Our Memorial Day weekend centered on burying the remains of our son, Mark Baumer. In case you may have stumbled across this blog and lack context, Mark was hit and killed by an inattentive driver in Fort Walton County, Florida on January 21. He was an award-winning poet and writer, and was engaged in his second crossing of America on foot. He walked across the U.S. in 81 days in 2010.
Because of the newsworthy nature of Mark’s walk, his cause (raising awareness) about climate change, while also walking America’s highways and byways barefoot, the story of his death received widespread media coverage. In my opinion, this article in The New Yorker was the best of them, written about Mark by a writer, Anna Heyward, who made an effort in understanding the arc of the story, and “got” Mark, as a creative genius and activist, also.
Mark’s been gone for four months. For Mary and me, his parents, our lives continue to be affected each and every day by the grief associated with this loss.
Losing an adult child that you loved more than life itself isn’t something that you simply get over in four days, four months, or four years. Yet, there are people at work and elsewhere with unrealistic expectations who don’t seem to understand the devastation associated with an event like the one visited upon us.
Here are remarks that I delivered at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco, on Saturday morning, prior to interring Mark’s remains:
For the past four months, I’ve been trying to locate meaning for why Mark was killed. I’ve been unsuccessful on that front. How does one imbue an event with any meaning, like the one that robbed our families of Mark, a loving, vibrant 33-year-old?
Mark loved baseball for a time in his life. In fact, baseball is where we may have ultimately forged our bond as father and son. In baseball terms, a 33-year-old is in the prime of his baseball abilities and acumen. In a creative sense, I believe Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer, poet, and digital gadfly.
Why would someone who worked so diligently and was ever at their craft, cruelly taken away before they ever got to the zenith of their creative capabilities? Perhaps you now see why finding meaning has been so difficult a task for me since the end of January.
A day doesn’t pass, no, nary an hour transpires without both Mary and me thinking about our beloved son who is no longer with us.
While it’s comforting in some twisted logic, wishful thinking sort of way to think that Mark might be somewhere else, waiting for us, the rational in me doesn’t allow for that. The best I can come up with is that Mark’s energy that spark that makes up our life force is now somewhere, just not in the hulking physical form that we came to know as Mark.
At funerals and graveside events like this one, it’s traditional for the reading of a prayer, or a poem, or some saying that leaves attendees with some kind of hope for the future. I’ll try to carry on that tradition in my own flawed manner.
Among many of the Indian nations in Massachusetts there was the idea that after death, the soul would go on a journey to the southwest (which at that time, was a place, far, far away). Eventually, the soul would arrive at a village where it would be welcomed by the ancestors. In a similar fashion, the Narragansett in Rhode Island viewed death as a transition between two worlds: at the time of death, the soul would leave the body and join the souls of relatives and friends in the world of the dead which lay somewhere to the southwest.
The one brief respite from my own grief and loss regarding Mark has come while being in nature. Mary and I felt Mark’s presence while we were in the desert, at Joshua Tree a few weeks ago. Each morning, Mary and I have developed a routine. When we wake up and look out on our beloved Woodward Cove—especially those mornings when the sunlight hits the water making it shimmer, and the birds are delivering a symphony of sounds—Mark’s presence is all around us.
Mark, your life mattered and was ended prematurely. We’ll miss you forever.
Afterward, we left Saco and drove 90 minutes into the heart of Maine’s western mountains. There, we planted two trees at Mary’s sister and brother-in-law’s house where we come together the week before Christmas every year. We wanted something that would capture Mark’s presence and keep his memory alive in that special family gathering place.
Our families stepped up this weekend. We also were so pleased that Mark’s girlfriend could join us for the family ceremonies in Saco and Bryant Pond, and then spend time with us on Woodward Cove. As difficult as the weekend was at times, there were also times of beauty that Mark would have been happy to have had a hand in bringing about.