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.

Beginning with an extra-inning contest at the Ballpark in Old Orchard last Friday night, I have logged nine games over the last week. Three of the nine have gone extra frames.

On Wednesday, I was on the plate between Greely and Falmouth. Mark played for the Rangers of Greely. This game between neighboring rivals pitted Falmouth with their undefeated record, and Greely having only one blemish on theirs. I had two of the best pitchers in the state going head-to-head.

When I received the assignment, I almost turned it back. Part of me had doubts if I was up to the task in terms of the emotional aspects associated with it. Like all similar situations in my life, I steeled myself for the task and decided to face up to it.

Save for Mark’s former coach being a bit too vociferous about a few pitches that he thought his pitcher should have had, things went without a hitch. I dealt with questions about balls and strikes like I had in the past—informing this coach that I wasn’t going to listen to him “chirp” about balls and strikes any longer. That took care of that.

On the way out to the parking lot to change and debrief, my partner said, “great job, buddy.” I knew he was right. While I won’t say this was easy being behind the plate in a key schoolboy contest involving Mark’s alma mater, I can say that it felt good to face up to the challenge and succeed. Mark wouldn’t have wanted anything less from his dad.

Mary’s been my rock for as long as I’ve known her. Gracious, even when her heart’s been broken. She continues to amaze me in how she’s been able to carry forth.

She’s handled what seems to be a never-ending list of Mark-related administrative tasks with courage and competence. “What else is there to do,” something we’ve both said to one another, time and time again. With our return, Mary’s resumed her weekly training with her beloved SheJAMs sisterhood. She’s focused on July, when she’ll be entering her fourth Tri for a Cure triathlon, this being the 10th anniversary of the event.

A small solace hitched to spring’s arrival that I’ve been paying attention to is the busyness inherent in  the natural world—at least when I’ve slowed down and truly paid attention to it. I’ve been working at cultivating a daily ritual of descending the stairs from our bedroom and looking out the cove-facing window that sits at the base of the stairwell. I’m enjoying cranking open the window and spending  a good five minutes taking in the sound of the birds, watching for the shadowy movements of squirrels in the trees, and marveling at the earliest flecks of sunlight shimmering on the surface of Woodward Cove.

A window into nature.

The natural world is where we both feel Mark’s presence. We noted this when we were in the midst of the desert and Joshua Tree National Park. We felt him with us at the edge of the surf, on Santa Monica Beach.

Mark’s spiritual presence isn’t enough to mitigate our sadness and stop us from missing his physical form, but it’s what we’re left with and worth holding onto.

On the Beach

In 2007, we rented a camp sight-unseen in Steuben, Maine. The tiny village west of Bar Harbor, was just far enough from touristy Mount Desert Island that it remained stuck in a state that felt more like 1955 than the first decade of the 21st century we were living in.

Mark and his girlfriend-at-the-time, Gabi, drove up from Boston in her Jeep and spent the week with us. Bernie, our beloved Sheltie was still alive and seemed to have recovered from a stroke suffered in January. Our little unit of three (plus one and a dog) was back together, gathered under one roof.

It would not be stretching the truth at all to say that the week in late July was one of the most memorable ones of our married lives. We hiked, biked, played cards, and enjoyed the old house abutting a National Wildlife Refuge on a picture postcard-like portion of Maine’s coastline. “Idyllic” is another well-worn word that wouldn’t be inappropriate in framing this snapshot in time.

We never judged or compared Mark’s three “serious” girlfriends that we’ve known. However, we adored Gabi. Maybe because she was Mark’s first long-term romantic relationship—or perhaps it’s because she was so easy to like and “got” our family and the special place it occupied in Mark’s life. She also spent the most time with us and we knew her the best. When they broke up in 2009, we were sad. We wondered if we’d keep in touch.

When Mark was killed, Gabi called us that Sunday less than 24 hours after the horrible news. She was devastated. Crying on the phone, we shared an emotional 30 minutes catching up and hearing her share with us that Mark was “her best friend” and that she was so sorry for what we’d just suffered in losing him.

