Eulogy for Barbara Cohen
Barbara Julie Cohen
Barb was a trooper. She was an amazing and remarkable person, devoted sister to Ben and me, devoted, loving aunt and sister-in-law, and loving daughter to my parents. Barb had tremendous courage in the face of everything life presented to her. She was the wind beneath my wings. In her own quiet, gentle way she watched over me like a big sister hawk; and now we all have to accept the deep sadness and loss at losing the strength and umbrella of Barb. For us all it is a terrible, terrible loss. It was easy for her to be someone’s best friend. She would literally give you the ‘shirt off her back’ in the words of my dad. Barb encouraged us all for the talents she saw in us. She was a gifted encourager. Her ears and eyes were clever, astute, highly sensitized, and very alert.
She always told me she was shy, but I encouraged her to branch out. So recently she pushed herself to connect with others more deeply in the retirement home where she lived, by reaching out to others who she did not really know well, to show she cared. She loved giving everyone her art. That was her gift to them. With close friends and family, Barb who was usually more melancholic, taciturn and quiet, recently adopted our mom’s gift for chattiness, and laughed about that new discovery in herself.
Although we fought a lot, and always made up, Barb was always a role model for me in her perseverance, work ethic and being kind to others. In many ways she was unstoppable. She went every day she could, to work for four to six hours in the art studio we found for her. If I can be half as kind and loving as Barb, then I will have lived a good life. Barb lived her best life every day by being courageously creative, kind and loving. Her tremendous strength and bravery coping with life’s challenges within and outwardly, was a great source of strength for me. And to quote Joni Mitchell: (it is a terrible shock when you realize) you don’t know what you have got until it is gone.
Her love for me was so big that it is hard to imagine how I will be successful without that magnanimous, warm love she bestowed upon us every day of her life. When our parents were not well, she was the first to step in to help them, loving them unconditionally. She was the constant for them and for us, no matter what - always remaining strong and steadfast in the face of life’s challenges. Barb loved all her family members unconditionally, and with her whole, gigantically kind heart. She loved many things: doing her art - painting, drawing and sewing, giving her art to others, communing and learning with other artists, the wisdom and humanistic aspects of our Jewish faith, being supportive of her friends and family, finding images and ‘pictures’ in clouds, reading nonfiction books, her sketchbooks, and finally the weather - in all its sounds, splendor, glory and furor. She always said: "people complain a lot about the weather, but they shouldn’t." When I would ask her what the weather was like in Guelph, she would often say "beautiful", with tremendous reverence for nature and its beauty and blessings.
I think Barb’s friends and family will all agree: The world will not be the same without Barb. To Barb: "It will not be the same and quite as amazing and contented for me without you, Barb. I was fortunate to have you as a sister."
Barb began her life in the Sault as a bright, beautiful, energetic kid, always running around, climbing trees, playing games outside all day, playing cowboys and Indians with our older brother, keeping up with him in her fiercely admiring and loving way. And when I came along she watched over and took care of me, a lot.
Barb is remembered by us and cousins for her amazing courage and skills for ski jumping and slalom skiing, and was a trophy winning team member of the Northern Ontario Ski team. She was never a bragger about her skiing talent. I had to remind her how gifted a ski racer and ski jumper she was.
Barb felt all things more deeply than most of us. She prayed every day for my brother and me, and always asked me what I wanted her to pray for me. I was stupidly reserved about this special blessing towards me, but later and soon enough thankfully, I became quietly grateful knowing she was the only person I had, that would do that for me. I told Barb thank you for praying for me.
Barb was a grad of Toronto’s Ontario College of Art who was steered by faculty there to pursue Environmental Design and Conceptual Art, and throughout her life continued to be a very gifted artist in Guelph, Ontario. Before the pandemic, Barb generously volunteered and taught a small group of burgeoning artists in her community for 6 years, to appreciate the work of the masters, and to love and create their own art. I often told her she should directly teach her students sharing all her depth of education and comprehensive knowledge, but she believed she should only facilitate, and insisted on letting them all discover individually what talents lay within themselves. Her art classes were held in the Guelph Library. She found her students art books so they could look at the work of other artists for inspiration, and directed them - only after they began their own thought and creative processes. She preferred to have a low key, off-handed encouraging approach, as opposed to directly sharing her depth of knowledge with others. Looking back at that, I think that visionary, progressive approach might have more long-standing benefits in some ways for special learners in all their diversity, than traditional teaching would.
Barb was somewhat of a rebel, but interestingly she did become much more conservative and conventional in her later life. This was a comfort to me, being the very straightest arrow in the family.
Barb was a highly intelligent and gifted, high IQ, intellectual who thirsted for knowledge and discovery. She and my brother are the brains in the family. Barb was regularly taking art lessons with a prominent Canadian artist Laurie McGaw in Guelph before the pandemic. She would really want all of you to check out the beauty in Laurie McGaw’s amazing art and in the fabric art of Barb’s friend Tammy Ratcliffe in Guelph. Through and by using her courageous creativity daily, Barb wanted to bring peace to our world, global warming awareness and environmental consciousness into much of the art she created. She was extremely self-disciplined and produced art in some way every day of her life in Guelph for many years. Barb worked tremendously hard on her art daily. The way she did art was way out at times, to use a term popular in the 70s, and while I struggled to understand and accept some aspects of her art, I always appreciated her amazing talent for sewing leather clothing, drawing and painting.
Barb appreciated and acknowledged others for their various diverse abilities, passions and talents. Barb was passionate with a capital P. She enjoyed and was buoyed on by spending time with other artists whose work she admired. We think it is a blessing that one of Barb’s nieces is now beginning studies at the Parsons New School of Art and Design in the US and this is one of the many wonderful legacies Barb has left us. Barb was thrilled about this.
I know she would want us all to keep our eyes open for beauty all around us, do what we love and always openly share that love with others. But without her here to quietly and with Grace encourage us, I hope I will be able to muster the courage to properly reflect her amazing legacy and strength, in the way in which she conducted herself - with courage, determination and an open heart, every day of her life.
Travelling to Guelph and being there with Barb was special because I knew Barb was living a productive life doing what she loved - her art. Living my life was good and brought me happiness, because I knew Barb was looked after where she resided. I will miss Barb daily and the love she had for us all ‘every day and twice on Sunday,’ and try my best to honor her legacy by pushing myself to always remember to keep loving first, have the courage to be creative, and to work as hard as I can. Our family wishes to thank you all for leading, attending; and thanks to my brother Ben for being a good, supportive big brother to Barb, and special thanks to Barb’s brother-in-law and my husband Byron for going above and beyond for Barb and us, always.
I am confident that Barb would want us all to keep thriving and live our best life creatively and lovingly, by working hard as we were taught by our father and mother, by standing up for what we believe in, and by sharing as much as possible with others less fortunate than ourselves. She would want us to be courageously creative in everything we do!
To Barb I say: please forgive me for anytime I was less than a good sister and please know that every day you were in our life was a blessed day because you were beautiful-and-cute-unique-you, and you were there for us. Always.
Love you so much Barb and thank you for being gentle with me and teaching me so much about what is really important in our lives, and very sorry that I was always such a slow learner, and reticent to share at times. But whenever I said "I love you" I really meant that deep inside my heart. Always and forever. May Barb’s memory be a blessing for all her family and friends who were blessed to know her, and for you too who kindly came to be with us today to venture on in this life’s blessed journey. These days are not always easy, but I think Barb would quietly say to us all: "Hi everyone. Thank you for coming. Keep dreaming, hoping, doing and loving. Love, Barb."
Susie - Barb’s sister.