The Scenario Begins
“Hi, Marian, this is Kenny, do you know where your brother Mark is?”
Our cousin Kenny, who lives in an apartment close by Mark’s in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania had called me in Florida late Sunday morning.
“No, I guess he’s in church. He always goes. He never misses.”
“I don’t think so,” Kenny said. His car is in the parking lot, and I knocked on the door and there’s no answer.”
“No, answer?” I exclaimed. “That’s odd. He has a set routine and if his car is in the parking lot, that means he’s at home.”
This strange conversation resulted in the landlord unhinging the double-bolted door to his apartment and discovering No Brother Mark.
“We looked everywhere,” the property manager Gale said, at a loss.
Cousin Kenny offered, “I’m going to call Lancaster General Hospital and see if he’s been admitted.”
Horrors, Mark, in severe pain, had called 911, summoned the ambulance and was transported to the emergency room. This set in motion an action plan in Florida: My sister Jan and I booked flights, she a one-way ticket to Harrisburg, me taking a wild guess about the date for our probable return.
The Shocking Story Unfolds
On May 3 my sister Jean picked Jan and me up at the airport in Middletown and we proceeded to the hospital, where our brother had been admitted. For the past eight months, Mark had been treated for what the doctor explained was pre-leukemia. Though Mark experienced ups and downs, he had responded well, we thought.
“Now Mark really has full-blown leukemia, the dreaded disease we hoped wouldn’t develop,” I wailed in disbelief. Our little brother, younger than any of his three sisters, is gravely ill.
None of the doctors seem optimistic. Jan voices our thoughts, “This doesn’t seem right. He’s too young, only 64 now.” After three days in the hospital, the oncologists all agree, Mark needs to go into hospice care.
Hospice! That means he’s going to die! How can this be? He had led a quiet life, eventually caring for our mother and aunt in their homes. HOSPICE! I shared his kind and caring activities in this blog post.
He was transported in a wheel-chair van to Hospice Care facility near Mt. Joy, a lovely facility in a bucolic setting. Birds chirp from the rafters of the Craftsman-style building, gabled, earth-toned. A walking trail along a bubbling creek borders the property. Pink dogwood, budding azaleas set the campus ablaze in beauty, a fresh spring contrasting to the waning lives within the walls.
Crazy Outpouring of Love and Sympathy
Mark’s friends pour in: Neighbor Gene Raffensburger, who worked with him at Longenecker Farm Supply, Pastor Fred and Linda Garber and church friends in a small group from Bossler Mennonite Church, who bring the service to him.
A horde of patrons and servers from Gus’s Family Restaurant brought balloons and a huge poster with dozens of signatures.
A few men that sat with him at the restaurant looked dumbstruck. One or two went out in the hallway. I heard stifled sobs. “We can’t believe it. He was just here last Friday!” They have saved “his” chair at the coffee shop counter: place mat, newspaper, and glass of water. Again and again, they bring him grits and “Gus’s” water with a straw. I heard the names they often greeted him with when he walked in the door: Marky-Mark, Sparky, Sparticus, Schweetie Pie.
The Spiritual Journey
We sisters are noting Mark’s reckoning with his abrupt life change.
Thursday, May 3 “I’m trying to get my bearings.”
Friday, May 4 “Am I going down the tube?” Mark remarks in the hospital before he is moved to hospice care.
Saturday, May 5 Jean: “Do you want to listen to music?” The boom box sits silent.
Mark: “I would if I felt better.”
Monday, May 6 Hospice nurse; “Hi, friend. I hear you are having some pain. We are giving you morphine.”
Mark to sisters: “If I don’t move, I don’t have pain.”
Tuesday, May 7 Mark: “This is where I want to be.”
Wednesday, May 8 Mark: “I’m still here.”
Later: “I can’t believe I’m still here!”
Thursday, May 9 “How do I get up to heaven?”
His sister Jean, “You remember Ruthie said she’s ‘going up on the next cloud.’”
Sister Jan adds, “ You have Jesus in your heart and when He’s ready for you, He’ll take you up!”
Friday, May 10 To a church friend, Evelyn: “I’m going to heaven soon.”
Later: “Better here than a jail house,” he says of hospice center. (Weak smile)
Then: “I see people up in heaven . . . “!
Saturday, May 12 “I’m done,” he says to a nurse.
“What did you say?” she asks.
