When Pap-pa died in May 2008, I spoke at the funeral. We buried Mam-ma in mid-November of that year, and I spoke at that funeral, too. I’ve never been at a lack for words, and honoring them in that way gave me closure, helped express my grief and made it a little easier to say, “Goodbye.”
Unfortunately, I was not able to speak at Uncle Mark’s funeral. He passed away unexpectedly on June 28, 2004, and no amount of speaking about it or writing tributes to him could make me okay with it then or even now all these years later. I did sit down at the computer and type out some thoughts, though, and I shared them with Bro. Rick Crandall so that he might have some extra things to share from the family’s perspective when he led the funeral services.
That was pretty much all I could do. It wasn’t because no one would let me. I’m sure if I had asked, no one would’ve had a problem with my speaking at the funeral.
I just couldn’t do it.
I could barely breathe from the minute I found out he passed away until long after the funeral was over. If I had tried to speak at the funeral, the pallbearers would’ve had to carry me out of the sanctuary, too.
Hardly a day has gone by since then that I haven’t wished I had taken the chance to honor him that day. Every holiday, birthday or special occasion that passes makes me wish he were here to talk to just one more time, and when each of my girls were born, I thought of how he would’ve put the great in “great uncle.”
I miss him, and it hasn’t gotten any better over the years.
My Uncle Mark would have been 50 years old today. I have avoided talking about him on my blog up to this point, but it seems like the right time to bring it up in honor of what would’ve been his special day. The following words are a slightly edited version of what I gave to Bro. Rick back in 2004. It’s what I would’ve said if I had been able to muster the courage to speak through the tears and face the hundreds of people who were at the funeral that day.
Every one knew Mark in their own way. He was a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, and the one thing that he was to each and every one of us – a friend.
Mark was only 12 when I was born, so he was more like an older brother to me at times. I always felt in some sneaking way that I could get by with more with Uncle Mark than with anyone else in the family. Uncle Curt and Aunt Kathy moved to Shreveport and then on to Mississippi, and Aunt Yvonne moved to – well, just pick a spot. I’m sure she was there at some point.
But no matter what changed in our lives, Uncle Mark was always there.
To me, Uncle Mark was more than an uncle or a friend. He was a magician. Even though you could never predict where the next firefly would spark in my grandparents’ backyard, Uncle Mark seemed to magically know exactly where to jump and how fast to run to capture each and every one in a jar for me.
He could magically soar down Mauldin Drive with lightning on his feet. Oh, I knew it was just a skateboard, but when he jumped on it and took off, no tricycle I was riding had even a fleeting chance of keeping up. By the time I could get to the end of the driveway, he could be down the street and back.
I know he didn’t do it for my benefit. I was just a little girl. What could I know about skateboarding?
But every time he took off down the road, it was like he was putting on a magic show just for me.
And then one day he put on a magic suit, or at least in my mind that’s what it looked like, and he let me and my cousin Chris be part of his special day, as long as we agreed to hold hands and be good. Everyone got dressed up in blue and white, and we all went to the church. The only thing he couldn’t magically fix was the stripe on his socks (which was painfully obvious through his white tux). I guess Aunt Rita forgave him because she married him anyway, striped socks and all.
And if you don’t think such a simple thing can be magical, ask anyone in my family how many times those striped socks have brought laughter and smiles into our lives in the years since.
Uncle Mark was part of a magical quartet of men who had the power to block the rest of the world out and not see anything but the cards in their hands. Kids and wives and mothers and neighbors and everyone else were part of the best disappearing act ever when the Rook cards came out.
You couldn’t get mad at them, though. They were having more fun than any four kids you’ve ever seen.
Uncle Mark could even magically change a bad moment into a beautiful memory. The memories I have of my first wedding are not all positive, but there are two moments from that day that I will always hold dear. When the preacher asked, “Who gives this woman in marriage,” my uncles, Dad, Jake and a handful of cousins went into a huddle at the front of the church to “decide” if they were going to let this new person into our family. Uncle Mark made everyone laugh by popping his head up from the huddle to look around comically at the audience, letting everyone know that it was okay to laugh at a wedding and bringing a smile to my face where there hadn’t been one up to that point.
He topped off the moment, though, when he passed me as he went back to the altar and said, “We love you, Rebecca.” He didn’t have to say those words, and it wasn’t like him to be overly sentimental.
But it was like him to magically make my day better. He had no idea that those words would stay in my head through all the dark days that followed, and they would be part of what gave me the courage to stand up for myself a year and a half later when I had reached rock bottom in my marriage.
Of course, Uncle Mark couldn’t let one magical wedding moment be enough. When I married my second husband in 2000, I found out that Uncle Mark and Uncle Curt both had the magical power to turn a preacher white as a sheet. As Dad escorted me down the aisle, they stepped out from either side and brought me into a smaller version of the huddle that had, by this time, become so infamous in our family. The preacher was performing his first wedding ceremony, and I thought he was going to faint when they stepped into the aisle. He had no idea what a magical family moment he was witnessing.
When I moved back to Monroe, it was Uncle Mark who was there to help unload the trailer and get in a few jabs about wondering if I’d left anything for anyone else since it looked like I’d brought most of Georgia with me. And it was Uncle Mark who was there less than a month later when the nurses wheeled Dad into surgery after his heart attack. He was magic even on that dark day because when the news was delivered that Dad came through surgery, it was Uncle Mark and Aunt Rita who were by our sides. They pulled Mom into their arms and magically held her up with their love.
Uncle Mark had the magical power to make people like him, not just as a passing acquaintance but as a trusted, lifelong friend. He loved his kids and his wife and his family with a love that could only be classified as magical, and I’m not sure any of us will ever fully realize the impact he had on our lives. We could go on for days sharing stories and remembering the little things – like how he never learned to tie a necktie, how much he loved to steal Mam-ma’s pies and fruitcake, how he loved a practical joke or how he and his brothers magically made up their own rules at golf.
If we could ask him for one last piece of advice, I have no doubt he would laugh and say, “Save the green beans for last ‘cause they’re your favorite.” He would want us to read three important things into that advice – laugh, don’t take life too seriously and hold on to family traditions and memories. You can’t talk about Uncle Mark without laughter, family and love coming into the conversation. Those are things I will always remember about him and about the amazing person he was.
But the thing I will remember most is how his magical uncle powers are part of the person I am today, and it’s because of that fact that I have never really allowed myself to say, “Goodbye.” He is part of me, and that can never fade or die. I am Uncle Mark, and his brothers are Mark, and his wife and kids and parents and friends are Mark.
None among us can say that we aren’t better for having known him, and that, to me, was his greatest magical power of all.