My Brother in Minneapolis Won’t Be Going to the Minnesota State Fair

brother in Minneapolis

The last photo of John Burgard and his sister Elizabeth Weintraub on June 4, 2016 in Minneapolis

It was clear to me last week when I visited my brother in Minneapolis that he will not be using the Grandstand tickets I bought for him to see Don Henley at the Minnesota State Fair. I started to figure it out when my sister-in-law answered her phone last month. She never answers the phone when I call. It was always my brother, John Burgard, who picked up. I had not talked to her in 30 years. Probably because my brother had cut off all communication 30 years ago for some unknown reason, which is now poised to forever remain a mystery, and his wife followed suit right after she announced it.

The whole family on that side followed suit. They cut off speaking to my sisters and niece, too. We tried to squeeze it out of him, but he would not say. Some things are better left alone in the bigger scheme of stuff. Perhaps he discovered he was adopted, not a blood relative, so he wasn’t required by law to speak to us anymore. Except we looked so much alike.

Damn cancer.

His wife had asked if I was planning to come to Minneapolis. She didn’t say why. Didn’t explain. My real estate business in Sacramento was keeping me plenty busy. Wasn’t planning a trip. That question caught me off-guard. Fortunately, my sister had been visiting my brother, taking him to his clinical trial appointments for soft tissue sarcoma at the U of M, and she felt like his end was close at hand, even though nobody was outright predicting it. It was time to say goodbye to my brother. I went to Minneapolis on the first of June and had several visits with my brother. I had last seen him in November at Currans when we reconciled. Well, he finally initiated it. We also talked weekly by phone after that.

I had told my sister that seemed a little selfish to me. For our brother not to talk to us for 30 years and only call because he’s dying, just so he’d have more relatives to cry over him after he dies. Humor never gets in my way. His wife was grateful because she said it could have gone the other direction. We could have refused to see him. Held a grudge or whatever. Never occurred to us. She obviously doesn’t know the Burgard sisters very well. The whole thing with my brother was strange, especially the time the police knocked on my sister’s door to tell her my brother had committed suicide and was found dead after jumping off the Ford Bridge. When he had not. It was some other guy who left behind a motorcycle and a guitar on the bridge.

My sister sent an email yesterday morning to say my brother had died. His wife had called her but not me. She didn’t say much except to joke around, my sister said. It’s hard to miss somebody who hasn’t been in your life for 30 years, but it doesn’t mean the incident is unworthy of the grieving process.

For days after I got home in Sacramento I wondered about a little hand gesture my brother had used during a conversation. It was something we used to do as kids. It was bugging me. Where did it come from? A twirl of his forefinger in several circles in the air, finishing with a finger poking through the center. Then it hit me! It was something Stan Laurel did. We grew up watching Laurel and Hardy and performing their skits in our front yard. I was Oliver, of course, and my brother was Stanley. I guess the moral to this story is don’t wait until a family member is dying to reconnect. You can’t ever get those lost years back. They’re just gone. Rest in peace, John.

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