Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gerald Johnson, R.I.P.

My cousin Lisa's husband Gerald died late last night after living with Alzheimer's for the last several years. He was only in his early sixties.

Gerald was an artist in (at least) three different media: a painter, potter, and rug-weaver. He was a gentle and creative man who made beautiful objects and was deeply inspired by Native art of the Dakotas and Navajo art as well as 20th century painters like Mondrian.

Originally from Joplin, Missouri, Gerald moved to New York, like many young artists, and created most of his work there. He met my cousin Lisa Rothenberg many years ago and they lived together in the Brooklyn loft where he also created his artworks, which required a lot of space. Lisa, an educator and artist, had had a severe car accident in her mid-twenties which left her with permanent neurological damage. She continued work as an educator as she was able but needed a great amount of care, which she received, devotedly, from both her father and Gerald.

Half a dozen years ago, Gerald and Lisa moved to Joplin, Gerald's original home, where rents were cheaper and Gerald's family was nearby. Not too long after, Gerald began showing signs of Alzheimer's and received his diagnosis. He was still a young man in his fifties. The roles reversed and Lisa began caring for Gerald. She also organized, while he was still compos mentis enough to enjoy it, a retrospective exhibit of his works, an act of great love.

Lisa and other members of Gerald's family were at his side when he died, peacefully and quietly.

Gerald will be cremated and his ashes dispersed in a river where he and Lisa used to fish.

Pray for Lisa, whose life is once again overturned, and who has loved Gerald well, as he too loved her.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

That was a lovely tribute---both to Gerald and to Lisa. Prayers for all...


Jane R said...

Thanks, Doxy.

And I've fixed the typos now. :-)

Thank you very much for the prayers.

susankay said...

Prayers indeed -- my father died of Alzheimers.

I really think we need a liturgy for dementia and the caregivers. We may need it more and more as the boomers age.

Blessings on Lisa -- and tears.

Ken said...

About to turn 65 in late February, this news leaves me a bizarre combination of deeply sad, frightened, and grateful.

David Hiott said...

My wife and I knew Gerald and Lisa when we lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (1997-2001). We had been out of contact for a long time and are sad to learn of Gerald's passing.

Recently, I've been reading Robert Anasi's book "The Last Bohemia: Scenes from Williamsburg, Brooklyn," which covers the neighbohood's rapid transition from affordable artist area to extreme gentrification. I took a tour via Google Street view to see some of the changes and passed Gerald and Lisa's loft building on Kent Avenue, which jogged my memory. We had gotten to know one another through exhibiting at a local gallery.

The last time my wife and I saw Gerald and Lisa, we had dinner at a nearby diner and went back to their loft to look at his latest work. They were talking about moving back to Missouri then and looking forward to it. I decided to see if either of them was still online, and I landed on your blog post about Gerald's passing. He was so soft-spoken, a kind man, and a fine artist. Please pass my best ragards to Lisa and let her know that we were thinking of her, too.

Bryan Hiott