Thank you, Mark

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Dear Mark,

I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to you. I wish I had because there are so many words I’d like to say. If your life stretched longer, I would’ve been a better stepdaughter, would’ve communicated better, would’ve cherished you in the way you deserved. I can’t buy back time. I can’t reclaim lost moments. It’s a lesson I’ll tuck into my heart in a deep, melancholy way–that this life is far too brief to let moments slip away. And yet, they have slipped.

You died on Sunday.

Took your last breath of Northwest air, my mom desperate for more pieces and snippets of time with you. To no doubt convey love, appreciation and gratitude for who you are to her. But the disease had its maniacal way, and now you’re no longer here.

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You left a gargantuan hole in the hearts of those you left behind. In your friends, family, and in us.

It took me a long time to finally meet you. My teenage stubbornness dictated it. Still stinging from my life and the circumstances surrounding it, I had no place in my heart for you. With my father dead five years and my stepfather in the wings of my life, I didn’t want to know another man, particularly not one who might leave me.

I have this ache, you see. And actually I think you did see it, though we never spoke of it in the open. This hole in me that longs for a steady, alive, cheerleading father. I was surprised when I met you how gentle you were, how softspoken, how behind the scenes you preferred to be. You didn’t announce yourself with fanfare, but your love felt like a symphony to me of the kind of love that smacks of Jesus–that big, wide unconditional love all us broken folks long for.

It took time, but we made our peace–you being steady and steadfast, me trying to fit into an adult world, navigating high school, then college. You waited to live with my mom until I left home for good, the two of you setting up house and a convivial way. I knew you loved her. I knew she loved you.

And for decades you danced that dance–mutual admiration, casual and not-so-casual conversation, and a commitment that clings to covenant. You dedicated yourself to her. You loved her well. Oh so well. I love(d) you for that. Three days before you died, you married my mom.

When Patrick asked me to marry him, I initially battled a conundrum. Who would walk me down the aisle?

But it had to be you. I’m glad it was you. Me, your surrogate daughter on your arms, my eyes stained with tears, and your steady, steady walk down the aisle. I felt you would hold me up if I crumpled. Your strength became mine.

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You went out of your way for me, for my marriage, and then our family. You blessed us by sneaking bits of money our way when we struggled. You asked great questions. You dignified our faith by being interested. You watched my career in writing and praised me, asked me questions, and cheerleaded my progress.

You took delight in each one of my children, opening your heart up to them, grandfathering them in the tenderest of ways. You loved them well.

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I’m having a hard time writing this letter to you because I don’t know how to thank you. Even wordsmiths are wordless in times of grief. I wish I could’ve given you one last hug, a tender I love you, a giant thank you card to show you your worth to us. I hope you know that we loved you. I hope you know that I needed you, and that you filled a hole in my heart.

Which is why mourning right now feels impossibly painful. The hole is no longer filled. It sits agape, wanting. Because it is Mark-shaped, and no one can fill it.

Oh dear Jesus, I will miss you, Mark. Our family will miss you. We will declare our admiration and love at your memorial service, but it will not satisfy. Because only having you here on this beautiful earth will.

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Thank you.

Oh thank you.

You have been an example of love and compassion and kindness and integrity to all of us and we will miss you dearly. Thank you for living in such a way that your passing would leave a gaping hole. That means you loved well, that you affected many, that you changed folks’ lives by your gentleness and sweet demeanor.

I can only hope to live a similar legacy.

I love you. I hope I loved you well as you loved me.

Mary

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