“The greatest gift you’ll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.” -Moulin Rouge
“How do you measure a year in a life? Measure in love.” -RENT
“Love actually is all around.” - Love Actually
What do these three movie quotes have in common? The theme of love, and a man by the name of Jeffrey Curtin, who loved his musicals, and lived a life FULL of love.
Jeff, if I could’ve organized a Love Actually-esque orchestra and choir to sing “All you need is Love” to welcome you into the heavens, believe me, I would have. I do hope a box of Pinot Grigio was made available on your arrival to the pearly gates.
Jeff absolutely LOVED life, and it loved him right back. In every way, Jeff had a larger than life personality. (..that is until he went to college and lost 140lbs on the Atkins diet, but that’s neither here nor there.)
To know him was to love him and it showed in the many chapters of his life from North Andover, to Marietta, to his career in DC, and back to Boston.
I met Jeff at the age of 16 in an assisted living home where we both worked as dining room servers. How lucky I was to befriend this beautiful jolly soul. From that young age, Jeff was always a people person. He had a way of connecting with everyone. This past week I poured over VHS videos I had filmed in high school with an actual camcorder, including a few clips from that dining room. There was Jeff slow dancing with Cecile, one of our favorite residents, ever the gentleman. There was Jeff getting on bended knee to read blind Mabel the activity board. In high school, he made the best of friends with his lady friends, as well as the drama circuit, while performing in all 4 years of the musicals and Shakespeare productions.
After high school, Jeff went on to the midwest for college, to Marietta Ohio. He proudly joined a fraternity, the Delt House, and came out of the closet. You can’t write this stuff. That was Jeff. He was one of a kind. There he continued to make more lifelong connections, a theme that was ever reoccurring. His career with Western Union brought him all over the country, and once again the relationships he built with his clients were valued. He was quick to share a picture of the beautiful skies from his flight, complete with a cocktail napkin and Pinot, in first class. In his mind, he was Rose Dawson of the airlines.
Jeff was the greatest unifier. To be a friend of Jeff’s was to be friends with all of his friends. That’s just the way it was, and how it will always be. One random night at a bar, he literally pushed together a perfect stranger into our friend Kristin. They’re now married and have 2 kids. More recently, he gave his blessing and presence to his best friend Emma and Kyle’s wedding, from the Solarium of the Beth Israel. Ever the bride, he held the bouquet and stole the show as he always did.
As strong as Jeff’s friendships were, was his strong love for his family-- Jeff’s incredible love for his mother Paula, dad Bob, and brothers Rob and Tim. He was inherently a mama’s boy, sending her pink roses every year on on her birthday. He absolutely cherished decorating Paula’s Christmas tree, dripping in ornaments and the breath of boxed wine. He loved bringing the 99 home, especially gold fever wings, into his mom’s condo with Holly’s tail wagging at the door. He was so proud that his brother Rob would soon be welcoming a son near Jeff’s birthday. He was extremely proud of Tim’s career in the US Army, sharing several pictures from his visit for Tim’s graduation. When needed, Jeff also inherited his Dad’s stoicism. As I witnessed recently, he loved the Diet Coke and Dunkin Donuts brought in from his dad. In a simple sweet exchange, just two weeks ago at the hospital as Paula was leaving, he leaned up to ask if his dad was coming in. He also cherished the relationships with his extended family, particularly his cousins. He is now an angel alongside his cousin Amy, who bravely passed away from breast cancer in 2011, also leaving behind a legacy of love.
If there is anything that’s brought me comfort and comic relief in this past week, it’s reading Jeff’s social media posts. His 662 Yelp reviews bound together would make for a great coffee table book. I cried laughing reading his classic Jeffrey take on things. In a very sweet review, he wrote about an emerald ring he purchased for his mom at Zales. I relished over the fact I was mentioned in one, his review of Anthony’s Pier 4. We had walked around like 2 old ladies in the Seaport, holding hands, checking out the Tall Ships. We dined at “Anthony’s Pier 4” and oogled at the framed pictures of celebrities on the walls as we waited for our table. We were still too poor for actual entrees but appetizers, cocktails, and cups (not bowls) of clam chowder sufficed. This past week when I visited him in the hospice house, I wore my Tall Ships hat. Low and behold, at his bedside was a bag of supplies his mom had brought in. It was the reusable blue bag from that day at the Tall Ships. Only Jeff would’ve held on to it for all these years.
In the Twittersphere, Jeff tweeted 13,000x, an account that was retweeted many times by his favorite Real Housewives. When I reached out to Andy Cohen of Bravo, he immediately responded with a video from him and Anderson Cooper ending in air kisses to Jeff. Only Jeff could inspire such a response and genuine act of kindness. After Jeff saw the video, he texted me, “How did you do this?.... He wants it. ALL of it.” You could hear the emphasis in the words, in that classic Jeff speak. His humor was unmatched.
Social media also gave Jeff a great platform to speak passionately (oh, and it was passionately) about the values he stood strong for. Equality for all. When we went to PTown together, his first stop was the Human Rights Campaign to donate and buy a tee-shirt. He was a fervent donor to the causes he cared about. He often remarked that he would give Michelle Obama his wallet, if she would just invite him to brunch already. If you go to his Facebook, and type in the search bar above, ANY political figure in the past decade, you will see his affinities. His love for Michelle Obama’s style and his disdain for Ted Cruz’s face. For years he sported a Michelle Obama tote bag that he bought during our day of “fanny pack tourism” in DC. He said in one post that “Heaven would be a BBQ with Joe Biden”. I hope that is true some day.
While Jeff battled cancer these past 10 months, he had a way of doing it with such bravery and grace that it helped *all of us* feel alright. There was Jeff, fighting cancer, and still making people laugh. That was one of his many gifts; to make everyone around him feel good, despite the grimmest of circumstances. Weeks of chemo and radiation, surgeries, and complications. Though I work in oncology, I’ve never witnessed someone fight so hard, so bravely. It gave me peace to see him so comfortable, finally, at the hospice house.
Jeff remarked to Emma’s husband a few months ago, that if he didn’t have this cancer thing beat, he thought it would pretty neat that his social circles across life would be brought together in his name. I found that to be very profound. The morning after he passed, I purchased a block of tickets to an upcoming RENT show. Go figures, they are doing a brief 20th anniversary tour. After seeing RENT on Broadway, Jeff full on cried like a school girl meeting one of the cast members outside. I am reminded of the quote I started this post with. “How do you measure a year in a life? Measure in love.” We will go to the show and honor his memory and life, complete with a juice box of Pinot in our bags.
I was lucky to call Jeff my friend, the Will to my Grace, my token gay. From driving on the never ending road in North Andover, to New York City, to San Francisco, Washington DC, and Provincetown I am grateful for the many laughs and lifetime of memories. I know we will get to the Moulin Rouge together in my dreams and sing “Your Song” once again. Someday soon I will upload the clip of you belting out these words to me on the never ending road.