Christmas John, photo © Robin O’Brien 2013 All text © Irene O’Garden 2014
The wedding was to begin in 30 minutes. I had just changed my clothes and was headed out the door to meet my husband so we could stroll together to his sister’s ceremony. Oh–I might want to take pictures of the happy couple. I turned back for my phone. Onscreen was a voicemail alert. “Call me when you get this.” The anguish in my sister’s voice froze my veins. I dialed her immediately.
That is when and how I found out that my older brother John had died unexpectedly at 65. Peacefully, in bed, on Valentine’s Day, and, according to my brother-in-law who found him, with a look of wonder on his face.
Genius, classical guitarist, peace activist, tournament bridge player, loner: just a few of the many truths about my brother. Ironically, I had just resumed work on a long piece of mine called Family Landscape, where eventually you can find more about him and other forces in my family.
What I want to share here, however, is that because he was single, the thousand dark decisions that must be made so rapidly fell to us siblings, the lion’s share to my sister who was closest to him emotionally and geographically. The words “yeoman service” were spoken more than once, to more than one yeoman. It was deeply heartening to see siblings, nephews, in-laws, neighbors, landlord and luthier alike create a lovely, healing, fitting celebration of his life. Indeed, it was a reflection of an observation we found among my brother’s recently discovered writings: “Sartre was wrong. Heaven is other people.” He was less a loner than we thought.