Absolutely Perfectly Correct
Brian Gibbs, July 22 1950 - May 3 2013
Absolutely Perfectly Correct
Brian Gibbs, July 22, 1950-May 3, 2013
In June of 2012, my brother Brian was in so much pain that he contemplated taking his own life.
He told me this in late August, as he lay recovering from his first spinal surgery with a smile, and a “whatever” flip of his eyebrows—because the pain now was finite, definable. He was still in pain, but so much less than before. The cancer diagnosis meant he finally had an answer. Now, he had something to fight with, and against. Dare I say the diagnosis was a relief?
Over the next nine months, my brother learned what life was all about. He had the time which some of us never have, the chance to take, or the inclination to spend. It was a learning experience for us all, an odyssey that touched everyone he touched during that time.
What a funny, odd, amazing, and touching way to spend nine months of our lives.
Here is what I know of this time:
- He forgave his grudges. As he would say, “What is the point?”
- He let in the sun and the rain. He learned to feel the joy of the moment, and the sorrow.
- He looked inside himself—and mostly liked what he saw. What he didn’t like, he changed.
- He examined his values and his sins, and forgave his trespasses and those who had trespassed against him.
- He loved his wife, his family, his brothers and sister, his neighbors, his friends, and his health-care team. He loved life.
- He loved his “new” technology—the iPhone gifted to him—that awed him with the clear and simple connectivity to the world that it offered. Inconceivable!
- He became passionate about the process—how totally "Brian." The surgeries were just an essential part of the path, the horror of his radiations a necessary evil, and the chemotherapy “just a walk in the park," as he described it. It all captured his imagination and his body, and he was totally, intellectually, emotionally, and physically engaged. When it was his “job” to eat, his appetite seemed insatiable. And he loved these three things, although I never understood his passion: frozen cream cheese pops, fresh oranges, and Barq's Root beer.
- He read voraciously. It was a great gift to Brian that our older brother, Larry, provided as many mystery and crime novels in as many series as Brian could lift to read. He would never have indulged in this passion otherwise.
- With us, he listened to music he thought he did not like, and found that he did. He watched TV shows he thought he did not like, and found value in them. He heard points of view he had previously discounted, and in them found merit. He found that compromise works, and chose it.
- He changed if only for change’s sake, was enriched, and knew it.
I told him stories of things in my life, which he loved to hear:
- I told him about a group of women in Vancouver who gathered to find our own volition in support of each other. He clutched the stones I brought symbolizing Joy, Peace, Love, and Hope, with tears streaming down his face as he realized that these were simple choices he, too, could make. He seized the support that was there in the universe to gather around him, as I explained we did as a Master Mind.
- In every story, he found humour—he laughed so hard at the smallest thing, with tears streaming down his face. So open. So much fun. So infectious. How I miss that.
- I told him of my joy to have had him at my marriage to TJ, and how our life together was so clearly meant to be, as his was with Darina. In his partnership, he found his safe place to be himself; in mine I found the same. We rejoiced!
- I asked him one day why he was crying, and he said he was afraid and did not know how to get to “the other side,” where he could live his life without pain and fear. We held hands and I said, “Of course you are afraid. Let’s be afraid together.” And we were. It was only through expressing that fear that he found the ability to ask for help from others. What courage. What a gentle heart. What a lesson.
- I texted photos of a trip I took with friends to Whistler, where I bought my “brave shirt,” and went on excursions at heights I would never have done without him by my side. He was delighted to be included.
- I sent him daily jokes that I found, along with daily inspiration with the text, “How I choose to live my life today." He laughed at the jokes, then shared them with our brother Larry, when they were together. He thoughtfully queried my inspirations, and why I did that every day. I told him that, although I have often tried to still my mind long enough to meditate, I have never been successful, and so I choose to put one positive thought forward that resonates for me that day. He consumed those messages more thoughtfully, after that.
- He told me he was so glad to finally know me, as he had never taken the time, or had the time, before—and me you, Brian. And me you.
It isn’t an uncommon story, that a person would change when faced with a terminal illness. So, what makes this story so unique?
Brian’s story is different because he was a man to whom life always seemed to say “no," and yet he was a man who said “yes,” when and where he could; truly someone who loved the “process” in all things, in every interest, in every passion, in every project, in every task, in every job. In everything. It seemed to us that, every time he approached a goal or perceived success, he lost interest and moved on. How many times did we all try to push him to take commissions, market his work, buy and sell his ideas and his art, only to find that he would not follow through? He could have been rich! But, now it feels like we did it not for him, but “to” him. At those times, we all shook our heads, and wondered what would become of him. Well, we should have known better. He could only create when it was HIS time to create. It was as if he had no choice, no control. It was just in the doing that mattered. Is that not the true definition of an artist? A person who cannot, and will not, be defined by our disappointments and definitions?
