December 20, 2022

It's Been Nine Years!

I haven't had much to write about lately because I feel like all I do is work on finishing the bathroom and bedroom (they are almost done, honest!). I've finished painting and the floor is done--the last major thing is the bathroom closet. I went to Lowe's today to get the supplies I need to build the shelves, and I plan to work on that this week. So I'm hoping that by the new year, my "new" bedroom and bathroom will be finished. Finally!

Anyway, I searched my "December 20" pictures on my computer (I use the Photos app on Mac, which allows you to search pretty much anything and pulls up photos. I search dates sometimes to see what pictures I've taken on this date through the years.)

There are actually several fun pictures from December 20, but as soon as I saw this one, I knew I had to write about Mark.

My eyes immediately filled with tears when I saw him wearing the Santa hat, with his eyes crinkled at the corners from years of always smiling. I remember that day in the hospital; he was passing out candy to the hospital staff when they came into his room.

If you've been reading my blog for a long time (2013-2014 ish) then you know all about Mark. But I want to write about him today, because seeing this picture makes me miss him. So much. So here is his story, in a very small nutshell...

Mark was one of the most special people I've ever known. And unfortunately, I didn't get to be very close with him until the last four months of his life; he passed away from lung cancer in March of 2014.

Mark was a friend of my family for 35 years, and I don't even really remember *not* knowing him. My dad owned an auto shop when I was a kid; it was in the tiny neighborhood of a very small suburb where we lived. My dad would frequently see a man (Mark, he later learned) walking around the neighborhood. He liked to collect cans/bottles to get the deposit money to buy cigarettes.

My dad talked to him one day and learned his name was Mark and he lived in a group home a mile or so away. He was clearly intellectually disabled, which is why he was living in the group home, but he loved being around people. Mark's speech was kind of difficult to understand (at least until you got to know him better) and he started calling my dad Reggie. My dad's name is Leslie, but when Mark said it, it sounded like Reggie--and that's just what stuck. His name became Reggie when Mark was around!

My dad started saving cans and bottles for Mark, and he paid him to do odd jobs around the auto shop. Mark would have done it for nothing because he loved just being around people, but the group home didn't give him an allowance for cigarettes, and his cigarettes were something he really enjoyed.

Eventually, my dad started picking him up from the group home to take him out fishing on the boat (Mark loved fishing!) and he learned a little bit about Mark's past. He had been in some sort of accident when he was a kid--I believe eight years old, if I remember correctly--where he was hit by a car. It was actually the accident that caused his disability. I didn't learn this until the end of his life; I always assumed he was born with special needs. His parents both passed away when he was a kid as well, and he grew up in an "orphanage" setting; he lived in the group home his entire adult life.

When my dad learned that Mark's birthday was on Halloween, he started picking him up on Halloween and bringing him to our house for a little birthday celebration before we handed out candy. My dad would make a little campfire in the driveway, where we would sit around and hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters.

I can't stress enough just how grateful a person Mark was. He never complained about ANYTHING. Even when asked about his preferences, he just answered, "Oh, any old thing!". My mom would ask him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, and he'd reply, "Oh, any old cake!"

We would give him a couple of little gifts--maybe a ball cap or a coffee tumbler (Mark loved coffee as much as cigarettes)--and his face would light up like he'd just been told he won a million dollars. It was so fun to give him a gift because his gratitude was as genuine as it gets.

I really started to look forward to spending Halloween at my parents' house with Mark. I only saw him a few times a year, but I knew that when he was around, there was no such thing as sadness or anxiety or any other negative emotions. Mark was the happiest person I'd ever met and you could *feel* his happiness in the air around him.

As far as we knew, Mark didn't have any family. He'd had a brother, but his brother passed away long ago. The woman who runs the group home told us that Mark would get SO excited when he knew that "Reggie" was coming to pick him up--whether it was for his birthday, or to go fishing, or just hang out at the house for the day.

In 2013, just a couple of weeks after we celebrated Mark's birthday at my parents' house, my dad told me devastating news: Mark was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and it was terminal--it had spread to his liver, brain, spine, and pretty much everywhere. I was stunned. I wasn't very close with Mark, but like I said, I always looked forward to seeing him and whenever I did, he was so nice and refreshing to be around.

Knowing he didn't have any family (at least that I knew of at that point), I immediately wanted to do whatever I could to make the best of his last days. My parents wanted to bring him to their house while receiving hospice care, and I loved that idea.

It was then that we learned Mark had a nephew, and his nephew would be taking over his medical decisions. I was so angry when his nephew chose to have Mark undergo chemotherapy and radiation; the LAST thing Mark wanted was to be in the hospital. Mark loved the outdoors and the hospital was the worst possible place for him to live out the remainder of his life.

