Many friends have asked for various pieces from Mark's beautiful Celebration of Life, so I am doing one last post. (probably? I mean. . . he's gone, [sigh] and I don't think my therapy here can go on forever before I've overstayed my welcome.) (Though at Mark's request and because so many others have encouraged me too, I am hoping to pull these posts together in book form.)
It took awhile for me to put together, because some things just make it all seem so final.
As this year wraps up and the new year comes to be, my plan is to continue to grieve and grow in the same way that Mark taught me through his illness. To acknowledge the pain, to express it, and let it go.
Mark gave us all so many great lessons and the strongest to me and how I think he'd want me to live is to keep my face towards the sunshine. To look for the good all around, and to focus on that. To love, and be loved. To treat people well, to hold hands, and laugh and play, and to remember that each day is a precious gift from God.
For all of you who journeyed through this with us in person, I can't thank you enough. For those of you who sent your prayers and love from afar, we felt it, and returned the energy. And continue to. We couldn't have done this alone - Mark, me, or our kids (who like most people their age aren't crazy about having their lives displayed so publicly. I'm grateful to them too for letting me share a glimpse of their journey here, as well.) Your support sustained us, and carry us still. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Following is a few-chapter post. Several days worth of reading!
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed pulling it all together one last time.
July 15, 1960-November 20, 2017
Celebrating a Life OF
Passion. Love. + Grace.
First Congregational Church
December 2, 2017
Rev. Nancy Taylor
Pastor, First Congregational Church
Elizabeth Korger, Piano
Emily Behnke, Vocalist
Randy Stini, Vocalist
Mark Salzer, Percussion
Lisa Cremer, Flute
Joanne Peterson, Organ
Katie Becker Curtin, Reader
Please join us in singing:
“Abba, Abba, I put my life in your hands.
Abba, Abba, I put my life in your hands.”
*Call to Celebration and Remembrance
Beloveds, we gather this day to celebrate
and give thanks for the life of Mark Herrmann–
husband, father, son, brother, friend, neighbor–
We stand in awe and gratitude for all the gifts of love, grace, and life that Mark shared with the world.
We gather with one another in the Spirit of love,
kindness, and generosity in which Mark lived his life.
We come to share our memories, our love, our grief, and our gratitude for the blessing Mark has been and always will be.
With laughter, tears, and full hearts, come, beloved people of God, let us celebrate Mark’s life and legacy.
The Blessing • Written by Laura Story, after almost losing her husband to a brain tumor in 2006, as a reminder that God remains faithful even when things don’t turn out the way we expect them to.
Sung by Emily Behnke, Family Friend
Readings Katie Becker Curtin
Philippians 4: 4-8
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God. And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts
and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things.
MICAH 6:8: This is what the Lord requires of you:
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.
Eulogy Rev. Nancy Taylor
Celebration of Life for Mark Herrmann
Words of Comfort and Hope
Fifty-seven years can seem like an eternity if you’re a child or if you’re waiting for something good to happen.
Fifty-seven years can seem like a long, long time – definitely more than enough time in a job or a career.
But along comes Mark Herrmann, whose life was rich beyond measure, and fifty-seven years seems like such a short time … far, far, far too short.
But, then again, think about Mark -- the husband, father, son, brother, friend, neighbor you knew – and ask if any length of time would ever have seemed long enough to have known and loved and be loved by him. Would seventy years? Eighty? Ninety? One hundred? No matter how long Mark had lived, his death was going to leave those who knew and loved him wanting more – more time, more adventure, more laughs, more love.
So I urge us all to befriend that wish, that longing, to have had more time with Mark in this life. Trust that your sadness and grief and sense of deep loss are testaments to the passion and joy, kindness and playfulness, grace and love with which Mark lived this life. Trust, too, that he is now asking us all to make sure we live our own lives with similar passion and joy and kindness and playfulness and grace and love … each and every day.
