I thought the Rabbi was kidding.
“You want to introduce me to a 98-year-old who wants to date?”
“No,” he said, “I want to introduce you to a 98-year-old who would be open to getting remarried!”
“Won’t his adult children object?”
“Not at all. They want him to be happy. He is dating someone now, but that relationship has run its course, and his son came to ask me if I knew anyone exceptional.”
Well, I don’t know how exceptional I am, but Jerome sure was. Before the first get-acquainted date he had to cancel because he had a slight cold, “But,” he said on my answering machine, “We will always have manana.” And, for a time, it seemed as if we just might. His positive attitude, his brilliance, his wisdom, his warmth, his charm, captivated me completely.
I would be lying if I said that I was not awed by the lifestyle he shared with me in our scant three months together: a Fifth Avenue Apartment out of Architectural Digest, filled with major artworks and a live-in housekeeper; his sprawling, likewise gorgeous, art-filled home in Mamaroneck, complete with a live-in couple with culinary skills beyond most of the finest restaurants in Manhattan–not to mention lavish meals we shared at The Lotus Club, Cipriani and other fine restaurants. Then there was an added surprise: his stunning, fully staffed, oceanfront villa in Casa de Campo, enjoyably reached by private jet.
Just one memory, of many: The way he stood outside my building when he came to pick me up for an evening on the town. There he was, with a glow about him, so elegantly dressed, smiling proudly that he had a great night planned for us. And there, behind the wheel of his car, sat Tony, his longtime driver, bodyguard, confidante, grinning ear-to-ear, so pleased that “the boss” had found such a wonderful relationship at this stage of his life.
We had a complete connection–Jerry wanted us to be lovers, and we were. We were able to take pleasure in each other in every way. I was flattered that he wanted to share so much of his life story with me too: he talked almost non-stop: this titan of industry telling me how he built his business, describing all the events of his life, asking my opinion of the people he introduced me to, and then really listening! He was a serious man, but he could also make me laugh: we would watch the news together, discussing the presidential candidates. He was deeply supportive of women, and had held fundraisers for Hillary in his home. I was impressed by the politicians, university presidents, and other VIPS he had a speed dial– but he told me not to be overawed: “They are just people,” he said. Though many of his closest friends were also fabulously wealthy others were not and he enjoyed them equally.
Jerry also was a secret philanthropist, anonymously supporting students from low income families so they could attend college and make something of themselves. “Giving anonymously takes courage,” he once said. When I asked why, he replied, “Because we all want admiration and credit for being generous.” Giving anonymously for no credit is the purest form of giving.” To me that said a lot about this remarkable man I was so blessed to have met and become close to so quickly.
As I said, I was awed by the “perks” of being with this man–but not over-awed by them. I was over-awed by Jerry himself–and by his son Henry, who had first come to the Rabbi, the son’s lovely wife and their four adorable young children, who range in age from 7 to 15. I had felt that way from the first weekend we spent with them in Mamaroneck, playing Clue and Poker, laughing, talking. it felt familiar and right, as if I was a member of their wonderful family.
On our second trip to Casa de Campo Jerry asked me to move in with him–and I said yes, I would gladly do so when we got back. We had so many exciting plans for the next few weeks and months. This was to include family occasions, dinner with more of the ridiculously successful, brilliant and fun couples he delighted in taking me to meet, and even a gala at the Waldorf, for which he had recently had his Tuxedo altered. He was a huge philanthropist and humanitarian, busy espousing worthy causes and holding political fundraisers at his country home–all of which he could actively pursue now that he was retired from the major steel business he had once run globally, having since turned it over to another member of his family.
I wished I had met him years earlier, but we were having such a great time–I thought for sure we’d have more of it. You know that old saying about man making plans and God laughing. As it turned out, we were living on borrowed time. We all are, of course, but still, it was so sudden.
That day followed what was a very difficult night. With Jerry sleep was always elusive. He had to take many pills to try to get any sort of decent rest, and even that did not always work. He would often go to breakfast with me and then return to his bed for a nap. That morning he was especially tired. However, by lunch he had rallied, and we had a nice afternoon in the pool, walking back and forth, talking–always talking. Well, he did most of the talking. I was only too happy to absorb his penetrating insights about the world around us, and human nature.
Later I helped him dress for a cocktail party, bringing him one of the many freshly ironed Brooks Brothers shirt, from his walk in dressing room, along with a gorgeous sweater he wrapped around his shoulders, and crisp white slacks. He had been losing weight, and the belt went in yet another notch, but he laughed it off–as he did every frailty. He did use a cane, but resisted a walker, even though his gait was a bit uncertain and he needed help with stairs. Overall though, he made few concessions to his advanced age. “I still feel like a teenage boy,” he told me more than once. I believed him.