He has talked to his nieces and nephews on the phone and in his room. His daughter Kiki camps out in his room when she’s not at work.
Sunday, May 13, Mother’s Day
Mark talked to sister Jean who held his hand: “What about my apartment? I don’t think I can live there anymore. What about my car? I’m too weak to drive now.”
“You don’t need to worry. Everything is taken care of,” she assured him.
(Just a year ago we said goodbye to Aunt Ruthie on Mother’s Day.)
Monday, May 14 The fridge in the kitchen/gathering room is filling up. The suffering sisters, Kiki and her mother Betty don’t lack for food.
A Yoyo and Molasses
A toy and thick syrup have nothing in common except that they are metaphors for the dying process. In Mark’s case, it’s up & down and slow . . . slow . . . slow . . .
Daughter Crista calls, “You are a tough cookie, Mom, but you need to get out, go to a movie. You guys are like mother hens, hovering.” She’s right. But we feel pulled to the man in bed at the center.
Our Comfort as We Wait
Wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD. ~ Psalm 27:14
I will blog only intermittently in this space. So far our bedside vigil has lasted for two weeks. My heart is full today, so I’m posting. Writing is therapy. Right?
Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations.
I am so sorry to hear about your little brother, Marian. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult the last few weeks must have been for you and your family. I hope Mark won’t suffer too much and that we will find eternal peace when he is ready. All my love and a big hug to you all.
Thank you, Fatima, for being the first to comment here. I feel your hugs and love!
It seems wrong to like this post, yet I just clicked the button. I’m sorry that your brother’s health has declined so dramatically and suddenly, but I am encouraged to know that he’s surrounded by friends and family who care about him. Also those beautiful bushes and flowers are a delight– maybe more so than normal considering the situation.
Thank you, Ally, for pointing out God’s beauty in this situation that to us earth-bound creatures find hard to comprehend. 🙂
If heaven is love, Mark is already there. Blessings to you all at this time that is so very difficult and yet full of grace.
“Full of grace” is a phrase I will concentrate on, Arlene. Thank you for this nugget of hope.
Praying for Mark and your family, Marian. He is indeed surrounded by love. ❤️❤️
Thank you for stopping by during your busy book launch time. I so appreciate this, Jill.
Sending you and the family peace and love, Marian
I couldn’t hope for me, Beverly. Thank you for love and peace with the positive energy it implies.
I’m glad that your brother is surrounded by family and friends who love him so much. Take care of yourself, too. You’ve raised a wise and loving daughter. Sending you many virtual hugs and good thoughts to you and your family. <3
Thank you for the hugs and good thoughts. Merril. We try to take little outings every so often to ease the stress: shopping, dinner with friends. We are staying with my cousin who has recently known bereavement and the value of self-care.
Mark is so fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends while receiving the comfort care provided by Hospice. Treasure each day. Bless you all.
We are trying to do just that, Lynn. Thank you!
Mark was so faithful in helping others, his Mother, Aunt Ruth and Pearl Longenecker too. He always had a smile when I would see him.
He is too young, George was also too young, but Hospice is a such a kind, supportive place when you need them.
You girls have said “Goodbye” to so many and so much recently. Praying for you.
Ava Lee, you know first hand Mark’s gentle spirit and the pain of letting go. It’s comforting to see you here!
Last year I lost my sister 6 months after a shock stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Wishing you all strength and wisdom to handle your brother’s illness in the best way for all of you.
You understand the yo-yoing of emotions, that is after the initial shock. My condolences on the loss of your sister, Linda.
What a washing in love you are giving your brother! As I studied your pictures and read your story, it seems so evident that the love Mark gave is coming right back to him. You paint him as someone I want to know! Will you explain your toy analogy? I get the molasses. You have left the door ajar so people like me who haven’t been there can peek in and see your peace. Thank you for sharing
I love your expression, “washing in love,” Victoria. About the yoyo: I was referring to the spool-like toy with a string attached to a pin in the center which a person can reel up and down with their wrist. The idea I was trying to convey is that he has good days and bad days and we can’t know when God will call him home, so it’s emotionally draining, up and down.
Yes, we are on a journey, but God’s grace and peace surrounds us totally.
Prayers of peace and comfort.