Mark and his wife Gretchen – Gigi – invited so many family and friends into the truly extraordinary last four months of Mark’s life. When Mark decided to forego treatment, he decided to focus, not on doctors and clinics and hospitals, but on family, friends, adventures, laughter, and being truly present in the moment. Thanks to Mark and Gretchen’s willingness to be open and vulnerable and thanks to Gretchen’s breathtaking gift with words, so many of us were able to be present with them in spirit and to be blessed by their journey into the mystery of life and love and death.
Mark, I trust that you can hear me, and Gretchen, I know that you can – I am confident that I speak for dozens and dozens of people – forget that – hundreds and hundreds, when I say: Thank you. Thank you for the gifts you have shared, and not only in the last four months – gifts of vulnerable courage, life-giving faith, painful honesty, and joyful love. You have shared the truth of your souls and have reminded us all what beauty and blessedness reside in our depths.
I understand from Gretchen that those of you gathered here today come with a great and glorious diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs. I consider that diversity a gift of God, and I also consider it clear proof that Mark Herrmann lived with an open heart and an open mind.
So please understand that I offer these words in a spirit of openness:
This life we know, in these bodies and on this earth, is real. It is precious; it is a gift of God’s love and grace; and its end is the end of something lovely and tender.
And yet, this lovely, precious, tender gift of God is not all there is. The gift of this life is only the first gift of a God of everlasting love and grace. Beneath and even in the midst of what we can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell, there is the reality of the sacred cosmos, the welcome of God’s love known by many different names across many different religious traditions. This is the sacred reality of which you and I have only been able to catch the slightest of glimpses, but it is the sacred reality in which Mark now dwells, forever.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, make sure you share your stories of your husband, father, son, brother, friend, co-worker, neighbor. Share his laughter, his sense of adventure, his love of family and friends, and all the ways he shaped and blessed your life. Never forget that Mark Herrmann was a man of integrity and kindness. Never forget that Mark was a man who trusted the path of faith and grace. Let your memories of Mark help guide you into becoming the person you were meant to be.
Those of you gathered here have a very important job to do now that Mark has left this life. It’s your job and your joy to search your own hearts, discover what it is about Mark and how he lived that are the most precious to you, and then discern how you can share those things with the world, in and through your lives. Through you and in you, Mark remains a presence here, in Oshkosh and beyond. He is here, even as God is now welcoming him into eternity.
Let us give thanks to God for all the ways in which love, a spirit of adventure, and care for others flowed through Mark into this world. And let us give thanks to Mark himself, who said, “Yes,” to God’s call into fullness of life and who lived with such exuberance and faith.
Mark, those who are gathered here and so many others who could not be here today, will miss you and treasure you, always. Rest in peace, Mark. Rest in peace. Amen.
Rev. Nancy Alma Taylor
First Congregational Church of Oshkosh, WI
December 2, 2017
Untitled Hymn • written by Chris Rice
Sung by Randy Stini, Family Friend
Rich Dupont, Brother-In-Law
My name is Rich DuPont. I am Mark’s brother-in-law. I’m married to Mark’s younger sister Karen. I’m honored and humbled to be speaking to you today.
This is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to say a Eulogy. When Gigi asked Karen if I would be part of the Eulogy, I looked at it as a 2nd chance. About a week or so before my last visit to Mark, on the 18th, I planned to write him a letter sharing my thoughts about his journey. Life got in the way and I didn’t do what I intended. Two days after our visit with Mark, he passed away peacefully, and he never heard my words. My hope is that he hears them today.
Mark has two wonderful parents, his father Bob and his mother Pearl. Pearl passed away roughly 2 years ago, at the age of 80. Mark has an older brother Dan, an older sister Marianne, and a younger sister Karen, my wife for 33 years. I’ve known Mark for a little over 40 years. Mark was a really good athlete in High School. He excelled in track, primarily running the 440 and the 880. Mark was also a very good wrestler. I have fond memories of Karen draining the blood from my arm as she squeezed me as if she was the one on the wrestling mat, while she feverishly cheered for her brother. Mark also played football in high school, and then at the University of Oshkosh. It is amazing to me, how a high school running back turned into a college nose guard.
