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.
I’ve mentioned it before, but my friend Linda Andrews, has written an amazing book about grief and how people respond (or don’t) to it. Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve, is Linda’s own personal story of responding to losing her husband and how grief devastates you and alters your life forever. In terms of how others fail to act towards the grieving, she writes:
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.
Linda walks her talk. She’s stayed in touch with me (and Mary) since she found out that Mark was dead. She sends beautiful meditations and snippets from work that she’s reading each week, and mentions books that have been helpful to her. We’ve spoken several times on the phone. She’s been there for us.
As she aptly captured it, when people that we know avoid the topic or don’t reach out to us at all, it simply compounds the immensity of what we’re already attempting to cope with. And if you’ve ever lost someone that you loved more than life itself, grief is deeper than the ocean—and darker than the night. Again, Linda includes this quote in her book that comes from the movie, Meet Joe Black, in offering a descriptor for grief.
Multiply it by infinity and take it to the depth of forever and you will still just have a glimpse of how it feels.
Then there are those that we’d never met until six weeks ago; total strangers one day, and supportive comrades the next (and since).
A woman that has an office next to mine at my part-time job lost her mom in 2001. She’s acknowledged my own grief and has spoken openly about how difficult her own journey’s been. This woman hasn’t gotten over losing someone she loved deeply. We won’t either. Her humanness has touched both Mary and me, both as a co-worker, and also in helping us create a credit union account.
We continue soldiering on because that’s who we are. Saturday night marks six weeks since we were robbed of the joy of our lives. I know there are idiots that even think, “okay, you’ve grieved, now get on with your life.” I don’t even want to write down my message to you.
Rather than being swallowed up by sadness, anger, feeling sorry for ourselves, and a host of other emotions that we ride around like passengers in the world’s most unpredictable roller coaster, we’re working to maintain positivity in the face of what can seem pretty damn senseless some days. Our goal from the beginning has been to create something lasting for Mark, in his memory. That’s why we launched the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund. Our initial target was $50,000. We’re on our way to that magic number, but there’s plenty of work left to be done.
Saturday, Mary and I won’t be “celebrating” Mark’s loss, but we will be standing with others in Portland, at SPACE Gallery, located at 538 Congress Street, for March Forth: A Benefit for the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund.
Two of the primary movers in pulling this together have been people that loved and cared about Mark, Portland musician/writer, Nat Baldwin, and Brooklyn-based writer/poet, Claire Donato. Can I mention that both Nat and Claire know how to exhibit genuine warmth and caring to people slogging through grief? Yes, I can, and I will! Six weeks ago, I’d never met either of these beautiful human beings. Once they learned that Mark had been killed, they’ve been there for us, Claire taking a direct role in helping us plan and coordinate the initial celebration of Mark’s life at Brown University, and Nat agreeing to perform a beautiful tribute to Mark in son. Then, in the midst of very busy lives, tackling the tasks necessary to make this event a reality. Mary and I are eternally grateful to them for the kindness and grace they’ve extended to us.
And btw, Aimsel Ponti has been covering the local music scene with passion and verve for awhile now. When I reached out to her, she was so awesome, working at her deadline to include a mention of tomorrow’s benefit. Thank you! There are good people everywhere. Sometimes you just have to ask them for some help and they deliver.
I’d be remiss for not mentioning that there are others coming up from Providence, and Massachusetts, and places south of here, to be part of this night, celebrating an amazing young man who died far too young. Friends, family, and other Mainers will show up, too. Thanks to all of you for loving and honoring Mark.
If you can’t make it out on Saturday night for some great music and readings by a group of talented writers and poets, think about making a donation to the Mark Baumer Sustainability Fund. We’re already planning something in Providence and working to connect with partners. In fact, we were in Providence a week ago, meeting with planning staff and others, working towards figuring out how we can get something rolling with funds that have been donated thus far.