Head On

I’m pleased that copies of I am a Road are being snatched up. I want people to read Mark’s writing because it’s worthy of a wider audience. I haven’t been this busy shipping books since my own collection of essays came out in the summer of 2014. Of course, that may as well have been 100 years ago, given the events of the last eight weeks.

Our son, Mark, was a poet. I should add, an “award-winning poet,” as his walk was being partially funded by a poetry fellowship from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. The award likely became a factor, helping him again heed the road’s beck and call.

In 2015, Mark also won the Quarterly West Novella Contest, for Holiday Meat. I enjoyed finding this review by Mary-Kim Arnold, from last summer, and reading her obvious appreciation for the work and Mark’s writing.

Mark was just hitting his stride as a writer and poet. I can’t imagine where his commitment to craft might have taken him if he wasn’t tragically killed January 21, walking along a highway in Florida.

This thought is merely one of many that arrive daily, if not more often. Grief is packed full of questions relative to loved ones lost.

Packing books means that at some point, I need to bring them somewhere and ship them. Since we’re now in Brunswick, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the post office on Pleasant Street.

On Monday morning, I ran across the street after doing my book drop, and grabbed a stack of books about grief at Curtis Memorial Library. Out of six books randomly chosen, two might be rated as moderately helpful. I’m finding that most of the books occupying library self-help sections on the subject don’t offer much in terms of assuaging the pain associated with losing someone, especially a son that Mary and I loved more than life itself.

One book that I grabbed was pretty good, though. It was an older book, published by a small press in New York. It’s title, The Death of an Adult Child: A Book For and About Bereaved Parents. Definitely one that will never be considered an entry for “sexiest book title.” The book, published in 1998, isn’t one of the newer books on the topic, either.

The writer, Jeanne Webster Blank, lost a 39-year-old daughter to breast cancer three weeks after being diagnosed. Naturally, Blank and her husband were devastated.

Books about grief.

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Absurdity Illustrated

Wheaton College holds a special place in our hearts. It’s where Mark spent four formative years between August, 2002, and May, 2006. We made the 180-mile trek (from Durham, at the time) probably close to 100 times to visit him on-campus.

I’ve been reminded often of late that there are many people who don’t know of Mark’s baseball exploits at Wheaton and before that, at Greely High School, in Cumberland, Maine. In high school, Mark was also a defenseman in hockey, and one of the captains of the team as a junior and a senior. The barefoot-walking, vegan superhero, who didn’t seem enamored of “doing sports” while making videos and blogging his way across the country, was once quite an athlete.

Back when I was driving up-and-down (and sideways across) Maine, retraining the state’s workforce in my nonprofit role, I regularly touched on “transferable skills.” Mark’s death and the subsequent focus on his life and our memories of him reminded me on Wednesday that his laser-like focus and discipline he drew upon “doing sports” transferred readily to that next creative chapter in his life, when he walked away from the diamond.

Professor Charlotte Meehan played an integral role in Mark’s literary and creative development when he showed up at Wheaton. She organized a wonderful reading in his honor on Wednesday at the college. More than 50 people filled the May Room in the Mary Lyon building to hear selections chosen by Meehan of Mark’s work. These were read skillfully by former professors, his college baseball coach, the sports information director, friends and classmates, and other faculty. I closed the reading with a selection from my 2014 book of essays, specifically, “A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South.” Continue reading

Being Present

Losing someone you love, as Mary and I loved Mark, creates a holeone that beckons to be filled. We were a close knit unit of three, now reduced by a third. Percentage-wise, the number is 33, Mark’s age at his death. This is merely another random detail aggressively forced upon us by the universe, without solicitation, or any offer of negotiation, let alone any thought for our welfare or benefit.

Our experiences as brand new members of the Grieving Parents Club have helped us to learn firsthand to understand why parents that have lost a child unexpectedly would look for ways to assuage their pain and the waves of grief that threaten to swamp them. We also live in an age where there are a host of pharmaceutical remedies and of course, there’s always the option of legal self-medication, too.

Someone that I don’t know that well, but who offered me some unexpected kindness and empathy this week, shared a bit of his own story about members of his family and how they chose to deal with the grief of losing a teenage son 20 years ago. The mother drank herself into alcoholism and the father tried to cope by filling their garage and yard with “toys” of all shapes and sizes. Neither of those were solutions capable of bringing their son back to them. Fortunately, they were able to find a more positive approach further along in their own journey along grief’s highway. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Rattled by the Rush

I try not to get too nostalgic for the past. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of a time—back before Google, and their quest to turn our brains into a hunk of Swiss cheese. Was it a better time? I don’t know. There were certainly positives. Oh, I know—thou shalt not speak evil of any technology! And believe it or not, there was life and a social scene before Facebook—arguably a richer one.

A reminder of that time came the other morning, listening to WMBR’s “Boomerang” program, sliding back into some 90s post-punk that I know and love. Erik Morrison is a DJ who once a week (on Tuesday mornings) spends an hour time-traveling back to the days before MP3 players,iTunes, and nearly everyone who is under the age of 25, walking around with earbuds jammed in their ears, oblivious to the world around them. Track lists mattered and artists cared about things like the sequence of 10 or more songs, crafted to fit alongside each other on an album. Granted, we’d transitioned from tapes to CDs, but indie rock still meant independent of corporate control. Obviously, that’s long gone and we’re not in Kansas (or Columbia, Missouri) anymore. Continue reading

Fear and Hatred

Thirty years ago, I thought I had all the answers. At 21, life seemed simple in some ways. Economically, things sucked—I was working at a job that paid 25 cents above minimum wage and I had a newborn son and wife to take care of. I was 1,500 miles from my family and support system in a post-industrial part of the country where the unemployment rate was hovering around 15 percent. But I was okay because I was in the center of God’s will.

It’s interesting when you believe that the answers to life’s questions are contained in a book that was written by men who lived 2,000 years ago. Whenever things didn’t go right for Mary and me, the solution offered by our spiritual leaders was to pray, give more money to Jack Hyles, and drag a few more converts down the aisle to get baptized at First Baptist Church of Hammond. Continue reading