Pain in the Gut

For weeks after Mark died, my stomach hurt. Searing pain, centered in my gut.

Then, winter turned to spring. We made a pilgrimage of sorts to California. Upon returning, I was thrust into the school umpiring season and then, it was summer and more baseball games to arbitrate.

Mary decided to embark on training to get ready for the Tri for a Cure. She returned to work. I got dumped from one of my jobs. Life continued, without Mark.

How does one normalize that which isn’t normal? Life missing a portion of your heart, a family unit in mourning, and now, it’s tourist season and everyone’s life is filled with the seasonal things we all know and love. Except it’s hard to find joy when your life is turned upside-down and you continue reeling.

Our gut is part of the nervous system, known as the “brain-gut axis.” According to an older issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter detailing the effects of stress and abdominal pain,

“our brain interacts with the rest of the body through the nervous system, which has several major components. One of them is the enteric nervous system, which helps regulate digestion. In life-or-death situations, the brain triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. It slows digestion, or even stops it completely, so the body can focus all of its internal energy to facing the threat. But less severe types of stress, such as an argument, public speaking, or driving in traffic, also can slow or disrupt the digestive process, causing abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Stress causes disruption of the digestive process. Since Mary and I have been on stress overload continuing to deal with the details of a life sans its guiding force here during summer’s height, I guess I know why my stomach is hurting again.

Stress can cause pain in the gut.

One thing we both have attempted to do is manage our stress to some degree. We don’t always succeed, but our goal is to take care of ourselves as well as possible given the shitty hand we’ve been dealt.

Last week, during a stretch characterized by a lack of sleep, I gave up any guise of productivity on Thursday and headed out on my bike. I set an achievable goal of cranking the pedals like my life depended on it. Riding across beautiful back roads nearby, I remembered a ride that Mark and I took together years ago, when he came home for one of his visits when we were still living in Durham.

Mark had been running and was in good shape, but at that time, hadn’t done much cycling. He borrowed Mary’s bike, which was probably a bit small for him. No problem for Mark. I had to ride like a madman just to keep him in my sights. He kept urging me to ride faster. Mark was always encouraging me onward, beyond my self-imposed limits. During last week’s ride, I imagined I was chasing Mark. When I made it back home after about 90 minutes of riding, my stomach no longer hurt. I’d pushed stressful thoughts out of my head, or maybe Mark had.

Having some true-blue, tried-and-true friends has been a gift that keeps on giving for us. One of those friends met me after work Monday night. We hit tennis balls back and forth before retiring for a few beers downtown. It’s hard to hold onto the cares of the world when you’re trying to get across the court to a ball skittering down the baseline.

Later, sitting with Mary before heading off to bed and my usual habit of reading ‘til I can’t keep my eyes open, we counted ourselves lucky for those time-tested friends. We also reminded one another that we don’t owe anyone anything. We’ve given enough and still; we continue being asked to give more, taking care of the ongoing administrative details of Mark’s life, nearly seven months later.

Current events taking place in Charlottesville over the weekend were hard to hear about, especially learning about a young woman—a hopeful, committed millennial who makes me think of Mark—run down by a driver, using his car as a lethal weapon. Remember two weeks ago when I referenced the Treehugger article indicating that “cars are like guns”? Maybe better, tools of terrorism.

Do you still have doubts?

Hope in the Dark

It’s easy to grow discouraged in this life. Adversity—whether it’s an illness or failing health, economic stress, loneliness or isolation—or in Mary and my case, losing Mark suddenly and tragically: elements like these can grind even the strongest person down, and make them want to give up.

The case can also be made forcefully that the charge that many of us were given when we were young that life in America would be better for us than previous generations is no longer a reality for most. We’ve just elected a president who is at best, a boorish and self-centered man unlike anyone who has sat in the oval office prior. Some believe however, that our current president is an authoritarian with designs on dismantling what remains of our nation’s functionality and crumbling civic and physical infrastructure.

Peggy Noonan, someone with legitimate Republican bona fides calls Mr. Trump, “Woody Allen without the humor” in an op-ed written for and published in the Wall Street Journal. She paints him as a pathetic and weak little man. She’s probably right, although don’t understimate the damage possible by “weak little men.” It’s also far too easy to locate our reasons for despair in one man or a devastating life event.

In the midst of walking a personal path buffeted by discouragement and sadness, I’ve noted how many others are dealing with their own dark journey. In my own grief, I’ve recognized this collective sense of loss all around.  So fellow travelers, why so sad?

