As many of you already know, my brother Mark passed away exactly one month ago today.
I had always planned to do some sort of tribute to him ... there were certain things that I felt needed to be said and, since I had the forum to do so, I wanted to let those feelings be known first on the daily Forgotten Hits Blog Page ... and then to give this tribute its permanent home on The Forgotten Hits Web Page.
Naturally, I wanted to thank the hundreds and hundreds of Forgotten Hits Readers who wrote or called with their condolences ... it really did help me through a very difficult time. Most of you talked about the closeness between us that I must have conveyed in some of my earlier posts ... and about what a good man he must have been.
But the truth is we weren't really all that close ... for most of the past twenty years, we barely saw each other. (Of course, the distance of 2000 miles probably had a whole lot to do with that!) We'd speak on the phone once in a while ... certainly much more so over the past four or five years when we were able to visit one another ... and, once he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we spoke nearly every day. It was during this time that we really developed the "closeness" of our brotherly relationship. In fact, calling Mark had become so much a part of my day that these past few weeks have felt pretty empty in that regard ... I can't tell you how many times in a free moment, even if it's just while driving home from work in the car, I've been tempted to give him a call to see how he's feeling on that particular day, only to realize that he's no longer with us. I am happy to report that we did, in fact, bond over these past several months ... and I am so happy that I was able to fly out there and visit with him for a few days before his health completely deteriorated and he was no longer able to get out of bed and do the things that we were able to do during my visit: go out to lunch and dinner and down to Fisherman's Wharf. I can't even imagine, in hindsight, being cheated out of those final memories.
Pancreatic Cancer is a devastating disease. The recovery rate is less than 2% ... and once it hit him, it hit him hard and it hit him fast. Mark was first diagnosed in April and was already gone by July ... hard to squeeze in a lot of living in that short a period of time, especially when you're not feeling well enough or strong enough to do much of anything. Mark bravely and very matter-of-factly accepted his fate and his death sentence. Personally, I think I would have done a lot more kicking and screaming myself!!! Sadly, the outcome would still be the same ... and thanks to counseling provided to the entire family, they all got through this heartbreaking ordeal with dignity and grace.
And believe me, that meant a lot ... he was very fortunate to have been able to spend his final time with his family and his loved ones. The fact that his daughter Brittney took him into her home just weeks before her own wedding to care for him ... and that his ex-wife Carlene made it a point to move in, too, to help provide round the clock care says a lot about the character of these two women. I learned a lot these past few months about the good in people ... and realized quite a few of my own short-comings in this area. I cannot salute them enough for all that they did to make my brother's last days as pleasant as possible ... and I mean it sincerely when I say that I have the utmost love and respect for them for doing so. And Mark's other two daughters, too ... I never had much of a chance to know Jennifer and Sharon as they were growing up so far away from my own daughters ... despite all of these girls being the same age, they never really knew each other. Unfortunately, we can't erase the past twenty years ... but we can move forward from here as a more unified family. And they have NEW cousins they've never even met, too, thanks to my remarriage to Frannie ... I can't wait for ALL of our California relatives to meet Paige and Lindsay as well as become reacquainted with their cousins Nicki and Kris.
It pains me to say this, but in reality, Mark was NOT such a "good man" ... over the course of his life, he probably did a lot more wrong than right ... including not treating those very same loving family members with the love and the respect that they deserved. He was FAR from perfect and should not, in death, be elevated to some sort of "sainthood" just because we feel the sorrow of his loss ... we tend to do that sometimes as a means of dealing with our own grief.
However, I DO know that for these misgivings he apologized before leaving this earth ... and asked for his family's ... and the Lord's ... forgiveness. Certainly, he caused his family pain over the years ... but despite this, their dedicated love and devotion brought him comfort in his final days ... and for that, again, I salute them.
Despite these shortcomings, EVERY man wants to feel that their time spent here on earth achieved SOME purpose. Everybody wants to have felt that they "left their mark" ... that they made an impression, a difference ... that that there was a REASON and a purpose for their time here. We all learned decades ago (thanks to Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life") that EVERY life impacts so many others ... but who amongst us doesn't wish that they can leave some sort of "footprints" in their wake.
I'm sure that in his own eyes, Mark never achieved that goal during his lifetime ... but perhaps, with your help and support, he can leave his mark now that he's gone.
