On Mother’s Day I was visiting my mother and father’s grave in Hazelwood Cemetery in Rahway. I noticed a long inscription on the back of a nearby stone. I read it and it told of a young man who had died after a long fight with a horrible disease. I wanted to see how young a man he was and to get a closer look at the permanent photo attached to the other side of the stone.
As I walked around to the front I noticed his website was inscribed into the bottom of the stone! As my eyes panned up I saw he had passed in ’98 and was born in ’66 making him 32. Then I almost fell over when I looked at the entire front there he was, his face and hands were cut into the marble with his hands on either side of his head palms out!
It looked exactly like Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite during the Empire Strikes Back. It is really an eerie sight in the middle of all the other rather traditional headstones. It must have been in the making for a couple of years because it is brand new and as I said he had died in ’98. -Chris Payne
Living Beyond Death Via the Internet
By Joanne Austin
One of the more unique grave monuments at the Hazel Wood Cemetery in Rahway is that of Bruce Perry Berman, who was born in Elizabeth and lived in Westfield before moving to Nevada City in 1993.
Bruce was a special effects animator for national commercials and feature films. He worked at Sidley Wright Motion Works, Topix LA, and VIFX/ Video Image, a subsidiary of Twentieth Century Fox. He was an adjunct graphics/ animation professor at both Seton Hall University and William Paterson College.
In 1996, at the age of 30, Bruce was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gherig’s Disease). He began to research the disease and offer information on the condition on his Web site, www.bermanimation.net. Bruce died in 1998 after his battle with ALS. Seton Hall University now awards the annual Bermanimation Award every spring to a student in the computer animation field.
Possibly the world’s first website gravestone. The website has been changed to: www.bermanimation.net
The headstone was Bruce’s idea, but the design was completed after his death by Rob Dressel. Bruce was working in Los Angeles when he had his head scanned by a company that scanned actors for special effect scenes. He put the data onto a disc to save and then had a sample head made out of foam. Someone he worked with painted it to look like it was made of brass.
Mr. Berman gave his wife, Carolyn, the sample bust for her birthday the year after he was diagnosed with ALS. Around the same time, he gave his friend Rob Dressel a copy of the data and told him what his plan was for a headstone and what he wanted Rob to do in case he wasn’t able. After Bruce died, Rob sent Carolyn some computer files with a 3-D mock-up of the stone.
Carolyn had the stone made about a year after Bruce died, when she moved back to New Jersey. A sculptor used the bust and the printouts of the stone Rob designed to create the monument, and Carolyn provided the wording for the back. It took several months and special permission from the cemetery, but Carolyn says it was worth it – “I know he would love it. It is so perfect for who he was.”
Here is Bruce’s story in Carolyn’s own words:
Bruce was raised in Wanamassa, NJ, right next to Asbury Park. We met at Seton Hall, where he graduated in 1988 with a BA in Communications. He was really involved in college. He was on the Student Activities Board, he was a Resident Assistant, and he started a fraternity on campus (Phi Kappa Sigma) that would not allow hazing. Rob Dressel was his first pledge.
After college, Bruce went to William Paterson and got his Master’s in computer animation. We got married in ’92 and he taught classes at Seton Hall and William Paterson while trying to get his own career started. In August of ’93 he got a job in LA, working for a small company doing effects for commercials. Rob Dressel joined Bruce at the same company a few months later.
Bruce had a few jobs before landing at VIFX. It was heaven for him. He loved work. I called it “play,” because it never seemed like work to him.
In April ’96, Bruce was turning 30. The day before his birthday was my due date for our baby. Well, the baby was late and on Bruce’s birthday, instead of a baby, he got a phone call from a doctor he had been seeing who told him he had ALS. We had the baby three days later.
It was a really sad time, but Bruce was a fighter and a doer. As he got sicker, he became more determined to beat what the doctors said was unbeatable. We had just gotten a home computer, and the Internet was a new and invaluable resource for him. He did research and talked with ALS patients all over the world, some of whom had gotten better. He used a special computer system that allowed him to control a screen version of the keyboard with a sensor that read a small reflective dot I would stick on his forehead.
Bruce lived two and a half years after his diagnosis. The last year he was completely paralyzed, except for blinking and some small back and forth movement in his head. He was fed through a GI tube that went through his stomach wall. He worked on his Web site most days, until that got to be too much.
He had started the Web site as a way to communicate with the most people possible in the easiest way he could. He wanted people to know that Bruce was still around – just trapped inside a body that could no longer move. He was always touched by the number of people who checked in on him and cared about how he was doing.
He died at home after a brief hospital stay due to pneumonia. He knew he was dying and asked me to take him home. (We would communicate by spelling. I would go through the alphabet and he would blink when I got to the right letter. It was tedious, but we got quite good at it.)
ALS is a horrible illness that no one should ever have. The fact that he lived as long as he did can only be attributed to his determination and his love of being with our daughter. He had a really wonderful sense of humor. He would be thrilled to know that his headstone is being featured on the cover of your magazine, Weird NJ.
Photos by Mark Moran / © Weird NJ
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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