Okay, folks; it’s been a tough-ish few months, I admit. At times it’s been challenging to focus long enough to write a paragraph.
On March 22nd, it was Raymond* whose twinkling eyes and affectionate smile would no longer warm our lives. On April 16th, my friend A** quietly passed away in the armchair where she spent most of her time. And April 22, my dear friend Teresa*** lost her battle with cancer. Three friends in a month. Leaves me feeling a shocked respect for life. And a strong urge to live it as fully and richly as I can….
Yesterday Raymond’s family, friends and other loved ones, held a big, beautiful, celebration of his life. There must have been 200 or more who just didn’t want to let him go, and needed to say this out loud, to live music. It was held in a large, white, lofty-high room. Up high on a far wall as we walked into the room, was a huge black and white photo of him – the best I’ve seen – projected with a quote, “Do unto others… all the rest is commentary.” With live classical guitar playing softly in the background, it had quite an impact.
Everyone who knew him had known that smile, and the resonance of his voice; easy to imagine him as a spiritual leader of some kind. He often seemed that way to me.
His brother in law, a poet, said, “He wrapped his personality around people the way others give a hug; Both feel good but his had an added warmth in touching friends and strangers equally. “ He referred to Ray’s “27 years of relentless advocacy” — primarily for people with disabilities. In his advocacy – and consciousness-raising – role, he founded Abilities magazine (and the foundation that supported it). His wife, whom he demonstrably adored, probably was inspired by him, and inspired him too – she who rapelled down a skyscraper in her wheelchair — gave a passionate and inspiring talk reminding us of how Ray could live on through us. And the world would indeed be transformed if more of us lived by his values.
In the quest to make the world a better place, there are many warriors and worker bees. Raymond Cohen inspired and led them, and in the process left the world a much finer place than it was when he entered it.
I was one of the worker bees he inspired. When I wanted to influence change in the community and wasn’t sure how to begin, I turned to him. We met for breakfast at Aris, a favourite neighbourhood restaurant. In his usual open, generous spirit, he shared his insight and wisdom, as smart and witty as ever.
He was modest. He never mentioned in my presence receiving the Queen’s Jubilee Medal last year. He was a quiet hero to many — a kind of knight in shining armour, especially in the last year or two of his life, when he carried on despite what must have been great discomfort.
He was my close friend’s brother, and over the last three decades made me feel like a sister and family member. Several days before he died, we had a quiet dinner, the six of us. When I kissed him goodbye, he said “bye sweetie.” No big deal. And yesterday, when everyone was trying to sing ‘The times they are a-changing” through their tears, I kept hearing “bye sweetie”.* http://abilities.ca/ray-cohen-in-memoriam/ ** https://thinkinganddreaming.ca/2012/07/13/a-moment-for-mental-illness/ *** https://thinkinganddreaming.ca/2013/01/05/how-much-i-would-miss-her/