My husband Craig and I just finished a two-week road trip that, among other places, brought us to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we attended a Celebration of Life ceremony for our friend and honorary brother, Jon Ehret, who passed away suddenly in August, 2021.
My husband gave a beautiful eulogy, a sort of exclamation point to a blog post he’d written last year. I stood by his side as he delivered it. Afterwards, Jon’s wife, Laura, invited others to share memories or stories about Jon. I felt called to come forward on my own and deliver an anecdote off-the-cuff.
I’ll tell you that story here in just a moment, but first, let me explain the title of this blog post.
In basketball, there are five starting players from each team on the court. The sixth man* is the first person off the bench when a player takes a rest and is considered a singularly important player. This player is typically not the superstar. He likely doesn’t have sneaker deals or TV commercials. But he comes onto the court and gives everything he’s got. He’s the consummate team player—he’s in it for the win rather than the glory. He has a job to do and relishes the role.
I didn’t know Jon for nearly as long as Craig did—Craig introduced us in 2015 during a trip to Seattle; he and Laura were living there at the time—but he almost instantly became like a brother to me.
I already have five older brothers. Even my twin was born three minutes before I was. I didn’t think I needed a sixth.
Jon showed me that I needed him as my sixth brother.
And he was a sixth brother much like the sixth man in basketball. He showed up when needed, came off the bench and onto the court, and shined during those minutes of play. A star performance without the glory. A team player, through and through.
He did it in email exchanges, such as the one when I picked his brain about digital photography—I was toying with the idea of taking it up as a hobby—and he delivered so much more than the rundown of what a decent camera costs. He did it on subsequent visits, when he allowed himself to be both vulnerable and empathetic in conversation, while extolling the virtues of good food and good music. He did it at our wedding (which he and Laura traveled across the country for), when he helped Craig set up tables and chairs at the venue, and gifted us with two high-end bottles of champagne.
Oh, and he was tall. Like, basketball-player tall.
Which brings me to what I shared with those who gathered last week to celebrate Jon. Hopefully I will tell my story with more eloquence here than I did there.
Jon and I shared music fandom. You all know by now that my band is Duran Duran. Jon’s was The Who. Given that Jon fell within the age range of my siblings, I have, at the very least, an average knowledge of The Who and perhaps a slightly above-average appreciation for them. Jon could’ve said the same about Duran Duran, I surmise. We swapped stories about memorabilia finds, best concerts, musical talent, and more. We each respected and appreciated the other’s fandom.
When Duran Duran came to Everett, Washington, just outside of Seattle, in 2016, I scrambled to buy tickets online. I was pretty proud of myself for scoring twelfth-row floor seats. We let Jon know we got them, and thus would be in Seattle, hoping to line up another visit.
Jon called us back.
He scored third-row center.
Suddenly my twelfth-row seats were looking pretty shabby.
I playfully fumed at him: “Damn you, Ehret!”
He laughed and replied amiably, “I know how to manipulate the system.”
I was mostly happy at the prospect of Jon going to see Duran Duran and perhaps getting a birds’ eye view of my fandom. (Did I mention how tall he was?) I was happy about the prospect of Craig and I getting to see our friends again. On top of everything else, Jon and Laura and Craig and I were great double-daters.
Jon called me shortly afterwards. “I’ll trade you tickets,” he said. “Your seats for mine.”
I went slack-jawed and wide-eyed. I think he could almost see it.
“That third-row-center fan experience is for you, not for me,” he said. “You need it way more than I do. Those are your guys.”
That was Jon. Selfless. Simple. A superstar without the glory.
We did trade tickets, Craig and I went to the show, and it was, indeed, the fan experience I’d always dreamed of. As special as these things come. One of the best Duran Duran shows ever.
We didn’t get to see Jon and Laura on that trip, and they didn’t get to attend the show. I can’t remember why. But one month later, they came to our wedding, and celebrated our second anniversary with us in Maine.
That was the last time we got to see them together in person.
A Celebration of Life isn’t only about remembering the person who’s passed. It’s also about the people left behind. The shared love and gratitude for having known him/her. The stories. The memories. The artifacts. The messages. The signs. It’s literal celebration of life. And in this day and age, when death has hovered over us like a monsoon that just won’t let up, we need that sunshine.
I didn’t have my sixth brother in my life for long. But oh, what a mark he made.
*Yes, women also play basketball, so “the sixth man” as a term is antiquated. But I hopefully illustrated why it worked in this context.
I'm an author of commercial women's fiction and a writing instructor. My claim to fame: I can say the alphabet backwards.