Mark was always high energy, and yet extremely calming when you talked with him. He had a way of making you seem important in the moment. Mark was a pistol as well. You never knew what he was going to say. I’m not sure he did until the words came out of his mouth.
Mark’s mom, Pearl, was an amazing cook. Thanksgiving at the Herrmann house was something to behold, an abundance of different food items - 4 pies for 16 people. One year Mark came over to me and said “Look at all this food; we’re going to eat like Vikings today”. As my children know, that has now become a favorite saying of mine at family get-togethers. When were with Mark at a family gathering in September and taking pictures with him, he looks over at me and says “I feel like Joe Namath in a Noxema commercial”. For those of you under 30, you’ll have to Google the man and the product. First of all, who says something like that, and secondly who could even think of something like that. Those crazy, yet appropriate, statements were Mark’s trademark.
Karen, and my children Nick and Lauren, moved around the country quite a bit, so we usually only got home to Wisconsin for Christmas and maybe one other trip depending on the event. About 10 years ago, Mark was the impetus for me being invited to “the Ricco cousin’s golf outing”. Some of you might have seen Gigi’s posting of the Paisano’s visit with Mark in August. For the outing we were all supposed to bring something to share, either food or adult beverages. Since we build a fire each evening, Mark naturally brings the ingredients to make Smores. Of course they were the hit of the week. One of the traditions for the outing is that everyone gets tagged with a nickname that starts with the letter S. Mark was affectionately known from then on as Smores Boy. Mark had a natural ability to bring people together and make them happier.
Mark came to Nashville in March to visit Karen and me, and to connect with a few potential customers. He stayed with us for the week. It was a really great visit. Without a doubt the best house guest we’ve ever had. He was so amenable to do whatever Karen planned for him, or for the three of us.
From the moment we heard of Mark’s diagnosis, we were in shock. How could the same person who came to visit us in Nashville in March, now only have a few months to live?
A death sentence; a term we generally associate with crimes. This was the harsh term that Mark, Gigi, Mitchell and Izaak were faced with when they received the original diagnosis that Mark’s cancer was terminal. They were faced with two horrible choices. Go through chemotherapy treatments with a 12 month life expectancy or don’t do chemo and pray for 3 months. I told Mark and Gigi when I saw them in September, how amazing it was that the four of them chose the latter. It was a true testament to their relationship, to how they parented, that all four of them could support what had to be an extremely painful decision. What an incredibly brave and faithful decision. As Gigi’s nephew Casey said during our last visit, “that’s some Braveheart shit”. A lot of families can’t agree on a non-life threatening medical decision and yet these four individuals put their faith in Mark’s decision. Mark and Gigi were convicted to their faith, that there must be a reason beyond their comprehension for this to be happening. One only needs to read one of Gigi’s Caring Bridge postings to sense the serenity she felt in dealing with the journey.
In all the times that I talked, and face-timed, with them since his diagnosis, I never once heard Mark or Gigi ask why me, why us? That is exactly the quality that endeared Mark to us all. There is a verse in the Bible that says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Mark took his own personal mantra to an even higher level than this verse. He did unto others, trying to solve what he heard they needed. Mark was a great listener and encourager. He didn’t impose his needs on others. Rather he sought to solve their needs as best he could. I’d like to read an excerpt of a posting that Mark put on Caring Bridge, that embodied how he wanted to be remembered.
“The news at first was devastating for me and for my family and all those I love so very much. I can honestly tell you that from the bottom of my heart your prayers and support are helping me live on in such a glorious way. I have no idea how much more time I have on this beautiful green earth, but it will be enjoyed every single day.
The decision to not do chemo or radiation was a relatively easy one for me and my immediate family. They have been gracious and behind my decisions 100% along the way. My purpose in life was not to always grab what I was due. My purpose was to reach out to someone, anyone, and make it a better day for that individual. I have always liked people and making a personal connection meant even more. I find in life if you get people everything they want you will be paid back in return ten-fold.
I feel that I succeeded in that cause.
Treat people well. Take care of them. Nurture them.
When my time is up on this earth, yes, I would love to be remembered as someone that made a little difference in someone’s day”.
