Early in the second year of the global Covid pandemic my brother Guy died.
When I heard the news, grief filled the February sky like a blanket of fog that clouds the landscape and for a while is blinding. Out of the mist like a tropical rain, fast and warm, tears sprang to my eyes as the sudden shock of loss, of death, consumed every fibre in my being. And then, still processing, I had to tell the children that their uncle had died, seemingly out of the blue, but not so.
Guy played a huge part in their lives, just as he had played a huge part in mine. He was smart with a photographic memory, funny, kind, and often outrageous. In a word, he was unforgettable.
Guy and I spent the first two decades of our life travelling the world, sharing adventures with our parents and on our own. As children of diplomats moving from pillar to post, Guy always had my back and I his. Leaving one post for another every 3 to 5 years, we depended on each other. We were a tight family.
The reality that I would never see Guy again, hear his unforgettable laugh, often at my expense but with love, broke my heart. As much as we connected by phone over the years, I had not seen Guy often over the past 10 years as life brought challenges to us both and he lived in Gilford and Toronto, Ontario and I lived in the Gatineau Hills. Guy last visited on his way to New Brunswick in 2017 and it was fleeting. Prior to that, he came to my daughter Saskia’s August wedding in 2015 in Wakefield. As always, he was joyous, he charmed, he made people laugh, he danced with a tie tied like a bandana on his head (a Guy-inspired family wedding tradition). He was our Guy!
I could not be with him before his death nor travel to Toronto to organize and gather his personal effects, what little remained. That task fell to Saskia, and she managed it well. In connecting with Guy’s old friend, Adam, an early tenant at his house on Shuter Street, who I discovered with his passing, had been like a son to Guy, uncannily even sounding like him, Saskia discovered not only his collection of wood carvings stored in a garden shed at the back of the house where he lived, but also his diaries.
Guy was a great writer, and his diaries were rich with poems and reflections, as were his letters from abroad whenever he was off on another adventure.
Diary-writing had its genesis in India when Guy turned 12 and had to navigate not just vastly different surroundings but adolescence. It became his confidant. All through high school, university and beyond Guy kept a diary. His diaries housed his private reflections and chronicled his life, the good and the bad. It was a treasure trove for Saskia, who respectful of his living wish that “you keep out’ found license with his passing to delve into his life and innermost thoughts.
Guy’s diaries contained various jottings – quotes, song lyrics that resonated with him, that captured how he was feeling or what he was thinking. Poetry and music, an integral part of his life.
Writer and philosopher C.S. Lewis in his book, A Grief Observed, wrote “ I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
In struggling to come to terms with Guy’s death and wind my way through the valley of grief, I think of music as providing a lens into my brother’s sixty-three years of life. A song can evoke one’s senses like nothing else and transport you to another time and place. I reflect on Guy’s six plus decades and some of the many songs that for me provide sketches at the intersection of his life and mine. Far across the distance and spaces between us…You have come to show you go on. Near, far, wherever you are, I believe that the heart does go on (thank you Celine Dion for that beautiful song).
57-67 (South Africa-Ottawa-New York-Bonn)
Izika Zumba (South African folk song) – Guy and I were both born in Pretoria, South Africa, children of Canadian diplomats. While I have no clear memory of the song in those early years, this catchy South African tune would figure throughout our lives and was sung with gusto. It even worked as a lullaby for my granddaughter!
Que sera sera (Doris Day) –We moved to New York in 1961 where we attended PS 8 Elementary School in the village of Bronxville. My mother loved Doris Day and we would often hear her singing this song. Memories of my mother corralling all the neighbourhood children to find 5-year-old Guy and his friend Sheila from across the street, who had decided to walk to the local library. Some went on bicycles and some of us set off with my mother to act as scouts. They were found walking several blocks from home and almost at the library. A carload of children rode home in the open trunk of my parent’s car!
