Good-bye My Dear Hunting Brother John
I want you to know my younger brother John. He died this week at the age of 66, and the Nugent family is in a whirlwind of heartbreak. I’m not sure I can even get through this tribute to him.
If ever there was a glowing, positive force of nature, it was Johnny. The guy could light up a room and magnify a joyful spirit like no one I have ever known.
I don’t care what the mood may have been prior to John’s arrival, but immediately everybody had a smile on their face, laughter was in the air and everything turned positive.
His work ethic alone was a constant reminder of just how efficient and productive a human being can be, and as a brother, husband, father, uncle and full-on great American, he was a shining light for 66 years.
We are being flooded with support and good wishes from around the world from everyone who ever had even the slightest encounter with John. Everybody loved Johnny Nugent, and we struggle to make sense of his early departure and a day without him.
The guy would get up every day of the year at 4am and make his way to his foreman duties at the Pepper Construction sites in downtown Chicago. He was notorious for not only getting the job done, but getting it done ahead of schedule and under budget.
In Chicago mind you! Think of the entrenched corruption and obstacles he would face in that gangster run environment.
Which reminds me of the time the mafia tried to bootleg my concert tee shirts in New York City during one of my sold out Madison Square Gardens concerts back in the 1970s.
John and I were told about gangs of punks with sacks of merchandise out on the streets ripping me off, so we did what a couple of Detroit born and raised brothers would do and took off to confront the thieves.
Well, suffice it to say the NYC thugs had never run into the Detroit Nugent brothers, and when the dust settled, we had possession of all the merchandise which featured my name, image and likeness, and the mob was not real happy.
In fact, there was a classic moment on a network TV report how the head honcho of the mob was actually impressed we had the gall to do what we did and declined to retaliate.
There are a million stories in the naked city, and Johnny and I were there for most of them.
My memory bank overflows with wonderful recollections of family hunting trips in Michigan and Alaska with John, and the guy was as natural a marksman, archer and predator as ever there was.
It didn’t matter whether he grabbed our dad’s old longbow, 1911 .45 pistol, or our sporterized ’03 Springfield 30-06 with iron sights, Johnny was a natural.
I so wish he had never started smoking, in fact I wish nobody ever started smoking or poisoning their sacred temple with such irresponsible substance abuse, but alas, mankind seems to have this inherent weakness and we all pay in heartbreak and tragedy.
His lung cancer was basically beat, but like mom and dad and so many others, the ongoing and abusive medical procedures slowly but surely took their toll.
Us brothers and sister keep in pretty good touch throughout the year, and I had just spoke with John last week when we excitedly planned shooting, hunting, fishing outdoor fun together soon. He sounded energetic and upbeat, but it just wasn’t in the cards.
I will share with you here a brilliant statement by a family friend that seems to sum up the emotional trauma we all experience when losing a loved one. It is the best I have ever read.
Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter.” I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”
And this from another friend.
As much of a sucker gut punch death is, none of us have been promised a set number of days, weeks, months and years. This is the reason all of us should live passionately, love unconditionally, and laugh hysterically with the days we have. The bottom line is that your brother made a difference in his loved ones’ lives, moved the ball forward, and left our wonderful country in better shape when he left it than when he arrived 66 years ago. That’s the real American Dream. For that, his loved ones should smile knowing that he made a difference and did his job as a husband, dad, brother, and uncle. His life should be celebrated, respected, admired, and emulated.
Good-Bye my brother. Your spirit, goodness and energy will live in all of us forever. I know you will be at my side everyday. I so miss you dammit. I so love you.