I asked Mark if I could read his note to our entire company at a Town Hall Meeting. My motivation was to inspire them because Mark had inspired me. Here you have a man who’s been dealt a devastating hand, and what’s he’s worried about, is did he help enough people?
Advice from a challenged individual:
Reach out to someone, anyone, and make it a better day for that individual.
Treat people well. Take care of them. Nurture them.
No Whining. No saying, why me? No pointing fingers at others.
My ask of each of you:
Put your teammates, and your customers, ahead of you, and see what happens.
During a rare lapse in mood, Mark felt he needed different personal care than what he was receiving. He told Gigi that he needed to get out of the house. When she said that wasn’t an option he said he wanted to see Mitchell. When Mitchell supplied the same answer as Gigi, Mark asked them to contact Henry. When Henry gave Mark the same answer Mark said he wanted to talk to Izaak. Izaak talked to him on the phone and Mark said “come and get me”. Izaak was able to calm him down, but Mark said to Gigi, “You need to call the Professionals”. Gigi told Mark that she was a professional designer and that Mitchell was a professional in the healthcare industry. Sometimes the fake logic calmed Mark down. Gigi and Mitchell ultimately had to take him outside and he was calling out to neighbors for help. We all understand it was just the frustration and confusion of the day that caused Mark to say what he did. He knew in his heart that he was getting the best care possible. I can confirm that no one in the medical field could’ve provided “Professional” care better than Gigi, Henry, Mitchell and Izaak.
Mitchell and Izaak – You are both very strong individuals and your dad was extremely proud of both of you. Mitch you had a wonderful opportunity to help your mom and dad out on a daily basis for the last 6 weeks, what a blessing. Izaak, I know you were there as much as possible as well. I can’t imagine how hard it was for you to focus on school and exams with the gravity of losing your dad always on your mind. You were both in the places you needed to be.
My father passed away when I was 32 years old, 25 years ago this past Thursday. Neither of my children ever got to know my dad. But they know him through my memories and all the quotes that I say that came from him. You both have the same opportunity to keep your dad’s memory alive.
Gigi, I have truly enjoyed talking and getting to know you better over the past 5 months. You’ve help reinforce in me the needed balance in life, that we sometimes take for granted. It was my honor to watch you care for Mark, and be able to see the joy and appreciation in his eyes when you did so.
“Find Strength in the Struggle”. My wife Karen is a spin instructor, and this is her favorite inspirational phrase when the going gets tough in her class. Ever since Mark’s diagnosis, to the moment of his last breath, I couldn’t help but think how all of us have tried to provide strength in the struggle for Mark, Gigi, Mitchell and Izaak. The last 4 months have been heartbreaking, and yet more often heartwarming. The reality is that the experiences you shared with us, about your family, have helped give each of us strength and clarity in the struggle of our daily lives. We thank you for inviting us in.
I’m in a Friday morning men’s group, and one of the books we read talks about being a Vessel of Light. The premise being that each day we wake with a full beaker of light. During our day we can either choose to make someone’s day better or worse. We can drain the light from their vessel or we can help to fill it back up, especially if they’re having a bad day. Mark was a continuous source of light for me and many others. Like Gigi said in her post upon Mark’s passing, “Heaven just got a little brighter, a lot happier, and even more beautiful than we can imagine”.
I told my son Nick this past week that Mark is probably the nicest person I’ve ever personally known. I tested my memory and couldn’t think of one time that we ever argued. We were cut from the same cloth. We always made each other laugh, and we felt better having spent time together………I miss my brother.
Dr. Paul Boeder, Family Friend
Hello everyone. I’m Paul, and a friend of Mark’s.
If it’s ok with everybody, I’m going to say a few things, but say them to Mark. Because for me, he’s not gone, nor do I think he ever will be.
We’re here today to bring together thoughts of you, dear friend. We’re here to share our stories, share our memories, share ourselves, to honor you, Buddy, and to let your family know that while we share in their loss of not having you to see walking this Earth, or to slap you on the back or hug you, we share in their grief, but share in their joy of having our lives touched by your spirit.
