a note by jeffrey's father
this statement by dr. jeffrey ahn was distributed to guests at jeffrey jr.'s wake at frank e. campbell funeral home, new york city, on june 27, 2012
Jeffrey was at his happiest moment when his life ended abruptly. In fact, he probably didn’t even know that he was passing away because it was so sudden and he clearly didn’t suffer. I am grateful for that.
What kind of person was J.J.? It is summarized in his college application draft, which he didn’t get a chance to submit. This is how it begins: “I am on the Trinity Wrestling Team, but I am not a wrestler…” He was a manager of the team, in charge of making sure every player is looked after and performing at his best. Even if he worked out everyday just as hard as other wrestlers to be part of the team, he was happier when he was taking care of all the players rather than actually wrestling to beat someone. Although he was a top student at Trinity, finishing his junior year with straight A’s, he wanted to tell colleges that, to him, the most important thing was being happy while taking care of others. I believe that this is the legacy that he would have wanted to leave with us.
When he was little, he had trouble playing soccer because when other players rushed to him, he would just give them the ball. He didn’t enjoy snatching the ball from other players. When I became upset about this, he would say to me, “It’s ok, Dad. It’s just a ball.”
Jeffrey was passionate about art, doodling and drawing and painting all the time. He was an accomplished scientist, assisting at a stem cell and tissue engineering lab at Columbia Medical School. He enjoyed theater, recently playing the role of Duke Frederick in Trinity’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. He had just been elected to be the president of the Storyteller’s Club at Trinity. On the morning of his passing, he told me that he was interested in reading more about Joan Didion, who wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” In fact, I realize that is exactly what I am doing now.
When he passed, he was at the happiest moment in his life, savoring the respect that he earned from his demanding father (I feel so remorseful about this now), and looking forward to having a family reunion when his sister, Presca, returned home in August from England. At the time of the accident, he was walking his best friends at Trinity, including his girlfriend, Penelope, to our summer home; he was so excited for the weekend ahead.
All his life, J.J. knew how much he was always loved by me. But he was also always anxious to earn my respect. Right now, what I want to tell my son is this: “Jeffrey, you have earned the highest respect from me, not because you lived a life of earning respect, but because you lived a life of earning love from everyone. I don’t have words to describe how proud I am of you as we celebrate seventeen wonderful years of your life today. I will try my best to live the rest of my life emulating yours— to earn love more than respect. I am not going to say goodbye because you continue to live with and within me, and because we are not parting. I love you.”