Sunday, May 24, 2009

For Jerry - the Brother I Never Knew

How do you say goodbye to the brother you never knew?

If you will pardon me a little, this post is going to be a little out of the normal. But, yes, it does contain some sunsets photos!

I am the youngest (by far) of four siblings. My brother Ward was 16 years old when I was born, my brother Jerry was 14, and my sister Shelley was 11. Jerry suffered brain damage before he was born, and would never be normal. My mom and dad did the best they could raising all three of my siblings in their home, and giving them a good start in life. But when they discovered that an unexpected fourth child (me) was coming, they feared that Jerry, who was at about the developmental level of a four-year-old, and was just as wild and full of energy as any four-year-old boy that you have ever known, might accidentally harm a new-born baby.

And so, for my parents, came a very difficult decision; one that I'm sure must have caused them great pain for the rest of their lives. They decided to turn Jerry over to the state of Missouri. This happened before I was born. I know that when I was a very small child, Jerry came home for visits a few times. But, these are occasions that I have no recollection of.

We moved out of the state of Missouri when I was eleven, and I never saw Jerry again. So, basically, to me, Jerry, even though I knew that he existed and I counted him as a brother, at the same time he, in essence, did not exist.

Last Tuesday morning, I received a phone call from my sister (who also lives here in Arizona), saying that Jerry had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and an unknown infection, and that his organs were shutting down. By that evening, my sister called me again to say that Jerry had died.

The question echoed in my mind - how am I supposed to feel about this? Even now, with his funeral a couple of days in the past, this is still a difficult question. Please don't think me cold and hard if I say that for the most part I have felt nothing. There have been, however, a couple of moments when the tears flowed.

Since both of my parents have already passed on, it occurred to me very briefly, that perhaps I didn't even need to attend Jerry's funeral. After all, I really never knew him. And plane fare to Missouri on short notice amounted to a small fortune. But, on the other hand he was my brother. And, my other brother and sister were definitely going to be there, and what would they think of their baby brother, if he didn't make an appearance, too. I felt I owed it to them, and to Jerry's memory. And, somehow, I also felt I owed it to myself to be there. And so plans were made, and my sister and I caught a flight on Thursday. Our brother Ward and his wife Jeanne, had driven to see Jerry when they heard that he was ill, and had in fact, arrived in time to spend the last three hours of Jerry's life with him. When Shelley and I landed in Springfield a couple of days later, they drove to Springfield to pick us up.

So, here are some photos that chronicle my experiences and the trip to meet the brother I never knew.

The night that Jerry died, as I was driving home, I was nearing my neck of the woods as the sun was setting. So, I found a spot that I had been to before about a year ago, actually on a day that I had had one of our cats put down, and had taken sunset photos in honor of that cat. I know that may seem kind of silly, but, that's how I felt. So, on this night that Jerry died, I got out of the car in this same spot of desert, and walked around taking pictures, this time in honor of Jerry, even though to me, he was nearly a complete stranger. It was during this photo session that my emotions first stirred, and I cried some for the brother I never knew.

These first three photos are from that night, and I dedicate them to Jerry.

The next day, Wednesday, I spent most of the day trying to set up flight arrangements. That evening, I went out to shoot a few more pictures. Here are a couple from that night that I like. The second picture below, shows that sometimes, the clouds really do have silver linings.

Thursday, Shelley and I took wing. That night, as we were on the last leg of the journey to Springfield, I had a window seat on the left side of the plane, which happened to face West. Here are some pictures that I took that night from about 30,000 feet. These, obviously, were shot through the airplane window. I wasn't expecting very good results, but the pictures turned out to be not too bad. The sunset itself, was spectacular as the sun sank below all the haze in the air and the clouds. I didn't have any idea of what to expect from on high. In some of these photos, you can see the wing of the plane.

While I was taking the pictures from the airplane, I was using both the Fujifilm and Canon cameras. I was afraid that the cameras would have difficulty focusing through the window. The Fujifilm was in auto-focus mode, and even while zoomed in quite a bit, as long as there was sufficient detail in the clouds, it was able to successfully focus. Even traveling at 600 miles-per-hour didn't seem to matter! As for the Canon, I put it into manual focus, and focused on the details at the end of the wing. I figured that was near enough to infinity.

The following morning, we awoke in our hotel room and I looked out the window at the sunrise. Here is one of the interresting shots.

Notice the double image of the sun. I was shooting through the window at an angle. I am assuming that something in the window glass caused this refraction.

And so, the day proceeded. I met the wonderful people who had known and taken care of Jerry. I met the other men with mental disabilities that lived in the home with Jerry. I met the people who supervised him at his job. (Yes, he was able to hold down a job at a business that employs persons with disabilities.) I learned that there was a lot more to Jerry than I would ever have imagined. It turns out that a lot of people, not only liked him, but truly loved him. Jerry, in his arrested mental development, had an innocence about him that let the love and joy of God show through. And the people around him felt that. The funeral was very well attended. It was there, that I shed a few more tears.

I think that now, I am proud of this brother of mine that I never knew. This trip has brought me, hopefully, some closure on this matter. After all, I now feel that I really do know him, at least a little.

I arrived home late last night (Saturday) from this trip to Missouri. This morning in our Church service, we celebrated Memorial Day - a time to remember those who have died in military service. But, we did something more as well. Our celebration was opened up to all who wanted to remember anyone that has passed from our lives who we found to be special. For each such person, a candle was lit by the person doing the remembering, and the name of the deceased was spoken for all to hear. One of the candles you see below, I lit just this morning, in memory of the brother I never knew - Jerry Ronald Degler.

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