I got to know you and Gretchen as parents to Izaak, who played basketball with my son, Andrew way back in the 3rd grade, and they’re grown men, now. It was a busy time in our lives, running around to practices and tournaments. It didn’t take long to learn you and Gretchen were unusually kind, caring, purposeful, and sincere. Soon we were sharing high school, Titan or Badger games, and parties, where, for Halloween, Gigi shows up as a cussing old lady, and you, naturally accompanied her as a mute six-foot Chiquita banana. You sat on my Madison porch between sales calls, Mark. We exchanged texts during our workdays, ran in Crazy Legs, talked and texted work, family, politics, sports, and walked through life together.
You’re the kind of guy you spend a day with at a Badger game, and you’re still piecing the events together with you, as my thoughts drift in, well into the next week. You are the undeniable Master of the rapid friendship. Walking around with you, around other people is like watching a guy become friends with 50 strangers in the span of one hour – I mean you becoming close friends. It’s not speed dating, you’re a “speed-friender”. You have a gift, Man. But as gifts go, you were ours.
It is said it is the dying who have the most to teach us about life. And as your candle in this world burned down, with your grace and bravery, you’ve taught me a lesson I’m just beginning to understand.
My time up here is done, Mark, but I’ll finish by letting you know I’m looking forward to seeing you again, dear friend, but ‘til then, I’ll raise my glass to you and see you in your family’s eyes.
Gretchen Herrmann, Wife • Read by Kay Sanders
What’s up Best friend?
I love you all the time. You are always on my mind and I consider that excellent news. Hope you do also!!
We both love each other very, very much. Just want what’s best for the two of us, and that’s each other.
P.S. Have an excellent weekend. You will be on my mind as always.
Ohhh.......how I miss you.
How do I begin to explain to our family and friends what our life together meant, and the man you were to me and to our boys?
They’re not boys anymore. They’re young men. Strong, confident, caring, young men.
What a grand and glorious job you did with them over the years. I’m so glad you were able to stay here long enough to see them at this stage. To know that they will be okay. And, that you had done all you could over the years to mold them in to the wonderful human beings that they are.
All of those years at karate tournaments, football, basketball and baseball games, wrestling meets, soccer matches – and concerts!
That was an added bonus for me! I married a handsome young jock who loved the theatre ...
I know you loved your Pink Floyd at County Stadium when you were young but you know what? One of the reasons I married you is because you loved jazz...
And beautiful, sweet music.
Earlier tonight I heard your favorite song: “Song From a Secret Garden” – and I cried.
Remember when you used to yell from the basement when it came on: “TURN IT UP!”
I don’t know if I’ll ever hear it again and not think about your final moments.
Before you took your last breath.
When the song randomly came on as we held you - assuring you that you were not alone.
Now...we need to remind ourselves.
We’re not alone.
But my office here.
It’s so quiet.
So many years you worked from home with me, you one floor below me,
listening to NPR through the floor. Listening to some jazz, or some sweet music.
How lucky were we?!
We got to do field trips – and went to the kids’ games.
We got out for a lunchtime walk every chance we could.
How blessed our boys were to see a dad who not only worked hard,
but who also loved what he was doing.
You were always such a good example to them.
Honest. Faithful. Loving.
You never placed the emphasis on the reward. You taught our kids that it’s not about the size of your house, it’s about the size of your heart and the depth of your character. That hard work pays off in dividends that last much longer than anything money can buy.
Our sons experienced the depth of that character this past four months. Our house was a
revolving door with visitors from near and far. People you’d known since childhood -
and people you’d met more recently. Family - and friends - co-workers and neighbors.
The community showed up for you, my love, because you had always made time for them.
I have to admit. I was guilty of rolling my eyes when you’d stop and talk to complete strangers in a parking lot - and the kids got good at tugging at your arm when you’d ask someone about the score of a ballgame or some other random question that you snatched from thin air.
But you had a gift.
You knew how to make people feel good. You knew how to make people laugh. You engaged easily in lively conversation, and you listened with a good heart. You remembered what people told you. You remembered how their kids were doing and where they last went on vacation. The little things that make someone feel loved and attended to and cared for - you graced us all with that character so naturally. You oozed authenticity - and it was easy to take for granted.
