Good afternoon. For those who do not know me, I am Jennifer Zarchy, a friend and voice student of Jay’s. I could pay tribute to the many talents and accomplishments of Jay Poûhe, but today I choose to highlight his humanity, the gifts of his heart. I know everyone in this room was touched by Jay in their own special way and there will be many stories to tell for years to come.
Before I share some personal thoughts, I’d like to begin with a poem by an unknown author, which embodies what it meant to have Jay as a friend:
What is a Friend?? I’ll tell you.
It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself.
Your soul can go naked with him.
He seems to ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you really are.
When you are with him, you do not have to be on your guard.
You can say what you think, so long as it is genuinely you.
He understands those contradictions in your nature that cause others to misjudge you.
With him you breathe freely – you can avow your little vanities and envies and absurdities and in opening them up to him they are dissolved on the white ocean of his loyalty.
He understands – You can weep with him, laugh with him, pray with him – through and underneath it all, he sees, knows and loves you.
A Friend, I repeat, is one with whom you dare to be yourself.
One Saturday afternoon, in December 2008, I had the pleasure of singing in my favorite opera, Verdi’s Aida, with one of Jay’s students, Tonia Manteneri and another soon to be student Karole Lewis. After the opera Tonia introduced me to Jay as her voice teacher. It so happens that I was looking for a new voice teacher at that time. Shortly thereafter I began a journey that would rekindle my joy in singing and bring rewards of friendship such that I could not have imagined. I began making the 2 hour drive from New Jersey with Tonia for our voice lessons. It was a whole day experience. Tonia briefed me on the routine. She said: First we go out to lunch, then I take a nap, then we work, then we have a drink and then we go out for dinner, which was usually followed by dozing off on the sofa while watching a little TV before the 2 hour drive back. After so many trips together, I got the directions down pat, and continued the routine on solo trips, except that my nap was needed after we worked. In addition to the wonderful training I received in that 1-2 hours of singing, we laughed, we drank, we ate, we talked. We talked about music, about books, about cooking, about travel, about family, about politics, about everything.
I immediately saw the kindness in Jay’s character and how he treated everyone equally with respect and with dignity. I could see his love of animals and their fondness for him (especially the chickens from next door, who’d come pecking at his door every day). Jay was different than most New York voice teachers and artists of his caliber, as he never displayed his ego. Jay always focused on the person he was with and not his own virtues. He would listen attentively and never interrupt. When you were through, he shared his thoughts, knowing when they were welcome or when just being a good listener was enough.
As time went by I met many of Jay’s friends around town. Wherever we went, it seemed as though everyone knew Jay. They would soon become my friends, and Palenville my village. Jay was special. He genuinely cared about people. His friends were his family. I could see that being a friend of Jay’s meant that you shared his open heart and kind spirit, as that is what he valued above all else. Jay was supportive through all the curve balls life would throw over the years, including the loss of my brother, the loss of my mother and other personal challenges; and he was happy when we were happy and proud of our accomplishments. With Jay, you didn’t have to talk all the time. Somehow he knew what you were thinking, he knew what you were feeling, he knew what was in your heart. A moment of silence was simply the sharing of a peaceful moment, a comfortable place. A simple gesture was all that was needed to demonstrate his kindness or empathy.
With my family spread out, I would come to spend many holidays at Jay’s house, as did a number of his friends. We had our own family dinner. There was so much warmth at Jay’s house. When I visited him in the hospital recently, I was soon joined by Susan and Mary. When the nurse came in she asked: Are you friends or family? Jay replied both, they’re friends and family. We all smiled in agreement, as we basked in the love.
I will miss coming up and sitting on the porch with a scotch and some creamed herring, I will miss marveling at the number of stars in the skies and the harmonious sounds of nature, I will miss lunch and dinners at Circle W and Fernwood and Rip Van Winkle and Red Onion, and El Rancho and Ambrosia diner and Port of Call… I will miss driving around town and Jay saying “Boy you sure do know your way around Palenville” or “you sure know your way around Catskill.” I will miss our trips to Story Farms in Catskill and Adam’s (Fairacre Farms) in Kingston. I will not miss that winding, nerve-racking drive up to Hunter Mountain (which I could only handle once!). I will miss Jay’s cooking and his “family dinners”. I will miss Susan’s beet salad during Christmas and Pam’s serenade. I will miss big hugs from Cookie and Michelle and Lorraine walking me to my car at night when Jay no longer could, so I wouldn’t be afraid of the bears. I will miss Byron tending to the garden during my voice lessons with his little helper Dylan. I will miss bringing Jay the Sunday Times so he could do the crossword puzzle and Mary counting out his pills for the week. I will miss Jay knowing all the answers to Jeopardy and laughing at reruns of Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. I will miss my happy place. Jay’s house was always a place I could come and be happy and feel at peace. Most of all, I will miss Jay. Whenever I called to confirm I was coming, Jay would always say “I’ll be here.” Sadly Jay won’t be there any longer, at least not physically, but I know his spirit will always be there, walking quietly in the footprints he left in our hearts.
I like to think we have a new guardian angel watching over us. I will look for his signs. And while I will miss him terribly, seeing him suffer was the worst feeling in the world. I drove home Sunday night, my eyes stinging with tears and my heart already grieving, and I prayed to G-d to have mercy upon him. When I arrived home at 1am, I texted Tonia to tell her I thought this would be his last day. To my surprise she was still awake, her heart already grieving as well. We each poured ourselves a drink and exchanged our thoughts of Jay for the next hour until we said our good-nights at 1:56am. We would soon learn that Jay took his last breath at 1:58am. Our guardian angel was granted his wings as we honored his life, and now we thank G-d that he rests comfortably in peace with no pain. G-d always calls home his best, and Jay was truly the best.
Thank you Jay for the joy and love you brought into all our lives. You have been a blessing to your entire extended family – your chosen family, and you will live forever in our hearts. I love you for the many ways you have shown your kindness and generosity of spirit towards all human beings. The seeds planted in your garden will forever flourish.
Eulogy by Jennifer Zarchy