William Gilbert Guitars

Reflections on John Gilbert's passing

My father, John Gilbert, died on the afternoon of Thursday, February 23, 2012. I knew in my mind that he would not live forever, but I expected him to live until I was ready to let him go. But that is not how our lives are ordered in God’s providence. My dad had already expressed the pain and growing loneliness of seeing so many of his friends pass away. On Monday of that final week, I spoke to him for what I didn’t know was the last time, and he sounded tired and vaguely ill. He said that he had been in the hospital the previous week (he always made a point of telling us afterward). I made plans to come to visit on Friday, but it was not to be. On Thursday afternoon I received a call from my mother that he had collapsed. I gathered my things to make the trip north and while I was in the car, on my way, my sister called. Dad had passed away.

He died at home, in his own bedroom, while walking to the bathroom. He collapsed suddenly and lost consciousness. There was no lingering illness, like cancer, no loss of his cognitive abilities, the end was sudden, and essentially painless. He just stopped. No resuscitation (the paramedics tried), no ambulance to the hospital, no agonizing decisions about withholding some kind of treatment. No recriminations. It was among the best ways to die. We knew that as far as he was concerned, he had hit the jackpot. It was a blessing to his family of inestimable value. As my mother put it that very day, “He got what he wanted”. I am very thankful to God for this, even as my father himself told me that he was thankful to God for his life, and the many blessings he had received.

I had the honor to give the eulogy at his memorial mass on March 10, 2012. We buried him that same day. I really knew “Dad is gone”, when I put the first handfuls of earth into his grave. Yet he lives on in his guitarmaking legacy, in the instruments that he sometimes compared to children. These latter children of wood all shared a first name, it was “Number”. Each one was, in some way an individual, yet the family resemblance was unmistakable.

I hope to preserve and share a memory of him from the perspective of a son, as well as the person with whom he wholly shared his guitarmaking thoughts, theories and methods. In a few other articles here I hope to paint a picture of John Gilbert, as I knew him.