(Recently, a few people from our community have passed away for whom there is no immediate funeral or memorial service planned. In those cases, we have tried to provide a written peice, sort of an euology, with which people can prayerfully mark the passing, commend one of our own to God and give thanks. We do this again now for Mark Salisbury.)
Mark was found dead at his apartment on June 20. The coroner estimates that he passed away a week earlier. The cause of death was hypertension; Mark apparently had a heart attack. He was 59 or 60.
He knew this last year of so that his body was failing. He kidneys had shut down, and he had been on dialysis, which sometimes left him feeling weak and sick. There were also a number of other conditions that his doctors would have liked to try surgical interventions for, but each time, they said that his heart would not be strong enough to survive surgery.
Mark was to have had a procedure — working on the feed-line he needed for dialysis — the week he passed away. He came by the day before he was to go to the hospital, to update me and check in. That was pretty usual: these last years, every couple weeks, or days, Mark would show up. Sit for awhile. Just to check in. We were one of the places he considered home.
He told me about the upcoming procedure. And that he wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Oh, yeah, and “did you know that you are the person listed to contact in case of an emergency.”
Mark was not sure what was in store for him. He was in no rush for his life to end, but he was also ready for what was to come. He laughed and said something to the effect, “After you’ve lived the life I have and treated your body so rough, you got to expect something like this.”
I had known Mark for the whole time I have served at Old First. My first winter, It was cold and incredibly snowy already in December. And Mark and his friend Bill were camping out — living outside — on Independence Mall that year. I couldn’t really believe they could do this. I guessed that they were using a lot of “alternative fuel” to make their situation bearable. A funny thing about Mark — no matter how bad things were, he always told it as a bit of a joke, with a laugh in his voice and a twinkle in his eye.
By my second winter, he had joined Old First. And that winter, he started out in our shelter, with Harold, another member of the church who was in the shelter that year. Sometimes they were best friends, when they were not battling. That year, they were hanging with this kid know as Red Robert. But Mark did not make it the whole season. Mark had a fierce temper, particularly when he was drinking. And if anyone pushed him. Or even touched him…
Somewhere along in all this, Val S. showed up at church. And she and Mark became fast friends, running buddies even. All that work that Val did in the front courtyard — Mark was her sidekick. If Val stayed until 10 p.m. weeding and planting, Mark was there with him. They sort of watched out for each other. And even took care of one another. When Val left for Istanbul, Mark finished closing up her apartment and storing all her stuff for her. He always had some story about some errand or task he had to do for Val. Much of it was true, but some of it must have also been about his longing to be of help to her.
During that year, his doctor told Mark that he was going to have to stop drinking; that his liver just couldn’t tolerate any more abuse. Surprising us all, maybe even himself, Mark took his doctor’s advise. With the help of a detox program and afterwards a day program, Mark got clean and sober. Not surprising, Mark became close buddies with the Social Worker at that program, Susan. She even talked of donating on of her kidneys to him when his failed.
He and Bruce moved me when I moved out of the Fox Building and into my own apartment. And after Mindy recommended him for yard and garden work to our friends over at St. George’s UMC, Mark even started working regularly. . And through his social worker, Susan, he got permanent, subsidized housing, an apartment in a complex in the Northeast.
Mark was always quite open about some of his life’s rough edges. He had begun using drugs and developed an addiction as a very young teenager. His substance abuse problems took him in and out of jail and kept him from steady work. Mark seemed in the years I knew him, to always recognize this, even long before he could act to change it.
Aside from all the details of a life always at risk of being off balance, Mark was a nice guy. A talker and storyteller. Sort of a roundabout philosopher. Thoughful, even opinionated. When I say that we were like family for him, I mean, we were someplace for him to stop by and tell us his stories!
What helped me think about how to give thanks for his life was Bob R.’s response when I wrote him to tell him of Mark’s passing:
“I’m not too surprised to hear. I’ll miss him. I don’t have much of an idea about heaven, but I’m betting that Mark is there. Quirky guy, lots of flaws, not much sense of others, but I think God would want to have him around.
Here’s my theology of God’s love. It isn’t all about God being noble and forgiving us our sins, no matter what. It’s all about God looking at a guy like Mark, all quirky and self-absorbed and flawed and saying, ‘Yeah, I like that guy, he’s ok.’ I don’t think God has a model of a perfect human being somewhere and then forgives us where we don’t measure up. God just looks at a guy like Mark and says, ‘Piece of work, but I like him.’ That’s all the grace we need. I will miss him.”
When I wrote Val to tell her of Mark’s death, I ended my note: “…But may he now find rest, maybe even a measure more than he seemed to know in this life… A beloved child of God, no matter how much of a handful he could be for us.”
Mark leaves behind his sister Susan and a nephew Wes, and a host of friends: Bill, Mark S. and Harold, and Susan, Val, Donna, me… and so many more.
You are missed, friend.