(Awesome photo by Sharon Berger)
It’s hard to believe it’s been three years since we lost Mark. I feel better knowing that the book we worked so hard on for so long is finally available for others to enjoy. I know how much it meant to him, and I’m forever grateful to all the family and friends that helped to make that happen, especially Mark and my mutual best friend Shawn Skvarna, who did the covers, and my cousin Cathy Holder, who edited/is editing for us after three years of starts and stops. In honor of Mark, I’m reposting a chapter from Down With the Thickness, a book that he pretty much forced me to do. :-p
The Death of a Superman
On January 7th, 2010 I got a message from a mutual friend and the artist that did the amazing art you’ve seen in this book, Shawn, and Mark’s sister that Mark had passed away due to complications from his diabetes. I don’t think we ever got a direct explanation, but the going theory was Mark’s blood sugar dropped fatally low during the night, he went into a diabetic coma, and then his heart stopped. He was 25.
Needless to say, this came as a complete shock. I’d just talked to Mark minutes before he went to bed the night before, and had I known that it was the last time I’d get to talk to him, there are so many things I would have liked to have said. They’re all things he knew. He knew I loved him. He knew what an inspiration he’d been to me. He knew that if it hadn’t been for him I’d have given up on life a long time ago. He was my brother. He knew that. It was all things we’d said before, but it’s still things I would have liked to have said again, just once, before he was taken from us all, especially given how hard life had been treating him pretty much all his life, but particularly in those last few months.
My cousin Jennifer and I drove up to PA for his memorial service. It was a pretty surreal experience all around, not just because of the suddenness of it all, but because I found myself surrounded by a lot of people I’d been hearing about for over a decade, but had never met before in my life and they all knew me too. I wish to God that Mark could have been there for his service and heard the things that everyone said about him. Mark was such a humble person that he never really knew, nor accepted, that he impacted everyone round him. He never realized just how profound an affect he’d had on so many people. Mark was a shining example of the man I strive to be each day. He was far from perfect, as we all are, but even with his faults, Mark was the very personification of compassion and love. I’m saddened that he never really realized just how special a person he was regardless of how often he may have heard it from me and others that were close to him. He was our Superman, and he made me believe.
Denial- Not Just a River in Egypt
Like Superman, Mark had his own never-ending battle, only his was with diabetes. While he’d experienced some close calls, even Superman “died” once, he always bounced back and fought on. While there are several “world without a Superman” comics floating around out there, I’d never imagined I would be forced to live in one.
Mark’s blood sugar had dropped a few days before his death, and he’d had an episode where he zonked out at work and didn’t remember what had happened. It took his co-workers almost an hour to find him when they realized he wasn’t at his post, but by then, he’d subconsciously eaten a candy bar and drank a soda and he was coming back to himself. He told me he found himself crouched in a corner of the break room with a half-eaten candy bar in one hand and a soda in the other. He couldn’t remember buying them. The experience shook him, but like always, he seemed to have bounced back. He had been low on insulin. Had I known I would have made sure he got what he needed. I was led to believe that he had, but that was Mark. He never wanted people to worry about him.
As I said before, I’m pretty sure I was the last person to speak to him before he died. He’d called me around midnight, just before he went to bed like he always did. He’d had a really crappy day. He hated his job. His truck, which he had just gotten back from the shop earlier that day, died on him again on his way home. He was just generally not in a good mood. I tried to cheer him up a bit, but after our usual banter back and forth he told me he was tired and wanted to turn in a bit early and get some sleep. The next morning when I got up I shot him a text. It was a simple, two-word phrase that we sent each other daily; our own little mantra to help get us through the day – Carry On.
He never got to see it.
I was working on something for work when I got two messages on Facebook. The first was from his sister with a simple one word subject – Mark. In it she asked that I give her a call because it was important. I’d recently changed phones so she didn’t have my new number and the investigators, I found out later, had taken Mark’s cell. The next message was from Shawn, also titled Mark. He told me how sorry he was and how shocked, and if I needed to talk to feel free to call him.
Understandably at this point I started to freak a bit. I called Mark’s sister but got voicemail. I called Shawn and asked what was going on and he broke the news to me. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to be able to really describe just how I felt at the moment. It’s like my body was being electrocuted. My mind just stopped and all I could say was, “Holy s#*t! It’s not true.”
