Jeffrey Steven Adler
(from my eulogy for Jeff, May 20, 2011)
Jeff was my older brother, my big brother.
My brother. Those are almost sacred words to me.
A brother, in the truest sense of the word, both about the blood and beyond it, is a stalwart friend beyond compare. That’s what Jeff was to me, all my life. There was never a moment of our lives that I was ever too heavy for him.
Sometimes, the need was the stuff of everyday life, and Jeff was always there if I asked him for help. There were times when the help was major, my life at a low point, having to start over, and Jeff came through for me. I always knew he would. He was an oak for his parents in their sickness and old age, for his siblings in their times of need, for his niece and nephew in their youths.
What you need to know about Jeff – we were both lucky enough never to have to go to war, as some men do – but you need to know that Jeff was the guy who would never leave you behind, who would go back for you, who would help you get through it, even if, in the end, he didn’t make it though himself.
Jeff and I were so alike in so many ways, but of course we are different people with different personalities and talents. As a child, teen, and even young adult, I was shy and insecure. Jeff was always a big personality. If you knew him, you know that. In the first neighborhood in which we grew up, everyone’s image of Jeff was of this little whirlwind running across the lawns and gardens. The neighbors called him “the little redheaded bastard.”
I think they meant that in a good way.
And, so, as I struggled to become a full personality myself, to engage the world more confidently and successfully, I had a model before me. In my teens and twenties I was always looking to my brother, my big brother, as an example of how to be, of who to be. He was my hero.
Of course, I couldn’t be just like Jeff. I was a different person, and better off that way. But in the ways that I did manage to make myself like Jeff, I was also a better person.
Jeff and Anne didn’t have children, but they were and are the most thoughtful, giving, and nurturing people, with their pets and with their garden too. Jeff worried about those he loved and wanted to provide for them, whatever providing might mean. In the end, for our mother, Helen, as Alzheimer’s stole her from us, it meant taking on so much of the responsibility of arranging her care, and even lightening our father, Mac’s, physical and emotional burden.
Jeff would talk with Mom. He always had a way of talking to her that the rest of us didn’t. When she was way beyond reasoning, still he would sit and talk, and look into her eyes, and find a way of reaching her emotionally, to calm, for however short a time, her irrational fears and anxieties.
So a couple of months at most before Mom died, Jeff stood at her bedside in the hospital, and she stared up at him and said, “I don’t know who you are, but I know I like you.”
I don’t know that there was anything anyone ever said to Jeff that meant more to him than that simple statement. Even in her dementia, her personality broken, her memory gone, the internal history of all that Jeff had been and done for her lingered with Mom. His essence still touched her.
In our father’s last years, even before Mom died, as Dad’s world necessarily became smaller, Jeff became his best friend. I think in a way, he fell in love with his father all over again. He just loved that guy. Often with Sharyn or me, but very often just the two of them, they walked, took drives, went shopping, had lunch, went to the movies. Dad lived to 94, so it was with a very sweet pleasure that Jeff one day walked up to the ticket window, gave Mac an elbow in the side, and for the first time said “Two seniors please.”
For Jeff, as it should be, love was a joy, a commitment, and a duty. He reveled in the joys, maintained his commitments, and performed his duties. He and Anne were hosts at their homes of countless family gatherings, serving food, drink and music. Jeff basked in family togetherness and the sometimes tough, needling love we all shared. His ingratiating personality, bawdy humor and cackling laugh were the centerpiece of every get-together.
The joy and commitment and duty of love were most of all for Anne. Only she knows the details and the sum of 40 years of intimacy, and I won’t try to speak for it. They gave their lives to each other. Anne has been a part of our family for all those years, and she always will be. We love her completely.
I have to tell you all, though, of an important moment between me and Anne. I’ve known her since I was 19. Sometimes I see old photos of the two of us, and I can’t believe we were once that young together.
The moment I speak of is the moment I came to understand that Anne knew Jeff better than I did. It was about thirty years ago, maybe more, and we were playing Monopoly at Mike and Rhonda’s apartment in Santa Monica. There was drink and food – a little pot smoking. It was Jeff’s turn, and he was studying the board. I mean he was studying the board. I said, “Look at him. I thought this was a friendly game. He’s really taking this seriously.” And Anne turned to me, and she said, “Are you kidding? He’s trying to remember which piece is his.”
