Eulogy for My Twin Brother

Friends and family gathered in Salisbury, Maryland today to celebrate the life of my brother Dr. Benjamin H. Cassutto. His wife and three sisters shared their thoughts on Ben’s life and passing. Here are the words I offered during the service.

Benjamin Cassutto
Eulogy for Benjamin H. Cassutto
Captain, US Army, in 1998.

October 23, 2012

First I want to thank Liz for this opportunity to share our thoughts about my twin brother Ben. I also want to extend thanks to all of those who knew Ben in the many capacities that his life took for coming and honoring him in this way. It may be cliché to say that we gather to not to mourn but to celebrate his life, but I want to celebrate the joy that he brought to each and every one of us through his sense of humor, his love for his fellow human beings, and also for the compassion he showed our non-human friends through his veterinary practice. We certainly do mourn Ben’s passing as having taken place far too soon, and such a loss leads us to ask questions of spirituality such as, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” As long as we are clothed in this mortal coil, there is no good answer, but for those of us who maintain a faith that there is a life beyond this one, we can be comforted in the notion that Ben was spared needless suffering, that he is surrounded by loved ones who have gone before, and that we will all be reunited just as he is now in the presence of his parents, aunts and uncles, and loved who have preceded us in death.

My guess is that some of you who may not be familiar with Ben’s background may be asking yourself, “Ben had a twin brother? Funny, he doesn’t look like Ben.”  There is truth in that observation, but I am proud to say that Ben was (and always will be) my fraternal twin brother. We have two sets of twins in our family with five siblings total. My mom always quipped that she “gave birth to five kids in three trips.” I always added that Ben was a wonderful “womb-mate” for letting me be born first. The odds of such an arrangement is one in 80 million, so while I usually brag about myself that way, we who knew Ben can certainly attest to the truth of that statement regarding him. Ben was, as one Facebook post put it, “a gentle soul.” And while he and I had some obvious differences, we have some notable similarities.

Ben was a scientist at heart, and while I am a teacher of the social sciences, but we both shared a love of science fiction, namely the episodes of the TV show Star Trek and the movies that followed. It became an annual tradition that we would watch remastered episodes of the original series when my kids, Grace, Gabe, and Glorie, and I would visit Ben and Liz during our summer trips to the beach.

You can be sure that I love my brother deeply, and that his passing leaves me with a sense of loss that feels like part of me is gone. It will be the memories of Ben’s unique nature that we will all cherish, and even as we cry tears of sadness, we may mingle them with tears of laughter, a notable Cassutto characteristic. All of us Cassutto siblings love to sing, and we sometimes sing hymns publicly and unabashedly. If any of you have ever stood in a church pew with Ben, you know that Ben’s voice often rang out above the rest of the congregation with little or no inhibition. It was often incumbent on me to say to him “blend, Ben, blend!”

Ben and I were both thespians during our high school and college years. We shared a love of such favorites as Jesus Christ Superstar and Fiddler on the Roof. How appropriate that our blended heritage would basically be a Broadway review of those two shows. It will be hard to get through either of them now without thinking of how much Ben and I enjoyed the gift of musical theater.

Ben resembled my father in many ways, while I took after my mother in both physicality and in temperament. My parents had a spiritual mission after surviving the Holocaust, and that was to share the good news of the gospel with the Jewish people in America. While I lived out their ministry as a teacher like my mom, Ben and his wife Liz became ministers to the Jews in their community. Ben even revised my father’s book, the Last Jew of Rotterdam, and he and Liz continued their ministry on their website Light Beacon Ministries. Ben cared deeply about the salvation of all people, especially the nation and people that brought us the Messiah Jesus Christ. We will look to Ben’s wife to carry on that ministry.

I am sure there are aspects of Benjamin Henricus Cassutto that I may not have mentioned but wish I did as we recede from this moment in time. I hope that he is looking down upon us now knowing that he was loved by everyone here.  I take comfort in the words of the hymn “Be Still My Soul”

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

I will close with a poem I wrote for Ben about thirty years ago just after we graduated from college. My parents had not yet passed away, and Ben and I were establishing our own lives as adults. It is appropriately entitled “For Ben, My Twin”

“Hey Ben” (whose voice I hear crackling over the miles).
“How’s life been treatin’ ya?”
But twins already know.

Ever since I made crying sounds
from wet diapers and stolen toys
from when I read my first word
and scribbled my name,
those times we fought
with the fury of armies
and laughed together
down high school halls,
we’ve learned to love music
et nous parlons francais ensemble.
Different as we are
our mother gave us
simultaneous and equal births.

We transformed competition
into brotherly love.
It’s you and me, Ben,
no matter how far or how long,
we’ll always share the birthday.

I know that from other worlds
we came together
one with the other.
We’re part of a family
that’s strong and loving,
and after our time
I’ll see you again
wearing the bright and shining clothes
of earthly experience.