I’d just talked to him. There was no way he died. It just didn’t happen. Someone made a mistake. Maybe he was in the hospital. Maybe it was all just a sick joke. He wasn’t dead. He couldn’t die… he was Superman.
Anger- Bulk Smash
I lived in the “anger” stage of grief for a long time. In fact, I still visit it from time to time just to see how it’s doing. I was angry at everything and everyone. I was angry at Mark’s family for the Hell they’d put him through all his life. I was angry at God for letting such a good man suffer. I was angry at Mark for leaving me. After all, I was supposed to go first. I was angry at myself for not being able to save him. Ultimately, you realize that all the anger in the world won’t change what’s happened and that you have to let it go or it’ll just consume you.
Bargaining- Throw in a Side of Guilt and You’ve Got Yourself a Deal!
I think Shawn and I have approached this stage of grief in a rather unique way. This is a stage that is usually experienced the most by people who are the ones that are about to die. They want to bargain for more time. For those doing the grieving for a lost one, it tends to be glossed over. After all, there’s nothing to really bargain for. The person you love is already gone. Well, when you’re a couple of creative types, we get creative with our grief. Our way of bargaining for more time was to do what we do (arguably) best – make him live through our work.
I made a promise to myself and to all the rest of his family that I would see every project that Mark helped to create, even the ones that were just in the idea stage, finished. Shawn and a few of his other friends all agreed to help. We figured we may not be able to buy our friend more time in life, but we could help him to live on through his creations. Mark was a special person in more ways than one. He really was a genius, creatively and intellectually. He never gave himself enough credit. He deserves to survive more than just in the hearts of his friends and family. Others should be given the chance to know the man we all loved, even if it’s just through his ideas. He deserved a legacy, so we’re going to give him one.
I finished Mark’s edit of our first novel The Chosen: Rebirthing and our friend Sharon and my cousin are currently working on editing it for us. Eventually, I’ll start working on the next two, but I’m just not ready to even attempt that yet. Shawn and I have started working together on several comic projects that Mark helped to map out and always loved, one of which has morphed into a tribute to Mark himself. Shawn is also providing the cover and interior art for all of my novels, including this one. While we could never take the place of Mark creatively, I know that Mark would be happy to know that two of his closest friends have found that they can work well together.
Depression- “Oh Dear, Bird.”
I’d become something like Eeyore for the first few months after his death. It was hard to not just mope around, feeling crappy about the world in general and my life in particular. I talked to Mark several times a day, by text, and we talked for at least an hour a night on the phone. More often our conversations were several hours or more. He was the one I could vent with and talk about problems or things that were bothering me. He’d do the same. It was Superman and Batman – the World’s Finest in ranting. I’ve always struggled with depression anyway, but not having my hetero-lifemate (bonus points if you catch the reference) there to help share the burden, made it even more difficult.
It’s funny what can set things off for you when you’re dealing with loss. There isn’t a single TV show I watch, movie I love, or book and comic I read that Mark didn’t love or introduce me to. We shared everything, geeked out about everything. Even so, there are certain things that just tended to trigger depression for me out of nowhere, and still do at times. I’d be fine one minute and then I’d see or read something that reminded me of Mark.
The loss would be fresh all over again.
It was like playing emotional roulette. Sometimes the stuff that reminded me of him just made me smile and laugh about good times we had or funny things we said about that particular thing and it was okay; but every once in a while the bullet would go through my brainpan and I’d be an emotional mess for the rest of the night.
Acceptance – Time to Shuffle Up and Deal
I don’t think anyone ever just goes through these five stages in an orderly succession. I know for me personally, I’ll be here at the final stage some days and others I’m back to Anger or Depression. I know that over time it’ll get easier. I’ll never stop missing him, but in the times that I’m chilling in the Acceptance stage, I’m content in knowing that he really is in a better place. Cliché or not, if anyone deserved a rest it was Mark. He earned his pension.
I also firmly believe that he’s still alive in more ways than just in our hearts or in the things he helped to create, but in a very real, very spiritual sense. I can almost sense him with me sometimes. I can almost hear him laugh at things I find funny. I know that I’ll see my brother again, and that we’ll spend the first few decades of eternity geeking out about all the nerdy stuff that we always did. I’m looking forward to that. Until then I’m going to honor my brother by living by our mantra.
I’m going to carry on.
I love you Mark.