During the 1980s, I purchased several sets of cassette tapes of talks that had been given by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. At the time, I had a small battery-operated cassette tape player that I used to listen to tapes while I was shaving and getting ready for work, while I was driving, and while I was getting ready for bed.
After former Vice President Joe Biden announced that he was running for president, he said, “We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation.” During a subsequent interview with Good Morning America, in an attempt to mimic Trump, Biden said that his campaign slogan is, “Make America Moral Again.” He then said that his goal is to “make America return to the essence of who we are, the dignity of the country, the dignity of people, and treating our people with dignity.”
My wife and I were married in June 1980, which was a month after I finished my first year in law school. One of the weekly television shows that we watched together during the first year of our marriage was the prime-time soap opera, Dallas. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, there’s no way we would waste our time on that type of show.
During the mid-1980s, I had a good friend — I’ll call him “James” — who I periodically had conversations with about life, politics, family, and religion. I was five years younger than James, and he was a lot smarter than I was. He breezed through elementary school, high school, and college, without any problems. He was quick to grasp new concepts and was a great problem solver.
While I was preparing to write this article, I went to YouTube and watched the opening theme of a weekly TV show that aired on NBC from 1966 to 1968. When the show began in 1966, I was nine years old. I’m referring to Tarzan, a TV show that I watched with my younger brothers every Friday night.
I ordinarily attend daily Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria. Last Monday (March 25), I saw my parents at noon Mass and talked to them after the Mass. My mom told me that it was the 58th anniversary of her consecration to the Mother of God. I knew that she had made her consecration years ago, but I was not aware of the actual date.
He also allowed me to use his secretary to prepare legal documents in exchange for an agreed-upon hourly rate for her services. It was a great deal for me because I did not have to endure the financial burden of paying a full-time staff person and other office-related expenses.
I rented from that first lawyer until the fall of 1984. That’s when his lease expired, and he and his family moved to Colorado. I then rented an office from a group of four lawyers who had recently formed a partnership.
My agreement with the lawyers was the same as the first lawyer. I paid a flat monthly rent in exchange for an office and telephone answering, and I paid an hourly rate for the use of one of their secretaries. That relationship ended in the fall of 2006, after the four lawyers decided that they didn’t like each other anymore and terminated their partnership.
At that point in my career, I felt as though I had enough legal work and cash flow to sign a lease and rent my own office space. I ended up working out a deal with a landlord who had recently renovated an old building in downtown Peoria. The man that I rented from — I’ll call him Larry — owned several businesses and had recently purchased the building that he had remodeled. He had 10 employees who occupied a large office suite on the first floor of the building.
Larry agreed to allow me to do the same thing that I had done with the first two offices that I had rented — install my telephone system so that one phone was in the area where his receptionist answered his phones, and a telephone in the office that I was renting in another part of the building. Larry had recently hired a woman — her name was Geri Abele — who was in her mid-thirties.
She had previously worked for one of the top trial lawyers in Peoria. She had stopped working for the lawyer when she was pregnant with her first daughter. A couple of years after her daughter was born, she had a second daughter. She took care of her two daughters until they were in school, and then decided that it was time to get back into the workforce. That’s when Larry hired her to work full time for him.
Because Larry did not have enough work to keep Geri busy on a full-time basis, he offered me the opportunity to have Geri worked for me for 20 hours a week. He agreed to take care of her payroll taxes, and I agreed to pay him a set hourly rate for the time that Geri worked for me.
During the 20 hours that she worked for me, Geri sat in the reception area of my office and worked. During the 20 hours that she worked for Larry, she sat in the reception area of his office and worked for him. While she worked in his office, she continued to answer the telephone that I had set up in his office.
After about 18 months, I was at the point where I needed Geri to work for me full time. She liked the type of work that she was doing for me and preferred my office to Larry’s office. I offered her a full-time position, and she accepted on the condition that I would work everything out with Larry.
It just so happened that at that time a couple of Larry’s businesses had slowed down, and he didn’t need Geri for the 20 hours a week that she was working for him. I talked to Larry and it was obvious that he was irritated with me for “stealing” his employee, but he took it all in good stride because he realized that it was going to ultimately benefit him to have one less person on his payroll.
It was a great blessing for me that I was able to ease Geri into a full-time position with my office. When I started my law practice, I had made the Mother of God my “silent partner” and I had asked her to guide me in the operation of my law practice and career. I’ve always felt that it was my “partner” who always saw to it that I was able to find top-rate employees for my law practice.