Monsieur Dupont (Manuela) – The Berlin Wall went up in ’64 and we moved to Bad Godesberg, Germany. We spent two months in the Park Hotel while waiting for our house in the hamlet of Muffendorf to be ready for us to move into. My mother, Guy and I would go down to the English bookstore next to the Hotel and pick out our weekly books – Guy reading Teddy Edward stories and me the Bobbsey Twins and Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers series!
Once settled in our new home, we quickly made both German, English and French-speaking friends. We hiked and biked on the hills surrounding us – to our school in Plittersdorf and across the Rhine to Konigswinter and the Siebengebirge. Sometimes we rode our bikes barefoot and we had a little “gang” called the Barefoot Devils. The height of our mischief was ringing doorbells and running away.
In the five years in Germany, I moved into adolescence and Guy followed close behind. We moved from comic books to listening to 45 records as the coolest thing! We would bus or bike to Bad Godesberg’s town square where there was an awesome record store where you could put on headphones, listen to the latest hits and if you liked what you heard, pay the money, and bring the record home. Monsieur Dupont with its catchy German lyrics came home with us and was committed to heart and mind.
67-77 India – Jamaica – Canada
Cross-posted again, we set out for India in the summer of ’69. We attended the American International School in New Delhi. We were close to war as fighting raged on in Vietnam. We learned how to play bridge in the blackouts during the ’71 Indo-Pak war.
In 1972, I organized a trip with friends to Kathmandu, Nepal. Guy and a couple of his friends came along. Travelling by train to Patna where we overnighted and fought off hoards of mosquitoes by keeping cigarettes lit, we then flew into the magic kingdom of Nepal, a Mecca for travellers on journeys of discovery, psychedelic and other. We flew over Everest and stayed at the Yak and Yeti. We rented motorbikes and drove to the Chinese border. Miles from nowhere, guess I’ll take my time, oh yeah…. Miles from Nowhere (Cat Stevens) played every evening in the dorm where we stayed.
Guy and his friends began to experiment with drugs, which were all too readily available. Perhaps prophetically, Guy would play his cassette of Humble Pie’s 30 Days in the Hole over and over. I remember a poem he wrote called, The Facts Cannot Lie and the defining line, Although the truth is not the proof, the facts cannot lie.
Guy turned 15 and got a 100-cc red Honda motorbike. Freedom. He whizzed around Delhi and hung out with friends at Safdarnjung’s Tomb, went to Student Youth Fellowship (or so he said) and the hot spot, the humming discotheque, Wheels.
When I left home in ‘72, Guy sent me off with Uriah Heep’s Wizard and Demons album as we both loved the album and its opening tract, Wizard. He was the wizard of a thousand kings and I chanced to meet him on my wanderings…
And as he spoke I felt a deep desire
To free the world from it's fear and pain
And help the people to feel free again.
Why don't we listen to the voices in our hearts
'Cause then I know we'd find that we're not so far apart.
Everybody's got to be happy. Everyone should sing
For we know the joy of life, the peace that love can bring.
So spoke the wizard in his mountain home.
From Delhi to Kingston, Jamaica, and for Guy, Trench Town rock as the family uprooted once again in 1976. After four incredible years in India, the family adjusted to island life in what was to be my father’s last posting.
Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff)
Guy went to Priory School switching to the British system of O and A levels. While always an outstanding student taking top prizes for academic excellence, much to his parents’ consternation, he embraced the local herb with gusto. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. With his faithful Honda motorbike Guy went from Jack’s Hill to Trench Town to Hope Road. He discovered the island and its people. Reggae became his vibe. Jimmy Cliff’s beautiful voice sang of hardship and oppression and Bob Marley sang of love and revolution and rights and Guy loved the words and the melodies.
When I came home for the holidays, Guy introduced me to roots, rock reggae and we hit many “spots” where people just dropped-in and you moved from place to place and partied all night long. No invitation required. Friends of friends, welcome. Christmas in Jamaica was all about good times. Irie!