Thank you for sharing Marks words with us…. it means so much since we can’t be there with him. ❤
Thank you, dear Sarah! Even though you can’t be with us right now, you can visualize Mark and his straining toward heaven. I wish he didn’t have to suffer.
Oh, Marian. Writing is indeed therapy and that, along with the gift of having friends and family support, and most of all the comforting presence of our God as He prepares to welcome your brother home, will help you on this unwanted journey. Praying for you all this morning.
Yes, Linda, we really have all we need to persevere through this unexpected journey. Thanks for the reminder.
Marian, I remember Mark from your earlier post, and I am so glad the love he has given out as a faithful steward of family and faith is now flowing back to him. I hope he finds his cloud, and that he leaves something behind that helps you in your caregiving and grief.
He’s still looking for his “cloud” and we sisters are trying to help him find it. He has given us many precious gifts, including compassion which is being tested now.
Oh my goodness, Marian. Praying for peace for you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey with Mark.
Thank you for caring, Marie, such a balm to our breaking hearts.
What a beautiful blog about my cousin Mark! Every time we were at family gatherings, Mark always had a smile on his face.
To know he will be re-united with his mom, Ruth, dad, Ray, who was my favorite Aunt and Uncle, and Aunt Ruthie…… They will be there to greet him at Heaven’s gate! What a glorious day!
Several times Mark tells us he seeks Daddy. He said, “I saw him, but I couldn’t talk to him.” Yes, what a day that will be – and he’ll see Jesus too!
That comment is so special.
Marian, my thoughts and prayers are with you, Mark, your sister Jean, Kiki, and all who know and love him. I remember reading about Mark and his care of your mother and aunt. He is a good man. I remember the photographs of him from your previous post. I liked him very much from afar then and now …
Thank you for telling me you remember. Even though it’s from afar, “many waters cannot quench love.” I appreciate your comment here, Susan.
My thoughts and prayers are with all. For Mark heaven is growing sweeter each moment. As family members you each have a heart filled with all kinds of love and emotions, some being shared with each other and some you are holding deep in your heart, reserved just for you. Trusting in The Lord with all your heart.
As Mark slips out of this life into Life eternal into the arms of Jesus, you too will know once again as with each home going of family and friend, Heaven grows sweeter every day. May The Holy Spirit of comfort be with all as promised in God’s Word.
Thank you, Alice. You have recently experienced bereavement in your own family and do understand our emotional strain . . . but also the peace and hope that accompanies a believer’s passage into eternal life.
Praying for Mark, you and all your family. Praying for physical comfort and peace for Mark. Thank you for sharing. We all can pray as you walk this journey.
Thank you for your prayers, Selma. You are kind to comment here!
Our prayers to you Mark are heaven-ward. God is saving His own placemat for you at the Great Supper!
And we’ll both be there some day, later rather than sooner, I hope. Thank you, Dear One!
Marian, Cancer sucks. I know … the long drawn-out farewells, the horror of hospice, yet how wonderful the drugs they offer to make the transition easier … take care of yourself, and, yes, writing is indeed therapeutic and healing. I will pray for you and Mark ….
I feel the prayers of you and others uplifting us during this trying time. My faith cries out Endure, while my body just wants to Rest. Thank you, Susan, Who has Walked this Path and Knows . . . !
I’m reminded here of the many “vigil sings” I’ve been called to as a member of our local hospice choir, only to find the music awakens them. Not a few times has the patient then asked for “something peppier”. This final transition is, as you pointed out, often such a yo yo. And it can go on for months, rather than days. It’s such a special time too; masks come off, intimacy increases, memories flow.
How fortunate you all are that you have each other. If you have a special song or hymn you’d like us to sing for your brother (of god you) at our rehearsal Monday night, let me know. We have nearly 300 songs in our repertoire now.
What a gracious offer, Janet. I’ll give you the titles his “small group” at church sang for him last week. You can pick: Children of the Heavenly Father, My Jesus I Love Thee, and Amazing Grace. His car radio was always tuned to “peppier” contemporary Christian music, but I can’t tell you the titles. You speak from experience when you say, memories flow as masks come off. Thank you!
Amazing Grace, this Monday, at a little after 8 pm. Listen for it. Happy to do what I can.
You have made such a difference in my life, then and now. Thank you for this special gift. My family and I thank you in advance!
That’s “or for you” inside the parentheses.
