There’s so much we can’t tell you about the folks we write about in our Illinois Times “Remembering” issue. The past two years have been particularly difficult for me writing about folks I actually knew and containing all my love for them in 800 words. One of my best friends died in 2012 and my lover died this year.
I have just a few more things to tell you about Mark MacDonald. Here, a few folks who knew him share their thoughts:
There’s the book, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I had Thursdays with Mark (MacDonald). Thursdays were the best day of the week for me because I got to see Mark for a couple of hours after work. We were brought together through an extraordinarily good hospice pairing – I was his volunteer. While largely confined to home, Mark was an extraordinary presence. His travel was limited, but his outlook was global. He was passionate about fairness, justice and ways to fund causes he believed in. He advised me on light bulbs. I heard stories of crooked contractors in California, his cross-country chase of a woman – one that ultimately led to meeting the love of his life, Anita. I heard about his time in the military. He was proud of his Scottish heritage. I’m not really sure why Mark’s reading tastes ran to complex, near-obsolete academic books. I’d call them tomes, but he’d ask the library to unearth them so he could study up. Since he was endlessly fascinated with how things work, I decided to see if he’d like Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars.” He did. Mark lost patience with being in hospice and dropped out. It was a choice that made sense for him, but I missed my time with him – a lot. – Sandra McCollum
Until his service I didn't know he'd worked at Quality Lighting. It seemed so appropriate to me -- light calling to light. His smile lit up many a heart! -- Lola Lucas
I most fondly remember two particular things about Mark: The happy hair that seemed to dance above his head, and his all-consuming laugh, how he could laugh himself breathless. – Glenn Cassidy
Mark was in Memorial's hospice program. Many amazing folks work there and were so helpful and kind. Some even cared for Mark while battling their own health issues. One visiting tech whom Marked adored was fighting breast cancer and was just growing her hair back in.
They are all wonderful people and it's a wonderful program. So send Memorial Home Services donations or support in any form that you can. I also urge you to purchase Fawn Hoener’s book, A Holy Errand. She was one of Mark’s nurses and wrote a well written and touching book about being a hospice nurse. It is a little glimpse into what she deals with and what the folks she cares for deal with. I consider those that work in hospice some of our biggest angels on earth.
I don’t know how these folks do it every day – caring for, and many times coming to care for, souls that are sick and dying. It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s words that came out in the last decade about how she suffered a disconnect from God while serving for the sick and poor in India. As Mark’s caregiver for over a decade, I think I can understand this and hospice workers must. It is difficult to be in the trenches and not feel the darkness. It is difficult not to feel the dirt or mud that is so close and encompassing. It just is what it is. Compassionate, empathetic souls cannot help but suffer deeply along with those who suffer.
“Happier Endings” by James Krohe Jr. (May 23) was published in Illinois Times only days before Mark died at home. I was lying by his side, holding his hand, stroking his arm and talking to him. He wanted to die in our bed, not in a hospital bed hooked up to a machine. He refused feeding tubes or even an oxygen machine in the end. I watched my lover’s body die.
The week I returned to work, having missed the May 23 edition of the paper, I had the joy and jolt of copyediting a Letter to the Editor written in response to this very article, of which Krohe has since written more about in his blog.
Mark was a kind and generous man, and I know he would have wanted me to share a few things we learned on his end-of-life journey if it might help anyone. He had lived with MS for years, a disease that striped him gradually of the use of his legs then arms. (Multiple Sclerosis does not kill mind you. The majority of folks who get MS will live a full life or only have a few years taken from them. But a few do die from complications.) Mark fought through four bouts of pneumonia in the last couple years. He was aspiring liquids.
So as I spoke about in my remembering piece, we encourage everyone to talk with your spouse and family even if you’re not sick. We urge you to write down your end-of-life wishes. What do you want for yourself and for those you will leave behind? What would you want your loved ones to know before you died? Where and what are your important papers and accounts? Do you want to die at home? Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you want a viewing? What clothes would you want your family to put on your body for the viewing?
If you’re young, you can search out pamphlets or booklets that ask all the right questions. Some funeral homes have them online. Fill one out and keep it with your will or important papers. For older folks or those near the end of their life, contact a funeral home and pre-plan your funeral as soon as possible. Believe me, even if you do, there will be lots of tasks to accomplish once death occurs. Sometimes, finding info can take awhile. By pre-planning you can get a lot of facts out of the way that are required for the death certificate. And if you pay, you can lock in the cost.
For those who face end-of-life decisions, explore the pros and cons of dying at home and dying at a hospital. What does each offer you and your loved ones who will be caring for you until your last breath? Some people slip away. Mark did not. Though I wouldn't change a thing, I’m not sure Mark or I knew exactly what we were getting into (though maybe you can never fully know the unknown). I’m not sure I knew I would have to administer pain meds, stay up all night to move his aching body, be alone in the room when he actually died. Though I had read everything I could find on the Internet, and hospice had a list of what the body goes through at the time of death, and the nurses talked to us, I wish Mark and I had researched and talked about it even more than we did. So take it from a couple who prided themselves on communication and talked about everything, Don’t be naïve or uninformed. Talk about your end-of-life wishes.
Mark had a love of words and wrote his entire life. His father had been a poet before him. Mark had two chapbooks published and his poetry appeared in several zines. He was a Springfield Poets and Writers member for many years. He supported Navigating the Maze for more than 15 years. More of his poetry is below.
From LET THERE BE LIGHT
can I sell you something today
maybe a new kind of light bulb
with which you can see better
can I sell you something which
hasn’t gone out of style since
man discovered it
although it existed long before that
are you willing to pay a little money
for my sympathy and understanding of
how dark it is
I am not a priest, social worker, psychologist
I am selling something which is
already there anyway
let there be light
GLOBAL ECONOMY PART I
the plunger I bought
the gas in my car comes
from the Middle Eat
the light bulbs I sell
my favorite food is Chinese
my friends are British, French, Italian, Irish, Japanese
father came from
I practice yoga
my favorite music Celtic
my old lover Spanish
the best hitchhiking ride from an Indian
why turn on the t.v. tonight
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY
OR THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF NATURE
listen to a story, son,
of a very talented individual
who forgot the fourth element of chemistry:
grease, sugar, caffeine, and SALT.
dad took another vitamin
pill and I watched him choke.
next week he promised to teach
me who invented money.
I looked at my watch
and wondered who invented time.
have heard Einstein says
the planet pushes
time as it goes thru space
looked at the recipe for guacamole
found out tomorrow wasn’t in the bowl
take its flesh off the walls
It pains me that I may not have done justice to my lover in his remembrance. The piece was so difficult to start so I didn't spend nearly as much time on it as I did my friend’s obit in 2012. I’m not sure my love for him rings out clearly. I think my poems capture that more. If you’d like to read a few of them, here are four: Breaking Free, El Silencio de Sangre Azul, Barred Owl Rhapsody, Heat and Light.
Send poems or blog post ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.