Four years ago on Thanksgiving our family enjoyed the last holiday where all five of us adult siblings were together. That Thanksgiving has become a fond memory as we were on our best behaviour and enjoying the day. Old sibling rivalries remained buried and everyone seemed genuinely happy to be in each other’s company.
A couple of days after, my brother Larry was rushed to the hospital with what was determined to be an aortic dissection. He had emergency surgery but never regained consciousness. The following week the tough decision was made to let him go.
We held a celebration of life for my brother at Jamieson’s Pub and I asked his wife, Marlene, if I could speak. I was just beginning to understand him and the basis of his complicated personality. He had been bullied growing up and did not have it easy at other times and was not always someone who people generally wanted to be around. I wanted them to know what I knew about him. I wanted them to see another side.
Here are my words for my brother:
I am honoured to pay tribute to my brother, who some of you know as Ian and some of us know as Larry. I know that’s confusing, so confusing that the first family event that his wife Marlene attended, she kept asking “who’s Larry,” until he finally informed her of his previous identity.
Larry comes from Lawrence, his middle name, and it was what everyone called him when he was younger until he decided that he wanted to be grown up and chose to go by the more adult and serious name of Ian. After all the only other Larry any of us knew was from the three stooges – Larry Curly and Moe.
I want to welcome you and thank you for coming. Ian would be very pleased. Although he could came off as grumpy, he loved family gatherings and getting together with friends as long as the event wasn’t scheduled for too early in the morning. I can relate to that.
I am going to share some things about Ian. Some of them you will know and some may surprise you.
The first thing you should know is that he saved my life. I was three and we lived out on the Waverly Road, with a back yard on the lake. It was spring or early summer and we were playing on our trikes. For some reason, everyone left to go see something and I was alone with all the trikes. At some point, I decided to test out my other brother Gary’s big trike and climbed up on it but was unable to reach the peddles. The trike rolled and tipped and I fell into the water, which was deeper than I was tall.
Larry, and I have to say Larry because that is who he was to me at the time, was the first to return and saw me bobbing under the water. He yelled for my mother who was inside the big old house we lived in. He yelled until my mother, pregnant with my sister Nora, ran quite a ways from the inside the house to the lake to jump in and rescue me. Larry was only seven.
Ian was born on October 3, 1954. He was always a little bit outside the box, something that wasn’t easy at that time. Now days it’s cool to be outside the box and all the nerds and geeks and people like him are changing the world. If he had been born in another place and another time, I believe he could have been famous because the Larry we knew was the original Sheldon Cooper. Anyone who is familiar with the TV show The Big Bang Theory, is familiar with Sheldon Cooper, who is a combination of brains and idiosyncrasies.
Growing up, Ian was the smartest person I knew. Not so much in school. He wasn’t fond of school. He learned and remembered everything they taught him. He just didn’t feel he needed to give it back to them in the form of assignments. He was also self taught. Read everything he could get his hands on. Remember that old game show Reach for the Top where they pitted school against school. Every week he could answer every question correctly and I always wondered why they didn’t pick him to represent our school. He would have been a force to reckon with. He would have went to the top. According to Marlene he could do the same with the show Jeopardy and her crossword puzzles.
He loved books and this love and enthusiasm were the reasons I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Both of these titles are still in my collection. He could draw, he could make stop-motion cartoon flip books, he could paint, and he could take apart anything and figure out how to fix it and put it back together before there was the internet, where most of us go today for this information. Things like watches and tiny model engines.
He was meticulous when it came to details. When he was younger, these details showed up in the models he built, including ships that he made from balsam wood and actually put into bottles, raising the sails after they were inside. Later on it was in the amazing miniatures he painted for games.
Over the last several years, his passion was helping the cats in the Eastern Passage area. They were like his children. He named them and loved them all. And worried constantly over them. He couldn’t hurt a flea…literally. Any bug or anything else that appeared in his house was gently escorted outside with the help of a tissue. The rest of us would be like this: sorry spider, wrong place, wrong time. SQUISH!
The best thing that ever happened to my brother Ian was when he met and married Marlene. She gave him a home and stability. She stood by him no matter what. In the past couple of weeks, I realized just how much Marlene loved my brother. And what a strong individual she is. She had a strength that he relied on and he loved her for it. Something he only knew how to show in simple ways. I was at their place trying to get onto their WIFI. Ian had set up the WIFI and had called it Marlene.
Ian was not religious. He has been cremated. He used to say to Marlene, probably half jokingly, that he wanted a Viking funeral. Just in case you don’t know what a Viking funeral is, I am going to tell you. A person’s remains are put on a raft, set on fire and are set to drift on the water. So if sometime in the not too distant future you happen to see or just hear a rumor of a small vessel in flames drifting out on Lake Echo, think of Ian.
And wherever Ian ends up, may the force be with him.
I would like to say that I delivered those words clearly and with confidence, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth. I cried my way through them while my sister, Nora, gently kept her hand on my arm and my sister-in-law, Marlene, stood before me also in tears. Not sure what Larry would have thought about that–too much fuss, probably.
Several years beforehand Larry was attacked while working at a convenience store and severely beaten with a pipe by a kid on drugs. He never fully recovered, and he struggled with things that he once excelled at. He could no longer figure out how to take things apart and put them back together. It was as if his brain was misfiring when he tried. I was just beginning to make an effort to get close to him again and to comprehend and relate to some of his difficulties. He also suffered from depression, something I was familiar with. Just before that last Thanksgiving weekend I promised to bake him a banana cream pie because he loved and raved about my version of this pie. I was going to do it right after the holiday, kind of a belated birthday gift. It sure would have been nice to have been able to deliver it.
On Thanksgiving weekend, three years ago, our family once again gathered together and held a Viking Funeral for my brother, burning his wooden urn on a small replica Viking ship created by The Doc. I know Larry would have loved it. It was his quirky wish come true. This year, four years on, as The Doc and I spend time with some of our kids and grandkids, and as we prepare a turkey dinner in JT’s apartment for the very first time, Larry will be in my thoughts as he is every year on this holiday.
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Photos provided by Jenn Stone