Adam Fisher of Port Jefferson Station talks about meeting his wife, Eileen.
Eileen and I met 60 years ago at the Queens College library. I was home from Colgate University and needed to work on a paper. Eileen, a Queens College student, was studying in the library. A mutual friend introduced us, and after getting Eileen's phone number I called and we went on a date. She later said she fell for me immediately. I was such a dolt, it took me longer to fall in love with the blue-eyed, red-haired beauty. That was the start of our 60-year love affair.
We dated for five years, and I finally proposed to Eileen at the Cloisters in 1965. We married three months later at Temple Isaiah in Forest Hills.
When first married, we lived in Kew Gardens. I still had two more years of rabbinical schooling at the Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion. Eileen was a kindergarten teacher in East Harlem. After I was ordained, I completed two years as a Navy chaplain in Parris Island, South Carolina, and two years at a congregation in Virginia. Eileen and I then moved to Stony Brook. By then both our daughters were born. They are now happily married to wonderful men who are terrific husbands and fathers. They have given us five beautiful grandchildren.
From 1971 to 2002, I was the rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.
Eileen and I are approaching our 80s. We’ve been happily married for 55 years and love each other more than ever. We are both healthy and hope to enjoy many more years together, but we know nothing is forever. We’ve taken care of our will, a power of attorney and medical directives because we don’t want our deaths to be more of a burden than necessary.
But I wanted to do more to show love in the face of death. I have been a woodworker for 25 years and decided to make our own coffins. Eileen, a talented and creative quilter, is making burial quilts. I will be buried in the tallit (prayer shawl) that Eileen gave me when we were engaged. We used it for our chuppah (wedding canopy), the cover for our wedding night bed, and I have worn it all these years at prayer. It is worn, repaired and precious.
I sketched out plans, which I cleared with the funeral industry, to make the coffins and used maple-veneer plywood, which isn’t elegant but won’t warp.
People have asked me if making the coffins felt ghoulish or if it freaked me out. Some people think the idea is downright weird, that I was nutty. “And you are keeping them in your house no less!” they would add. It wasn’t ghoulish. I approached it as a woodworking project and focused on measuring and cutting precisely the way I would with any project. I admit I imagined myself lying in the coffin. Oddly, it didn’t rattle me. Rather, creating them was a loving and personal way to prepare for the inevitable and to do it with our own handmade things.
The coffins are stored behind our furnace and water heater and next to the exercise bike we use to stay in shape. Talk about contradictions!
We have graves picked out in our congregation’s cemetery, where I have buried many people over the years. I will be buried between my late and dearest friend, Bob, and Eileen. We joke that Bob and I can continue trading stories, teasing one another and talking politics. Eileen and I kid that we can continue holding hands as we have done in bed all these years.
— With Ann Donahue-Smukler
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