When all the arrangements and wedding plans were going on, I asked Carlene, Mark's ex-wife, if there was anything that I could do to help out with anything. She had given so much of herself these past few months that I felt like there must be SOMETHING I could do to help relieve her burden.
This is what she asked me to do:
Remember the other day you said that if I needed something, just to ask you ... and I said that I had something that you could do for Mark. It is a need. It has something to do with all of your readers and listeners on your Forgotten Hits mailing list. This is what it is.
VA Sutter / Hospice of San Mateo, California was the agency that supported Mark, Brit and I. They provided all the medical supplies, from the hospital bed to the wheel chair to Mark’s entire medicine needs. They have offered compassion, emotional support, a nurse that visited Mark once a week, and are now offering bereavement counseling for the next year to our family. They are offering the girls art therapy, group horse back riding, and so many other neat things to help them deal with the the loss of their dad. This has humbled my heart to its core when this agency stepped in an hour before Mark’s release from the hospital on June 3, 2009, when Brit and I didn’t know what to do except bring him back to Brit’s apartment. This agency offered care to Mark on a charity basis since Mark was unemployed for the last 18 months. The agency is bringing compassion home to the dying person and his family.
If your readers are moved to support the agency in Mark’s Memory to help other families who might be facing the same situation we just faced, then we can help others when they are faced with the reality of looking death straight in the face. This was one of life’s most challenging but rewarding and healing moments for our family here on earth.
This was a gift received by our family with no strings attached ... beyond my wildest dreams. Now is the time to give back in Mark’s memory to this agency so that they can continue to have the resources and funds to provide the services to people who are in need when they are down and out, and believe there are no options on the table for them when faced with dying either totally alone or with the help of compassionate caring people who still serve our communities.
These earth angels with wings need to have their name out there all over the country too, so that your readers ... and everyone, for that matter, know that there is a resource in their area if they are faced with the same challenge of living out their last few weeks with dignity and respect. Hospice Care is all over the country, providing services in your readers' own communities.
If you think this is a worthy cause and are able to do this for your brother Mark, I will get the agency information to you with a contact person and phone number. Your readers can send the agency thank you notes on Mark’s behalf to let them know that they have made a difference in someone’s life or send small donations, or maybe better yet, you may have a contact for a radio station in the bay area who will give a shout out on the radio to thank all the agency earth angels who provided compassionate care for Mark and our family.
Manny (Mark’s Nurse), Trish (Mark's Case Worker) and Barbara Bishop (Mark’s Doctor) are some of the most caring and compassionate people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. They made this most difficult time in our lives so much easier to deal with, thanks to their constant care and support. During staff meetings at Hospice when they discussed Mark, Brit and I and were totally amazed with their care regarding this case from day one. And they were so amazed and proud of Brit and her maturity, with the wedding and everything just days away.
Thank you in advance for considering this request.
Believe me, it is the very least I can do ... to help get the word out there about the fine people and services provided by Hospice. They performed last minute miracles to make Mark's final days as comfortable as possible ... even sending in a masseuse for the rest of the family to ease THEIR tension after many sleepless nights caring for his needs! Much of what Hospice achieves is through donations and today I would only ask you to think with your hearts and let these people know how much they have meant to the lives of so many who are no longer with us. Let's face it, we're ALL getting older ... and there may come a time when many of us need Hospice care. (Judging by several of the letters I received from our readers, many of you have already been through much of this same experience.) Please help us to let them know how much we appreciate and value their services. And if we can do it in Mark Kotal's name, he will have made his mark and had an impact on the lives of SO many others.
Sutter VNA and Hospice Foundation
A Sutter Health Affiliate
Community Based. Not For Profit.
700 South Claremont Street, Suite 220
San Mateo, CA 94402
In Memory Of: Mark Kotal
Finally ... about the dress story I shared with you a few weeks ago ...
For the benefit of any of you out there who may have missed it the first time around, here is what we sent out on August 14th, the day after my brother's passing. Sadly, he missed his daughter's wedding by only ten days:
His daughter has been working out and jogging and trying to get in tip-top shape for the wedding ... so much so that she actually dropped an entire dress size a couple of weeks before the big event! Fortunately, the dress maker had the identical dress in a smaller size so her dress didn't need to be altered. Yesterday, she and her mother were supposed to go in for their final fittings ... but Mark took a turn for the worse right around 4:00. His ex-wife called the dress shop to say that they'd never be able to make their 4:30 appointment as they couldn't leave him alone and, after explaining the situation, the dress maker said "Don't you worry about a thing ... just sit tight." She then hopped in her car and brought the dresses to their apartment! Both Mother and Daughter got to try on their wedding gowns right there ... so my brother Mark was able to see BOTH of them in the clothes that they'll be wearing at the wedding he already knew he was going to miss. The dress maker then snapped a couple of photos of Mom, Dad and Daughter ... in their dresses ... in what will remain the final pictures of his life.
