November 02, 2023

Three Things Thursday: Life Lessons

I woke up yesterday thinking that it was Thursday. I then spent all morning working on this post. And you know what I realized just before I published it? It wasn't Thursday, after all; it was WEDNESDAY. So, the good news was that Thursday's post written. But then I had to work on Wednesday's.

I chose this topic because November 1st was Marks actual birthday, and since I learned so much from him in the final months of his life, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the lessons he taught me (without realizing it). Here are three things that I learned from my friendship with Mark...

1. Be grateful for everything.

Mark was, without a single doubt, the most grateful person I've ever known. By a long shot. Living in a group home for men with special needs, he had very few possessions--I believe he was only given a small "allowance" from the money that was given to the home by the state for his care--but I never once heard him complain about or even ask for anything.

My dad actually met Mark because he'd frequently see Mark walking around the neighborhood looking for empty cans and bottles so that he could collect the 10 cent deposit on them, which he used for "pocket money" (he liked to buy cigarettes).

On his birthdays, we would like to get him a little something; it didn't matter what it was, he would open it and exclaim that it was just what he wanted. He went on about how great it was. If it was a shirt, for example, he would put it on immediately and feel proud to wear it.

When he was in the hospital and a nurse would come in to give him some sort of medication, he would always say, "Thank you, thank you so much." Even if it was a shot!

When he received hundreds of cards from my blog readers, he was grateful for every single one. I read each of them out loud to him. And in the ones that contained a gift card or some money or a gift, he couldn't believe that a stranger would give him something like that. When the nurses or cleaning staff came in, he'd sweep his arm in a gesture across the walls where his cards hung, saying, "Look at all these people that care about me!"

Another big one was coffee. Mark only drank instant coffee (the kind that you scoop into boiling water and stir around until it dissolves). Well, I'm pretty sure most of us would agree that it's, well, far from appetizing. The first time I offered to bring him a fancy coffee from Starbucks, he waved his hand and said, "Oh, I already have coffee right over there. I don't need anymore coffee."

Still, coming from a world that he wasn't really aware of, I wanted him to try something he'd never tried before. I bought him the most ridiculous coffee on the menu, all the frilly so-and-so mix-ins and toppings. (I'm not a coffee person so I am clueless when it comes to all the words I hear in the movies of people ordering coffee, hahaha). Mark was blown away! He was still more than happy with his instant coffee, but he was excited each time I brought him a "fancy" coffee as well.

I try to keep his grateful attitude in mind when I find myself thinking something negative. I think the fact that he grew up with nothing made it easier for him to be grateful for the small things in life; and since I grew up in a middle-class family, I find it harder. However, I do try to see things from his point of view, *especially* when receiving a gift from someone. When people put any sort of time, money, or thought into a gift--I don't look at the gift itself but at the person's thought and meaning behind it. It's impossible not to feel grateful that way!

2. Embrace the outdoors.

This one is hard for me. I've never been an "outdoorsy" person; I like to stay inside, out of the sun, and have control of the temperature, the lighting, the sound, etc. I get very distracted by certain things, especially noises; and birds drive me CRAZY. It's so hard for me to concentrate on anything at all when I can hear birds. I know that many people love the sound of birds; I am just not one of them.

Mark loved the outdoors. He would prefer to be outdoors more than anywhere else. Being in the hospital and group home was torture for him, because he couldn't leave as he pleased. In his group home, he could go for long walks outside or spend time working on the grounds at the home. My dad would take him fishing in the boat sometimes and Mark lived for those days. The staff told my dad that he couldn't have gotten there soon enough, because it was all Mark could talk about.

I believe this is from a time that his brother brought him camping

I will never forget the last day that I saw Mark, when he was propped in front of the TV at his nephew's house. Mark's eyes looked kind of empty and I felt terrible. I knew he'd rather be outside. When I asked about it, his nephew said that it was really cold outside. I decided that the next time I went, I would bring some warm clothes with me to bundle him up and take him for a walk outside (although he passed away before I could do that).

After that, I started going outside more frequently to try to see what Mark loved about it so much. That's about the time when I discovered just how much I enjoy squirrels. Sitting outside on the back deck and watching the squirrels was actually pretty entertaining! I started to think of them as pets, and they became more and more tame as I fed them "the good stuff" (walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans in the shell).

One of the greatest feelings (to this day) is seeing how the squirrels came to trust me. I've never once tried to scare them in order to see them jump and race up the tree. I've always been patient and kind, and I speak in a soothing voice so that they get to recognize me and that I won't hurt them. Knowing that they trust me brings me so much joy.

Sitting outside and watching/feeding the squirrels brings me the happiness that I think Mark got from being outside. He enjoyed walking all over the place (and especially fishing with my dad), and while I do occasionally like a long walk when the weather is great, I prefer sitting on the deck or even around a fire at night.