Jeff burst out laughing. Anne had nailed it.
We all had our special intimacies with Jeff. We are all in the family different people, but we share so many likes, and interests, and opinions that there has always been such pleasure in being together.
Over the last 15 years of Dad’s life, he and Jeff and I would often go to the gym together. We’d work out – Dad did almost to the end – we’d swim in the pool, we’d sit for hours and talk politics. We agreed on almost everything. We mostly agreed on how the world was cracked because it didn’t do what we knew would be best.
Many of you will know that in the last decade of his life, playing tennis became one of Jeff’s greatest pleasures. Robert, our nephew, is a top-level amateur. I’m a low-ranked fan. So each year, in recent years, the three of us would meet in Palm Desert in March for the annual tennis open at Indian Wells. We’d watch the practices, the matches, play a little or work out, eat great meals, sit at the pool and schmooze. Three or four days of non-stop one-liners, three bald Jews trying to top each other at every turn. Each year, the tennis got less and less. We just loved being together so much.
I don’t know what Jeff thought about God. I’m not sure he knew. But when I think of Jeff, now, I think of a story I told at our mother’s funeral. I learned it from the great scholar of mythology and religion Joseph Campbell. It’s about a woman who goes to visit a wise man. She waits, infant in her arms, for an audience. And when it is her turn, she tells the wise man that she is in despair. She is in despair because she cannot bring herself to love God. The wise man looks at her with compassion, and he asks, “Is there anything or anyone in the world that you do love?” and the woman cries, looking down, “Oh, yes, my little child.” The wise man places his hand on her arm, he leans close, and he says, “There He is.”
If that is a description you can accept, of God’s presence in the feeling and enactment of selfless love, then I can tell you that Jeff believed in and loved God very much.
We will all have memories of Jeff, family, old friends, newer friends. Sharyn’s go back the farthest. Anne’s are of that special intimacy no one else can match. Mine, even as I stand here, go back to the very beginning of my life. For the first eight years of my life, while Sharyn had her own room, Jeff and I shared a bedroom, with twin beds not very far from each other.
The escapades, the mischief, the brotherly intimacy we shared in that room.
In the last of our rituals, and of Jeff’s regular teases and minor big-brotherly tortures, we would exchange “good night”‘s across the short distance between our twin beds. With the walls of our rectangular bedroom bathed in moonlight, the branches of the tree just outside our window splayed across the walls in shadow, we lay in our beds in the darkness, in Eisenhower’s America, in a dream of earthly beneficence that felt, like life, so broad in its expanse while we lived it, and that feels so preciously brief and distant in its passing.
Jeff would say good night, and I would say good night in return. But Jeff would never let it end there. He would say good night again, so I would feel compelled, in the terms of a game that he as the older brother had license to set, and that I as the younger brother had freedom only to follow, to return the good night again. Then, after perhaps thirty seconds, from across the way and out of the darkness from that other bed would come still one more good night. And so it would go, with a minute between, five minutes, fifteen. Sometimes I could barely sleep, lying there waiting for the next good night to suddenly, softly sound in the dark, or I would cry out in submission. Always, finally, I would fall asleep, and Jeff would have won. In this mockery of sentimentality that was a ten-year old boy’s expression of love for his little brother, Jeff always had the last good night.
But not this time.
Our father had a heart attack at 64, the same age as Jeff. It almost killed him. It didn’t. He lived another 30 years. We’ll always wonder why Jeff couldn’t have had those 30 years, or just some more. There will never be an answer.
We are none of us very long for this world, and the longer you live, the more you understand that the not very long is not very long at all.
Sleep tight, my brother.
I love you so.
We all love you so.
It was too soon for you to go.
39 thoughts on “In Memoriam”
At this time two years ago, you were alive and living what seemed like an ordinary day. I wish I could remember every moment, what we said to each other, how you looked at me. I do remember we kissed good bye as we walked out to your car and I waved as you drove away forever.