I don't want to write about all the "bad" stuff, because I'd like this post to be about Mark's kind soul. But basically, his nephew (who we'd never even knew existed in the 35 years my dad had known Mark!) swooped in and tried to play the loving family member doing what was best for his uncle. I only met him twice--once in the hospital right after Mark was diagnosed and then again at the funeral. He didn't visit Mark a single time. But enough of that; clearly, I am very bitter about it!

The first thing I did when I heard about Mark's cancer was post about it on my blog. I set up a PO Box at the post office and asked for people to send him cards. I literally can't even think of the words to describe the love I felt for every single person who sent him a card. I was stunned--and so were the postal workers--at the amount of cards he received. I would stop and pick up his mail every time I visited him in the hospital, and then I would read the cards to him.

One of the night nurses took the time to staple all of his cards to the curtain around his bed. Mark would tell the staff, "Look at all these people that care about me. I have all these people that care about me!" and gesture to all of his cards. It was amazing to see how much his spirits were lifted when he got a batch of cards; even though Mark was the most positive person I've ever known, he made it clear that he wanted to get out of the hospital.

Mark especially loved Jerry. One day, when we went to visit, I was reading Mark his cards and he interrupted me to say that he wanted Jerry to read the cards instead of me because Jerry has a nice voice. BAHAHA!

I had a heart-to-heart conversation with him one day when just the two of us were in his room, and we talked about Heaven. He said his brother and his parents were in Heaven--"Home". He kept referring to Heaven as "HOME Home"--Home is where you live, but HOME Home is where you go when you pass away.

I asked him if he understood that he would be going HOME Home soon, and he seemed to understand. I didn't want to treat him like a child, but I also wanted to make sure he knew what was happening. (With the exception of my dad, people tended to treat him like a child; but Mark could understand much more than he was given credit for.)

We both cried. Seeing Mark cry was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. He told me he was scared, and I told him it was okay to be scared--but that HOME Home was going to be wonderful and he'd be able to see his brother again.

I wanted Mark to feel so special and so loved until the moment he went HOME Home. I asked him what his favorite foods were or what he'd like me to bring him. 

He loved McDonald's strawberry milkshakes, so I started bringing those frequently. He was used to drinking instant coffee, so I thought I'd spoil him with Starbucks and I brought him the most ridiculous frou-frou coffee drink that Starbucks had to offer, haha. He requested hush puppies from Long John Silver's. And Mary Jane candies. I loved to bring him things; I would read his cards out loud while he enjoyed his junk food.

He was eventually moved to a nursing home. The group home couldn't take him back because they weren't "equipped" to take care of him there, and his nephew didn't want to take him. His nephew also didn't want my parents taking him, so he was put into a nursing home. Mark really didn't like it there, and it became his mission to get well enough to go Home (the group home).

This is Mark with my dad; my dad visited him a few times a week as well.

I would bring Noah and Eli with me when I could and they really enjoyed seeing Mark, too. One night at home, Eli gave me this note:

Isn't that the sweetest thing ever?!

The radiation and chemo took a toll on him, but they bought him a little more time. He worked very hard on his physical therapy because he wanted to go Home so badly. Meanwhile, Mark had been getting some money here and there in his cards, and I collected it in an envelope for him. When I asked him what he'd like to do with it, he said he wanted to have a party for all of the men in the group home--complete with pizza and cake.

With the blessing of his physical therapist, Mark was able to go Home for a party (his therapist even came to help out--she was amazing). We had pizza and cake, and with the leftover money, I'd gotten a little gift from Mark for each of the men. Mark seemed so proud that it was HE who threw the party. It was the first time I'd met the other men who lived there, and I could see why Mark wanted to be there. They were special, too.

I think I'll end Mark's story there. He declined very quickly after that--it was like he'd accomplished what he'd worked so hard for, and he was ready to go HOME Home. 

Mark passed away on March 26, 2014. I was able to have a couple of good moments alone with him where I was able to say everything I wanted to say to him, and I'm glad that there isn't anything I wish I'd have gotten to say before he passed. I do wish that I'd gotten to *really* know him years earlier, before he was sick--I'd have taken him out to McDonald's for strawberry milkshakes once a week! That would have been better than any therapy sessions.

While I can't change the past, I am very happy to have gotten to be such a big part of Mark's life when he really needed people there. He had such a dramatic impact on my life, and in sharing his story, on thousands of other lives as well.

(If you'd like to read more about Mark, here are all of the posts labeled with Mark)


  1. I just realized I have been reading your blog since was 19 years old - maybe even 18. I am 30 years old now and your posts about Mark have stuck with me all this time - it feels like this all happened two years ago - not 8! I am so glad your family was so good to Mark - you all truly have an angel looking out for you!!

  2. Yes, I did need a tear jerker blog post today. Thank you. You and your family have such big hearts. Sounds like Mark was very special. Thank you for caring about him and so many others. Hugs.


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