Today (July 27, 2018) is my brother Mark’s first birthday without him here. Mark passed away unexpectedly a couple of weeks before Xmas 2017 at the age of 47. Being the oldest child of 10, I have six baby sisters and three baby brothers. Mark was my first baby brother, and all these months later, I still can’t believe he’s gone.
I think it’s hardest the first year, you know, because of all the holidays and anniversaries of events you remember from all your life. Mark was born in Downeast Maine (Machias) on July 27, 1970, and graduated from Winslow High School three years after I did, in 1988. The pictures included in this blog post are just a few examples of how I remember Mark.
Next weekend is another anniversary, of the weekend I proclaimed my love for Maryhope in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, including a swim in the cold Atlantic Ocean that also changed my life forever. Mark was responsible for us staying in OOB at the hotel he worked for, and managed to get us a room at the last minute during the height of the Maine summer. No easy trick. But Mark pulled it off. And I’m forever grateful for that weekend, and forever grateful Mark and Maryhope got to meet each other. That weekend, she arrived in OOB before I did, and right away, she asked if she could give Mark a hug. Since they just met, Maryhope wasn’t sure if he’d be interested in a hug, but Mark said something like, “Sure, I’ll take a hug!” And Mark was not disappointed! Maryhope gives the best hugs.
Mark was one of the hardest-working people and had one of the best work ethics of anyone I have ever known. When Maryhope and I were there at the hotel (where he also lived), we got to see him in his element, in his town, hanging out in his downtime with the visitors from Québec and beyond, who appreciated him so much and loved having him around every year they came back to Old Orchard Beach. He never said this, but I really think he loved working by the sea.
Mark had a love for the Dallas Cowboys, pizza kits from a local grocery store here in Winslow, Maine, and GOOD MORNING AMERICA’s (and FLEA MARKET FLIP host) Lara Spencer (who he named his beloved cat after). Sadly, almost three months to the day Mark died, Lara passed away as well. She had several things wrong with her, but I think mostly, it was because her heart was so broken at the loss of Mark. There’s no other reasonable explanation for a two-year-old cat to just have all these things wrong with her. Their ashes are next to each other at my parents’ house and hopefully Mark and Lara are hanging out together somewhere now and watching marathons of FLEA MARKET FLIP.
One of my favorite memories of Mark was in my Senior year of high school, in the Fall of 1984, and Mark was a Freshman. It was my second and final year of Cross-Country, a sport I finally found my stride in (pun intended), and for the first few weeks of the season, I was always finishing just outside of the coveted Top 10 Varsity spots. One week, we had a Cross-Country race in Waterville, in the woods near a golf course and the junior high school. Waterville (or Wooterville, depending on your accent or mine) was our longtime rivals across the bridge, and I can’t remember how it happened, but in that race, Mark finished just seconds ahead of me. It was a great moment for Mark. And our coach, the wonderful Gene Roy, didn’t think I would live that down, but in that moment, he said he would bet on me to step it up in the next race and come out on top. And, he was right. Thanks to Mark, I not only beat him in the next race, but with that next race, I reached the Top 10, and stayed there as a Varsity runner for the rest of the season. I believe I finished eighth for the year, and picked up not only a Varsity letter, but the Most Improved award as well. And Mark inspired me to run faster and harder, and forever I owe that to him. Mark himself would later letter in XC as well.
Another memory that comes to mind: If anyone asks me where I was the first weekend BACK TO THE FUTURE was released in theaters in July 1985, I can safely say, because of Mark, I saw it twice in the same day (something I did not do back then, or now). It was about a month after my high school graduation, and I went by myself to the matinee show, and Mark told my mom he wanted to see BACK TO THE FUTURE with a girl that night, so I offered to drive them, but when we got to the theater, he said he wanted to see RAMBO II instead, so I did the brotherly thing and got his tickets for RAMBO II and I got another ticket for myself to watch back-to-back viewings of BACK TO THE FUTURE. I just couldn’t say no to him.
Life wasn’t always easy for Mark, and he was in a lot of pain most of his adult life, but he was one of the strongest people I ever knew, I was so proud of him and I looked up to him, though I don’t ever recall telling him that. I hope he knew how I felt. I take comfort in the fact he’s no longer in any pain. Maryhope reassured me, in just from the weekend she and I were in OOB, that he looked up to me as well, and was proud of me, too. And we could see the happiness in his eyes when he saw Maryhope and I were together and happy.
In his later years, Mark wasn’t a fan of having his picture taken, and the last day we saw Mark, on Monday, August 7, 2017, Maryhope asked if she could take his picture. He respectfully declined, though I’ll forever wish he had wanted to. Last night, I went through a box of old photographs of Mark, hoping to find something with the two of us, but I was unsuccessful in my search.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved The Hollies’ worldwide Top 10 hit from 1969 and 1970, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” And for those reading this who are chart nerds like yours truly, the reason I have 1988 also listed at the top of the blog post is because in the U.K. in 1988, a commercial using “He Ain’t Heavy” and promoting Miller Lite (of all things) resonated with fans and the song was re-released as a single, reaching No. 1 in the U.K. for two weeks in the early fall of that year (surpassing its original No. 3 peak in that country).
Mark was NOT a chart nerd, but he did enjoy music, especially that of a hard rock / heavy metal persuasion, at least in his younger days. He loved Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard and Guns ‘N Roses, and the comedy of Stephen Lynch. In my ginormous head, I’ve long thought of creating a mash-up of “He Ain’t Heavy” with the drum beat of Led Zep’s “When The Levee Breaks,” and hope to create that soon in Mark’s honor. I think he would have liked it.
Ever since Mark passed away, I can’t get “He Ain’t Heavy” out of my head. The day before my birthday this year, Maryhope and I were at a restaurant in Portland, just a couple months after Mark died, and “He Ain’t Heavy” started playing on the radio in the restaurant. I started weeping right away, I couldn’t stop. I’m so forever grateful Maryhope was there to comfort me.
I know the origins of the phrase, “No, he’s not heavy; he’s my brother” date back to 1884 Scotland and variations have been used over the years, like in the 1940s, when it was used as a slogan for Boys’ Town (“He ain’t heavy, Father [Flanagan], he’s my brother”), but I will forever associate this song with Mark.
Happy Birthday, my brother. I love you (and Lara), and miss you, and hope you are both having some fun adventures on your first birthday away from Earth, wherever you are. You deserve it…