Miss you and love you always,
We are celebrating your life today. I think of you and miss you every day. I feel like I am spiritually getting closer to you, as the image of your physical presence slips away. You impacted lives and left unforgetable memories in those who were lucky enough to know and love you. I am grateful we shared an imperfect, perfect romance of a lifetime.
Love always, Anne x
Six months have passed and I miss and love you and expect you to somehow come through the door any minute. I miss your kindness and sense of humor and your voice and laugh. You are the love of my life and I hope I get to be with you again someday, I have to believe that, it keeps me going. I wish you had more time on earth to enjoy your dreams.
Good night, with love from Anne x
I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I didn’t know him but interestingly enough his words, through you, have guided me in times of indecision. I don’t know if you remember telling me about the time that you were trying to decide whether or not to finish your PhD? I remember you saying you told him that you’d be 40 (I think it was) when you finished. His response quite simply was “you’ll be 40 someday anyway. You might as well be 40 with a PhD.”
Your memories of him are so warm and full of love. My heart is full tonight having read your words. My deepest thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.
Michelle (your favorite former student)
Dearest Michelle (STILL my favorite former student),
Such truly thoughtful words from someone like you mean so much. Of course, I remember my brother’s words to me. (I referred to them in the longer eulogy that day.) And I remember relating them to you. Fitting that they have guided us both.
Wow Jay That piece was so intense, I am writing this with running eyes, running nose and streaky face;…… with tears hitting the keyboard as I feel those same words for my little sister who is fighting for her health right now….Thank you for sharing!!! Love you guys!!!
Today is Monday, Memorial Day, two weeks since the passing of my friend Jeff. Hard to believe or accept the reality of it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make my piece with it.
Every now and then I catch myself making a mental note: “….it would be great to talk to Jeff about this…” only to realize, it will not happen, he is gone. We shared a few passions; love for the game of tennis, we both loved cats and a passion for a good movie.
During the French Open, we talked more, it is taking place right now, he would have loved to analyze the matches…
I truly admire everyone who was able to keep it together on the 20th. and say a few words. I know, I couldn’t. We have known each other for little over ten years, and became great friends. I can just imagine a void the people who have known him a lot longer are experiencing. His family, and Anne, whom he passionately called “his partner”. I always found that very endearing.
I don’t think I can say it any better than his brother Jay during his eulogy: “It was too soon for you to go”.
I will always cherish the times we spent together, I will miss him a great deal.
Good by my friend.
I am so sorry for your great loss Jay. Your essay so beautiful states your love of this wonderful man. I am happy that you have Julia by your side to help see you through this awful time of life. My condolences to you and your sister.
Be well my friend. Sorry for you loss.
A beautiful piece Jay…Jeff would be so pleased. My sympathies to you and your family.
My deepest thanks to the many people who have taken the time just to read and even share their thoughts about Jeff. I know the rest of the family feels as I do, that hearing appreciation for the person Jeff was provides, truly, some easing of our pain. Learning that friends of his and colleagues we didn’t even know saw in him the same wonderful person we loved so much is a source of deep satisfaction in the life he lived. We are grateful for these kindnesses.
You certainly have a way with words. What a beautiful piece.
I will miss Jeff with all my heart. He was the one person that made me
laugh hysterically. I am grateful for all the wonderful memories I have of him…Thanksgiving dinners, July 4th celebrations, Malibu,
card games, and many, many more. I will think about him forever!!!
This is a beautiful piece that made me feel as if i knew your brother and your wonderful family life. The sixties photos of your handsome, hippie brother and his lovely Anne are so touching and nostalgic. I loved the ones of the two of you together, then and now. My thoughts are with you.
Dear Jay, thank you for sharing this was a lovely remembrance of your big brother, and my friend and tennis buddy, Jeff. His karma is strong and he will live on. What a pleasure to be in his company, but I’ll miss our future political gabfests, tennis tips and drills, his laughter and passion, and his good counsel. It was a good run, wasn’t it? Good night, dear Jeff.
My little brother has left this earth and my heart is
broken. I will miss him for the rest of my life.
