My Dear Rob,
Today we say good-bye formally. We lay you to rest. And as I told Devon there will be time enough to mourn your death, but today I would like to celebrate your life and perhaps in celebrating lighten, even temporarily, the terrible weight your passing has brought. During the last few days, people I have known for a long time, others I only recently have met, and some I have never met have reached out to share their favorite "Rob stories." In each story I see the man you are: the caring and 'out of the box' teacher, the comforting and loyal friend, the intellect, the humorist, the artist, the best friend, the compassionate giver, the trickster, and more. How diverse and loving you are.
Your friend Charles from L.A. texted me yesterday to share how the first person he reached out to after the sudden death of his older brother was you. He wrote that "you seemed to arrive within seconds of hanging up the phone." You were each just 21 years old.
Two days ago after we failed to bring the clothes you needed to be dressed in for the funeral, my brother Brendan said he would take them on Thursday. He left the house forgetting a second time and when he returned to our home again he said to me, "You know Rob's in heaven looking down at us and laughing."
And I suspect he is right. Humor resonates for you.
A parent of a student you taught sent me a list of Facebook tributes from parents of students you taught. One wrote upon hearing the news of your passing that she was "heartsick. He lit both of my daughters up so much with an inner fire." On the GoFundMe site, a parent wrote, "Rob shared with me his sensitive soul after the loss of my son." Another sent a message directly to Devon, writing, "Devon, we want you to know your father touched our students with his humor and love of teaching. Your father was a great mentor to our teaching staff and his legacy will never be forgotten." I can remember being outside of a school where we worked in Newark when a group of middle school boys yelled down the street, "Hey, Mr. Cohen" and came running up to high five you. "You're the best."
And you are.
Rob, emails, letters, and texts have arrived from your former students too as they have learned of your passing. These enumerate the many ways you have touched their lives--not simply when you were their teacher, but perhaps more importantly how that influence continues to inform their lives as adults. So many write that what they learned with you has held them in good stead throughout their academic careers. Even Devon's teachers have communicated their feelings about you. One writes,
"Although I only met Rob a few times, I felt a kinship and common understanding of the beauty, absurdity and complexity of life. I would have liked to know him even better than I did and for those of us who believe so, I will.Your light, your very caring self that never stood on any ceremonies connected with others so well, so immediately.
I also recall the more private person, the father and the husband. This morning I am remembering the man who so carefully drove through an ice storm to get our son to the hospital. The father who sat holding Devon in the steam-filled bathroom at 3 a.m. to calm his croup. The dad who fiercely loves our son not for what he accomplishes, but simply because to not deeply love him would be an anathema.
This morning I am remembering the man who an hour after hearing his cancer was no longer treatable, that he would die--turned to me after I said, "I can't imagine a future without you," and told me to "Live brilliantly. Don't you dare hide yourself. Don't you do that. Live brilliantly. You and Devon need to live brilliantly."
This morning I am remembering the poet--the man who wrote me love poems, who so carefully edited my writing, who championed my every new effort, who believed I could make art when I was so filled with doubt. The man who held me when my mom died and the world was wobbly and so out of focus, the man who talked hours with me about big ideas and who sat in comfortable silence with me when talking was no longer needed. The man who a few days before he would die caught my hand and with great difficulty said, " I don't know if you can know how much I love you. Be the best mom for Devon. Protect and love him." Such clarity amid the ramblings as you edged towards death and I so needed to hear those words.
The poet, Rumi wrote, "Lovers don't finally meet somewhere/They're in each other all along" (p.106). You are in me Rob, forever. I will live brilliantly. I will fiercely love our son, protect him, champion him and get out of his way so he can soar as we both know he will.
I love you my dear friend, my lover, and my husband. Your love humbles me.