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Pain still fresh for widow of Trail Blazers great

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Teri Kersey, standing near the front door of her home in Lake Oswego, says she has boxes of cards and letters from well-wishers to go through, an outpouring of support since the death of her husband, former Trail Blazers great Jerome Kersey. Everybody has a story, she says.The pain remains fresh, three months after Jerome Kersey left us, shaking the state of Oregon and the city of Portland and the many thousands moved by the life and legend of the former Trail Blazer great.

Nowhere is the hurt stronger than with his widow, Teri, who is still in the midst of the grieving process that is going to take some time, a lot of time.

“I take it day by day,” Teri says over lunch near her Lake Grove home on a recent afternoon. “One minute, I’m feeling fine. The next minute, it hits me.”

Teri shares the pain with Jerome’s daughter, Kiara, and her infant daughter Harley, who had become her grandfather’s pride and joy in such a short time. And Teri’s three children, McKenzie, Brendan and Maddie, who had become Jerome’s own in the decade he and Teri were together.

“It was Maddie’s 15th birthday on the day Jerome died (Feb. 18),” Teri says. “I don’t feel like I get angry in this whole thing. I feel I got ripped off a little bit. But the part that eats me, hurts me more than anything, is that he died on her birthday.”

Jerome had undergone arthroscopic surgery on a knee the week before he died. An autopsy showed he succumbed due to effects of a blood clot in his calf as a result of the surgery.

“Jerome was so strong,” Teri says. “He never wanted me to know that something was bothering him. He never told me he was having any pain in his calf. I found out later that, on the day he passed, he told some friends, ‘My knee is fine, but my calf is killing me.’ He never told me that.”

The Kerseys had plans to go to dinner to celebrate Maddie’s birthday that night.

“That afternoon, we were sitting on the couch, snuggling up,” Teri says. “He was drinking a beer and we were watching basketball. He said, ‘My knee is bugging me, but it’s Maddie’s birthday, so let’s go.’

“He walked up the stairs. I was still downstairs and he started calling for me. I ran up there and he said, ‘I’m having a hard time breathing.’”

Teri yelled for Maddie, who called 9-1-1. Within an hour, Jerome was gone.

Jerome’s extended family, including Teri’s parents, Ken and Evelyn Folsom, are crestfallen.

“My mom mentioned the other day how hard it is for our whole family,” Teri says. “He was the calmness in our family. Our worry was always something would happen to my dad, because he’s older. My mom said, ‘I always knew if something ever happened to (Ken), Jerome would be my first call.’ She knew he could help us all out. Now we’re all just lost. He took care of everybody.”

Teri has been lifted by the outpouring of support she has received since her husband’s death.

“I’ve had so many letters and cards from people through the Blazers,” she says. “I have boxes of them from all over. I haven’t even got through them all yet. I’m trying to read them all. Everybody has a story. It makes me feel so proud. He touched a lot of people.”

Teri was helped immeasurably through the initial phase of her post-Jerome life by her sister, Alanna Mandrou.

“All of a sudden, I had to face everything,” Teri says. “She stayed with me for a month. Having her around was like by security blanket, my comfort. At first, I told her husband he couldn’t have her back.”

Teri has done no counseling yet. She thinks she probably will. She’d like to include her children — McKenzie attends Oregon State while Brendan and Maddie are at Wilson High — in the process.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Since her husband's death in February, Teri Kersey has had Jerome's name placed in a tattoo near her left wrist, and at her home in Lake Oswego she keeps many photos of the former Trail Blazers star and community ambassador.“The kids seem to be doing OK,” she says. “They’re so quiet. (Wilson High officials) contacted me and talked to the Dougy Center about counseling. I think I’m going to start family counseling. I think it would be good for all of us, especially Maddie. She and Jerome were really close. She was the only one who lived with me full-time. It was always the three of us.”

Teri remains close to Kiara, who works as a nanny in Gresham.

“Kiara is doing well,” Teri says, “but she’s just like Jerome. She’s really strong, but also won’t let you know when she’s hurting unless it’s something she can’t really hide anymore. If something was bothering Jerome, he tried to take care of it on his own. She’s like that, too, but she’s in a good place.

“She is doing well with her boyfriend, and of course the baby (Harley) — she’s perfect.”

