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The Legacy of Grandpa Jerry

Mount Pleasant native, writer, inventor, family man leaves behind cherished memories and a story of which to be proud.

I spent last week on a trip to Connecticut. We drove 18 hours straight each way and boy, my age is sure showing. I am still exhausted. But it was all more than worth it.

Our trip was not a festive one. It was not a vacation or a respite of any kind. Our last minute travel was due to a sad event, the funeral of my husband’s grandfather. What I learned about Grandpa Jerry during those 4 days was inspiring to say the least. And it was clear that the family is, indeed, experiencing a great loss.

Jerry Shaff was a father, husband, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, brother, inventor, writer and a man full of lessons, humor and morals.

Jerry had five children, four step children, 19 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. When we visited with his wife of 30 years, Carole, on our day of arrival, the first thing I noticed was a home filled with family. Children were running around with playful innocence. Friends and relatives filled the rooms with pictures and stories. There were many tears, but also laughter and hugs. There was no denying that this was a man who was loved and respected.

Jerry was a Mount Pleasant native who was employed by Walker Manufacturing for many years and worked his way up to Executive Vice President of Marketing.  He was the inventor of the aftermarket catalytic convertor during his many years in the automotive industry. He authored and published a novel called If My Boss Calls…Get His Name.  And Jerry owned and operated a rewarding business in Connecticut prior to retiring in 2009. He was a hard-working and dedicated employee and a caring and successful boss.

If a family member or friend came across hard times, he would do what he could to help. There were many times he and his wife would take families into their home. Whether it was a ride to choir practice or money for college, Jerry was generous with his time, money and heart.

Spending time with his family was very important to Jerry. Carloads of kids to Great America or to a cabin in Spider Lake are fond memories carried by his children and grandchildren. Attending plays, concerts and musicals with his kids as they were growing up was an effective way to pass down his love of the arts.

I have unfortunately been to many, many funerals in my 38 years. This service was very different than any other I have experienced.

The most moving and heart breaking part of the day was during the procession. Jerry loved his beautiful Connecticut home and his wife wished to drive by the home on the way to the gravesite. As we slowly drove by, all the younger grandchildren stood in the drive way and waved. Tears streamed down my husband’s face and I knew he was remembering the days of being one of those young grandchildren playing in his grandfather’s driveway in Mount Pleasant.  

It was a Jewish graveside service which paid honor to Jerry’s Russian Jewish heritage. His wife and children were given black mourning ribbons which the Rabbi tore to represent a broken heart. Some of the service was given in Hebrew. And the immediate family placed dirt onto the coffin with an upturned shovel.

Later, there was a celebration of life brunch at a lovely restaurant. During this portion of the events is when I truly became impressed. People were invited to stand before the crowd and speak about Jerry; share stories or simply say how much he meant to their lives. Again, I have never witnessed this before. Person after person walked up to the podium and through tears and laughter spoke of this man so eloquently and heartfully. We can all only wish leave a legacy such as his.

We are always reminded of our own mortality when someone in our lives passes away. For a few days, if we’re lucky, we hold this reality close and appreciate all we have in each moment. But then this mentality slowly reverts back to our daily lives and we continue to live as though we are given forever. This is natural for most of us, I think. If we lived in constant awareness of our fate, we’d likely not be equipped to deal with our day to day existence. And trust me, as a person with a pretty significant death phobia; it’s not healthy for mortality to be in the constant forefront of one’s mind. 

But I notice, as I grow older, these realizations creep in more often. I look at the life Jerry led and I contemplate how I can manifest a life that would create such pride from my own family. I look at the grief in my husband’s eyes and look forward to the kind of grandfather he will, with all hopes, one day become. I see the pride Jerry’s children have when they speak about him and their experiences and I can only hope to leave in my wake just a smidgen of that kind of admiration.

Losing someone is always painful. And while that pain may fade with time, it never disappears completely. But as sad as death can be – it also serves as a harsh reminder of how little time we truly have, how we can use each day to build the legacy we will one day leave behind and how very important it is, in this moment, to love and acknowledge those we cherish in our lives.

My heart goes out to my extended family and my hopes are that they are comforted by love and memories. I wish I had known Jerry better and for longer. It is clear that having known him at all was a treasure for which to be grateful. 

Jimmy Neutron April 09, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Grandpa Jerry sounds like a pretty cool dude. Thanks for sharing. My heart goes out to you, your husband and your husbands brother.
Nancy Burke April 10, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Thank-you, Heather, for writing this. The celebration of my dad's life was very healing. It was so nice to hear how much he helped so many people.
Carole Shaff April 10, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Heather, This was a beautiful article. You really captured the essence of our wonderful family and why we will all miss Jerry for a long long time. He was truly a very special husband, father, grandfather and dear friend to so many. I'm so grateful that you wrote this. Love, Grandma Carole
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) April 10, 2012 at 02:43 AM
@Heather - this is a wonderful tribute for someone who sounds like he would have been pretty wonderful. I'm sorry you haven't been to more funerals like the one held for Grandpa Jerry because aren't they really what we should be thinking about? All the good times, the laughter?
Heather Rayne Geyer April 10, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Thank you for reading Jimmy and thanks for the thoughts.
Heather Rayne Geyer April 10, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Please, no thank you necessary!!! Again, I am so sorry for your loss.
Heather Rayne Geyer April 10, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Thank you so much Carole. I am so glad you read this. I sent you a hard copy yesterday. I truly appreciate your words as I was worried I would not be able to do him justice. Please know we are always here - even tho so far away. I cannot even imagine what you are feeling right now. Just know that we care and will always be here for you.
Heather Rayne Geyer April 10, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Thanks Heather. Yes, I want to plan out my services so they can be different like his was. I don't want stuffy, proper and all crying. Some crying, tho...otherwise...I mean, come on...they better miss me a little!! ;)
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) April 10, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Can I cry and drink a gigantic margarita at the same time? I know how you'd want me to find my comfort where I could! ;) More seriously, though ... my dad's memorial service was like Grandpa Jerry's. I spoke and my brother spoke and then people just stood up in the audience and talked about memories, things they knew about my dad, etc.
Heather Rayne Geyer April 10, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Yes, please do LOL. But why are you so certain I am going first??? Hmmm. I better lock my doors...
GearHead April 12, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Sorry about your loss, and what a nice tribute. Certain we've all been to more of these than we wanted to. The challenge to all of us is to appreciate our friends and relatives a little more when they are still around, don't you think? The clock is always ticking for everyone, and we don't know when it runs out. :/
Heather Rayne Geyer April 12, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Thank you very much. And you couldn't be more right. You know, I have this stupid heart condition which is more or less benign. But I can feel it and it is very scary and uncomfortable. I have adopted this phobia about it which has only increased my fear of dying. Sometimes I cannot help but obsess about my heart or my health. I will be taking clothes out of the dryer and it will hit me 'What if I drop dead and Cassidy (my 7 year old) comes home to find me dead?!'. How morbid is that??!!!! Point being...I have wasted so much time worrying about how and when I will die...that I am have not lived. It makes no sense. Instead of googling symptoms and treatments, I should be spending that time WITH Cassidy. So not only should we appreciate those in our lives...but the time we have RIGHT NOW.
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 02:23 AM
No worries! I'm just saying ... I certainly hope you have a pitcher of margaritas and a big straw if I go first, but in case it's the other way around, I want you to know I would drink (often) in your good memory! ;)

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