I was deeply affected by the events in Charlottesville. Many of the emotions I experienced in a visceral way, were flashbacks to Janaury, when Mark was killed. Another young person, with passion and concern for others, was senselessly killed by someone selfish and self-centered.
While there were a host of stories about Heather Heyer, an activist described in one as “a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised,” there was a sameness and quality to these that all made them read similarly after awhile. Her story deserved more. Too often, Heyer became an afterthought, as once again, media made it about “All Donald, all the time.”
Foolishly, I thought I could add a different context, one that was unique and personal, based upon our own journey over the past seven months since Mark’s death.
My Op Ed, written in about 20 minutes while waiting for Mary to come home from run group Monday night, prior to dinner. received this reply from the editor at a well-known daily that’s not the New York Times.
Many thanks for reaching out. I am sorry about your loss.
Death’s Sting Never Goes Away
A week ago Saturday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed. I began seeing reports from Charlottesville that a car had plowed into a crowd of activists. I mumbled an “oh no.”
Initial reports were that there were injuries. Then, confirmation that a young woman, only 32-years-old, Heather Heyer, had been killed. I got physically sick.
I’m sure I would have been affected by this under any other circumstances. But what happened seven months before guaranteed that I’d take a direct hit, viscerally. On rewind, it was like yesterday when my wife and I both came face-to=face with what young Heather’s parents were about to go through.
In January, our son, Mark Baumer, an activist (as well as an award-winning poet) was on a cross-country walk with a goal of ratcheting up awareness about climate change, while raising funds for an activist group he was a member of.
I’m sure that many of those marching in Charlottesville knew about Mark and his cause. If Mark had completed his walk—and I’m confident he would have since he’d crossed the country on foot once before in 81 days in 2010—and not been run down on the side of Highway 90 in Florida’s Panhandle region, he might have been in Charlottesville. He was a committed young man, just like Heather, a young millennial full of passion and concern for others.
The day before Mark was killed, we’d spoken by phone about President-elect Trump’s swearing in. In fact, Mark’s final video that he produced on his walk (he recorded 100 videos, one for each day of his journey) was one of the few times I’d seen Mark angry on camera, ticking off a litany of descriptors about our incoming president and I quote him here: “We now officially have a president,” said Mark, “that does not believe in climate change. He wants the world to burn so he can profit. We have a president who hates women, who discriminates against women, who physically abuses women. We have a president who hates minorities, who wants to make minorities suffer. we have a president who hates disabled people, who doesn’t want to help people when they are in need. All he wants to do is profit. If you support this man, you do not support human life on this planet, plain and simple. You do not support the future of earth as a planet…”
Prescient, for sure.
On Friday, we spoke for about 20 minutes about the future, what a Trump presidency might mean. More important to me, I got to tell Mark I was proud of him and that I loved him. He told me that he loved me and encouraged me to “keep doing what you’re doing, Dad.” I hope Heather’s parents, Susan Bro, and Mark Heyer got to have a final conversation similar to mine. My wife, Mary, spoke with him later in the day, and mentioned she was going to be taking part in the Women’s March the following day.
It doesn’t lessen death’s punch to the plexus, but leaving things left unsaid would have added complications that parents of an adult child don’t need on top of losing the love of their lives.
I’m a fan of Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! I listen nearly every day at noon on our local community radio station, WMPG in Portland. Amy ran segments of the memorial service and Heather’s mother, Susan Bro’s powerful address.
She clearly had a beautiful relationship with Heather, like my wife and I did with Mark.
Apparently they talked about politics and the state of the world, too. Heather knew the world wasn’t fair. When Bro said, “you never think you’re going to bury your child,” all I could do is nod in agreement.
We had nearly two weeks to “prepare” for Mark’s celebration of life. Heather’s memorial wasn’t even one week removed from her untimely death. We marveled at the strength of her mom.
Perhaps she was simply running on adrenaline like we did for weeks after Mark’s death. You go and then you go some more, and then, when you think you can’t go any further, there is still some reserve coming from somewhere. And then you crash at some point.
I know very little about the family and Heather’s background, save for a couple of general articles. It’s not that I don’t want to know more, it’s just that I don’t have the capacity to take on any more grief and pain associated with loss. We’ve had our fill and then some.
When you lose an adult child like Heather’s mother (and father) have (and we did), your lives are forever altered. No matter how hard you try to soldier on and put on a brave face, the pain and hurt never goes away. We’ll carry this with us for the rest of our lives. I know Susan and Mark will, too. My heart aches for them, because both Mary and I have a pretty good idea what they’re going through and will continue experiencing in the months ahead.
In the days and weeks after the death of someone who is a public figure, there is an outpouring of emotion, notes, promises of support. It helps get you through that initial tough patch.
But there comes a time when even those with the most noble intentions get back to their own lives. Parents are left alone, often sitting home at night, wondering “why” and trying their best to find a way forward, finding something to keep the memories and the causes that the beloved cared about, front and center.
It shouldn’t be, but grief and loss is all-too-often a private hell.
Jim Baumer is a Maine-based writer of regional nonfiction. He also loved being Mark Baumer’s dad.