My friend Jere is dying. He may even be dead by now. We just heard about the cancer a couple of days ago. Someone told Michele at a meeting. And now he’s probably gone.
Jere’s no kid. I’d guess him to be closer to 80 than 70. You know how it is with people you’ve known, seemingly, forever. They age, but you don’t notice until one day you look and realize that you’ve both suddenly grown a lot older. It was that way with Jere. He was the soul of vitality, one of those people who radiated energy even when standing still and just listening. He was also part of the soul of recovery in this part of South Florida. I don’t know how much time he had, and it doesn’t matter, but he was an old timer when I first got to the rooms.
My wife was saying yesterday that early in her recovery (19 years tomorrow — congratulations, Honey!) she used to go to particular meetings because she knew Jere was often there and she loved to hear him share. And share he could, in that profound, simple, sincere and yet humorous way that marks people with good sobriety and a firm grasp of Rule 62. He was popular with the ex-cons in the rooms, and a much sought institutions speaker because of his own history of incarceration (for attempted bank robbery — a hilarious story that he delighted in telling at the least prodding) and for his appreciation of the burdens that prisoners and ex-prisoners bear in addition to their recovery issues.
Jere was a small, compact man, and he always surprised me because he seemed so much larger than life. We’d be talking, and I’d suddenly realize that he was dwarfed by my 6’3″ and 200+ pounds. Then, a few seconds later, the spell would descend again and he’d morph back into the giant we all knew and loved.
An ordained minister, for many years Jere worked as an anger specialist for the many treatment centers in this area. More than once I’ve seen tough Philadelphia street kids reduced to sobs — and, later, gratitude — by his gentle but effective approach. There is no doubt in my mind that he was responsible in large part for the successful entries into recovery of many dozens of newcomers, not only because of his therapeutic skills but also his sharing, abundant kindness, and wonderful example.
I last saw him at an AA wedding on the beach at Lantana. Jere didn’t officiate at that one, as he did at so many, but he was an honored guest just the same. We chatted a bit, then parted with a hug — unexpectedly the last of many. The beach is almost gone now, eroded away, and Jere is going with it. His vibrant voice is now stilled by his tracheotomy, his esophageal cancer has spread throughout his body, and his departure is overdue.
There’s a benefit being held for Jere in a couple of weeks at one of the clubs, but it will almost certainly be a memorial service instead — one of those where all the folks who knew him will talk about what he meant to them and to their recoveries. I’ll be there, and theres a lot I could say, but I don’t expect to be able to say very much. In fact, I may not be able to talk at all.