This site a nice tribute to Jeff’s memory. Last night (Monday), I sat and reflected on the friendship Jeff and I developed through our love of tennis and how our tennis partnership has endured throughout the years. Not many wins but many fond memories :-). He was always good natured and enjoyed the game more than the win (though the win would have made it all that sweeter). Sharing that same belief is what kept us together. My children still ask how Jeff is doing, to which I respond that he is resting peacefully.
Sleep tight my friend.
This was a great tribute to Jeff. He will be sorely missed.
Arnie- So sorry for your loss. I know how you feel. Y0ur remembrances are beautiful and I too wish we had him still. It’s been just over 20 years since Jeff and I met and he always made me think, laugh (almost to the point of tears), and feel a true part of the family.
Dearest Jay –
Thank you for your gift of words. I don’t know either you or your brother, but feel as if I have the briefest glimpse of the gifts you two shared with the world through your marvelous stories. They make me so grateful for my siblings (6 full brothers, 3 half brothers and two half sisters). – May the memory of the righteous be for blessing.
What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful friend. Arnie you words and those pictures I will keep forever in my heart. Thank you and rest in peace my friend.
What an incredibly lovely and touching tribute to your beloved brother. He was such a great person…always upbeat, and very bright. He helped me through a tough time with my house, and saved it from foreclosure. I know you will miss him. But my belief—rightly or not—is that we do go on, and I believe—rightly or not—that you will see your brother again.
Best and deepest regards,
Beautiful. What a beautiful story and love! I consider myself lucky…I have that with my family! I really liked Jeff even though we really only knew each other through business. He helped me sell my first home and was helping me through the loss of my current home. He knew the stress I was under with this sale and a recent divorce and he was the BEST. He and I would crack jokes and he always left me smiling! He was very helpful, concerned about me personally, not just as another client, but he remembered things from way back when he sold my first home! He was a wonderful guy and I’m so sorry for all of his family’s loss and especially Anne. He always talked so wonderfully about her and I wondered how on earth someone could be so lucky in love. This is, after all, earth, but they did it and you could tell if you spent time talking with Jeff!
Jay, never has your EXCELLENT writing been more excellent than this.
This is a gorgeous, heartfelt, heart-breaking AND heart-warming Memoriam.
Just absolutely beautiful.
Isak Dinesen wrote, “All sorrows can be borne if they can be put in a story.” A single good one will do. The “Good Night” story you share here is a particularly tender expression of your deep love for your brother. May you always carry that love with you; may it always sustain you in your times of greatest need. It is everlasting, and I’m sure Jeff knew that.
My heart goes out to you, dear friend.
So sorry to hear the news, Jay–and here in Prague, a place that has all sort of connections of both love and loss for me. Beautifully done piece.
Please accept my deepest condolences.
This so beautifully brings to life once again the love of my life. I wanted more–but 40 years of having him was not a bad deal. Jeff died a week ago today, I still think I hear his voice or car pulling into the garage and go to meet him before I catch myself. Jeff and I had a ritual of walking each other out when one of us was leaving and waving goodbye from the door to the car that was leaving. It was silly but it was a show of love. Thank you Arnie for giving him a wonderful send off and your love and friendship. Anne
If you listen to that voice that you are hearing that you know can’t really be there, you will be guided through the many decisions you will need to make on your own. As long as you need help he will be there, when you no longer need help, he will rest. He does not want to leave you in the lurch, thats not the way he was. Thats what Victor did for me. Since you are sensing him he is guiding you. I know how tough this can be. If you ever want to chat you can reach me at 818-993-3023. Thank you very much for letting me know what happened. By the way, you sure were a good looking girl. My condolences to you and your family. Marcia
Thank you for introducing your brother in such a loving narrative. I feel honored to partake of your family’s love.
I lost my brother so early that I never met him, but had we survived together, I would hope that our relationship might have approached yours in sharing, concern, and delight.
Your brother is kvelling from your loving, heartfelt words, Jay.
Your brother is kvelling from your loving, heartfelt words, Jay.
There’s not much to say other than I’m truly sorry for your loss, Jay.
That is so beautiful, Jay! I cant stop crying…
Love you both! I am proud to be your niece.
So sorry for your loss, Jay.