04 June 2020

Eulogy for my brother Barry

September 18, 1950–June 2, 2020


In my dream,
I see my brothers turn a corner
across the road.
I wake up sobbing
and tell you about it.
Then I wake up shaken
and tell you my dream
about waking up sobbing
after dreaming 
that Barry and Owen
had turned a corner.

A few years ago, Barry wrote a short novel that he kept writing and rewriting until it kind of drove him nuts. It was about a guy whose life goal was to do or create something that would make him known to everyone. At one point, he tried to come up with a new phrase that everyone would be saying, something so clever and common that it would become part of the language and everyone would think of him when they said it.

Truth is, Barry made himself memorable to everyone around him without inventing anything or coming up with a classic phrase. He was friendly, funny, quirky. Like our dad, Sydney, he easily and immediately engaged with just about anyone around him, in a shop or a restaurant or on the block of his street near Kensington Market. Sometimes it made me cringe, just as our dad’s quick familiarity with strangers could make me cringe, but he always made people smile. And Barry was also the kind of guy who had lifelong friends, like Ronnie, who is here today, a best friend of nearly six decades.

Some people in my circles met Barry only once, when Laurie and I got married in 2015. They all remember his charm and wit as he MC’d along with Laurie’s older brother Kevin. I think of that as Barry’s big, glorious moment on Broadway; he worked for months on his remarks, driving me crazy as he bounced lines off me over the phone, sometimes several times a day. But on the day of the wedding, I — and everyone in the room — was enthralled.

In the last decade of his life, Barry met Grace. I had never seen him so happy. They laughed together so much, and worked on endless home-reno projects together. Barry took up the guitar again for his first time in decades, and often serenaded Grace in the evenings, singing Beatles songs and inserting her name into the lyrics. They sang together and they brought each other so much happiness. Grace told me yesterday, “Every day he made me laugh.”

My brothers Owen and Barry both made children an integral part of their lives, especially through coaching kids’ baseball leagues. (I saw on Facebook last night that a whole bunch of those kids Barry had coached years ago were on Zoom, reminiscing about their fun times with Barry.) 

And Barry became a father to Grace’s daughter, Shan, helping her through some very tough times in ways that I had never seen in him. Barely a phone call between Barry and I went by without him mentioning or bragging about both Shan.

In the last decade, Barry recreated himself as an ESL teacher and an English pronunciation coach, primarily online. He became obsessed with language and grammar, and would often phone me up to reveal some new revelation he’d had about English verbal inflections or some complex point of grammar. This was something that brought us even closer together.

When I was little kid in the neighbourhood of Bathurst Manor, I had this older brother with long hair and a beard. He played guitar, and his record collection introduced me to Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Neil Young, among others. An entire wall in his second-floor bedroom was covered with empty boxes of Rothman’s Cigarettes. You could see them as you walked by on the street. Barry was famous for that wall of cigarette boxes. I remember our mom once found his grass stash in one of those boxes, and she confronted him with the little baggie when he got home. He suggested she try it. She could only laugh.

Barry and Owen shared a love for sports, and they and our father watched hockey and baseball and football. I had a bit of trouble connecting with them. But when Barry left home for university in Waterloo, he discovered literature, and I remember him excitedly telling me about the poetry of the English poet John Donne; somehow, reading to me Donne’s poems, he made me all excited about a long-dead 16th-century poet. I’m only now recognizing how pivotal that moment likely was for me.

Barry and I didn’t always get along perfectly. A few years ago we had a disagreement about politics that became so heated we didn’t speak for a year. And then, I think, we both realized that our blood connection — our position as the only two remaining members of that household on Pannahill Road, after we lost our parents and our brother Owen in the space of six years — was stronger than anything else, and we reconnected, closer than ever. Barry was there to help and protect and support: everything a big brother should be.

I think when you write a goodbye to someone, you get down to the essence of things between you, and you want so badly to have just one more conversation to tell them all that you have thought. You hope that you expressed to them at least some fraction of how you felt during their lifetime.

Sleep well, dear brother Barry.



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