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist. She’s been engaged in environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s. Her writing is informed by a life lived with boots firmly planted in real life and direct action work, not academic posturing. Maybe that’s why her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has made such a strong impression on me over the past two weeks as I made my way through it. Continue reading

Finishing the Walk

I haven’t thought a lot about Mark’s walk for a few months. That’s not to say that I haven’t thought about Mark. A day, nary an hour passes when I don’t think of him, especially when I see a picture of him somewhere in the house.

On Sunday, I was working the bases during a Twilight League game and I looked up and saw the moon, pre-dusk. I thought of a tune I’ve heard countless times by Xian rockers, The Violent Burning. The chorus line, “if you ever reach the moon before I do, wave goodbye.” I imagined Mark waving to me planted on the grass of a baseball infield. It was hard not to tear-up and hold it together. I had to because that’s just life—plus, “there’s no crying in baseball,” at least according to Tom Hanks.

Holidays without Mark are tough. Monday and Tuesday were rough days for Mary and me. They always will be.

Today, after completing my tasks for the day around noon and dreading waiting around ‘til tonight’s umpiring assignment, I dug out my 2017 Rand McNally Road Atlas. For some reason, I take comfort looking at the map of where Mark walked and then, projecting the potential route he would have taken west from where he was killed. Continue reading

Rainy Mondays

For a year now, I’ve been leaving the house at 8:00 in the morning and spending part of my week working at a part-time job that helped supplement my income and offered a bit more than most part-time gigs tend to proffer. That all ended last week.

Once again, I’m sitting at home on a Monday, in an empty house (no offense to our cat, Lucy), wondering what’s next on the horizon. The last time I found myself in this place of uncertainty, I could always send an email, text, or call my biggest fan and cheerleader—that would be Mark Baumer. Today is also Mary’s first day back at work since Mark died, so there’s a bit of a double-whammy effect.

I’m not sure what happened other than my son was killed, I probably went back to work too soon, and my manager lacked the capacity for empathy. I dared to point that out. That’s the Cliffs Notes version, anyway. Continue reading

Memorializing Mark

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. Continue reading

Nature’s Way

Spring is when our natural world emerges from hibernation—at least that’s how it works in places like New England—especially in the far-flung northern locales of the region. Buds appear, perennials poke up through the earth, and dormant lawns demand attention by way of a lawn mower.

Even in the midst of coping with the fallout from death and loss, it’s impossible not to notice and be affected by spring’s rousing “hallelujah.”

May moves forward and folds into June. Summer’s official commencement isn’t far off. And yet, the defining event rooted in winter’s cold and darkness travels with Mary and me, no matter how bright the sun shines, or how directly its rays reflect.

Upon returning from California, I was shoved into normalcy. I say “normal,” knowing that for us, normal will never be the same again. How can it be after losing someone we loved as deeply as Mark?

I’ve blogged about being a baseball umpire. Spring is a busy time when you officiate high school baseball in Maine. While our season is shorter than other parts of the country, by the first week of May, high school schedules are in full swing. With rainouts backing games up and umpiring numbers being down across all four umpiring boards in the state, you can work as many games as you want and can physically tolerate. Continue reading

Travel Writing

[Leaving LA and Santa Monica]

Our time in California is coming to an end. We’ve been on the road for nearly two weeks, nearing the completion of a trip we felt compelled to take. We’re missing home a bit, even our cat, Lucy. Odd how our heartstrings pull at us.

This journey has been centered on Mark. Emotions Mary and I have been contending with in losing our only son don’t seem close to dissipating. Love doesn’t disappear just because someone we loved dies. Tears continue streaming, while the holes in both of our hearts remain (and will live there forever).

Time spent in Santa Monica and Los Angeles was beautiful. Seeing Gabi again was one of the highlights of our time in this magnificent state. When political types slag California either through ignorance or ideology, they know not what they are talking about. It’s hard to put into words what we’ve seen and experienced during this briefest of stays in a place that could just as easily be its own county if it wasn’t one of America’s most important states.

Checking out of our cottage near the beach, we began trekking up the Pacific Coast Highway last Monday. We stopped and watched an amazing group of surfers spend their morning catching and riding waves at Malibu Lagoon State Beach (also known as Surfrider Beach). Our morning in Malibu was close to perfect.

A surfer catching a wave in Malibu.

Continue reading