August – the month from heaven and hell for David Rakoff and me

I write this personal reflection on the late gay writer David Rakoff’s final book in a month of anniversaries in Rakoff’s life and my own. 

David Rakoff died of cancer on August 9, 2012 at the age of 47. His novel, the brilliant “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” written entirely in rhyming couplet verse, was published posthumously and became available in August 2013. He was working on this book, in which he invested so much of his literary aesthetic and tender yet acerbic humanity, right up to the final weeks of his life. Rakoff approached his impending death with a profound sense of satisfaction that he would be able to finish this book, his most ambitious piece of writing, and bequeath it to the world as his final testament and gift.

As I laughed and cried my way through it, exactly a year after his death, I found myself stunned by the vibrancy of the characters, the scope of the inter-related story lines covering almost the whole of the twentieth century, and the incisive analysis of individual and political conflict, all depicted through witty and (for the most part) exceptionally well-crafted poetry.

Paul Rudnick’s review of the book appeared in the New York Times on August 1st. In a NYT’s podcast the following day, Rudnick referred to the title as depicting how Rakoff’s novel “deals with all the great verbs of life.” I agree with Rudnick. Indeed, despite the book’s slimness at only 117 pages, “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” is a magnum opus of most of our personal and societal life experiences, values, traumas, hopes, disappointments, joys, and despairs.

We all share these superficial and profound dimensions of life. As I read the book, they came together for me with particular poignancy given the number of anniversaries in my own life that fall in August:

  • August 7, 2009 – the date on which my long-term gay lover Bill was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer;
  • August 11th – the birth date of my younger brother who committed suicide six months before Bill’s death;
  • August 13th – my parents’ wedding anniversary, now both deceased;
  • August 17th – the date on which Bill and I always celebrated our anniversary, a tribute to the occasion of our first romantic date in 1976;
  • August 23,2009 – the date that Bill died, sixteen days after his diagnosis.

I have commemorated Bill’s and my life together and the story of the two weeks of his dying in the memoir “August Farewell – the last sixteen days of a thirty-three year romance.” 

August – the month from heaven and hell for both David Rakoff and me.

 * * *

For information on David Rakoff’s “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” see:

For information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead,” see my website:




1 Comment

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One response to “August – the month from heaven and hell for David Rakoff and me

  1. David,
    You found me through Winslow Eliot via twitter and my poem for my late husband.
    Paul & I had less time in life than you and Bill, but more time during his illness and death than the two of you did. It is never enough, either way.

    Paul died in our bed at home of leukemia>stem cell transplant>graft vs host disease Aug 9, 2009, the day after my son’s birthday, and 11 days before his own birthday. It is the month we celebrated our anniversary (although we married in his hospital bed that June) and the month of his memorial.

    All this, to say that I am so sorry for your loss and I am so proud? of you for writing this memoir. I watched the video and it was beautifully done. You are my hero today :>)
    I am working on a memoir series, but August derailed me. I also lost my sister (2012) and, in April, my 3 year-old grandson. The accumulation of grief…well, I don’t recommend it. You know, you have been through the same kind of pain…
    I did not mean for this to be about me. Forgive me.
    Yes, we have much in common. Take care and I will be thinking of you,

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