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.

Blank mentions writing the book as a way of working through her own grief. When she developed it 20 years ago, there were few works devoted specifically to parents and coming to terms with losing an adult child. I don’t believe the field has expanded dramatically since.

Not a clinical study, the book is built around the personal experiences of 60 other grieving parents who answered a questionnaire that Blank developed. She also includes stories from most of those answering the questionnaire.

The stories illustrated that many of the adults had difficulty facing the emotions that accompany grief. Some became withdrawn and closed off from the experience. That’s understandable, because the pain and emotional onslaught of feelings can be jarring. Then there were the cases of one partner honestly facing the sudden death of their child, while the other withdrew, or threw themselves into work, or some self-destructive pattern, rather than collectively sharing in each other’s process of coming to terms with such a devastating and life-changing event. Some of the couples’ marriages fractured after losing a son or a daughter.

Blank’s book becomes yet another artifact in my ongoing meditation and attempt at understanding how my own experience measures up to how others react (or don’t react) to the death of someone they knew (or if they didn’t know Mark, knew one of us, or both). It also speaks to a truth that there are many adults lacking in emotional depth and even emotional intelligence, and/or empathetic qualities.

For every note, card, or other acknowledgment that we haven’t received from people we expected would reach out, there have been many responses from people that have been totally unexpected—and their genuine kindness and empathy has touched us deeply.

Out to eat with Mark in Omaha, at Modern Love. (Mark Baumer photo, August 2016)

Let me also add that I’m very fortunate to have a life partner in Mary, who embodies emotional depth and who I don’t think I could go through this “dark night of the soul” without. Unlike some of Blank’s subjects and people I know who seem stunted in the emotional intelligence department, Mary’s never once shied away from experiencing all the emotions associated with losing her only son.Both of us have been facing everything together—no matter how painful and devastating these experiences have been. At the same time, we’ve been able to laugh after crying, been surprised by joy unexpectedly, facing grief head on each and every day. That also might mean feeling angry, occasionally lashing out, or even feeling hopeless at times. It is truly a crapshoot in that realm.

That’s because there is no magic progression in this newfound landscape of grief that we’ve been asked to inhabit, without being given a choice or opportunity for negotiation.



I am a Road is Mark’s final book, released just prior to leaving Providence and hitting the road in October, 2016. The book chronicles Mark’s “First Crossing” of America, back in 2010, narrated by him in his imitable style.

Also, Mary and I established the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund as a way to keep Mark’s spirit alive. Your contribution will help cultivate the traits that informed Mark’s philosophy of life—love, kindness, and working towards building a better world.