Beyond the Grave: My brother's gift to life

Howard (L) and Arthur Waskow

Today (Nov 1, 2012) would have been my brother Howard’s 76th birthday. Here is a photograph that embodies what we meant when we wrote together a book called Becoming Brothers. If you click on the photo, it will expand and you can see especially our hands: He is teaching me, I am teaching him. We are learning from each other. Loving each other.

The story I am about to tell has a "bottom line": If you donate to The Shalom Center a gift of $49, we will send you as a thank-you gift two books -- one by Howard and me, one by him about the healing of families. To donate, please click on the "Donate" banner to your left. More information below.

Last year, Phyllis and I gathered in Portland with others of Howard’s far-flung family and many of his friends to celebrate his 75th birthday.

I had been slowly recovering from the ruination of my mouth by radiation treatment for a throat cancer, and using a stomach feeding tube to substitute for normal eating. As we headed for Portland, I had just begun to eat a little, still using the tube for most of my nutrition. The birthday weekend was full of love and joy. Howard and his wife Grey, both extraordinary cooks, cooked for all of us – so deliciously that for the first time I ate three meals a day and stopped using the tube. For me, a triumph of life restored, life renewed.

Howard seemed healthy. On the day we flew back home, he casually mentioned that his dentist had told him a lump in his mouth was not a dental problem: He should see a doctor.

By the time he did, and scheduled tests, and had a biopsy, on December 23 he called me in the middle of the night to say , “Otts, I’m very sick. The doctors say I have a widely spread cancer.”

He died on January 23.

As Howard lay dying, he worked feverishly to finish a book   -- Homeward Bound: Seeking Satisfaction in the Family -- about family, drawing on the family he was born into and the families he joined in creating; the families his psychotherapy clients talked about; and the families in great literature, ranging from Hamlet to William Faulkner’s Benjy. The book is brilliant, eloquent, and helpful to anyone who is struggling with family woes.

Dying, Howard asked me to carry the book through to publication. I did.  With the help of a special grant, we can now make it, and the earlier book we wrote together, Becoming Brothers, available to you as a thank-you present for any gift to The Shalom Center of $49 or more.

Why are we doing this?

Because both books are a teaching toward one aspect of “shalom” that is sacred in Jewish thought, shalom bayit, peace in the home;

Because the two of us joked with each other that like two football heroes in the Baltimore Colts of our youth, I was “Mr. Outside,” seeking shalom in the wide world, while he was “Mr. Inside,” seeking shalom in the family;  

Because it is how I can honor Howard’s memory in a way that would have pleased him and does please me.

Please click here to make a tax deductible donation to The Shalom Center and receive both books, personally inscribed to you, as a thank-you gift from us.  You can see the covers, which are delightful in themselves,  at the donation spot.

Many many thanks!  And blessings of shalom to you, in your inner life, in your family, and in the great wide world --  

P.S. --At Howard's funeral service, in a shaky voice -- two shaky voices, in ghostly dialogue -- I sang:

There is a tavern in the town, in the town

And there my true love sat him down, sat him dow

To drink his wine as merry as can be

But now he cannot think of me

Fare thee well, for I must leave thee,  

Do not let this parting grieve thee,  

For remember that the best of friends

Must part, must part.


Adieu, adieu, kind friends, adieu, adi

 I can no longer stay with you, stay with y

So hang my harp on the weeping willow t

And may the world go well
with thee.  

He left us for a damsel dark,
damsel dark,

Each Friday night we used to spark,
used to spark,

But now my love who once
was true to me

Takes this dark damse
l on his knee.

And now we see him neve
rmore, nevermore;

He never knocks upon our door, on our door;

Oh, woe is me; he pe
nned a little note,

And these were all th
e words he wrote:  

 Oh, dig my grave both wide and
deep, wide and deep;

Put tombstones at my head an
d feet, head and feet;

And on my breast you m
ay carve a turtle dove,

To si
gnify I died with love.
Once more, dear friends: Please get the two books by donating here:
Thanks!  --

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