment, I felt it.
Jeremy, I will miss you. I will miss hearing you play with your boys, encouraging them to make new rockets, toys, everything with their imaginations. I will miss our talks at the fence, our impromptu pizza nights. I promise you we will not stop having Jen and the boys over for dinner. I will always let your boys use our driveway as a race track. I will be there for Jen to help her out as she navigates this new world of single parenthood.
As Jen wrote in your funeral program, “We are laying you down as one of the greats.” And while I didn’t know you all that well, I know for a fact that that is true.
Rest in peace, my friend.