The Pleasure of Their Company


I’ve actually avoided writing directly about Mark lately. I’ve avoided thinking too hard about Mark, because it inevitably leads to tears (yes, sometimes smiles, perhaps a giggle at a memory, but the tears are often more predominant). The magnitude of our loss still eludes me at times, like a wisp of smoke I cannot quite grasp. Perhaps that is a good thing. To grab it and hold it – to see all the implications at once, all the ways we will mourn – would not be like grabbing smoke; rather, more like grabbing a live power line.

And yet, as another Mother’s Day approaches, and as the weeks and months tick by, I am determined to capture some of his essence, and that of his lovely, living sister as well.

Vignettes come to mind. Snatches of life.

Mark was not quite 6 when “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was on the big screen and we all went. There is a scene where the brother and male relatives of the Greek bride play a trick on the groom, who is decidedly NOT Greek. They tell him that a phrase they are asking him to say to the crowd of guests means “Everyone come in the house” when it actually means “I have 3 testicles.” The overly-trusting groom exuberantly shares this news with those assembled, to much hilarity. First we had to remind him what testicles were, because Mark was an avid reader and the translation was helpfully provided on the screen. I can hear his burst of laughter even now. And then we had to tell him he could NOT share this story with his fellow Kindergartners.

Sarah at 4 1/2. I’d had a hard day. We had recently moved into our home and she and Mark, who was 2, were undoing everything I’d tried to do or asked them to do (what was I thinking?). I yelled, in my frustration…and it was not the first time. Not long later I commented to Sarah how similar we were, how I was like her when I was 4. She said, with a fair amount of disdain: “No, you weren’t. I don’t yell like you do.” I yelled a lot less after that day. Our first children are our teachers. Hard for us; hard for them.

Going to the beach with my extended family, to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th and my sister’s 40th. Mark was just one, charming everyone with his ready smile and “DEEEE!” (which meant “Cheese!”); Sarah was 3 1/2 and her second cousin, Marshall (just a couple of months older), sat on very tall stools and got interviewed, on camera, by a family friend. When asked to sing, Sarah launched it while Marshall held back. We sang to and with, and read with Sarah and Mark every night for many years. I will never forget the first time she hesitantly began to sing with me, at just 24 months (in key, of course). “Dee-tow Dee-tow widdle taw” (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star).

Mark: passionate, exuberant, loud, demanding, talkative, needy. He had trouble sharing and was sometimes jealous. He would write me little love notes on tiny sticky pads.

Sarah: quiet, determined, observant, thoughtful, reserved, dreamy. I remember when she discovered the joy of giving, of delighting in someone else’s happiness.

Mark, at 17, impatiently explaining to me the utter wrongness of sticking my head in the main door of the changing rooms at Kohl’s to (apparently loudly) ask HOW IS EVERYTHING FITTING???

Sarah, at 19, calling to ask how many ibuprofen it was safe to take in a day. She was far away from us in Drum Corps, with its insane full-day rehearsals, and her body was shrieking from over-use; her arms hurt terribly from spinning flags and rifles for hours on end. Her determination then – the idea of stopping was not something we could even begin to suggest – only hinted at the fullness within her.

The two of them together. For the most part, each lived in their own worlds those last 3-4 years. They went to the same high school – with 2 years between them – and pursued some of the same activities (choir, musical theater) but each had their own circle of friends. Home was sanctuary, though, for both. A place to curl up, to restore. Mark was often deliberate in his invasion of Sarah’s well-established Zone of Personal Privacy. Even then: we loved to pile together, like puppies, on our too-small couch in the family room, to watch movies. Sometimes they would get in silly mock fights, bumping chests and screeching at each other like preschoolers. The memory makes me grin, even now.

That last summer with Mark, in 2015: our cat, Jack, got crystals in his bladder. He’d been peeing all over the house for weeks – cats do this when something is wrong, but sometimes it’s just behavioral, without a medical cause (and behavioral issues are much, much harder to fix). In the days before we finally got a proper medical diagnosis (and with it, the hope of treatment – it wasn’t just bad behavior), Mark had found me crying in frustration and anguish more often than once. I was afraid I would not be able to keep Jack. I could not let him be an outside cat – certain death for a one-eyed, naive little guy in a neighborhood full of cars and foxes – which meant trying to find him another home.

I spent most of July and a good part of August sitting on the screened porch because Jack was no longer allowed in the house. At one point he had gotten completely “blocked” due to the crystals, and could not pee (how ironic), which can be fatal for a male cat; I was anxious to see him get back to normal, but it was slow. Mark would sometimes come sit with me, in between his work schedule – he was a short-order cook at a nearby country club – and video gaming sessions. My emotions overwhelmed him.

Finally, Jack started making tentative steps toward normalcy. The first time he ventured toward using the litter box in the house, both Mark and I were standing nearby. He grabbed me around the shoulders in a hug, and whirled me away so that Jack would not feel our stares and stop. “Shh! Don’t look!” I began giggling in relief and gratitude. Mark was, I think, mostly grateful that his mom wasn’t such a complete mess any more. But it was still…sweet. So sweet.

Sarah’s witty take on the whole matter of my getting so weepy about a stupid cat with a peeing problem: “He’s like your 3rd child, one with a drug addiction; of course you get upset when he falls off the wagon!”

Another friend just wrote me today, of a dream she had, about our family: she and her family were visiting us, the 4 of us, in a vacation home somewhere. She says “…it was so much fun, bubbly energy [similar words to Maryann’s, when describing Mark in her dream] and lots of love and caring….The best that a family and people could be.”

To hear these dreams is to experience so many emotions: I teeter along a precipice, an edge at times. Gratitude and joy on the one side (for what we had, for what we are promised: one day, Mark, one day, Steve and Sarah! We will all be together again!); on the other side, I am staring down into the valley of despair. Resentment, hopelessness, like little stones and loose pebbles, can make the footing very, very precarious.

Because, truth be told: I want that. I want us to be a family of 4 again – eating something yummy and savory and bad for us, like ribs; hanging out, being silly, watching a movie, just being together, even if only in the same house.

So glad God knows I want to live and breathe this verse below, even if I still cannot do so consistently.

…for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.                             2 Timothy 1:12

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