Study Guide

Gary Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Gary Lacks

Preacher Man

Deborah's charismatic cousin (Gladys' son) provides spiritual comfort for Deborah when she's feeling overwhelmed by the distressing news from Crownsville about her sister's miserable life there.

He also acts as a kind of Lacks family ambassador for Skloot, giving her valuable insight into the way the family thinks about HeLa cells and how they interpret their significance to conform to their religious faith. When he shows her passages from the bible on the resurrection of the body, Skloot finally gets it:

In that moment, reading those passages, I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. (296)

Gary and Deborah have a powerful spiritual experience in Skloot's presence. Here's Gary, asking the Lord to comfort Deborah in her anguish:

"We thank ya tonight, " Gary whispered. "Because we need your help with them CELLS, Lord…we need your help liftin the BURDEN of them cells from this woman! Lift this burden, Lord, take it away, we don't NEED it!" (292)

Then he brings Skloot into it:

Then he raised his arms above Deborah's head and yelled, "LORD, I KNOW you sent Miss Rebecca to help LIFT THE BURDEN of them CELLS! He thrust his arms towards me, hands pointed to either side of my head. "GIVE THEM TO HER!" he yelled. "LET HER CARRY THEM!" (293)

Skloot's reaction? She was "dumbfounded." (29) As Gary says, there are some things that doctors just cannot do.

Without Gary, Deborah would have felt very alone in her quest to learn more about her mother and sister, and Skloot would have been left to figure out the communication gap for herself. Gary's early death (just a year after the bible incident) is a truly devastating loss for Deborah.

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