I read your post, and the replies, with tears in my eyes. Smell and hearing are the senses are the final ones to register in a person’s mind. Sing, and talk to Mark. He is lifted by the love and care, and will be borne on that same cloud towards his Heaven, when he is ready. Sending gentle hugs of support to all involved.
I hear empathy in your words here, Ginger. Yes, we have to be careful of what we say. He appears not to hear but his words later on show us his hearing is intact. Thank you for your hugs of support here!
An interesting journey, indeed. You are all taking the road of love, grace, care, and togetherness. It’s a beautiful, yet sad journey. My husband went through the same with his sister, who died at 53. She had hospice at her house during her last weeks. I hope writing about the experience brought you some relief, Marian.
While the balloons were gifted by well-meaning people with full hearts, I can’t help but find their writing ironic. It reminds me of the cards my husband received when he went through cancer treatment with an unknown future. It put a sour taste in my mouth of those “standard” expressions, just like the “good luck” parting words from friends friends and doctors…
You definitely understand the pain of watching loved ones struggle with sickness and death.
About the balloons: I thought of cropping out the “Get Well” wish but decided the givers did the best they could to show they care. “Feel better” is a sentiment we can all live with now. Thanks for all of this, Liesbet!
Marion, the “get well” means as much to Mark as it is to you and your sisters as you get well in your heart with the situation in front of you. And you know that you will all “feel better” when Mark is pain free.
Thanks for checking back with this heart-warming comment, Ginger!
Dear friend, these are hard times but the love of your family is clear in your words here. Mark is surrounded not only by family love but friend love as well. The expressions of his Gus dining friends and those who work there are a testament to his own love for them. Praying for you, your sisters, and especially for Mark for God’s will in his health and life.
We are praying for God’s will now as he has lived well beyond the doctor’s predictions. I am learning the lesson of waiting on the Lord all over again. Thanks for your prayers, Sherrey.
What heartfelt words from many special people…they are so comforting. Sending you many thoughts and prayers for you all. Love you 🙂
Oh, thank you, Kathy! It’s hard to lose any family member, especially a little brother.
I’m so sorry to hear this, Marian. My thoughts and prayers are being sent to you, Mark, and the rest of your family.
We are buoyed up by the love and care of so many far away from this suffering. Thank you, dear Joan!
So sorry to hear about what you and your brother are going through. BUT I am also thankful for places like Hospice, for the assurance we can have of going to Jesus when we are born again, and of seeing our loved ones again.
My baby brother died very unexpectedly over 8 years ago, so I know some of the pain of what you are experiencing. BUT I know that God is walking through this journey with you all. Prayers ascending for you
My condolences to you about your baby brother, Mim. You know first-hand the pain of such a loss. Thank you!
Every day is a gift for Mark and all of you who love him. Thank you for sharing this difficult time you are experiencing with your gravely ill brother. I can’t even pretend to know what it’s like to be faced with losing a sibling. Sending you strength and prayers for you and loved ones and that Mark doesn’t suffer. <3
Strength and prayers are enough to get us through this. Hospice staff are making sure he is as comfortable as possible. Thanks, dear Debby!
No need to thank Marian. God bless. <3
I am so sorry to hear this Marian. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Your brother is surrounded by love, which is all one can ask for. Sending hugs to you and your family. Be strong. Xo
Thank you for adding the strength of your prayers to those in this column. They are sustaining us during this trying time. Hugs!
Oh, Marion. I wonder where your Marky-Mark is today. On this side of the veil or the other side? Death is always so close and yet we’re surprised. It sounds as though he’s surrounded by human and celestial angels. I know he has hospice, good friends, and God on his side. And sisters. Loving hovering caring sisters who’ve been through this before.
I’m sorry you have to go through it again, but I’m glad Brother Mark has you at his side. I hope you did something beautiful for yourself. Even on Vic’s dying day, friends dragged me outside for a 15 minute June walk. That was good medicine, too.
Oh, Marian, I can feel the love and faith that is sustaining all of you during this sacred time. I do believe writing can give us clarity and peace during trying times. I’m happy you’ve been able to write and share in your usual exquisite, heartfelt detail. Sending along love and prayers to you and your family as you journey together through this transition. With faith, hope and love.
Even though Mark’s time draws near, I feel compelled to write, dear Kathy. Otherwise, I probably couldn’t take all the stress as well. I wonder how you are doing, watching your own loved one decline. Hugs!
