Tuesday, March 5, 2024

My Friend, Jerry Russell

Sometimes we meet people and instantly know that they will change our lives. It can be a lasting friendship or a simple exchange, but from the get-go we immediately feel different. That’s how I felt with Jerry Russell.

I first heard about Jerry from a mutual friend, Scott Hancock. He described Jerry to be a larger than life legend with otherworldly kindness and charisma. I knew Jerry would be at a book signing, and I thought I knew what to expect. But when we finally did meet, he was much more than Scott could’ve ever described. Jerry—as the saying goes—was truly larger than life itself.

He shook my hand with such warmth and kindness. I remember him holding my hand and looking into his eyes. I wondered, “Did he see into my soul? Probably!” And yet he still wanted to be my friend. Soon after meeting him, Jerry explained that he was twice my age, and I balked because he skipped around like Tigger and seemed far more spry than I am.

We talked about how quickly life can go, and change, and throw unexpected obstacles our way. “You just have to keep going and trying to make the best of things. You’re a bright light, Elisa. You really are. I see that in you.”

Tears filled my eyes because Jerry seemed like the bright light to me. I couldn’t be around that man without smiling. A month later when my liver started failing from cancer treatments and doctors said I would die unless they got things under control, I thought of Jerry’s words, and I tried to be a light in that hospital. I asked the nurses how they were doing and commiserated with them about their long shifts. “You’re the one who’s having liver problems,” one nurse said.

“That doesn’t make what you’re going through easier. But at least we can smile together. That lightens everyone’s loads.” Because that’s exactly what Jerry would do.

I first heard about Jerry in 2020, but I finally met him in person in 2021. After that, he’d email me quite frequently, telling me about his days, sending me beautiful pictures, or trying to make me smile with something inspirational. I’m not sure at what point it happened, but he began ending his emails with “Your friend forever.”

At one point, I wondered if Jerry either previously had cancer or knew someone who had it. He just worked so hard to make sure I wouldn’t give up until it’s my time. “You’re so strong,” he said when I saw him again. And he really did make me feel like I could keep fighting. Despite how hard cancer can be and how tough it is to repeatedly drag myself to cancer treatments, Jerry made me feel like I could overcome.

Finally, I got the gumption to ask, “Did you have cancer? Or… did you know someone who had it?”

That’s when Jerry told me a story that filled him with both joy and sorrow. He talked about his daughter, Lana, and how much he loved her. “You would’ve liked her,” he said. “I see so much of her in you. The moment I met you… You reminded me of her. She was a wonderful daughter with your courage.” He wiped a tear from his eyes. “She died at the age of 59 from liver cancer.”

I didn’t know what to say. You could feel the pride Jerry felt for his daughter, but you could also feel the tragic sadness. Jerry had that gift. He broke your heart down to its core, and made you really “feel” the life around you.

Being like his daughter, well, that was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. 

Not long ago, Jerry sent me a picture of a rainbow that he’d spotted in town. “I’d like to bring you here this spring,” he wrote.

In the spring of 2024, my husband, kids, and I would go with Jerry to see this special spot where he’d found the rainbow. I could hardly wait. But life had other plans, and Jerry passed away this February. It broke my heart knowing I wouldn’t get to see his bright eyes again or read one of his wonderful emails. But as I looked out my window today, wind blew the snow at just the right angle and I swear I saw a snow rainbow from Jerry. 

I opened my email and read the last lines Jerry ever wrote to me: “Elisa, you are a special entry in my memory book never to be forgotten.” I cried as I read his final words.

Jerry, YOU are a special entry in my memory book too. Thank you for giving me the courage to keep fighting like Lana. Please tell her “hello” for me. 
Until we meet again,

(Left to Right: Scott Hancock, Jerry Russell, and me)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this post! You inspire me! Praying for you each day ! Feel free to email me at roseeliza096@gmail.com you are a priceless blessing and God is aware of you personally and will help you through this! He loves you so so much . You are strong , brave and a beautiful blessing in this world:).