Life is fleeting and old age is relative. When you’re fortunate enough to bury a parent as you, yourself, are middle-aged, perspective shifts. You see the sweep of a long life as a series of moments and phases that tumble together and ultimately collapse on themselves.
Edifices of family roles and relationships—the structures that provide the shelter of your youth, and the confines from which you try to break free—prove fragile. Putting them back together again is impossible, though, with the death of a parent, you might try—all you have to work with are memories, narratives, and lore.
What remains of Jerry’s 87-year life are memories, narratives, and much lore. Jerry the young Jewish boy who had to fight his way through a gauntlet of toughs to get to Hebrew school.
Jerry the high school track and field athlete.
Jerry the dashing naval officer, escorting convoys across the North Atlantic in winter, in wartime.
Jerry, the cool and rational psycho-physiologist whose glamorous academic life took us back and forth between Chicago, England and Europe.
Jerry the scrappy anti-Vietnam war protester, who took his children to demonstrate in Grant Park in the summer of ’68.
Jerry the car guy, who in the sixties and seventies owned a Renault, two Citroens, an Austin, and two Fiats.
Jerry the lover, who was married for 57 years to Florence–my brilliant and passionate writer of a mother–and who, following her death 10 years ago, went head over heels for the amazing Ahlyce. “Aaron, the passion….,” he confided in me about his love for her. Not bad for a man then pushing 80.
Dad is now gone but his stories live on, and our heads and our hearts are full of them and of him. He was calm and unflappable, equanimous and ultimately deeply grateful for the gift of a long and interesting life. Florence and Jerome Cohen were fascinating people, who tapped life to the last drop, and served to their children, the full measure of its nectars and its bitters. They celebrated the intellect and the senses, cared not a whit for the mundane, and left as their legacy a rich and intricate residue.
Dad and I grew closer following my mother’s death, and I have no doubt he appreciated my care and my friendship. I admired his courage and his self-containment. I was so lucky to be with him and Ahlyce when he died. I loved this man who loved the sea and who has sailed on his final voyage. I loved the frail old man and the immortal young naval officer, now tumbled together, in this passage, into one.
Written by Aaron Cohen, spoken at his father’s funeral