Today is the eighth anniversary of the death of a friend of mine, Mark David Groner. He was twenty-seven when he was broadsided by a speeding vehicle after driving through a stop sign obscured by flora. His twin brother Evan survived relatively unhurt; they had been on their way to play some golf. Mark had just finished his first year of teaching music in a Lancaster, PA. high school.
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Thousands of people attended his funeral in a tiny town called Nazareth, PA., known only for its racing speedway. Otherwise the place is the typical Pennsylvania rural town, with a small business and industrial sector, a school district and hundreds of comfortable residences. Behind the Lutheran church outside the town, where Mark is buried, there is a cornfield just beyond the cemetary.
Mark is in a grave at the edge of this cemetary, which is amongst the quietest I've seen. It's well behind the church itself, and behind a grove of old trees. There's a chain-link fence separating the church's property from the farm, and this fense, to my best recollection, is about thirty feet behind Mark's grave. I was last there before Christmas 1998.
Mark was the first _close_ associate around my own age whom I have lost; his death took me by surprise and was one of the first events in my life to finally trigger in me a sense of my own mortality.
It devastated his twin, Evan. When I saw Mark's viewing, I hadn't seen him alive in four years. He was wearing a goatee; after Mark's death I visited Evan on one occasion at their parents' home, although I hadn't been well-acquainted with him before this. He had begun wearing a goatee.
I've known several sets of twins separated by Death, the survivor visibly traumatized. Seeing the effect of Mark's death on his brother was particularly disturbing. It has always stayed with me.
I have since been told by knowledgeable people that a surviving twin will in many ways try to preserve the decedent sibling in some way by taking on characteristics they did not already share.
Mark was a trumpet player; I don't believe Evan was. If I were to discover he has taken it up, I would truly find it unnerving, although I would understand with no lack of compassion Evan's desire to repatriate himself with his brother. Besides, Mark was so exceedingly and deservingly well-loved by everyone he knew that, from where I stand, he left a wake of broken hearts. Evan's could only be the one most torn by Mark's death.
Because I nearly lost my mother this past weekend, I am now at my parent's home in New Jersey, not at Mark's grave, where I had fully planned to be. While there were many people significantly closer to Mark than I, I had enough experience of him to continue to feel loss.
He was an unwavering, committed friend and was without fail nor exception a positive influence on everyone who knew him. I cannot say this of myself nor of the vast majority of people I have known. He was a rare, saintly person.
Because of Mark, I have sought as best I can to meditate on each person I have lost since. Since Mark's death, I have lost my last grandparent, my godfather, and an aunt and uncle who extended themselves to my family with no second thought in many difficult times. Perhaps this is one of his best favors to me: to teach me the fragility of life and the value of each person I lose, or stand to lose.
This is particularly important to me because I suffer from an emotional disconnection from other people that has been worsening as I grow older. (I'm presently 38, and my parents, both of whom could pass at any time, are going into their 80's.)
I believe firmly that my experience this past weekend, in which I scrambled desperately to visit my mother, even selling property for fare money, has helped to heal this dysfunction. It was an important event for me.
I will still probably lose my mother, _and_ my father, fairly soon. In fact, I was born so late to such a sparse and dispersed family that I will have no one but my older sister and two maternal first cousins shortly. I will truly be the last of my family, since my sister, in her early fifties, has never had children, and I increasingly am convinced I shall never do so either.
Since this is the case, I must find a way to become vastly more like Mark than I presently am: I need to reconnect with Humanity, to become a supportive brother to all those around me, as he was to so many people whom I witnessed memorializing him eight years ago.
Mark, I hope that your giving spirit, as I contemplate it, fills up this void in me as I rehumanize myself. I in particular cannot afford to forget you.