Dear Mr. Marks,
Yeah, Yeah, I know. You want me to call you “Joe” or “Sarge” but I still have the hardest time bringing myself to that. To me you will always be Mr. Marks, always such a gentleman. We met several years ago when you and your wife lived in an apartment above mine.
We shared so many times together, talking about the old days when you were a Sergeant in the war. We talked about your time in Germany and your travels around Europe as an Army Surveyor. When Dotty was still alive, she would sit in her arm chair, wrapped in blanket and look longing at you as you spoke of your military career.
You would often look fondly over to her and grab her hand, acknowledging how difficult life must have been for her to raise young children while you were off fighting, strategizing and commanding your officers to do what was right.
You touched my heart in a way you will never know. You showed kindness and generosity to my son and spent countless hours talking to him about your life experiences. At his ripe old age of only 13 you gave him a love of history and foreign affairs that no school teacher could ever do.
You pushed yourself to your limits when you came to his 8th grade class to give a talk. You captured the attention of every child and adult in that auditorium that afternoon. Women were biting their lips to keep back the tears as you spoke of your love for your wife. Men stood straighter in the presence of a respectable veteran. The kids were awe as they got to glimpse a real life hero. They lined up to shake your hand, give you hugs and thank you for your service. There was not a dry eye in the house.
So fondly, you became the bearer of the infamous “popcorn story” which the kids, years later, still laugh about.
When Dotty passed away, you showed a strength I shall never know. You knew she was tired and spent. You knew she loved you everyday even when her breathing became shallow and she no longer acknowledged you in the room. Days and weeks after she died I expected you to take ill and pass away too. There was just such love between you that I thought your broken heart would give way.
You persevered and kept fighting. I guess that is what I should have expected from a man, a Sergeant with soldiers blood. Your decline was slow and it made you angry. You missed Dotty and wanted the pain and suffering of old age to end. You wanted death to take you so you could be with Dotty, yet your body just kept fighting on.
When it became time for you to move into a nursing home, you accepted the change with dignity, still wearing your army hat each day donned with the pins of honor and service.
When we would visit you held your head up high as we passed through the hall. You were the same old Mr. Marks, making jokes and comments to the staff as we passed by. Your enduring qualities shining through causing staff would stop what they were doing just to give you pat on the arm, a high five or a hug.
When Jack sat on the edge of your bed, he was nervous and scared. He was used to your old apartment and all the charm it held. The nursing home room was barren and white. He saw none of your personal items to convince him that this was a long term stay. So, like a hospital, he expected you to “bounce back” and return to your old apartment once more to take residence in your lounge chair and fabric foot stool.
Despite the close quarters and obvious decline you were experiencing, you strove to bring HIM comfort. You asked of school and talked about visiting his classmates again. You encouraged him to keep good grades and stay in the “straight and narrow!” He took your advice, continuing to look up to you as an example of greatness, experience, wisdom and love.
It was just before Christmas when we saw you for the last time. Things were harder then and I knew you were ready to throw in the towel. Your body was finally catching up with your emotional exhaustion and desire to be with Dotty. We brought you copies of a compilation book in which a chapter inside was about you. I read the chapter aloud while you, Jack and your room mate listened. I was proud to have you hear what I had to say and I wanted to make you proud in knowing how much you meant to me.
We left copies of the book for you in the hopes that you would give them to your children at Christmas. We even book-marked each one to mark where your story began.
You passed away last Sunday. My eyes well with tears as I write this. I had to tell Jack this morning. He was in shock and all he could say was “OH NO!” Over breakfast he talked of his regrets not coming to see you more, wanting to go back and sit with you just one more time. I felt bad sending him to school with such news running through his mind and heart, but I think it was the right thing to do.
You would have wanted him to learn how to persevere through adversity, just as you did countless times.
It is a life lesson that I want to instill in him with the strength of Mr. Marks behind him every step of the way.
So, as with every love story, there is no great way to end this. “Goodbye” seems trite at best. “Thank You” seems like an understatement. “You will be missed” is not enough… so I will just end this the way I did when I hugged you and said my farewell the last time we were together…
I Love You.