Until it wasn’t.
Until the day we visited the doctor and you asked him “What are you saying doctor?”
“Are we at the edge of the woods? Are we IN the woods?” ... and he answered
“Mark. You are DEEP in the woods.”
At such a satisfying point in life - when our kids were raised and you knew they’d be okay...
When you were in great physical shape from the challenges of running long distance
and punching and kicking with the ladies in kickboxing...
When you’d proven yourself professionally
and had settled deeply into being the best you that you could be...
You learned that your life would end.
WE learned that your life would end.
OUR KIDS learned that your life would end.
Our families and friends- co-workers, neighbors and community...like us...were shocked.
But Sweet Love - what you did next will be your greatest legacy.
In your final months of your life, you showed us what LIFE - is all about.
You, my warrior, chose the bravest path. The hardest fight.
You chose to live your life on your terms,
and you gave cancer absolutely zero power over you.
You let your faith guide you and you never wavered in that. You chose to dance with the Lord and to live life out – never afraid of dying – with confident assurance that everlasting life would be yours, as you had built your life on a solid foundation. You witnessed to all who would see –
your love of God, of Jesus and of the sacred mystery of the Holy Spirit.
And in doing so, you taught us all about living each moment to the fullest.
You reminded us to hold hands...and to forgive. To look for the best in others.
To treat people the way we want to be treated.
To love everyone. EVERYone!!
You showed us gracefully how to look for the beauty all around and to acknowledge it readily.
You sweetly displayed your gratitude, and I’ll forever hear your “Yes, please,” and “Thank you” with the warmest heart and will try to share that forward.
You reminded us that “hugging it out” can make rough patches better.
You illustrated the power of living in the moment.
You demonstrated how to live - and die - with dignity and grace.
And you modeled the most solid faith I’ve ever seen.
Thank God, by your example, my sweet love -
you taught me how to live through this next chapter.
But it ain’t easy.
I know I’m not alone. Others are hurting too.
But if we all remember to let the sadness go and to look for the good all around, we’ll find it.
When you fell to the floor and could not walk again –
you looked for solutions and made the best of it.
We slept on the floor, cuddling together until morning.
Over and over, every step along the way, you bravely faced adversity that way.
You looked it in the face, acknowledged it, and bid it good bye.
“Let go and let God,” you said.
And you did. So you won.
“I’m the luckiest man alive,” you said. And you were.
You loved, and were loved. In your heart that mattered most.
Thank you my friend. My BEST friend. Forever.
For giving us the sweetest gift. A vision of how to live.
We love you all the time, Scrappy.
You are always on our minds and we consider that excellent news.
Hope you do also!!
Until we meet again...
SOOOAR, my darlin’.
Have fun dancing with the angels.
xo grinch, Mitch and Izaak
*Lord’s Prayer • Please join hands with the friends next to you
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
What a Wonderful World • written by
Bob Thiele and George Weiss
Sung by Emily Behnke, Family Friend
Toccata (from Symphony No. 5)
Composed by C.M. Widor
Joanne Peterson, Organist
Many, many, many thanks to special friends who helped pull this Celebration of Mark's Life together at a time we couldn't do much more than breathe. Stan and Cathy Kline set the environment in the church up, and Jody and Ron Harrell handled the details of the reception held afterwards. Much love and thanks to them and to all who pitched in to help.
(CaringBridge wouldn't let me post all three videos I wanted to share. They don't have any visual but share some of the beautiful music that we experienced that night. You can maybe copy and paste the URL below to hear "What a Wonderful World" sung by Emily and accompanied by Elizabeth, and the amazing "Toccata" by CM Widor, played masterfully on organ by Joanne Peterson. Randy did a wonderful job singing Chris Rice's "Untitled Hymn" but we didn't get a recording of that. Emily also sang "The Blessing" and you can find both of those songs online if you're interested, by the original artists. Thanks to Lisa and Mark for filling in your sweet ribbon of music to complete it all.)