This is a true story. Since Mark died, I’ve held this story close and, until now, only shared it with a few trusted friends.
As a fiction writer, I know that “it really happened” doesn’t count for anything. Most likely, if I included this story in a fictional account, readers would scoff and find it implausible. Simply not credible.
But this isn’t fiction. This is what happened. Make of it what you will.
Mark died at 8:40 in the morning. I was by his bedside. He hadn’t spoken in over 24 hours, and seemed unaware of anyone’s presence. His breathing was labored, his eyes half open but unseeing, until finally his breathing stopped.
Hospice and the funeral home were called, and Chris came home from work. Chris and I sat with Mark while we waited for the funeral home attendants to arrive, which took about two hours.
Two men in poorly fitted black suits arrived. They looked like thugs but they seemed kind. They murmured, “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am,” a phrase that would be directed at me with great regularity in the weeks to come. After I signed some paperwork, they brought in a gurney and undertook the task of removing Mark. It took some time. The gurney was awkward to negotiate around corners and through doorways. Finally, they wheeled Mark out. He was encased in an opaque zippered bag.
Chris and I sat on the living room couch. My world had just shattered and I wasn’t sure what to do. I told Chris, “I’m going to make some coffee” and we both moved into the kitchen.
Suddenly, we heard music. I looked at Chris, puzzled. I realized the music was coming from my pocket, from Mark’s phone, which I had been carrying with me. The phone was password locked.
The song was one I had never heard before, and I’m assuming it was streaming from a Pandora station. It was “The Barricades of Heaven” written by Jackson Brown, and sung by Mark Knoffler, Mark’s favorite performer. Even played on the tinny tones of the IPhone, it was beautiful.
As I held the phone in my hand and Chris and I listened to the song, the air around us suffused with Mark’s presence. I cannot explain it, but I was drenched in utter joy. I remember smiling. For a few very brief moments, Mark surrounded us in love, and then, just as suddenly, he was gone.
Recently I asked Chris, my very rational and logical son, what he thought happened in those few moments. He paused and answered, “I have no idea.”
The song lyrics are about yearning, and childhood, and the passage of time. In part:
Childhood comes for me at night
Voices of my friends
Your face bathing me in light
Hope that never ends
Make of it what you will.