there is something to be said for someone who, in a very short amount of time, can have such a profound effect on your life.

i met jeremy in 2003. he came on as my intern through a high school program. i had heard that he was diagnosed with leukemia and had bravely faced it down. when he first came to me i must’ve drove him nuts with questions. what can i say, i was curious. i had family who battled cancer— but i was too young to understand the gravity of what cancer was.

so i just bombarded jeremy with questions: what did you feel when you first found out? what clued you in to thinking something might be wrong? what does the chemo feel like going in? where do they put it? how long does it take? he was such a good sport about it…probably had a whole set of talking points ready to lay on people like me.

he came to me because he wanted to be a cartoonist. that’s all he wanted to do. write them, draw them, read them…i saw so much of myself in him— which is why we hit it off immediately. he was so funny. i loved to hear him laugh. i loved to make him laugh.

i am an only child. jeremy was like the little brother i never had. he loved the fact that i was one of the few adults that would tell him the straight truth. if his drawing sucked, i would tell him it sucked. if it was decent i would say that. i wouldn’t lie to him… if i lied to him it would mean that i didn’t care… and he knew that. and he respected me for that.

i told jeremy that his experience battling leukemia needs to be seen by other people. he was in a unique position to show how lonely and painful battling something you can’t see is. at the end of his intership he had put together the beginning of his chemo experience in the form of a comic book. it was to be the first in an ongoing series. i remember how proud he was, on that last day we were together, to hand me that finished copy of his comic. i helped him do that. made me feel good.

i bought him a small light table for a high school graduation present. and i told him to use it. my mantra to him was “contrast, contrast, contrast!” i would always bust his chops about how his hatching sucked. he would bust my chops back about working so much.

he went off to a local community college. at the time i lived not that far away from him. he was so happy to get out into the dorms. i would occassionally talk to him online— which was rare because he was always out doing something— being a resident assistant in the dorm— he said he wanted to do it to meet people. and meet people he did. i remember visiting him on campus and i felt like i was with the star of the football team— everyone seemed to know him and love him. i have to admit, i was jealous… but after all he went through, he deserved it. and he loved it.

just when things were all falling back into place, when leukemia seemed as though it was going to be a few pages in a huge chapter… i got the call. the cancer was back.


but jeremy was tough. if he was scared, i never knew it. this kid was going to face it down again with both middle fingers up. he tasted life and wanted more. screw cancer. he kicked its ass once, he’d do it again. and he did. but the second one took something out of him.

he went forward to finish up his two year degree. he wanted to write and draw comics, design video games… nothing was going to stop him from doing that. but the cancer thing was lingering it was pushing against him time and time again. but no matter what he was going to get his degree.

when i was going through some heavy personal shit, i remember talking to jeremy. my life as i knew it was falling apart before my eyes… i was confused, scared didn’t think i had many options. i was willing to spend my life miserable because i was too frightened to do anything about it… because doing something meant that i had to sacrifice things… that it would be hard… jeremy could do that in his sleep. he would say that life was too short to be miserable… i’m not saying that his words solely convinced me to change my life… but they helped.

earlier this year jeremy got sick again. i kidnapped him one day and took him to the art supply store. we talked about going to see iron man, the hulk, the new batman movie. i just thought that he would kick this round like the other two. i remember specifically driving home on route 49 with jeremy sitting next to me thinking, ” this is one of the toughest m—–f—-rs i know…” he was still doing the college thing… driving to syracuse for treatment week after week…

when i got settled into my new house, he came over to visit. and he was busting my chops as usual…because i had the house, the white picket fence, the beautiful girl, the small yappy dog… everything i said i’d never be — i became… jerk 🙂

that would be the last time i would see him outside of a hospital.

he went to university hospital not too long after that. i went up to visit him a couple times. i regret now that i didn’t bring a camera with me… i have no pictures of me and him together. with jeremy though, i was being uncharicteristcally optimistic… i’d get my picture with him… when he beat it this time, i told him i was taking his ass to get a tattoo.. i think he deserved it.

his mom called me and wanted to know if i wanted to make an artwork donation for a families of cancer of benefit… instead of pickingout something that was already done i decided to do the portrait of jeremy that you see at the beginning of this post. i mean it was for jeremy. the piece was going to be auctioned off… i knew that… i planned on doing another one just for him. someone was able to buy back the piece from whoever bought it… when i went to see him at th hospital the second time, the painting was right by his bed. that really got me.

but syracuse couldn’t knock the cancer out of him. so off to buffalo…another hospital, another cancer center… nothing. i was making plans to go and see him in buffalo but he left there for another experimental treatment in new york city. so i was starting to make plans to go down there. i kept putting off calling him. my life has become chaotic in the past few months… i couldn;t make five minutes to call him and bust his chops? i would do it. i have to… it’s jeremy.

yesterday, i got home after work… the dogs had wrecked the house, there was pee on the carpets, in my studio, lucy pooped in the bathroom… and i went insane… then my phone rang.

jeremy was gone. the world stopped for a moment.

before he passed, he made sure to tell his mom that he wanted me to be the first to know.

my friend, my boy, my little brother… was gone. his fight was over.

you never know how it feels until it happens to you. this is a mixed feeling. i’m glad that he’s done with the pain, the struggle, that he doesn’t have to spend anymore time in another goddamn hospital. eat another crappy hospital meal. lay awake all night, alone… with nothing but some dvds and a sketchbook by his side.

and i’m angry….i want to have coffee with my friend again… but i can’t. i want to be able to watch him develop as an artist and writer but i can’t. he was 24 years old. 24 years old. everything he ever wanted to do in his life, i’m doing. i’m doing what he wanted to do… i am living his dream… without even knowing it i am.

after yesterday, there are a bunch of little things that really don’t have the weight to me like they used to.

it was an honor to know you jeremy. i’ll never forget you dude.