How absolutely, perfectly correct.
This nine-month story is like this to me: It was a lesson in embracing the process, intensely analyzing the cost/benefit, constantly intellectualizing the information, denying fact and focusing on true belief, enduring the pain for the best possible net result, Brian fighting for his own principles and values despite what others knew (and what we found out later)—that it was stage four lung cancer, with a contemplated two-month survival. Because of his methods of processing—his ears, his heart, his mind—he kept pace against the known enemy sites. It was the emergence of new enemies that caused the final, sad, inevitable end.
Brian believed he left nothing of any intrinsic value behind, and gave little thought to the dispensation of his possessions. I think we are only beginning to understand the “value” of what this creative-for-the-sake-of-creativity man left behind him, as his legacy.
Look for the “Signs of Brian” around you. They are there to find, like little cells of perfection:
- How many generations of students have passed by the painted murals and wall mosaics over the years in his high schools? One still survives. It is amazing, and has clearly stood the test of time.
- How many of us clutch our small art pieces? Our perfect gems that shine, because of his keen insight into the glory of their facets?
- How many buildings contain the smooth perfection that his hands touched and stroked, as he built to his best carpentry standards?
- How many neighbors continue to covet the annual awards he designed and created for his community?
- How many derelict buildings were saved for posterity by his appreciative, photographic eye?
- How many times will we listen to the recorded sounds of his haunting slide guitar?
- How many nurses walk the corridors humming, “I’m Walking On Sunshine," and cannot, will not, forget him?
- Does he know his nephew still wears his tuxedo while performing his sweet baritone?
As I try to capture the last months of his life together with ours, many other memories underline his character for me:
- I walked to a store one day, where there was a group of four children who clearly came from families of lesser means, and who were trying to spend their $1.35 wisely—they were tempted to steal, to satisfy their desire. They saw me watching, and put back the small sweet items from their pockets. I smiled and gave the clerk $20, to “pay it forward” for Brian. He would have done the same.
- I sat in an industrial park on my walk back and popped a beer, drank deeply, and enjoyed the solitude and peace. How many times did he grace the parks and places of aloneness, with some beer or substance in hand? Well, I remember times…
- Younger brother Richard and I cleared his home office to be used as his “hospital” room. Contained in that room were the accumulations of his various interests and passions; drawers full of historical details on iconography; books on the same subject; old computer parts hooked together in a complex arrangement of a working unit, including dial-up internet access (nothing else could be trusted); strange-looking mechanical parts used in our favourite game, “What is this?”; marbles, plastic figures, raw stone, geodes, gems and polishing equipment, rock hunting tools, repaired lamps, doodles and unfinished art, keys. It was as if you were unpacking years of a boy’s pant pockets.
Only after his death, we realized we had barely scratched the surface of his accumulations of valued memories.
My brother did not close his eyes for the last six hours of his life. He didn’t want to sleep. He didn’t want relief. He wanted to be present. He knew that he had to “see” me, and I him, before we could say goodbye. He could not speak then, yet his eyes spoke loudly and clearly to me. His brows would furrow and exclaim, he would blink to respond to questions, he would smack his lips for the drops of water and root beer and widen his eyes in gratitude, and he would shed small tears. His eyes always looking at me—not in a haunting way—but with that intelligent, inquiring, quizzical look, and indeed desperation and frustration in the moment. I was given the greatest gift in life, to be there for him, with him, in him, of him.
I sang to him.
I tried to close his eyes after he passed, but even then, they would not stay closed.
It was absolutely, perfectly correct, then, that when we left the hospital for the last time, we took a call asking if there would be consent to Brian’s eyes being taken for someone else who lives on... YES!!!
- How Burton Cummings; how “These Eyes.”
- How Spencer; how Gamache.
- What a perfect gem, perfect facet, perfect brush, on perfect paper, with perfect colour.
- What perfect tool on perfect wood, what perfect trim, what perfect cuts.
- How better to capture a more perfect picture of this derelict building.
- How esoterically, iconically, symbolic.
- What a perfect, midnight move.
- What perfect lyrics and tune, how Allman Brothers, Savoy Brown, Joe Walsh, Katrina and the Waves.
- What a perfect slide guitar.
How absolutely perfectly correct.