Friday, March 11, 2016

#SOL16: Letter to Rob



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.

Mary Ann

25 comments:

  1. Mary Ann Thank you for sharing all of these memories with us. I feel so selfish to say that I have learned so much from you on this journey. But I have - I have learned about love and grace and family. And grief. I am thinking of you and your family Every day.

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    1. Carrie, responding here helps me so. I feel connected and this connection helps to lift the grief, to share the joy. Thank you, friend.

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  2. Michael and I are so sorry that we cannot be there for you and Devon today. We just want both of you to know that we are thinking of you and sending love. Today, Michael and I will speak of Rob and by doing so, celebrate his life.

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  3. Thank you for this testimony, this honoring, this sharing of his passing and your passage. My heart is with you.

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  4. Mary Ann I am thinking of you. Sorry I can't be there to give you a hug in person. I will reach out to you soon.

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  5. Thank you for sharing this celebration of Rob and stories surrounding his life; beautifully written and conveying the immense love and light he gave to those around him - my this illuminate within both you and Devon and out to others.

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  7. Mary Ann, I will not make it tonight. Since Rob's diagnosis your family has been in my thoughts and prayers. Tonight will be no different. I am so glad to see you write about celebrating Rob's life. First, because that is what Rob would want, and second because there is much to celebrate. Be strong, be brilliant, and be bold. Rob will be along for the ride within you both. Much Love, Lucy

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    1. Thank you Lucy. Thank you for you have done for us.

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  8. Mary Ann, there is a candle lighting here in our window in Kinvara for Rob, and for you and Devon. I'm holding you in my heart and I'm sharing your stories of Rob with my own family. The ripples and waves of love go on, and will go on. Much love and peace to you. x

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    1. Such a beautiful gesture, Catherine. Thank you.

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  9. Mary Ann, this is such a moving letter. I feel the weight of your sorrow but also the hope that you will live brilliantly with your child. I thought this quote from Mary Oliver might be appropriate: "Maybe death isn't darkness after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us." Blessings will surround you and your son.

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    1. At the service for Rob, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver was read. Thanks Carol.

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  10. Mary Ann, I am inspired by your deep love, deep joy, and I sorrow with you. Thank you for your words and sharing Rob with us. I'm grateful for the friendship that we shared as colleagues at FMS. My prayers and hugs are with you.Kim

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  11. Your piece has brought me to tears. Your writing, your emotion, your deep love is inspirational, beautiful. I feel your grief and send wrath to you and your family.

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  12. Mary Ann, thank you for giving us this tribute in the time of such staggering personal loss. May you be comforted through stories and tributes to Rob.

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  13. Mary Ann- I had the pleasure of taking care of Rob at Morristown. I really enjoyed sitting with him at night and listening to his teaching stories and hearing about you and Devon. He loved the 2 of you so very much. Im truly sorry for your loss. E

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    1. Thank you Erin. Rob mentioned you to me. Devon and I appreciate the care and kindness you showed to Rob.m

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