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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On July 14, 2009, I officiated at the funeral of Jeff Willner at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado.

On July 14, 2009, I officiated at the funeral of Jeff Willner at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. It was a perfect venue for this lover of music. Jeff and I had an agreement about Judaism: He claimed me as his rabbi, and I never claimed that the Torah or the Prophets could say it better than Jackson Browne or the Grateful Dead.

I like to think that Jeff is in heaven now, jamming with Jerry, and hanging out with his father, Willy, while simultaneously watching the Sports Channel and spotting some egrets taking off in flight. In heaven, you can do all of those things at the same time.

Jeff Willner z”l
Boulder Theater
7/14/09 12 noon

We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and more specifically, to celebrate the friendship of Jeff -- Jeffrey Adam Willner – born December 19, 1967.

Jeff was very explicit in his wishes for his memorial service. It should be celebratory, not somber. No wallowing in misery, but rather focused on the positive of our precious time with him.

I don’t know if we can meet his wish. The grief is thick. The sadness is real. There are tears that must be shed and even screams of anguish that must be screamed.

But, in honor of who Jeff was, and what he taught us by the way he lived his life, we will try to assuage our pain by remembering all that good and great and the best of our time with Jeff.

Because for those of you who knew Jeff, you remember he had a positive superlative to describe every situation.

We will allow for laughter and smiles, shared glances of acknowledgement and nods of recognition, to lift our hurt.

We will gain our strength to get through this pain by recalling the joy that we held in the all too brief years we had with our friend, your son, your brother, your cousin, your uncle, your son-in-law, your husband.

There is nothing in the world that was more precious to Jeff than his relationships. Not even football, the Grateful Dead or Jackson Browne, although those came pretty close.

But creating, sustaining and deepening relationships was the core of his life.

Jeff was an amazing friend because in a world which conspires to separate us, he brought us back together.

His smiling eyes, his smiling spirit, eased you into conversation. And then he listened deeply to what you said. He engaged with you beyond the level of superficiality. His infectious optimism and his loyalty kept you close. And you knew he loved you. Each of us, in a different way.

His soulmate, his love was his wife Stephanie.

His role models, his support team, giver of life not once but twice were his mother Linda and his father Willy who passed away 18 months ago (may his memory be for a blessing) His rock, who was always able to say what needed to be said, was his Sister Nancy.His cousins, nephews, uncles, aunts, in-laws, so dear to him His colleagues who supported and cheered for him, who inspired and worked with him. And that amazing, amazing circle of friends that he maintained throughout.

It will not surprise you that his friend Andy, one of his friends since he was 2, and who flew in from Spain to sign his ketubah when he and Stephanie wed in 2004, flew back to the States last weekend to say good-bye to Jeff and is here today, along with friends from every part of Jeff’s life.

And of course, his cousin David Rubell is here. In 1995 when Jeff was diagnosed with Leukemia, he called up his cousin David who lived in Colorado and said “I need some positive energy before I go through this. Will you show we your Colorado?” Jeff and his sister Nancy flew out and spent two weeks traveling Colorado with David, listening to Jackson Brown and as Jeff said, “I took the memories and the music into the bubble with me.” In 2004, David signed as the witness on Jeff and Stephanie’s marriage license, weeping with joy that Jeff was alive.

When death was imminent, when many would have been consumed by anger, fear and blame, even then Jeff was positive saying,” I had a wonderful life of love and friends. I feel like I hit the jackpot.”

And so it is so appropriate to turn the microphone over to family and friends.

  • Scott Falenstein (worked with at CBS)
  • Jeff Gorletchen (college friend)
  • Mark Ross (college friend)
Speaking to them:
Linda, I cannot even imagine your pain. I am so sorry. But I want to thank you for this wonderful gift you gave us all. You modeled for your son the importance of connection and in turn Jeff influenced so many people. He was a leader, both subtly and formally and the lessons he taught us will abide in each of us.

I pray that you achieve his wish for you, that you continue to live your life with tenacity and fortitude and most importantly to reach always toward happiness and joy.

Nancy, You and Jeff, sister and brother, the team from the beginning. As a child, you so yearned to be in your brothers orbit, that you let him to give you Grateful Dead lessons, “Listen to this song and be prepared to discuss it,” and football lessons, “Study these cards and be prepared to identify the players.”

Throughout all that came to pass, you were his rock and his strength. You could say to him the words, which no know else could say, and he could make you smile and laugh in any situation.

When your father was dying, Jeff got some fruit loops and confidently (albeit incorrectly) assured you that he could identify each color in a blind taste test. The peals of laughter sustained you both through your mourning.

I pray that in time, memories of Jeff will bring you smiles more often than tears and that you will live your life as he wished for you, in pursuit of happiness.

Stephanie, When you met Jeff you began the happiest period of your life. I remember how exhilarated you were after just three dates with Jeff.

For the first time ever, you occasionally missed one of our early morning workouts because you and Jeff had stayed out so late the night before. And soon after, on your first anniversary, he proposed marriage. We joked that for the first time in your life, you were speechless. He taught you perspective and modeled mellowness. You introduced him to Mocha and then Willa and to savoring fine food.

Such laughter filled your life. You felt for the time ever that you found someone who totally accepted you for who you were. When you were married, your soul soared.

You always knew that your time with Jeff would be short. And yet you choose him. You choose him because you and Jeff shared a love of such depth, acceptance and belief in each other.

I know you treasure the 7 years you had with Jeff. I know you would not have traded them for anything. But I wonder if sometimes you wish that you had spent the time with him differently, with more spectacular moments –more adventure and travel, back stage passes to Jackson Browne, home cooked multi course Japanese dinners – all the many things you wanted to do more of together.

And so if those thoughts creep in, I want to reassure you that it is the mundane moments that are life – walking Willa in the park, teaching a spin class, talking about your day, even watching sport center while reading the paper and listening to music and watching 3 games simultaneously on Television.

The love you share with Jeff is a love built on genuine connection, abiding trust, and laughter. So much laughter. You two grew so in your time together.

I cannot stand here and pretend to fathom the depths of your grief. But I can tell you this. It is your love for Jeff that will carry you through.

I want to close with Jeff’s words.

On September 5, 2004 at the Tucker Canyon House in Boulder Canyon, your soon to be husband spoke these words to you:

"You open my eyes, you embrace my heart and you nurture my soul.

You give my life meaning beyond my farthest reaching hopes and dreams.

For all that we have and so much more, I love you.

Stephanie Jill Schaffer, I love you today, tomorrow and forever…

Wherever life takes us and whatever the world brings us I will embrace every precious moment that I have with you for as long as we both shall live."

May his memory be for a blessing.


Blogger tergarbear said...

What a beautiful service...
Cousin Steph and Jeff's family - you have our deepest sympathy as you go through this very difficult time. We didn't get to spend much time with you and Jeff, but it was apparent he was the type of person that made a quick, positve and long lasting impression.
With love,
Teri and Gary Moidel

July 16, 2009 at 8:05 PM  
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