Over the next several years, Geri took on more and more responsibility and eventually became my office manager. At one point, I had two lawyers working for me and eight other employees. Geri worked for me for a total of 26 years. She retired in 2013, at the age of 65. By then, her daughters were married and had children of their own, and Geri had made the decision that she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.
On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, I received a text message from one of Geri’s daughters. The message said that Geri had passed away. She was 71. I had learned a few months earlier that Geri had been diagnosed with cancer that had spread through her spine and into her brain. The cancer was so advanced that treatment didn’t do her any good.
When I found out about Geri’s cancer diagnosis, I called her husband Ray and set up a time for me to stop by their house to see Geri. When I arrived at the house, Geri was sitting in the living room. When I walked over to her, she said, “Hi Harry, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to come into the office tomorrow.” I immediately responded, “Yes, I know, but I wish you could come to work tomorrow. We could really use your help.”
She looked as though she was wishing she could turn back the clock. She knew exactly what she was saying when she said she wasn’t going to be able to come into the office. It was her way of using humor to break the ice and make light of the fact that she was dying.
I then handed her a framed color picture of the Divine Mercy. When she looked at the picture, her face lit up, and she said, “Last weekend I was looking for a picture like this — a picture which showed the heart of Jesus.” While the Divine Mercy picture does not show Jesus’s heart, it does show His left hand touching His chest where His heart is located. Where He is touching, there are two rays of light streaming from his heart — a red ray and a white ray.
The red ray represents the blood that He shed for our sins and the white ray represents the salvation that He won for each of us by His death on the cross. Geri had not been able to find the picture she was looking for. She told me that the picture that I gave her was an answer to her prayers.
We visited for about 30 minutes. She was fully aware of the fact that she did not have very long to live, and she told me that she was looking forward to meeting our Lord. We talked about her family and my family. It was like old times. She, of course, had the same mannerisms and lively sense of humor that she always had. While there were a few times when she lost her train of thought, she was very much aware of what she was saying and in tune with our conversation.
I asked her if anyone had contacted her parish priest to come to her house to give her the Sacrament of the Sick, and she said no. She was an only child who had been raised Catholic. I offered to contact her priest and make the arrangements for him to come to her house. She was grateful for the offer, and I later contacted the priest and arranged to pick him up and take him to Geri’s house.
In all the years that Geri worked for me, she rarely made any mistakes. She was whip-smart, a term that is normally used to describe a person who is highly intelligent, quick-witted, and has the ability to quickly and succinctly respond to questions and situations that come up.
By the time she started working for me, she had mastered several office-related computer software programs. As a young secretary, she had learned how to take shorthand, so anytime I asked her to do something she was able to quickly write down notes of everything I said. In addition to her mastery of secretarial skills, she had strong interpersonal skills. She did great with my clients and the employees that she supervised. One of the primary reasons she was so good at dealing with other people was because she was genuinely concerned about the well-being of everyone.
She was also a fun person to be around because she was spontaneous, upbeat, enthusiastic, optimistic, generous, and warm. She generally treated everyone as a friend except for those who crossed her. She was proud of her Irish heritage and didn’t like it when someone tried to pull the wool over her eyes.
One day, after she had worked for me for several years, while I was trying to convince her about something she didn’t agree with, she suddenly blurted out, “Oh, don’t give me that Lebanese blarney!” The word “blarney” is an Irish term that means, “to charm, pleasantly flatter, or persuade.” She put the word “Lebanese” in front of the word “blarney” to add additional impact to her statement. She apparently thought that I was going way too far in trying to use my “Lebanese charm” to get her to agree on something that she wasn’t willing to agree to.
There’s an old Irish joke that I never had a chance to tell Geri: “Do you know what Irish Alzheimer’s is? It’s when you forget everything but the grudges.” If you’re offended by that joke, you shouldn’t be. I heard it from a full-blooded Irish man who was proud of the fact that he held grudges, and every Irish person I’ve ever told the joke to has laughed out loud in agreement.
There was one occasion in 1990 when I was assisting another lawyer with a lawsuit that involved the City of Peoria. The lawyer was from out of town and while he was also whip-smart, he had a habit of bullying and intimidating people when he wasn’t getting his way. Since we were working together on the case, the lawyer frequently had contact with Geri to assist in scheduling meetings and court hearings.
