Justin and I traveled back to Indiana on Friday and spent the afternoon going to my favorite antique shops with my dad. My dad bought me a fabulous book from James Whitcomb Riley that was published in 1940 but looked like it hadn't ever been opened. My great grandmother loved James Whitcomb Riley and would talk about his poetry with me often. She even gave me some of his poetry collections that she had kept throughout her life, the pages wonderfully yellowed with time and creased with years of use. The book was the perfect gift.
Later that evening, the whole family had dinner together and then gathered at my parents' house for cake. It was strange being back in the town where Cohen and I grew up together, knowing that I would be saying goodbye to her one last time the next day. As I walked to the various shops downtown with my dad and Justin, I just remembered all the times Cohen and I had walked those streets together.
Cohen's celebration of life was beautiful and heart-wrenching. Justin and I arrived early and walked into the sanctuary of the church. Photographs of Cohen were in a slideshow on the projector screen: a photo of her with Justin and I on our wedding day, one of us with our moms at her sister's baby shower, my favorite photo of her with me and my brothers. We had 17 years of memories together, and I think it finally sank in for the first time that we wouldn't be able to make any more.
I helped Cohen's mother put together an arrangement at the front of the sanctuary while noticing that the framed photo next to the urn was one that my dad took of her during our senior photo shoot back in 2007. I remembered how beautiful and sunny that day had been; we were so full of excitement and hope for the future and wonder and anxiety about college. I never would have thought back then that I would only have 10 short years left with the girl who had become my sister. Outside the sanctuary, Cohen's family set up a journal where people could write notes and memories. I had gotten that journal for Cohen as a gift for high school graduation; I'd hoped she would use it as a travel journal someday when she was able to fulfill her dream of going all over the world. I never would have thought the journal would be used at her funeral someday, still empty because she became sick right after college.
So many people came to celebrate Cohen, and the service was like looking at a scrapbook of all of our years together. We had friends come from all over who represented various points in our lives: high school friends, some of her family friends who I grew up with because we were always together, college friends who were with us during our involvement with various campus ministries. It reminded me of the film Big Fish (which Cohen and I actually saw with friends on her 15th birthday). The man tells so many stories throughout the movie, but you don't realize until the end how "larger than life" he actually was.
Justin got up at the beginning of the service and read a piece I wrote for Cohen. I hope I captured even just a glimpse of the relationship Cohen and I shared. The music was beautiful and we sang several of Cohen's favorite songs, including "I Can Only Imagine" (a song she put on quite a few of the CDs she made for me in high school and college). One speaker joked that there were no photographs of Cohen and I without each other, and there is some truth to that. He pointed out how all the photographs represented our adventures and experiences together, and he was spot on. Cohen and I loved to take photos, and we had to document everything we did. Now that she's gone, all of those photographs mean more than I could ever say.
After the service, we listened to Cohen's little brother talk about her and how special and unique and funny and loving she was. We shared a meal and remembered Cohen, laughing and swapping stories about the impact Cohen had on all of us. The service ended with a balloon release at Buckner Park in Fort Wayne, a place where Cohen and I took many photos together during her little brother's birthday celebration several years earlier. As we watched the 28 blue and yellow balloons (representing Batman, her favorite superhero) drift into the air and out of view, I silently wondered what life would look like for me from that point on. I can never replace Cohen, and it's going to take time for me to navigate this life without her.
During the dinner at the service, Cohen's mom gave me a necklace of an angel. She got the same necklace for herself, my mom, and Cohen's sister Amanda. The necklace represents everything Cohen meant to us, but it also shows unity among us. Cohen brought us together and our families melded into one during our 17-year friendship.
On the drive back to Ohio later that night, my heart was so full after having seen so many people who meant the world to Cohen (and me) over the years. She was so loved by so many and will be remembered as the strong, brave, compassionate, and generous person she was. But my heart was also heavy; life will never be the same without Cohen. I will never be the same.
I love you, Cohen, and I look forward to the day when we will see each other again.
Even when the rain fallsEven when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water