Before dinner he hosted a cocktail party in his villa. As his guests–several other Casa de Campo home owners–enjoyed the canapés and cocktails, he held forth–on the state of the election, and the state of the world, and on many other topics. He was his usual brilliant self. I sat across from him on one of the couches, talking to others. Had I known I was perhaps two hours away from losing him forever I would have–Well, I certainly would have sat right next to him, giving him the full measure of my warmth and love, while drinking in his.
When the guests had left, we went into the boheo–a vast space open to the elements, with high ceilings, surrounded by wraparound terraces that faced the sea. We sat at a huge round table with other members of his extended family who were also visiting. all of us were enjoying the conversation, along with a delicious dinner, beautifully prepared by his Dominican cook, and served by his long-time, deeply devoted house staff–each of whom he had, over the years, gifted with a house, while also helping many of their children attend private schools and colleges.
As usual he ate lightly, but at one point I noticed that he was silent, just staring into pace–very unlike him. “Are you okay, honey?” I asked. “Want to go back to the room and rest?” “I don’t know,” he responded in a strange voice. Immediately after he said that he began to thrash around. As we learned later, he had suffered what turned out to be a blood clot to the brain.
It took the local ambulance too long to get to him and the ride in the ambulance to the local hospital was bumpy, with the oxygen tubes they put into his nose continuously falling out. He never regained consciousness, and died a day later. I think if he’d been in New York rather than in the Dominican Republic, he might have been saved. It’s something we can never know. On the bright side, he left this earth in a place he loved, never having to be an invalid, which he feared more than anything. He died fast, without pain, after a very long and wonderful life, and I was so privileged to have been with him and able to make him happy at the tag end of his charmed life.
Going forward, oh what a bar he set! Not the billionaire lifestyle aspect–I never looked for that and in fact have always been proudly independent. The high bar is the quality of the man.
He left us 7 weeks shy of his 99th birthday, a party for which invitations had already been sent out. He never got to do his classic birthday party “egg trick.” He will never have another Dewar’s. And I will never again feel his arms around me. I will miss the way this brilliant man trusted me and confided in me. He made me feel worthy, even if I really wasn’t on his Harvard educated, brilliant orator, global tycoon, and world-class philanthropist level.
How do you move ahead from this kind of a loss? Whether you lost a lifelong spouse, or another beloved family member or dear friend, Death always wins.
Or does it? I had just recently finished co-writing a book with a phenomenal healer named Robbie Holz called THE LISTENERS: Bridging the Realms Between You, Your Guardian Angel and Your Spiritual Board of Advisors. The premise of the book is that every one of us has a Guardian Angel waiting on the spiritual plane to help us in all aspects of our lives. The catch is this: they can’t just volunteer and start helping. We have to ask for that help, as Robbie teaches people to do. After I lost this incredible man, I tried her method for myself, asking him to be my Guardian Angel. Things suddenly began to happen that defy belief–projects and people I truly believe he brought to me.
I am not a woo-woo kind of person, but sometimes, when the evidence is clear, you just have to believe. The night after this amazing man died, still in his villa, I lay on the bed in the room we had shared, eyes swollen shut from crying—and felt his hand in mine. It was as firm and real as any other time he had held my hand. It was his unique touch. I knew if I opened my eyes there would be no one there, so I keep them closed, and the fingers stayed around mine. About ten minutes later I opened my eyes–and of course no one was there. Those who have never experienced such a phenomenon will say it was all my imagination, mere wishful thinking. But the physicality of the connection was real. That’s all I can say about it. He was there, then. And I believe, on some level, he still is.
I will go back to online dating. The Rabbi also wants to help me find someone. Having just lost this phenomenal man, I wonder if I can find another man to love. My new Guardian Angel has answered. He has said yes, that “life must and should go on.” This man had married the love of his life and spent 45 wonderful years with her. Four years after she died we found each other. I asked him once if he thought we each have only one soulmate in a lifetime. He said no, that we could have more than one. Then he added, “After my wife died–she as you know was a woman I adored beyond measure–I could have chosen to sit alone in a darkened room, pouring over photo album after photo album. But why focus on what is lost, when life is so precious? “And,” he smiled at me: “Look what I found!”
So yes, I wish we could have borrowed even a bit more time. Nonetheless, I am grateful for what I received, and what I was able to give him, in those magical three months of our lives.
Love the life you live. Even if it’s over when you turn 100, it will be over too soon.