On one occasion, he asked Geri to take care of something for him. When he called back a few days later, she had not yet had the opportunity to handle the matter for him. He got upset with her and said, “Listen here, little lady. When I ask you to do something, I don’t want you making any excuses as to why you didn’t get it done. You need to just hop to it and get it done.”
In her own professional way, Geri made it clear to the attorney that she had other things of higher priority and that he had nothing to worry about. She told him that she would eventually get the task done without jeopardizing any of his plans.
I was not in the office when Geri talked to the attorney, but when I returned, she said, “No man talks to me that way! He has no idea who he’s dealing with!” From then on, anytime the attorney called or stopped by the office, while Geri behaved professionally in his presence, she was no longer willing to accommodate him in the same way that he had become accustomed to.
Years later, the “little (Irish) lady” still bristled every time she heard his name. And yes, it was okay with me that she held a grudge against him.
If Geri had any weakness, it was that when I was critical of something she had done (which was not very often), she took the criticism extremely personal, which caused her to sometimes ignore and attempt to escape from the situation rather than to face it head-on. I think that one of the reasons for this was because she had such high expectations of herself that when she was criticized, she tended to be too hard on herself and would then do what she could do to avoid discussing the matter any further.
Geri had a tremendous love for life, her family, and her friends. Her two daughters worked for my law firm while they were in high school and college. They were model employees who minded their own business and were always well-dressed and well-behaved. My six daughters also worked for my law firm while they were in high school and college. Geri was the first supervisor each of them had as paid employees, and they benefited greatly from her experience, wisdom, and kindness.
I’m sharing Geri’s life with you because I wanted to honor her and remind myself of what a great blessing she was to me, my employees, my children, and my clients. If I could pick 25 people that I’ve known throughout my life who could live healthy lives to the age of 150, Geri would be one of them. Why? Because she was down to earth, generous, kind, warmhearted, and had a tremendous love for life. The world would be a much better place if there were more people like Geri Abele.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her…
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, my mind flashed back to the mid-1980s, when I taught Business Law at ICC. I spent a lot of time preparing for that class, but it was worth it. The young, fresh-faced students were captivated by the stories I told about my experience as a lawyer. To make the class more interesting, I intentionally wove stories throughout the material I presented to them. This made an otherwise boring class into an adventure into the inner workings of our justice system.
One of the things that I taught my students was the four basic elements that are required before a contract can be legally binding between two parties. The four elements are:
1. Offer – a promise to act or refrain from acting.
Last month, Jessica’s husband, Dan Rose, and her mother, Carol Starr, were interviewed on the ABC television show, Good Morning America. Both Dan and Carol said that they believed that Jessica killed herself because of complications that were caused by laser surgery that she had on her eyes in October 2018.
During the interview, Dan stated, “She really knew something was not right within a matter of days. She started to complain of incredibly dry eyes. She had almost no night vision. She had starbursts that she was seeing during the day and at night.”
Carol stated that after the surgery, Jessica lost a significant amount of weight. “I kept saying, ‘Are you eating? Are you okay?’ She kept saying, ‘I’m not eating and I’m not sleeping, Mom. This is worrying me. I don’t think it’s going to get better,’” said Carol.
The surgery that Jessica went through was similar to Lasik eye surgery. The name of the surgery was SMILE, which is an acronym for “small incision lenticule extraction.” With SMILE, a laser is used to make a small opening on the eye to remove a layer of tissue. The removal of the tissue corrects nearsightedness by reshaping the cornea. SMILE surgery is supposed to be less invasive than Lasik.
During the weeks following her surgery, Jessica posted several video diaries on her Facebook page where she talked about complications she was having as a result of the surgery. One of her complaints was that the dryness in her eyes was so bad that she had to use eye drops every five minutes to lubricate her eyes.
When she died, Jessica left behind her husband and two children, a five-year-old and three-year-old.
After her death, Jessica’s family, friends, and coworkers were all in a state of shock. She had never talked about committing suicide. They later concluded that Jessica experienced extreme depression and anxiety about her chronically dry eyes, her lack of night vision, and the starbursts that she was seeing during her waking hours.
Whenever a person experiences chronic pain and/or suffering, there is a possibility that the person will lose hope for the future. This is something that I always talk about when I present an injured client’s case to a jury.
Here’s an example of what I ordinarily say to a jury when I have a client who is experiencing chronic pain and suffering:
The only other thing that I’m going to mention about pain and suffering before I move on is that both pain and suffering interrupt hope for the future. We were all created with a desire for hope.