Categories: painting thoughts

17 Replies to “jeremy merry 1984-2008”

  1. Frank, that was a really nice post. I can tell that Jeremy meant a lot to you, and that you had a profound influence on his life. Life isn’t fair. It just plain sucks sometimes. Fortunately for Jeremy, he was able to find a person who was as passionate about the same thing as him and was willing to share his talents with him to help him learn to do what he loved and wanted to do. Many people aren’t that fortunate in three of Jeremy’s lifetimes. I’m sure his family is forever grateful. You helped Jeremy to live the best life he could live. And for that, I’m sure HE is grateful.

  2. Frank, your post for Jeremy was very special. You captured how many of us felt as we watched this extraordinary person we loved so dearly fight his battle with leukemia. It isn’t fair – not to anyone, but especially not to Jeremy. I will tell you that he thought the world of his friends and talked about you, Michelle H., and his MVCC buddies all the time. I spent a lot of time with him this past summer when he was at SUNY Upstate. I was the person who stalked the winner of your painting and offered to buy it from her. She was so taken aback, she just gave it to me, probably to get me away from her. I wanted it for Jeremy and brought it to Syracuse for him. He loved it! And you need to know it brought him great joy. I also want you to know that the last time I saw Jeremy was in Buffalo just two weeks ago. His mom, my husband, and I spent the afternoon playing Wii bowling with him. He whipped our butts! ~Maria

  3. Frank, you made me cry at work man… thanks for sharing your pain and love. You’re the damn best.

  4. Hey, Frank.
    Thanks to the Sunday Comic, I had to chase Jeremy Merry all the way here to your blog post.

    Thank you for sharing the story of such an intriguing person.

    A few years ago I worked at a cancer research center. It was amazing to go to work every day with 3,000 other people whose goal was to stamp out the cause of their employment. With all that optimism, comics and laughter and a good time make that day seem all the closer and worthwhile.

    Thanks for sharing your story of Mr. Merry and giving us the other 364 days to laugh.

  5. You did your friend justice with this entry. I’m so sorry you had to say goodbye, but I’m glad he was a part of your life.

    The thing that gets me is that he’s exactly my age… makes a person stop and think for a while.

    Condolences, Frank. Thoughts and prayers are with you and Jeremy’s family.

  6. i'm a Bob fan (like squirrels & loved my dad – Bob – who died unexpectedly a couple yrs ago). so when i saw Jeremy in today's WashPost, i had to google him…

    so. the next time my job sucks & i'm lonely & i'm tired/feeling sorry for myself, i'm going to think of Jeremy: and get back to Living Life, just like he would have …

  7. Thanks for the Sunday comic and thanks for this beautiful post. I wish all friends and family of Jeremy lots of strength. And I am especially sorry for your loss.

  8. My sister was 24 when she died suddenly, while sleeping on the couch, from cystic fibrosis. Even her doctor said, “What the hell? I knew she wasn’t feeling well but…what the hell?”

    But, like you said in your post, it is good to know she is no longer feeling like crap and can breathe (metaphorically) a lot easier.

    BTW, whatever your spiritual beliefs are: look for signs. Jeremy will pop in occasionally, just to bust your chops. I know Beth does.

  9. I happened to see the “Bob the squirel” comic for today and like the other commenter, googled Jeremy Merry. I want to thank you for your words… you might not realize at this time just how profoundly you have captured the struggles and journey that you shared with a loved one that was battling a life threatening illness. Thank you. It brought tears to my eyes remembering my dear friend, Erich, who died of cancer three years ago. Erich and I had not talked in a few months. Erich’s partner called me on a Friday to say that Erich had been really depressed and that he was still fighting the cancer, but he wasn’t getting any better. Erich was the last person who would ever complain about how he felt, and his partner wanted me to know and asked if I would call to maybe cheer him up. I said I would. That was on a Friday evening. Saturday and Sunday were crazy and I decided I would just wait and call Erich after the weekend. Monday morning I woke up to a phone call from Erich’s partner. Erich took a very sudden turn for the worse and died Sunday night… I know the pain you are feeling. Just know that the bond that you and Jeremy shared connects us forever. There are days I can feel Erich’s presence and know that he will always be a part of my life. Thank you again for sharing this intimate pain you are feeling as a reminder to us all that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, so make the most of each day.

  10. Sorry for your loss…. sounds like he was a great person who will be missed by many people.

  11. Hi, Frank, I became friends with Jeremy in Buffalo. I work as an artist-in-residence at the hospital there. I would visit him and we would talk or draw or look at his sketchbook. Mostly we talked art but sometimes he would talk about his illness, or his fears, or his dreams. He told me about you and showed me your work. He was so proud to be your friend. You were with him, even if you weren’t physically there, because he held your friendship so dear. Everything you wrote about him is so true- he was a remarkable guy. It was an honor to get to know him and I will always remember him and his parents. Thanks for your blog post. I’m so glad to have found it.

  12. Dear Frank, what a wonderful tribute to Jeremy's life. I'm sure you were a wonderful "big brother.." Not sure this will comfort you but a favorite quote of mine from APPLES OF GOLD is "Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come."

    I'm glad Jeremy is no longer in pain and suffering also. 🙂

  13. Frank, thanks for sharing that. It was very honest, heartfelt, raw. REAL. I needed to hear that. Thanks. I'm glad you had someone like that in your life for awhile, and I hope you're blessed with great people like that around you now. Peace…

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