Guy followed me to Trent University and we were there together for his first year and my last. Guy spent his first year in residence at Champlain College and it was not long before the sounds of Bob Marley echoed across the Otonabee River and into the crisp October night entreating one to Get up, Stand Up . Guy brought the islands beyond I-section to the Nassau campus. His door was always open and everyone “rocked steady,” including my future husband Steve, who lived in the room below Guy’s, and who I actually met at a party in Guy’s room on a cold winter’s night
I remember well sitting with our friend Brad Downie (killed not long after in a tragic car accident) on a dull Sunday afternoon in residence with Guy and Steve, shooting the shit with Supertramp’s Bloody Well Right pounding in the background. The boys in I-section ricocheted from the zany, the ill-advised to the philosophical and profound. Student days.
Hiking to the top of the Drumlin and bowing to a Tia Maria bottle under a full moon and then sliding down on cafeteria trays, to wander back to residence to warm up with Jamaican rum or the ubiquitous beer and before the night creeped into day a little hungover, sitting back on the bolsters to listen to the Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd).
And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon
And every spring, the lunatics were indeed back on the grass, playing frisbee or throwing a baseball or simply watching the river run.
77-87 (Travelling the World)
December 1976, Steve Forbert, touted as the next Bob Dylan, played at the renowned El Mocambo in Toronto. Guy and our great friend Deb, Steve and I had tickets and we were almost giddy when we had occasion to say hello to Steve Forbert in the hall following the concert!
Saskia discovered the song lyrics to Forbert’s song, It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way, written in the pages of one of Guy’s diaries…
I came on my own
and felt much like you
i thought i was king
and knew what to do
but everything burned
and fell from my hand
i had to turn back
and build a new plan
Perhaps this decade is best associated with Springsteen’s Born to Run album, more in title than anything else. Guy spent many years in his early twenties travelling the world. He worked for a spell in a brewery and made enough money to travel and then off he would go – first Europe, then Asia, then South America. He lived for a while in a croft in Scotland, got pneumonia in the former Yugoslavia, saw a snow leopard from a bus in the Himalayas, spent the winter on a beach in Goa, climbed Machu Pichu and camped at the top, learned Spanish, missed a flight home from Peru. And he always wrote home. My mother and I would share letters and word of his adventures; his telegram from Amsterdam when his first nephew was born (no instant text by phone but a keepsake I have to this day), and we always stood eager to welcome him home with open arms when he returned.
In a letter written from a ferry in the southern Aegean Sea Guy wrote, “I am King in Paradise,” and for a while, he truly was.
87-97 (Doing the Expected and the Unexpected)
In his thirties, Guy did the expected. He liked the finer things in life. Having led a privileged life, he aspired to all the trappings of what many considered success. He was handsome, well read and well spoken. He was the essence of charm, charming women and men and loving women and men. He was clever; the guy most likely to succeed and to no one’s surprise, he became a Certified Financial Planner and excelled at his work with the Investor’s Group. He taught courses. He bought a house. He bought a fancy car. He married.
By this time, I had moved to Ottawa and had a third child. I didn’t see Guy as much, though we always talked on the phone. The common denominator was Peterborough where my parents had retired and where we regularly visited. He figured large in my children’s life and became the beloved uncle, often poking fun at their mother. Where he went, hilarity ensued.
In celebration of my parents 40th wedding anniversary, Steve and I travelled with Guy on a European tour in 1990 and travelled back to Lake Como where our parents, Willy and Bill, had honeymooned in 1950. I will never forget the hilarity of Guy crossing his eyes following a night spent at an Inn in the Bavarian Woods on a pull-out bed in my parent’s room. Quadrophonic snoring. Laughter and adventures galore. It was an unforgettable journey, particularly sentimental as my father passed away 5 years later and some difficult days were ahead for brother Guy.
Greenday’s song, Time of Your Life, perhaps best captures the Zeitgeist.
Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go So make the best of this test, and don't ask why It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
97-07 (Fire and Rain)
About 30 years ago, my husband Steve and Guy were listening to music and talking about music. Guy mentioned that one of his favourite songs was Steve Earle’s My Old Friend the Blues – Just when every ray of hope was gone, I should have known that you would come along, I can’t believe I ever doubted you My old friend the blues.
