We just recently lost another friend to death. Gerard Miller was only 46 when he passed on from a massive heart attack. He seemed healthy as a horse, and none of us expected he would be gone so soon.
I met Gerard through my sister. He was a house framer and quite a character. They met while she was working for a building company out of Greenville and became instant best friends. I didn’t like him to start with; he came off as very abrasive, and I was a bit jealous that my Sissy was claiming a new best friend that wasn’t me. With time I came to learn that his abrasiveness was just a shield and a mask, because underneath was a big teddy bear with a huge heart.
Before I knew it, he was a friend to us all. Like my granny, he loved to stir the pot and keep something going. He loved cats and dogs. He would add that he also loved women. In addition, he cherished his mom and his son, Patrick. When the housing industry tanked, he lost it all. He usually wore a smile, and instead of focusing on his circumstances, he would find something good to say and some way to make you laugh or engage you about something going on in your own life. Using his talent as a machinist, he moved to another state and started over. We all kept in touch. When our dog Sully went into liver failure and we thought he was dying, Gerard drove all the way from Illinois to visit Sully in the hospital and say goodbye.
Eventually he moved to Laurens and began to do his work out of our shop. Every day he would come up to the office to check the mail and say hello while stopping to love on Shirley, Richard’s dog. She adored him and he knew that. It was obvious the feeling was mutual. Some days we had full on conversations and some days we didn’t. He would share stories of growing up and his adventures, and on many occasions we had long conversations about life and death. When Richard and I were editing the book he was working nights and would come up to the office and find us snotting and squalling. Armed with chocolate or some kind of silliness, he would break the mood and find some way to make us laugh.
He came to our company lunches and we enjoyed the entertainment he provided. He could make us laugh out loud in a heartbeat. There were times that I would go down to where he was working and like Granny, bang on the door as hard as I could while not saying one word. He would answer with a big smile, a hug, and a “Hello, Kimmy, what are you doing?” Showing me how his latest creation, which was often amazing, we would wind up finding something to giggle about. Once he let me shoot a gun he was working on. While I am not a gun person, the talent he had with one was amazing. He was an artist — a true craftsman, but most of all he was a friend.
Easy to talk to, there was much more than just what you saw on the surface. even though he wasn’t one to flaunt that. You could always count on him if you needed him, especially in a pinch. I remember one in particular. We were struggling just to make our ends meet and trying to find more work. We decided to have a booth at the Home and Garden show in Greenville. As has been the case for us on quite a few occasions, we were down to the wire and pushed to be ready. We found ourselves in a bind trying to get everything there, so I asked Gerard if he could help. He immediately dropped everything he was doing and helped load as much as we could get onto his trailer. He and some of our workers set off to Greenville. What a relief!
The next morning — the day the show was opening — I was having a horrible day. It was one of those times that I could feel myself coming apart, but knowing there was no other choice, I had to suck it up and push through. Lee and Richard left in a vehicle with more items. Gerard was to load up the remaining things that were too big for a car and go. I would follow with the final small samples that were being painted.
Like dominoes, one thing after another happened and I finally wound up in the bathroom, sitting in the dark bawling my eyes out. I heard the front door open but sat silently, hoping I could just have my time and get it out of my system. It was Gerard. I heard him quietly call out, “Kimmy.” I held my wails and didn’t answer. Knowing I was a total mess, I didn’t want him to see that. As I heard the door close, I changed my mind. I got up and ran outside as he was getting into his truck. He looked shocked when he saw me.
“Are you okay?” he asked me.
“I will be,” I told him.
“What can I do?”
“You are doing enough by helping us get all of our stuff to Greenville,” I replied.
“Are you sure you are okay?” he quizzed again.
“Yes,” I answered.
He looked at me so kindly and said, “By the way, you have something on your cheek.” Knowing what a prankster he could be, I assumed it was a tease but still looked in his side mirror to see. There was a big wad of snot staring right back at me. I mustered a smile and a thank you, asking him to please not tell Lee or Richard that I was upset. They were both stressed themselves, and I didn’t want them to know. I fully expected him to go tell them and was prepared for that when I arrived in Greenville. To my surprise, Gerard hadn’t said one word. I went back later and thanked him. His respect of my wishes touched my heart.
We leave an imprint on others whether we realize it or not. Gerard left quite an imprint on me and everyone else that he knew. There is no doubt that was a mutual experience. It wasn’t long ago that he told me that Sissy and I had shown him how to show love. He said that since he met us he had learned how important it was to say “I love you” and to say it often. I hope you yourself never underestimate how others like to hear those words. We just never know when it might be our last.
In my last conversation with him, I gave him grief about coming to the office with what he thought was the flu. As we parted, I told him I wouldn’t hug him as was the usual goodbye, but instead just say “I love you.” “Love you too, Kimmy,” he said.
And then he was gone. I didn’t realize that a few days later he would be gone for good.
Death always makes me reflect and appreciate the people I love more — and it makes me aware of the moments that we are gifted with in this life. These last few weeks I have been doing A LOT of reflecting. The present moment is really all we have, and of course then the memories that they leave us with. I seem to sometimes be so busy trying to get to my next place that I don’t always have true gratitude for the smallest steps along my journey.
I’m grateful to Gerard Miller for reminding me that life is sometimes short, and I am grateful to God for letting him be in our lives.