She continued calling us nearly every week. In February she sent a package that included photos.

Gabi was also who Mark referred to in his blog about walking across America in 2010 when he wrote,

I am on my way to a friend’s house in West Hollywood. I drank a coffee. It is my first caffeine of the trip. After I drop some weight from my pack at my friend’s apartment we will walk to ocean. We will march to an end. Continue reading

Come on, be a friend

I’ve mentioned numerous times in my recent posts that grief isn’t linear. Loss means you jump back and forth across the continuum and experience a full palette of emotions; that’s at least how I’ve been processing the death of Mark.

Two weeks ago, I felt a bit of creative intensity returning. I’ve been able to blog, mainly personal reflections about losing a son. However, I’ve been short on new ideas. Grief affects our cognitive abilities, just one of the “gifts” that grief delivers.

I remembered a friend of Mark’s that I met at his celebration of life. He had offered his eye as an editor for anything—taking a look at Mark’s work, or even ideas I might have.

Hesitant about sending something I’d put together—an idea for an essay related to Mark and my experience as his father processing death, grief, and some of the bitter/hateful reactions from some corners of the internet. I used an essay written by David Foster Wallace as my jumping off point, and the reaction that his subject had when Wallace later committed suicide.

At the very least, his reaction was disappointing. I’m fine with being offered a critique, and even some suggestions about how best to pitch something like this. Instead, he chose to be dismissive at best, offering little in the way of encouragement.

My mood over the past few weeks has been alternating between deep sadness and red-hot anger, with several outbursts of frustration. As disorienting as this up-and-down yo-yoing looks and feels, the counselor we’ve been visiting for two months assures me (and Mary) that all this is quite normal.

Someone I’ve never met, but who had been following Mark’s journey, initiated an online conversation shortly after he was killed. It’s obvious from his public profile and body of work that this person is immensely talented. He also knows compassion and how to extend it to those suffering loss. He recommended Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking as a place to find some solace and a book on mourning that was worthy of my time and effort. I’m grateful he did. Continue reading

Distancing from Darkness

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received several hand-written notes. These were all personalized acknowledgements of what Mary and I have been going through since Mark was killed on January 21. Often, they touched on the difficult time that this person had in reaching out and the struggle for words that adequately addressed what they thought we are going through.

When people that know you don’t respond, it only compounds the grief and loss that you are feeling. That’s been my experience anyways in not hearing from people that I assume know that we lost our only son—and that we are walking through a valley and have been for more than two months.

As Linda Andrews writes in her lovely and pertinent book about grief and loss, Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve,

When it comes to the topic of grief, many people are uncomfortable and unprepared to know what to say or do. Some people try to say the right thing and others just avoid the whole situation. The effect on the person who is grieving is devastating; feelings of pain, hurt, anger and disappointment prevail. People who are grieving are not in a position to understand this flaw in the human spirit. Continue reading

Marching forth for Mark

Grief does funny things to you. It’s not linear, and no, there aren’t five stages. Perhaps if you need to stage grief, know that passage doesn’t proceed neatly.

Mark was killed on January 21. We weren’t the first people who found out. Word passed slowly from where Mark was mangled by the side of the road by a woman, who at the very least couldn’t maintain her lane and left it—hitting Mark walking legally, in the ribbon of pavement reserved for pedestrians (he was walking against traffic, in the middle of the day, while wearing his fluorescent vest)—to possibly being distracted by something other than simply maintaining control of her 5,000-pound lethal weapon.

It was nearly 10:30 on Saturday night when the Maine State Trooper knocked on our front door. That was more than eight hours after Mark was pronounced dead.

