Longtime healthcare advocate Caryn Berman, 62, died Sept. 1 of cancer.
Berman told the story of her fight against cancer for an Aug. 6 Windy City Times article. She spoke of her wife of 36 years, Laura Cuzzillo, and of saying goodbye to friends and family.
The memorial will be Sunday, Sept. 21, 2 p.m., Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, 303 Dodge Avenue, Evanston.
Close friend Bruce Koff said in an email: "As I watched Laura tend to Caryn in Caryn's final hours with indescribably aching tenderness, all I could think was, 'This is love. This is love.' And I thought of how much time and energy we have sadly had to expend over my lifetime just to explain, justify and defend this simple truth. This is love. The relationship they shared over these 36 years was a pure partnership in which Caryn's passion for packing in as much living as possible and leaving the world a better place was matched by Laura's gracious heart, quiet dignity and deep respect for life's simple pleasures: a great book, a passionate discussion, a generous garden, a perfect meal, a moving work of art. Together, they created a welcoming oasis for so many of love, joy and intellect. This resides forever in Laura's soul and Mitchell and I are so grateful to have dwelled in this place with them for almost 30 years."
In the 1980s, Berman helped organize the AIDS Foundation of Chicago with William Young and Drs. Ron Sable and Renslow Sherer. She also was instrumental in founding the Hispanic AIDS Network, and she was on the city's first Mayor's Committee on Gay and Lesbian Issues, under Mayor Harold Washington.
She started the PASSAGES HIV project at Horizons Community Services, where she was also a volunteer therapist, and she was an organizer of the agency's annual Identity conferences. She worked at Travelers and Immigrants Aid, and worked with the Chicago Board of Health to develop protocols and health policies for HIV and AIDS. She also worked for several years with the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Berman, a psychotherapist and social worker, was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1995. The Hall of Fame website states: "Berman's impact on the mental health of lesbians and gay men goes far beyond her own clinical work. She has taught courses on psychotherapy with gay and lesbian clients to both gay and non-gay students and practitioners in psychology and social work at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration."
Because she was so engaged in the LGBT and AIDS movements, Berman wanted to say goodbye to the community, so she shared her thoughts about life, and dying, with Windy City Times in a July 31 interview.
Catapulted into AIDS activism by the death of a close friend in 1985, Berman never questioned her involvement in fighting the disease on both the medical and political fronts.
After moving to Chicago from her native New York City, Berman received a masters in social service administration from the University of Chicago in 1980. This made her uniquely positioned to take part in the AIDS movement here, from both a lesbian perspective and as a public health advocate.
"Having lived through the AIDS crisis, how it affects us now, as we're aging and we're dyingat least through my filterI have less fear about dying myself because we've lost friends, in a way we accompanied them, and their buddies, and sat with people who were dying … looked after them, and it's not so foreign," Berman said. "I think our attitudes toward death … would be easier for us because we've already … been forced through the epidemic to come up with some sense of why and where does it all lead do.
"You just have to develop, in the face of the epidemic, or as an aging adult, you need to have a perspective about death and life … . I feel comfortable with it, that I'm dying. I don't feel afraid of it. … I will see a lot of people I know, and there will be a collective pooling of our energy and resources, for recycling."
Berman and Cuzzillo were married in 2010 in Iowa after that state legalized same-sex marriages. Cuzzillo said they were going to hold out for federal recognition and Illinois marriages, but then Berman was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. "We said, we're not going to wait … we're going to elope to Iowa."
They had a double ceremony with a gay male couple who they knew in Iowa. The person who performed the ceremony was Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who wrote the opinion in favor of marriage equality in Iowa. His ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state Supreme Court, where it was eventually upheld.
Reflecting back on her activism, Berman said it was "exciting" and "defining" to be on Mayor Washington's gay and lesbian committee, and she met Washington several times. Berman said she saw people as individuals, which is why she was able to work with gay men at a time when there were more gender divisions in the community.
For the complete video interview see: www.youtube.com/watch . For the Aug. 6 article see:www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Caryn-Berman-reflects-on-her-life-of-activism/48541.html .
In 2007, the couple sat down for an interview with my ChicagoGayHistory.org project: chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .