He was only 33 when he died, and I never knew him. Gary was my husband Paul's brother, the second of five boys. What I learned of him I gleaned first at the viewing two days before his funeral. Never in my life had I seen so many people at a funeral home to pay respects to one person. Three rooms had to be opened up to receive all the mourners. Three large, high-ceilinged, flower-filled rooms, teeming with all kinds of people.
His wife. His two young boys.
His mother and father.
His four brothers, three with wives.
Professionals in suits and ties.
People wearing guitar T-shirts.
People wearing flip-flops in cold weather.
Gold-toothed, jean-clad, tattooed brutes.
College students (of which I was one).
People who smelled like Old Spice.
People who smelled like Old Lice.
Slobs and snobs.
Lots and lots and lots of musicians.
Gary had talent, brains, charisma, and a well-trained ear. He recorded music and always had a basement full of people. In his life before he met the Lord, his friends were not the kind you'd want your children to hang out with, I'm pretty sure. But he had a lot of friends. When Gary became a Christian, he remained every bit as influential, but with the power and love of Christ. Zeal without temperance at times, from what I've been told, but zeal nonetheless.
He loved the down-and-outers. No one was beneath him.
My husband's family remembers that Gary liked to stir up--what shall we call it--controversy?
Or maybe we'll call it a lively discussion of diverse opinions? They say he would ask a clearly "hot button" topic of someone in the room, get another person to "take the bait," and perhaps a third person to take sides. Then Gary would slip out of the room and leave the debaters to duke it out verbally. Pretty clever, huh?
He was also a big giver. My husband says, with a smile (now, not way back when), that Gary was so generous in his giving that he'd give away things that didn't even belong to him. I assure Paul that there will plenty of guitars in heaven; he need not get "high strung" over the one that got away anymore.
Gary's death came suddenly. Everyone thought it was a heart attack on the job, in his truck. When Paul called to tell me, he and I had only known each other for a month or so. I remember talking to Paul on the phone in utter shock and disbelief, and I felt so sad for him. Sadness and infatuation mingled in my heart and, whaddya-know?, out slipped words I couldn't take back as we ended our conversation. "I love you, bye!"
And before I hung up, he said a quick, "I love you, too."
I hung up and said to myself, "Did I just say what I think I said? And did he say it back?" From there it was full-steam ahead in our relationship. (Gary, if you're reading this in heaven, thank you for expediting those three little words that led to 25 years of marriage and four beautiful children with Paul.)
I remember wearing my one and only suit to the viewing, not knowing anyone, meeting his family for the first time. And that, as they say, is a whole 'nother blog post.
Gary's legacy, I would say, was a legacy of evangelism. Once he met Jesus, Gary told everyone he knew his life had changed. He told people who wanted to hear. He told people who didn't want to hear. He told his wife, his two boys (who were 7 and 5 when he died). He told me without words that his life had purpose and meaning, though cut short by a sovereign and merciful God. Yes, merciful, because Gary was in a lot of pain. He was suffering with something that made his whole body hurt, and yet no one knew the severity. A quick death came for Gary and then I think he heard music. Lots and lots of music, with Jesus there to greet him with open arms and that "great cloud of witnesses" clapping in heaven as those of us on earth began to appreciate Gary's legacy of evangelism.