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

We Showed Up

There’s a huge advantage to living nearly halfway across the country from the rest of your clan when you are 21 and you are a brand new dad. This formative experience fosters deep bonds between you and the other two members of your unit.

Being so young and suddenly thrust into the role of parents forced the two of us to become really clear about our lives and our love for one another. Yes, I suppose we could have gone in the opposite direction, but what we lacked in money and resourceswe more than made up for in devotion to one another and our newborn baby boy, Mark.

When I look at photos of the two of us from the early 1980s, I’m struck by a couple of things. First, I’m amazed at how young we both looked. This was the stage in life when many people our age were getting started on a career, and contemplating what grad school to apply at. For the two of us, it was cobbling together enough cash to pay our rent, keep one of our two clunkers running and on the road, and later, how best to sync our dual work schedules so that Mark could have a parent home, spending time with him and nurturing his spirit.

On the steps of our duplex in Chesterton, IN (circa 1986)

After I fell out with the God people in Hammond and Crown Point, Indiana, I landed a job working in a prison. While Westville Correctional Center sure as hell wasn’t glamorous, it offered decent wages and even more important for our young family at the time—access to health insurance and our first HMO. 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

The Celebration

I’ve written an obituary for our son. Then there were several days worth of interviews following his senseless death along US 90 in Florida, when he was struck and killed by a motorist. Mary has been dealing with all manner of details related to Mark’s life (and death), too.

Yesterday, we gathered with hundreds on hand at Brown University (and many, many more watching the celebration on live stream) and told what our son meant to us as parents. So did an amazing gathering of people from across Mark’s life.

Program cover-The Mark Baumer Celebration of LIfe

Two weeks out from losing Mark, today is similar to every other day since we received the news that fateful Saturday night. We’ll never not remember the date, time, and what we experienced then—a sense that time was standing still. Continue reading

This is not a Movie Blog-Manchester by the Sea

In this time of fake news, depressing politics, and the melting of the polar ice caps, compartmentalization might be the only way to live and not to go nuts (or postal). Drugs are another option that increasing numbers of people are turning to in order to deal with pain, isolation, and a myriad of other social ills enhanced by capitalism run amok. Might I suggest a third way?

Finding an avenue of escape from the cares of this world (while waiting for Jesus’ return) by locating that rare local theater that hasn’t been boarded up due to the interwebs is getting harder and harder to pull off. Luckily, we now live in a town that still has one of these wonderful, big screen places hearkening back to the day when all movies were projected onto big screens. Seeing a flick in a theater—sharing sharing that experience with other human beings simultaneously—is still how I prefer to watch my movies. Not on off the face of my smartphone or screen on my laptop.

Winter time is movie-going time for Mary and me. Once we come out of the cave in the spring, we rarely step back into darkened movie auditoriums. It’s not like we see a ton of movies, but December to March is when we watch the bulk of our films for the year.

Last Saturday, we saw Manchester by the Sea at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema. I love this space. It has a nostalgic feel partly because it’s a place that I’ve been watching Hollywood fare since the late 1970s. Fans of in-person viewing should thank their lucky stars for owner Barry Norman. There aren’t enough people like him keeping old-school escapist entertainment alive here in the 21st century. Continue reading

Learning About Tides

I doubt most people pay any attention to tides, both low and high. Until about three weeks ago, I rarely consulted a daily tide calendar. Perhaps if you dig clams, or work along the waterfront, tides are old hat to you.

A mere three years ago, Mary schooled me about the Maine Tide & Everyday Calendar (probably available at one of Maine’s finer local bookstores). She started keeping one in her RAV4, in order to know when some of the various local tidal bodies of water would be experiencing high tide, so we could do some open water swims to prepare for that summer’s OOB triathlon.

Spending your life lived away from the coast save for an occasional beach outing renders you unprepared for that day when you wake up a mere stone’s throw from a picturesque cove, a tidal one at that.

Love my cove at high tide.

Love my cove at high tide.

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The Sweater

I’ve written about the place where I grew up. Various arcs incorporated baseball, my personal recollections about the town from an earlier time—as well as creating my own take on Moxie.

I once contemplated updating the history of the place, post-Plummer. I’m glad I didn’t bother breaking that rock, fashioning it into a story; the scenario of a significant investment of time and research without much of a return seems likely for that kind of project—people no longer seem to appreciate the necessary effort required to dredge up the past, and get at what’s behind the façade of the place where they reside.

After 26 years of living across the river from the place where I was born and put down my initial roots, just moving one community to the east feels just about right to me—actually, somewhat overdue. If my writing emanates from place (which I think it does), then my new home proffers up all kinds of new opportunities and material to mine.  I’m looking forward to learning more about a place I’ve observed as an outsider and semi-regular visitor.

But it is the holiday season. A period each year-end that delivers a personal mix of sentimentality, sadness, and even anger thinking back on Christmases past. Despite Perry Como’s musical refrain that there’s “no place like home for the holidays,” I’m apt to demur. Continue reading

Moving Day

We have lived in the same house since 1990. It was the first and only house that we’ve owned—the one Mary and I dreamed of having when we were first married. Mark grew up here. The land our house sits on was deeded to us by Mary’s parents.

At one time, all of Mary’s extended family lived within two miles of each other. Her father has been gone for more than 15 years. All the family members, but us, have left Durham, for greener pastures.

For the past couple of years, we’ve talked about being a little “closer to town.” Living where we’ve lived for the past two decades means we’re always 15 minutes away from most things, at the very least.

From what we know about the couple buying our house, they’re excited to live here and have plans for making the place their own. We’re excited for them, as well as excited to be living somewhere new for the first time in 26 years. New adventures await.

Waiting for the movers to arrive!

Waiting for the movers to arrive!

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