Gerald Fischman’s funeral was, unexpectedly, a love song.
By that, I mean that I drove three hours from Harrisonburg, Va., to attend my former colleague’s funeral on Sunday in Olney, Md., expecting to hear more regrets about gun violence and worries over attacks on the press.
Instead, Gerald’s wife, Erica Fischman, and his stepdaughter read five love poems he had written for them through the years during the service. One marked the 11th anniversary of his marriage before he was shot and killed along with four other staffers in the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. The number 11 was an ideal symbol for husband and wife, 1+1, the poet explained.
In a 2017 valentine to his Erica, he was more explicit: “I love you each day, honey, from the moment that I wake. And I’m going to keep on loving you until the last breath I take. “
There was almost no mention in the service or the burial immediately afterward of gun violence or gun control. Gerald, 61, had been editorial writer for The Capital for 25 years before his death and had visited the topic many times. One short segment of an editorial he wrote on the issue 16 years ago was read, however. It was prescient, mentioning how Congress had failed to act then on gun control, which meant the issue belonged to the states.
Of President Donald Trump and his repeated attacks on the press, I didn’t hear a word from the many mourners, including reporters, gathered at Judean Memorial Gardens. Even afterward, nobody dwelled on Mr. Trump at a gathering in the home of another journalism colleague. We all had worked with Gerald at The Montgomery Journal in Rockville, in the early 1990s.
What we talked about instead were stories of all the funny things Gerald did and said. Most memorable to me was how he met his then soon-to-be wife at an opera at the Kennedy Center. Gerald, a big opera fan, found out she had been an opera singer in Mongolia. They had a subsequent date, and their love story took off. Later, Gerald would drolly say he found his wife late in life by typing “Mongolian opera singer” into a dating search engine.
On the drive from Harrisonburg to Olney for the service, I had been trying to figure out why I cared about Gerald so much. I knew him, of course, but not well. He was very bright, quiet and almost shy, but never afraid to challenge facts in a story he was vetting when I was city editor at the Journal.
I think it was Gerald’s remarkable sensitivity in a world needing more caring people that drew me to his life story and its tragic end. That contrast grew more acute as John Mayer sang over my car CD player on the drive, “All you need is love, is a lie.”
Gerald’s funeral was led by Rabbi Larry Shor. They grew up together just a few houses apart in a Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. He read from Psalm 91 of the assurance of God’s protection: “You will not fear the terror of the night or the arrow that flies by day.” Indeed, I was thinking, in my cynical way, as we all walked in silence to the burial spot.
It was after the burial that I got to meet his widow, Erica, under the shade of an immense tree next to where the casket was laid. I told her I had joined several former colleagues to attend the funeral, which had been lovely.
“We were all devastated,” was about all I could muster to tell her. I quickly turned to walk away but she called my name and came up to me to hug me warmly. Her gesture took me completely by surprise.
How could there be so much grace and comfort out of so much pain?
Matt Hamblen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in Harrisonburg, Va.