One year ago today, my family held a funeral for my uncle, Arthur Cohen. At the age of 75, he collapsed and died from a heart attack on the tennis court after playing a great game of singles. While it was an unexpected shock, Arthur died doing what he loved. I helped write his obituary, and my aunt asked me to speak at the funeral. This is my eulogy that I read last year.
For Arthur Cohen’s Funeral, January 19, 2009
I’m Gail Rubin. Arthur was my uncle.
Arthur was an only child, and Aunt Muriel is my father’s only sibling. I’m the only daughter with three brothers. Arthur delighted in saying I was his favorite niece, followed quickly by saying I was his only niece. But he loved my cousins on my mother’s side of the family as well.
Arthur lived life with great enthusiasm. He, as we all know, had a passion for tennis, both playing the game and collecting memorabilia. If you come to the house later today, you can tour his tennis museum that fills two bedrooms upstairs. Once the kids left home, there was no going back, as Arthur had filled their rooms with racquets and magazines and promotional items. Sorry, kids.
He loved going to yard sales and estate sales, and getting a great deal on Life magazines and all the stuff that became merchandise for his Nostalgia Ads business. He was a great mentor for my brother Mitch, who runs a shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we both live. Mitch said that Arthur gave him three ideals: work hard, play hard, and at least once in your lifetime, own a convertible.
Jewish tradition for burial is to place the body in a plain soft wood casket, dressed in white linen or cotton clothing reminiscent of the attire of the high priests. This combination of flesh, wood and cloth deteriorates at the same rate, allowing a graceful return to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It also shows how in death, we are all the same, whether rich or poor in life, and we are all high priests.
We also don’t put the body on display, as that is considered disrespectful of the earthly vessel that contained the human spirit. What you can’t see is that Arthur is being buried in his tennis whites, with his size 13 court shoes and tennis team jacket, along with the racquet he had in his hand when he died. The family felt he would have wanted it that way.
With Arthur’s sudden death on Friday, we had a hard time getting in touch with my parents, who were on a cruise until Saturday morning. Arthur is the first of our parents’ generation to pass on, and that’s hard to accept.
I like to think that Arthur has gone on a cruise and is temporarily out of touch. When it’s our time to take that cruise to the great beyond, Arthur and those we have loved in our lifetimes will be there to greet us when we board. In the meantime, he’ll be playing tennis on the athletic deck court, and enjoying his naps after a hard workout. May he rest in peace.