I now know more about the timeline and who found out before we did. Some of those people botched the handling of that information. I’m not surprised, really. It’s pretty obvious to see from their actions since Mark was killed that they don’t care at all about how Mary and I feel about losing our only son. Obviously, they know little or nothing about grief and at the very least, they come up woefully short in the empathy department. Lacking basic humanness, could they not at the very least, send a corporate-produced card with a perfunctory message that says, “we’re sorry for your loss”? I know Hallmark carries some decent ones. Apparently not. But, it’s also not my fucking job to help you improve your skills in the area of compassion and grief. Continue reading

Less Dreck

When you begin your journey hosting a blog, the experience is a heady one. You—just a solitary individual armed with a keyboard—think the world and your readership will sit at your feet and hang on each and every word. Actually, you probably don’t have quite those lofty aspirations, but there is a certain confidence (arrogance) that what you set down for content matters. It usually doesn’t.

The start of a brand new run through spring, summer, fall, and then, the close of yet another year, offers a chance to revisit how/why you do things. I’m reconsidering my own blogging schedule and what passes for content.

For awhile now, posting twice a week—on set days at that—seemed like the best plan. I’m not certain that convention is necessary any longer. Since I no longer really care to serve as anyone’s paragon of a writer these days, self-imposed deadlines have become a bit of a drag. Continue reading

Not Quite As Dark

It’s been awhile since I felt excitement coming home after work. No, I’m not sick of my wife of 34 years, and I have no intention of parting ways.

Actually, for the past several years, I’m usually the one who has been working at home, or coming home long before Mary arrives from her job, or evening workout with SheJAMS.

I adore the cat we added to our home slightly more than a year ago. Lucy is always happy to see me, whenever I return.

This time of year, when I’ve put away my umpiring gear (and volleyball referee’s whistle), as well as hung up the road bike for the season, the approach of darkness has elicited something akin to that claustrophobic feeling that makes breathing difficult.

We are now in week two in our new house. As we unpack the assorted boxes and crates and begin rearranging things into something that feels like home again, returning home after work elicits anticipation and a thrill as I head towards our place by the cove.

Yes, December is the darkest month, but this year, it doesn’t seem as bleak as years past. A new town and a new place to call “home” has a lot to do with that.

Dream Sequences and Baseball Fields

Dreams get referenced often, yet I contend that they’re one of the least understood elements of our brains and subconscious.

All of us dream. Researchers tell us that people can spend two hours of their sleep in some stage of dreaming.

Sometimes reality impersonates the dream fugue. Visiting former haunts and places that once occupied significance in our lives can unleash memories that we’d stored away.

The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach was built in 1983, principally fueled by the vision and dream of a successful Bangor lawyer, Jordan Kobritz, who didn’t want to practice law anymore. Kobritz believed that OOB’s summer influx of tourists and vacationers would provide the population necessary to support a minor league baseball team, one played at the AAA-level.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

Baseball meets the beach at OOB.

Continue reading

A New Standard for Beer

The first beer I ever tasted was probably a Carling Black Label. How do I know that? There’s a grainy picture taken when I was three or four, with my Uncle Dick letting me have a sip of his beer. He was big on that brand.

Given our current culture wars and the binary battles being waged that extend even to beer, this might be the time to step away from the people who flaunt particular lifestyles. Or, if you are part of a group that’s not in the vanguard—stop hiding your uncouth behavior away from the bright lights and your Facebook profile.

I mean, what kind of country are we living in that certain arbiters get to decide the brands of beer we’re all supposed to be belting down? Given the explosion of craft beer and brewing, especially in burgs like Portland, Maine—where a new craft brewer opens every other week—or so it seems, admitting that you like “lawnmower beer” is liable to get you exiled to a place with a much lower hipster quotient.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

Continue reading

Holding My Place

When you’ve been blogging since 2003, like I have, there are ebbs and flows to content creation. A new job, a topsy-turvy month of May (and now into early June) often bring challenges to my own self-imposed schedule of Tuesdays and Fridays.

As much as I’d like to sit home this morning and crank out 500+ words, my aching knees and back (from umpiring) tell me that I’ll feel better if I put in 30-40 minutes in the pool before heading to work. I try to listen to my body now and then.

Think of today as a placeholder. I’ll have something more substantial next Tuesday, even if it’s simply pictures from Sunday’s Bicycles Battling Cancer ride.

See you then.

I'm sort of like this in the pool.

I’m sort of like this in the pool.