In recent weeks, Teri has gone about the duties of taking care of Jerome’s substantial wardrobe.

“Jerome was a clothes hoarder,” she says. “Oh my God — six closets full. He had 280 pairs of shoes. I never should have felt bad about bringing home a new pair of shoes. Dozens of suits and hundreds of ties. I still have a couple of closets to go.”

Teri and J.R. Harris, Jerome’s longtime friend, gathered much of the clothing and donated it to Best Foot Forward, an organization that provides professional apparel for low-income men.

“It was hard to do,” she says. “It was a very emotional day. When (Best Foot Forward representatives) came to the house, the lady said to me, ‘We’re honored you chose us, and we will honor Jerome.’ I started crying, but it felt good. I knew that is exactly what he would have wanted done.”

Teri was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago. That seems to be relatively under control. She has had recent episodes with migraine headaches, something with which she has dealt since the age of 16.

“The migraines are related to stress, but not to the MS,” she says. “As far as MS symptoms, I haven’t had any problems at all.”

Teri is recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery she had on March 16.

“I was supposed to have the surgery on the Friday after Jerome died,” she says. “I’d been having shoulder pain for months. We had to postpone.”

For years, Teri worked as a dental assistant. Her first thought was to return to work, at least part-time. But she and her sister are serving as co-executive directors of the Jerome Kersey Foundation.

“That’s taking up a lot of my time, which is why I think I’m stressed out,” Teri says with a laugh.

Teri’s original plan was to have a dinner/auction fund-raiser for the foundation on June 26, Jerome’s birthday. Because some key celebrities will be out of town on that date, it will be held sometime in September. In future years, the event will be held June 26.

“We’ll do a golf event, because we all know where Jerome would be on his birthday,” Teri says. “The goal is to establish a pediatric dental clinic for children who are underserved. Alanna works as a dental hygienist, I worked in that field, and Jerome had that big, beautiful smile. There are a lot of dental connections. That’s why we’re doing it.”

Teri has had a home built in Wilsonville that should be ready by the end of May. It’s 2,400 square feet with four bedrooms and three baths — “perfect for the kids and me,” she says.

A North Medford High graduate, Teri will remain in her home state, though she yearns for a winter home in warmer climes.

“I’ll absolutely stay in Portland, mostly because my kids won’t ever leave here,” she says. “They are Portlanders, for sure. Will I leave maybe six months out of the year? Yes, I would love to, but just for a few months.

“Jerome always wanted to stay in Portland. His thoughts were to never leave. I always would say, ‘As soon as the kids graduate, we have to get out of here.’ Then when Harley came along, he’s like, ‘See, now we really can’t leave.’ I said, ‘We’ll send postcards.’ But he didn’t ever want to leave.”

If she chooses not to work, Teri should be able to live comfortably on an NBA pension and a life insurance policy Jerome took out through the Blazers.

“He always said he would take care of me,” she says, “and he has taken care of me, for sure.”

Teri’s association with Athey Creek Christian Fellowship in Wilsonville has helped her through her time of crisis. Teri and Jerome were regular attendees of Sunday services there. Pastor Brett Meador — who conducted Jerome’s personal memorial service — was Teri’s youth pastor in Medford.

“The church family has been so helpful,” she says. “Being able to get through this, it’s all been because of God. I grew up in church. If I were a non-believer, I would be not functioning.

“I said at the service that my hope is we’ll meet again in heaven. I truly meant that. I know I’ll be seeing Jerome again. If I didn’t think I were going to see him again, I’d be at home curled up in bed.”

A week after her husband’s death, she had his name tattooed on her wrist.

“I was his only wife, ever,” she says through tears. She pauses for a few seconds.

“I just keep going, ‘Oh, Jerome,’” she says. “I get mad. ‘Ahh, knucklehead.’”

She pauses again, then continues.

“It took me so long to finally get that guy to marry me,” Teri says. “Then (the marriage lasts) a year and five months. Everything was falling into place for him. His life was good. Everything was good. With work, his personal life, his grandbaby. It’s hard. I can’t get past that.”

But she must. With time, she will.

“I’m 41,” she says. “I hope to not be single the rest of my life. But someone has some big shoes to fill. It was hard enough for me to find someone who measured up to my dad.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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