1997 was the beginning of some dark days. Like Icarus, Guy came crashing down to earth. From riding the crest, waves of challenge, many of his own making, confronted him and he was fighting to keep his head above water. Complications (Steve Forbert).
Early in the new millennium his marriage ended –
You say that you're leaving Well, that comes as no surprise…I fell through this crack and I kinda lost my head Hasn’t hit me yet (Blue Rodeo)
Luckily with support from his friend Adam, while his marriage ended and things fell apart, he was able to keep his business going and ended up getting back on his feet. He surfaced, a changed man in many ways. Through the worst of times, he maintained la bella figura and offered a contagious smile, making jokes even in his darkest hours.
Fire and Rain (James Taylor) I've seen fire and I've seen rain I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
The last 13 years of Guy’s life were both manic and depressed.
Darkness on the Edge of Town (Bruce Springsteen) Well everybody's got a secret, son Something that they just can't face Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it They carry it with them every step that they take Till some day they just cut it loose Cut it loose or let it drag 'em down Where no one asks any questions Or looks too long in your face In the darkness on the edge of town In the darkness on the edge of town
He continued to work as an independent financial planner. He bought a house on Lake Simcoe which he loved, and he bought a sailboat, the Someday Too.
He entertained madly and drank heavily. He was always happy being the life of the party. He had an outrageous celebration for his 50th birthday and chartered limousines to bring friends up from the city. I cannot help but think of Joe Walsh’s song, Life’s Been Good… I go to parties, sometimes until four. It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door.
He went to South Africa and Zimbabwe on an incredible train journey bringing gifts of books and writing paper and pens to children everywhere he stopped. He bungee jumped at Victoria Falls. He attended the weddings of his niece and nephews and shared his energy and his love and laughter, not to mention a little bit of risk-taking!
By 2012 things began to unravel again. Exploited by some closest to him, he tried to keep things on an even keel, but the seas were far too choppy and the tide was against him. He left his partner, he lost his house (sold for a song) and he moved back to live in the house of a friend in the city. He cared for her mother and her house when she moved to New Brunswick.
The Someday Too he held on to for some years, the last vestige of his former life and a steadfast, non-judgemental friend. True to his Dutch roots, Guy loved sailing. He loved taking people out in the sailboat but perhaps most of all he loved the tranquility of the boat, hiking from left to right across the shallow water of Lake Simcoe in the setting sun. His refuge, his bliss.
As I write this, I think nothing conjures up Guy’s life and passions better than Loggins and Messina’s Vahevalla and Enya’s Orinoco Way. I like to think of my sunny brother as sailing out on the open sea somewhere in the Caribbean, riding the waves and feeling good in his skin, laughing as he hits a wave and thinking, I wish you were here to share this with me – life is indeed beautiful.
Kevin, one of his old Trent friends perhaps said it best, “He was one of the rare people who could and would connect with everyone and had a special energy to light up any room or situation. A really remarkable person.” He lived large and his passing casts a long shadow on all who knew him.
Perhaps a good place to end is with the Beatles famous soundtrack and lyrics from their Abbey Road album, “And in the end the love you take, is equal to love you make.” Guy made friends all over the world. He is remembered as love, as joy, as laughter. No matter his own personal struggles and pain, he was a true Leo, leading people in joy.
For one who was so social, the pandemic found him like so many, alone with little human touch or comfort. There was to be no summer trip to the Gatineau Hills to visit us, there was to be no train trip to Toronto to help him as his body gave in to far too many years of drink.
Saskia said his wallet had little in it, but his green and white Trent student card was prominent. As she read through his diaries, she said the pages were full of love for his Trent years and the friendships forged.
Harry Chapin’s memorable ballad, All My Life’s a Circle, contains the lyrics –
It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we’ll all be together again
It is only fitting that on the 20th of August 2021, friends and family will gather on the banks of the Otonabee (in Ojibway, the river that beats like a heart) at Trent University and remember him with songs and stories. A celebration of my brother’s life – the inimitable and unforgettable, Guy William Hoogendyke.