Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Man Who Made Others Better

When I was a freshman at Texas A&M, I attended what is in my opinion one of the country's greatest parishes - St. Mary's.  While there, there was a program called Adopt-an-Aggie where permanent parishioners would take in students for a hot meal here and there and other occasions as the adoptive parents saw fit.

Well, I knew no one at Texas A&M (minus my brother) - a school of 46,000 when I came from a town of under 2,000.  As happy as I was to be there, I was also a bit intimidated.  Then came the adopt-an-aggie program, and I had no idea how it would soon change my life, and continue to change it to this day.  Enter Jerry & Joan Ledwig, a couple not too much younger than my grandparents. They received me with open arms and essentially became my home away from home.

I remember the first year and its ups and downs that were so typical of what I'm assuming are every college freshman's ups and downs: missing home, not quite excelling as you thought you might, the first birthday away from family, the simple loneliness when you're surrounded by thousands but feel like you're still just one.  Yet, I didn't want to admit any of these "shotcomings" - I was strong and could handle it.  Joan new better.  She made me a birthday cake, had me out for coffee with friends, invited me to Mass and brunch afterwards...she did it all.

I had such an unsettling first year, I decided to transfer to a different university.  The third year, I transferred back, and Joan and Jerry were with me through it all...keeping in touch via letters, emails and the occasional phone call.  They took me back in just as they'd received me the first time - with open arms.  They were there for my Aggie ring day when my parents couldn't make it.  They always had boxes of goodies for me to help with studying for finals.  More than anything physical, I knew I was always welcome in their home, always had someone to confide in when I didn't want anyone else to know I was struggling, and always had someone close when I just needed a hug...or a funny joke in Jerry's case to lift my spirits.

They hosted a graduation party for me and all of my family.  They planned a baby shower for my first born.  They traveled over 10 hours (twice!) to see my babies.  The last time being last October when an 82-year-old Jerry took my boys swimming and made them a rocking horse with his two hands. Essentially, they became so much more than an adopted family...they became my family and equally welcomed me into theirs.

This last Thursday I made the trip to College Station to see them...or rather to see Joan and attend the sacred funeral Mass of Jerry's.  His life ended when he experienced an unexpected stroke the Wednesday before, and a little piece of ours ended as well.

I went alone, and going alone to funerals is always hard, but I didn't realize just how hard it would be. For some reason I didn't think I would be as emotionally raw as I was.  The minute I saw sweet Joan, I lost it.  For her, for her family, and also for me.  Jerry was as good as they came...he was the man who never spoke ill of anyone.  He served as an usher for our Church, smiling from ear to ear and welcoming parishioners and guests into the Church with as much gusto as you could imagine.  He was always telling jokes, serving those who had a difficult time helping themselves, and caring for you as if you were the only person in the world.  Jerry was good.  He was love.  He was Christ to others.

And, as I sat and listened to stories at the Rosary and after the funeral Mass, I couldn't help but pray that my life would look something like his...that I would give of myself unreservedly in every way God asked, never complaining and with a smile on my face.  In a world with so much hurt, Jerry was a balm for the soul.

My life will be forever better because he was a part of it.  My children's lives and my husband's too will be a bit brighter for the time spent with Jerry.  And, my prayer is that his example lives on within us forever.  Because, I need the extra help.  I need that piece of joy that only the most unselfish and loving people can leave with you.  I need to be a little more like Jerry.  We all do.

For now, as much as I miss him and ache for his sweet family, my prayer is that his soul is united with Christ soon, if not already, and that he can pray for us as we make this journey heavenward.

For those people in your life who inspire you, challenge you and push you closer to Him, tell them thanks while you still can.

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