Beyond Words

It was three weeks ago last night when the state trooper drove down our darkened driveway and knocked on our door. Three weeks ago, our lives were forever altered by the actions of a woman who from this report and information available online, shouldn’t have been behind the wheel of her SUV. Mary and I shouldn’t be left to grieve the death of our son. But here we are.

Grief has been written about and described in various ways. Linda Andrews, who wrote a wonderful book on the subject, describes it as “a deep dark hole.” At times, it feels like that.

Linda’s a friend, and I actually served as a consultant when she was developing the idea for Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve. Mark did the layout and design and developed a website for her. She’s stayed in touch with Mary and I since Mark was killed. The other day she sent us this:

The death of a loved one shifts the whole foundation of our life. Nothing is as it was. Even what was most familiar seems in a strange way unfamiliar. It is as though we had to learn a new language, a new way of seeing. Even the face in the mirror seems the face of a stranger.

What are we to make of this? Just that we truly have, in a way, entered a new country. Though the terrain looks much the same and many of the people are the same people, there is a different light over everything.

Yes, Mary and I are now residents of a new country—one, by the way that we didn’t actively seek passports for in order to visit. But here we are.

We are both survivors. From the time we were first married, we set our faces like flint towards building a lasting life together with one another. When Mark was born more than a year later, we had the unit of three that would function so well for the next 33 years. Without him, we’re now down to two and really struggle with that number.

It’s been hard to do many things that I used to love to do. As much as I loved to read in the past and have always been a proponent of readingespecially as a catalyst to write and stay broad and wide in my thinking—reading has been nearly impossible, at least, sitting down and employing the type of concentration required to plow through books.

Writing is what I do. Since I decided to become a writer just prior to turning 40, I’ve worked diligently at it. I started blogging right around this time and have stayed steady at it. Words right now don’t come easily.

Mark and I shared a passion for writing and talked often about our crafts. Yet, when Mark was at Wheaton College, and first started developing what would be a vast array of content as a writer, I’m not sure I fully understood what he was doing as a writer. It’s taken me a period of time to fully “get it” with his style and voice. But, man oh man, Mark certainly had his own, unique voice!

Father and son in Providence (circa 2009)

Mark did an interview (somewhere that I can’t find my way back to) about two years ago. He talked about finally coming to terms with being a poet (my own paraphrase). “Fascinating,” I thought at the time. I don’t think it was any coincidence that his writing seemed to “take off” after that self-identification.

There are people in my immediate family that have never really understood the Mark that “retired from baseball,” as he tells it, or “stopped doing sports,” a phrase that pops up in some of the 100 videos from his final walk. The Mark of 2016 (and 2005 and 2006, too) wasn’t the same little kid that played in New Auburn Little League.

I know what it’s like when people close to you refuse to acknowledge who you are and refuse to support the things that are significant in your life. I’ve lived with rejection for the past 40+ years and am experiencing firsthand what it feels like to once again have my family fail to support me, this time during the darkest period of my life. Love with conditions attached is not love.

Mark was loved by so many people. It has been so obvious to Mary and I since word got out that Mark had been killed. These were people that bothered to take the time to know and understand and appreciate our son. We have been deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support extended to us, as his parents. It’s been helpful, for sure.

There are people who have wanted to know about Mark, his time as a child and beyond. What was life like in our home and what was the environment that Mark grew up in?

We weren’t perfect parents by any means. However, we always were supportive of Mark’s endeavors. Not only did we openly validate who he was and what he was doing, we showed up. If there was a baseball game, a 4:30 a.m. hockey practice, a science fair at school, or later—when Mark was walking across the countrywe showed up!!

Mark shared with an MFA colleague—a woman with two children—what his parents meant to him. He appreciated our acceptance, our unconditional love, and as he put itwe also had fun together.

When you go to the hospital for the birth of a child, there’s no vending machine or kiosk where you can get a manual on parenting. One of the most important things you’ll ever do is learned on-the-job. That was scary as hell to me when we brought Mark home from St. Margaret’s, in Hammond, Indiana, back in 1983. I guess Mary and I did something right and figured some things out along the way.

What they didn’t tell us, and what neither of us figured out back then, however, is just how fucking hard it would be to lose our one and only son. But here we are!