I got a call today from my niece that my brother John had died. From what I can gather, he went in his sleep. He was almost eighty with an impressive array of health problems, but at least he didn’t die in the hospital. He’d been in pain most of his life, so it’s a comfort to think of him free — really free, free of his body, his pain, his past, and any trouble he carried in his heart.
John was an incredibly complex man — to some a complete crackpot, to a great many others a genius. To me, he was just my brother and I will miss him terribly.
He was a CIA Pilot. He held 17 world speed records, and was the only pilot in history to hold every airman certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. He was best known for his thoughts and philosophies on UFOs, extraterrestrials, revealing government secrets, exposing the legendary Area 51, and as the “Godfather of Conspiracy.”
When he was disinherited by our father, inventor of the Learjet, he threw himself a party catered by McDonalds, and invited all his friends. They brought Alpo dog food. In December of that year, he sent out a Christmas card to his elite list (I was happy to be on it). Front of card shows a lovely picture of him, his second wife and their two daughters…surrounded by the words, “Merry Christmas to you, and a Happy New Year. Blessings to all…” (turn the page)…“except John Olsen Lear,” and there was a cartoon of a lawyer crossing out his name. It was ballsy. It was hilarious. I adored him for it.
My earliest memory of him was passing by his bedroom when we lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and smelling the sweet mysterious scent of his pipe smoke.
When he was sixteen, he crashed a biplane. It happened because he was showing off his aerobatics for his buddies at Le Rosey (a renowned boarding school in Gstaad). His injuries were so bad, the doctor said my parents should pray for his death.
He’d broken both feet (in his lifetime, he had over 27 surgeries on his feet), as well as his legs, his back, and his arms. Plus, his face crashed into the instrument panel. Lost all his teeth. They had to do a tracheotomy on him so he could breathe. I’ll never forget him showing me from his hospital bed that he couldn’t talk, but that if he put his finger over the quarter-sized hole (!) in his neck, his voice would be there.
I’ll also never forget standing by him, helpless, while Dad raged at him for crashing the plane and did he know how much that plane cost? John was mute, with all four limbs in traction and a hold in his throat. I was five. For decades he and Dad waged psychological warfare on one another. And during the years I still lived at home, the holidays always brought a sense of dread.
Because John was eleven years older than me, and because he understandably put as much distance between himself and Dad, our paths really didn’t cross very much. Nevertheless, I always loved him fiercely, even though I was always a little afraid of him . But he never treated me with anything but tenderness.
One thing I truly relished about him was his status as a world class prankster. But those stories are for another time.
When my long term marriage was on the rocks in the late eighties, and I lived in Wyoming, he was the only one in my family to actually come to see for himself how I was doing. I almost didn’t know how to act in response to that kind of simple, honest concern.
We are a civil but estranged family. I was just thinking yesterday how I really don’t have family family — not like my kids and Elena and I are family, where we tell each other things, and support each other through the rough times.
My siblings and I are all a little wary of one another. We respect each other, but we hold profoundly different views about life so we can’t ever really completely relax in each other’s presence. Our parents unwittingly taught us the crucial skills of self-protection at all costs, and so none of us could spare much energy or the space to look out for one another.
And now one of us is gone.
I will carry him in my heart the same way I did when he was alive.
In tenderness, and with love and compassion.
May you run like you ran before the crash. May your heart nestle in a cozy sanctuary, far from strife. May you fly wherever you want to, now, unhindered. And may your soul blossom into its next incarnation. Wherever you land, may it be an easier ride than this one was.