My friend and colleague Gary Shaw passed away on Friday, May 24th after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 69 and leaves behind a close family, many close friends and hundreds of people who knew him as a fantastic public speaker or a committed environmental activist. The environmental community lost an irreplaceable and incalculable member.
Gary was knowledgeable, spoke incredibly well and succinctly, and was deeply committed to a better future. He connected what many people see as separate issues, such as the environment, racism, labor and peace and was a powerful mind, heart and voice for all of us. Look him up on youtube. The reaction from many people has been, “The world is a better place for having had Gary Shaw in it.” I could not agree more!
He also had a wonderful sense of humor, loved music and had a life partner, Jeanne, who embodied the same qualities Gary did. What a team!
Gary’s voice was heard on WBAI-FM often, especially as a guest or caller to Eco-Logic (the radio show I co-produce and co-host.). He and Jeanne have been long-time members of WBAI and I’m prouder than ever to say that they often pledged during Eco-Logic. I will devote the Tuesday, June 4th episode of Eco-Logic to Gary (8PM, WBAI, 99.5FM & www.wbai.org)
Funeral arrangements for Gary Shaw will take place on Saturday, June 1st, from 2pm to 6pm at the Edward F. Carter Funeral Home, 41 Grand Street, Croton, NY.
The brain cancer took a long time to get him. At times, the various types of treatments seemed to work and at other times they didn’t. But Gary never stopped fighting the cancer, never lost his sense of humor, and never stopped fighting for a better future for all of us, especially when it came to shutting down the Indian Point nuclear reactors. His testimonies at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearings were always among the best ones there.
From an e-mail from the family is this beautiful, yet sad and wonderful moment, “One of the things that Gary was holding on to was making it to his youngest daughter’s, Robin, wedding this upcoming August. Knowing that this was, one, not fair to force him to hold on until then, and two, likely that he would not be able to be there, we all gathered together to have a small ceremony surrounding him. Jeanne, his three daughters, and almost all his grandchildren surrounded, as Robin and Marko recited simple yet beautiful vows. Their officiant was one of his granddaughters, which we know he got a kick out of. We played some of his favorite music together, danced, sang, laughed, cried, and said our farewells, not knowing that they would be our last.
“It turns out that having one last family gathering, where he could hear and feel the surrounding love, was all he needed to finally feel ready to allow his soul to drift off, to be spread over all of us. He will always be with every single one of us, near and far, through the incredible irreplaceable memories that we share with him.
humbled and appreciative, In his last email, and all his life, he has always said ‘my goal is quality of life and not the length,’ and the last few months have been lacking quality of life, despite Jeanne’s tireless and superhuman efforts to keep him in his home on his terms.”
It’s tradition to tell personal stories and here are two of mine:
One takes place at the end of a march to mark the anniversary of the first day of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. We marched from the Japanese consulate to Times Square and were milling around near the bleachers near the TKTS booth. Nothing had been planned for when we got there and we had no sound system. We just had ourselves and our banners and signs. Gary then started to talk about Fukushima and Indian Point and nuclear safety. He didn’t need a sound system and was witty, informative, succinct and very powerful. He hadn’t been prepared to speak but didn’t need preparation because he knew the issue that well and knew how to communicate to the general public. The marchers looked at him, very impressed. Gary just shrugged.
The other takes place when we stayed overnight at the Shaws. I remember Trixie barking at us when we first got there, then becoming our best friend, and I remember playing Fluxx, a card game popular among science fiction fans. It’s a strange game, with the rules printed on the cards themselves, which means the rules, the way it’s played, and goal of the game constantly change. We played several hands and had a great time. We went beachcombing along the glorious Hudson River the next day. We wished we’d stayed over again.
One thing about having a long illness, but not letting it keep you home, is that Gary and Jeanne got to experience just how many people love them. And we sure do!
They were grateful for that love and never took it for granted, though they probably could have.
Which brings me to the rest of this post.
I originally wrote the following essay on grief for the comic book apa Interlac
I’ve been to probably well over 100 funerals and memorials. So I’ve heard “We’re not here to mourn a death, but to celebrate a life” a lot. I respectfully disagree. A pain shared is halved and a joy shared is doubled, so we have funerals and memorials partly or mostly to multiply the joy many times and shrink the pain, which will never ever be totally eliminated. [Sort of like a radioactive half life, right Gary?]
I was watching a TV show on dvd a few months ago (it’s not good enough to be worth a plug by naming it) and a line of dialogue about grief popped up a lot from several characters, which makes me think it’s a writer’s opinion, not a character’s. That the pain someone has from the death of a loved one is all they still have of that loved one. Of course not! That dialogue comes across as written by someone who has never actually lost anyone close, but has cynically watched it in others and missed everything, especially missed the point. “A pain shared is halved; a joy shared is doubled.” The pain of the loss of someone is based on the joy of knowing them, or there would be no pain. I don’t equate this sort of pain with the compassion we feel for other kinds of losses, like the loss of a celebrity or the closing of a favorite restaurant.