As I write on Sunday May 20, Mark is on this side of the veil, just barely. We are being hovered over by hospice caregivers, family, and friends. The grounds here are lovely with roses blooming, so I enjoyed a walk with songsters from Mark’s room. I have heard whisperings of being spirited away to a MOOO-VIE soon or some other escape. A massage would feel good.
You know well how to send care from afar, dear Elaine. Thank you@
Marian, so sorry to hear this sad news. Praying for your sweet brother. Hugs! Sheila
Thank you, Sheila, for the hugs and good wishes, so appreciated!
I love his place at Gus’ restaurant. Grits are my kind of southern breakfast–interesting that he enjoyed them up “North.” I’m sure this is a very difficult time and I’m touched that you can spend this time with him. I went back and read the other post too and comments.
Hang in there, it is always hard to know when and whether to come and go, especially from a distance. God bless and hold you all in care and concern.
We have decided to stay with our brother as he enters the heavenly gates. Thanks for the support here, Melodie.
“Day by Day and with each passing moment….” Love and hugs
Thank you, Elfrieda, for the reminder of the fleeting nature of our lives. I’m learning again this year to treasure moments with family.
Lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as I read about your journey with Mark. I have pictures in my mind of him as a little boy. He always had a smile then, too. -And the gracious love his big sisters have always given him. Recently I have been reading accounts of near death experiences and the beauty and joy of heaven. There is just a thin veil between earth and heaven which I sense in your accounts. The Lord bless and keep you all and be gracious to you during this difficult time.
Yes, there is a “thin veil” between earth and heaven and our brother Mark is about to penetrate it. I appreciate you benediction on our lives during his passage. Thank you, Lee.
Awwwwww my sweet Marian what utter hell you are all going through . Poor little brother Mark . I do remember you telling us about him in past posts how ‘Self -less’ he is . Keep praying from him and writing definitely helps . Thank goodness you have such a supportive family
Hugs and kisses coming from over the pond 😘😘😘
Yes, thank God I have a supportive family and friends like you who buoy me up when I feel utterly exhausted. Hugs and kisses to you too, Cherry!
Your words, your love for Mark, HIS love – are all loving and lovely. Maybe that’s why I’m crying. This is a life lived well. Mark is loved so much by his family and his friends. He’s given SO MUCH, and to see his friends and family there with him, GIVING BACK, is what makes heaven on earth.
Now I’m reading Janet’s comments above. I agree about the music. Made such a difference for my dad during his week-long hospice care (in his apartment, with my brother and me). We played his jazz music 10 hours a day, and he loved it.
Sending you loads of love and hugs.
I am touched by your love (and tears) for Mark. I love your comment about the jazzy music that surrounded your dad while in hospice care. Several singers have come by to serenade Mark, the latest just this afternoon. Thank you for all of this, Pam!
Oh gosh – my heart is breaking for you all.
Thank you for noticing, Fiona. So appreciated!
I’m so sorry. I will keep praying for each of you by name. God is good, even in these most painful moments. Hugs and kisses…and more hugs!
Yes, God is good even in pain. I am so touched by your mentioning us all by name in prayer. Hugs back to you, Jenn.
I’m so sorry your brother, for you, for your sisters, for your whole family. You are all in my prayers. This is such a tough time of life. But God knows…
Yes, God knows. And we stand by until He takes our brother to his heavenly home. Thank you, Anita.
Marian — I am on a layover at O’Hare in Chicago and just read your post. What fills my heart is that Mark’s family and friends aren’t DOing love. Rather, each of you is BEing love, BEing grace (that immediate presence of Spirit that we’ve talked about before). What a lovely way to be ushered into heaven.
I hope this reply finds you safely home. Very soon Mark will be ushered into his eternal home as well. Thank you, dear Laurie.
Marian (Jan & Jean), I just learned about Mark’s illness … no words can ease the pain, but know
that I care. I met your brother Mark when I visited Ruthie for the first time, & was impressed with
his personality! He even went with me on a drive, pointing out local landmarks. He often had me
laughing with his stories about people & places. I was lucky enough to meet him again on another visit to PA as well as once at your house. Please know that I care. Gencie
You are one of the few people commenting here who have met Mark personally. He was limited in many ways, but he was a savant when it came to directions and finding shortcuts on country roads. I appreciate your pointing that out here. Thank you, Gencie!