I can't even tell this story without getting all choked up ... and I share it with you now only because you just NEVER seem to hear feel-good stories like this ... the news is filled with tales about all the bad in the world and all the heartbreak ... and as emotionally heartbreaking as telling this story may be, it really is a "feel good" story in the end that deserves to be told and repeated. Wanna make the whole world feel a little bit better tomorrow? Tell the dress story to YOUR friends and loved ones ... there couldn't be a happier ending to a sadder story.
We'll miss you, Mark ... I feel closer to you now, these past six months than I have in the past twenty years. Fortunately, we were able to say our goodbyes the day before ... and I will cherish our last conversation for the rest of my life. Thank you again to all of our readers for all your support and prayers ... I can never truly express how much they helped and how "cared about" they made me feel. (kk)
SO many of you were touched, as was I, by the compassion of the dress maker who ran Brittney's dress out to her apartment for her final fitting so that her father could see her in her wedding dress before he died. Amazingly, that window of opportunity was smaller than ANY of us realized at the time. After Brittney modeled the dress for her father and then crawled into bed to give him a kiss, only eleven hours passed before Mark left us. We want to take a moment again to single out Deanna at David's Bridal in Colma, California, the seamstress from the dress shop that had the compassion to perform such a thoughtful service. (Ironically, the same day that this happened there was a story on the news about ANOTHER Wedding Boutique that closed its doors, leaving 52 brides stranded without the wedding gowns that they had already bought and paid for. Incredibly, THAT story made the news service ... while a story that truly showed the sensitivity of heart went ignored.) We aim to change that today, too ... by thanking Deanna and David's Bridal Shop personally and asking our readers to please send THEM a note of thanks as well. You rarely hear "Feel Good" stories on the news anymore ... and these folks went above and beyond the call of duty to allow a dying father the opportunity to see his daughter in her wedding gown before passing. They easily could have said that they would simply reschedule Brittney's fitting for another time ... but instead Deanna jumped in her car and drove the dress out to the apartment so that her father could see her in the dress. Amazing ... and truly another angel here on earth.
Deanna can be reached at:
123 Colma Blvd.
280 Metro Center
Colma, CA 94014
From every one in my family, thank you all again for your prayers and well wishes ... we truly do appreciate it.
And to all of those who helped with my brother's care, right up to the end, we salute you ... you truly DO walk as Angels Among Us.
ONE FINAL NOTE: Just about a year ago ... before Mark had ANY idea as to what his health condition was ... when Brittney and Enrique first announced that they were getting married ... he called me to tell me about his daughter's upcoming event. Naturally, I congratulated him ... but, as brothers, I asked him how he felt about his first daughter getting married. He told me that, as a Dad, if he could have gone out and hand-picked the PERFECT man for his daughter to marry, he couldn't have picked ANYBODY better than Enrique ... that he knew that Enrique TRULY loved his daughter and would take good care of her and that he was proud to have him enter into our family. This union TRULY had his blessing. It's important for me to share that feeling since Mark didn't make it to the wedding himself ... and, although there was much said about him at the beginning of the ceremony and the reception, including a moment of silence observed in his memory, these are words that I know Mark would have spoken himself during his toast to the new bride and groom had he been able to be there. Some suggested that Mark WAS there in spirit ... and that he was able to observe the wedding through my eyes. Others felt confident that he had, in fact, the best seat in the house. Again, I thank ALL of you for your love and support.
THANK YOU: Since this tribute first appeared on our web pages, a number of you have made donations to Hospice and contacted Deana at the dress shop to thank her for her compassion. We sincerely appreciate this. Again, my hope is that, through Mark's name, we can continue to help and support these "Angels on Earth" so that THEY can continue to help and provide care for those loved ones who need it. Thank you again from the bottom on my heart.
Copyright Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits, 1998 - 2013 ... All rights reserved