Grief is encompassing, especially when the loss first happens (the loss can be from other things besides death, of course, such as the break-up of a couple) and there is a scientific reason for it (which I’ll go into soon). But there are always more memories than the pain of the loss, such as the memories of why the loss is so painful in the first place, which would actually be good memories.
I will never get over the loss of so very many of my closest friends dying, and the many things that remind me of them can be painful, but those things keep the connection and memory alive. For example, when someone says, “Tolkien” to me in conversation, I immediately think of my close friend and Tolkien scholar Alexei Kondratiev; I feel the loss that I can’t share with him whatever Tolkien conversation is happening at the time, but I also think of past Tolkien conversations with Alexei. Especially a wonderful phone conversation comparing J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling that we then had again on the radio. What a wonderful conversation that was! Sigh.
A memory can bring sadness, sure, but the sadness comes with some sort of memory of why the person is worth feeling sad over. It may look like there is only sadness, but that’s a superficial observation. I suspect many of you know exactly what I mean, hopefully not with as many examples as I have.
The science of grief is something I learned from a neuroscientist I interviewed at the Museum of Natural History during the press opening of their exhibit on the brain. I asked her if we know what happens in the brain during grief and got an enthusiastic, “Oh, yes!” All members of the press within earshot stopped to listen, which rarely ever happens, since everyone is busy fulfilling their own agendas.
To summarize briefly: There is a part of our brain that deals with intellectual things. There is another part of our brain that deals with emotional things. There is still another part of our brain that deals with reward and punishment. When a person dies, the emotional part becomes very active. The reward and punishment part comes in and puts us into some sort of denial. Then the intellectual part comes in and corrects the denial. And all three areas are working at the same time, sometimes against each other.
So I asked, “Is that why during grief it’s hard to do anything else?” “Exactly,” she answered.
Knowing all that doesn’t make grief any easier, of course. But all grief comes with positive, often wonderful happy memories. The pain someone has from the death of a loved one is NOT all they still have of that loved one. Not even close.
Ken Gale, NYC, 2018, amended May 2019
Gary was one of the most knowledgeable persons I know/knew of about the workings ofdifferent types of nuclear power plants and Indian Point in particular. I’ll never forget theslide presentation on this he gave for the monthly meeting of New York City Friends ofof Clearwater at Judson Memorial Church a few years ago. It was almost too much verydetailed information but beautifully presented in a way that all people could appreciate.
Gary gave an abbreviated version of this presentation at the New York Society for EthicalCulture basement for the monthly meeting of the NewYork City Grassroots Alliance and was very well received. Gary’s 3-minute presentations at numerous NRC yearly and otherpublic meetings were always fraught with specific detail and semi-controlled emotionaloutrage that vigorously elicited a vibrant response from the audience.
We had a meaningful walk from the train station, up the steep hill to the entrance of IndianPoint, a yearly event I joined in 2016, I think it was, to commemorate Fukushima. When wearrived at the entrance, we formed a circle, everyone’s faces and banners could easily be seen.We heard memories, commemorations, thoughts, fears and successes shared, drumming, andthen the laying of the origami peace cranes along the entrance road low walls. It was one ofthose events one will always remember. Gary and Jeanne were there prominently.
The saddest part of all this for me was way back when, I learned that Gary had brain cancer, but he somehow made that knowledge OK. You could love him and hold him and feel his pain and his courage and his love in return. Hugging Gary was almost a healing experience – don’t ask me how. He was a most amazing person!
It is comforting to know that at last year’s Fall Feast/Celebration at Stony Point, Gary was honored and presented with a special remembrance. Jeanne, Marilyn, Iumi (sp) myself and a few others of us were there. Both Gary and Jeanne were pleased and surprised. This was the public acclimation and recognition of Gary’s outstanding activist, anti-nuclear, environmental contributions. We remain thankful to Kitty and Rick that this occurred during his lifetime for both he and Jeanne to appreciate.
Just this past March 10th, thanks to IPSEC, the Convergence, Marilyn, Rick, Indigenous participants, Dr. Heidi Hutner, Susan Shapiro, and so many others whose names I should know, were there at the Peekskill American Legion for the Fukushima Convergence – one of the best gatherings I have ever attended! Gary was there. We shared a long-lasting hug. This would be the last.
My thoughts and prayers are with you, Jeanne, and all members of your family.
I loved Gary with as much respect, admiration and humanism a friend and fellow-activist can have. We know Gary brought a lot of good into the world; and, if like me, you believe that there is something after life – a place that is full of light and love with no pain or tears, Gary is there, hoping that we’re not grieving too much and that we will soon come to that place where our sadness in missing him will become pure joy in having known him.