3. Don't take time with people for granted.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn't *truly* get to know Mark until after his cancer diagnosis. I always looked forward to seeing him on Halloween and on the occasion my dad would pick him up to go fishing or just come hang out at the house. It never occurred to me that having interaction with my family meant SO much to him.

Mark didn't have any family (that we knew of). He was orphaned as a child, and his brother died a long time ago. We didn't know about Mark's nephew until after he was sick. So basically, other than the staff and other residents in the home, we were what Mark had as far as family/loved ones.

This hit home for me one day when it was my duty to pick Mark up from the home and bring him to the park where we had a surprise 60th birthday party for my dad. When I went to the home, the owner told me that she was so worried that nobody would show up to get him because he hadn't stopped talking about "Reggie's" birthday party. For days!

He felt so included that day. The fact that he was *invited* to the party and we wanted him there. I think he had a great time just fitting in as part of the party. A lot of the people who attended were people who knew of Mark because they lived in the neighborhood where he walked. And they knew my dad befriended him, and that he was important to my family. He wasn't ignored; people talked to him and I think that meant a lot to him.

I think of this frequently in these post-pandemic days, when people seem to want nothing to do with getting together with people. For the people who crave interaction, like Mark, the only way they can get it is with other people who enjoy interaction. And with so many things being online now, it feels like we never see people in person anymore.

I am very much an introvert and making plans with people is super hard for me. I usually don't want to do it, right up until I'm actually there! But I am almost *always* happy that I go, and that I talk to friends and remember just what it is that I enjoy about interacting with them. There are so many things that you can't do over the internet or via texting or even talking on the phone. Being with people in person is something that can't be modernized in every way. I feel sorry for people whose love language is physical touch!

Jerry has said that the pandemic has made him more introverted, which kind of scares me. He has always been my opposite; when I didn't want to make plans, I would go ahead and make plans anyway--knowing it was best for him. And then I always enjoyed going! So now, I've been pushing him to make plans with friends before he stops doing it altogether.

Mark knew nothing about computers or smart phones, or texting... his only interaction was done in person. As terrible as it sounds, I can see a little bit of good in the timing of his death. Yes, he was young when he died. But if he was around much longer, he would have had to be around during the pandemic when he wouldn't have our visits to look forward to. And he wouldn't have understood why that was.

We were able to visit him very often while he was sick, and for that I'm very grateful. I know it meant the world to him. He loved his interactions with people--even the staff at the nursing home, who weren't exactly the friendliest--and without that, I think he may have lost his spirit. And Mark's spirit was the brightest I'd ever seen!

And a bonus... The words "I love you" have SO much meaning.

I'll keep this part short, but it's important. Since Mark was orphaned so young, and his brother died years prior to Mark's death, he grew up in a group home setting. On the last day that I saw Mark, just before we were leaving, he still had that sad look in his eyes while he was in front of the TV. I gave him a hug, then looked him in the eye and said, "I love you". It was the first time I'd said it to him, but if it was going to be the last time I saw him, I wanted to make sure he heard it.

At that moment, his eyes sparked to life. I can't explain it, but the physical change was like a light switch turned on and his eyes lit up--it was very noticeable. And it occurred to me at that moment that Mark had probably never heard those words, at least since he was a child (or possibly from his brother). My heart felt like it was breaking and I wished I'd told him that sooner.

Ever since my kids were babies, I've *always* made sure that I tell them "I love you" several times a day. Every single time they leave the house. Every single time we hang up the phone. Every single time we end a text. At the end of every argument. They know that I love them; but I want them to hear it all the time so there is never any doubt. I want it to be the last thing they remember me saying.

Everybody should hear those words from loved ones--partners, kids, family, and friends. Even when overused, it really does mean something. Mark taught me just how important it is to hear those words out loud.


  1. Very touching. Although I never met you, You are a very special person. I am sure Mark is smiling down on you, and saying that's my family!
    I always tell my kids I love them all the time...

  2. I love your posts about Mark. What great messages and yes, we need to say "I love you" more often to those we love. Thanks for the reminders.

  3. This was beautiful Katie! Mark seemed like such a wonderful and gentle soul. I could do with remembering a lot of this advice too! <3

  4. Okay, I'm crying right now.

  5. wise words. thank you.

  6. Beautiful heartwarming post Katie. This made me smile and tear up all at the same time.

  7. wow! this was so beautifully written. i've followed you for a long time and always love your stories about mark. they esp hit my now as my brother is homeless (in jail now) and i have been going and seeing him 2-3 times a week. there is so much to the story, but this time my husband and i want to make sure he doesn't disappear again when he gets out. right now i'm trying to find a rehab and mental health facility for him and it is not easy. it is crazy how hard it is to find help for those that need it most! anyway, thank you for sharing this. i needed to be reminded of these truths.


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