My hero, my mentor, my big brother died one year ago today. Yes, I miss him daily and would give anything for just one more “Villa Run.” Yet, in stark contrast to other deaths I have grieved, I am consoled by Jerry’s enduring presence every day. This presence transcends fond memories prompted by photos in the TV room.
Sixteen years my elder, I traversed that stage of rejecting whatever anyone tried to tell me about how to live my life. Now, one year after Jerry’s death I spontaneously depend on his wisdom to show me what my life, what human growth and maturity — life fully lived — should look like.
Life on life’s terms!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I could do no better than to put into practice what Jerry lived. I can do no better than to again share the eulogy I offered one year ago…
My brother’s life can be explained in three words. …just three words: Jerry loved Marilyn! She was his best friend, trusted confidant, spiritual soulmate, …his beloved. I know, I was there at the beginning! Some of you knew Gert, our dear mother! She believed this too. More than once Gert is known to have said: “You know, Marilyn is the best thing that ever happened to Jerry!” And that’s a mother speaking!
Yes, my brother’s life can be explained in three words – and the mirror of these three words is the other side of the equation: Marilyn loved Jerry. Marilyn has a tremendous capacity for love! Yet everyone in this room who holds Marilyn so dear … in our many unique and special ways … knows without question that Marilyn’s love for Jerry was always first, singular and unqualified.
And I’m here to tell you that loving my brother like that is no easy feat. Burbachs come with a double dose of certain character defects – especially Burbach males. All of you know, probably better than we who are in it up to our eyeballs, that we tend to be hard-charging, opinionated, stubborn and can boast of a good dose of unbridled pride to bout. Jerry was no exception – yet we love him. We love him.
We have witnessed a remarkable transformation in Jerry over the years, especially over the last ten years. And it was not just – or even primarily – about Alzheimer’s! Hard-charging became more gentle. Opinionated softened into acceptance and inclusion. Stubbornness began to morph into patience. Pride began to show glimmers of genuine humility. Then there was gratitude – tremendous gratitude: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Yes, Jerry’s thirty years in AA working a 12 step program certainly contributed to his spiritual transformation in character defects. But that’s not the real explanation! Jerry loved Marilyn. And the other half of this truth is: Marilyn loved Jerry.
As spiritual soulmates, Jerry and Marilyn lived and experienced their very special love as deeply Sacramental – a living sign, a tangible expression – here and now – of how God loves… even unto death. We have experienced their love in hospitality, compassion; as generative, life-giving — most conspicuously we have them to thank for Matt and Chris! But, we are all richer because of the other-centeredness of Jerry and Marilyn’s love.
The explanation for my brother’s life, for his ability to let-go of all that ego-stuff with its bells and whistles, his ability to embrace life-on-life’s-terms, his willingness to step courageously, even if regrettably, into the mystery of Alzheimer’s; finds its source – and salvation – in the steadfast, singular love Jerry and Marilyn shared with each other. We are all witnesses to this truth. And, we are all the better for it!
Jerry you will always be my hero, my idol, my BIG brother! Thank you for teaching all of us how to live, how to love and how to die. We, all of us, “love you, bro!”