Reflection: Inspiration in our backyard

Editor’s note: The writer teaches first grade at St. Matthew’s School in Champaign.

I will never forget the morning that Nicole handed me a note when dropping her son, Liam, off in my first grade classroom at St. Matthew’s School in Champaign. Nicole walked in my class with a small handwritten note. She had the look of dread, sadness, and shock on her face.
I asked her what was wrong and she told me Mark, her husband, was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. My heart sank. Two days later, Mark had brain surgery.

Our school and parish fell to our knees and prayed.

Mark not only survived brain surgery, but also joked about his scar since it looked like a backwards question mark on his right side. A smile never left his face. He embraced the challenge and knew many believers were praying for him. As time passed, we all watched him endure endless trials of chemotherapy and new medications. Mark and Nicole would pray before his chemotherapy treatments and leave their trust solely on God.

A few weeks later, Mark, a living miracle, sat across from me at his son’s parent conference. We did not talk about Liam, or his report card or his daily work. Mark and I spoke about the hope, the prayers, his “dark” moments, and how life is bigger than all of us. My eyes were heavy with sympathy as he entered my room. Within minutes that sympathy had turned to praise and admiration.

Mark knew his destiny but he was planning to do all the research to help him buy as much time as possible. Mark and Nicole have a son and a daughter and 20 years of marriage to live for.

I am certainly not writing to remind us of Mark’s death but to celebrate his spirit, which still continues to touch others.

Let me begin where it is important: the first symptoms of Mark’s brain tumor. As early as January 2005, Nicole Daly mentioned that Mark acted out of character with lots of anger, mean streaks, and crabbiness. Mark then began waking up with horrible headaches. He remarked, “I don’t know what is happening to me.”

Mark and Nicole saw a lot of doctors, but they did not have any answers. At this point, there had been no brain scan.

Finally, Mark could not bear the headaches anymore and drove himself to the doctor where the first MRI was done. It revealed a Glioblastoma Multiforme: brain cancer. His life had changed completely in a matter of minutes.

According to Barry, a family friend, — Mark never complained. He put his life in God’s hands and said, “Thy will be done.” Barry also mentioned this in his memorial. Mark’s relationship with the Lord was deep and it encompassed every breath.

A year and a half and many treatments later, Mark endured unimaginable pain, emotions and love. At this point, it is difficult to understand how one deals with pain without faith. Mark saw his journey as a wider path to Heaven. He got it. He understood the full meaning of life.

As the next few months passed, Mark attended daily Mass, prayed the morning offering with his family, built an altar for Mary and even put up holiday lights, just as he did every year. Mark knew his time was limited and all of us could see it in his eyes. His language was incomplete and often jumbled. He had incredible courage, dignity and devotion.

All of us try to live as if we were dying, but we lose ourselves. Mark got it. He knew what it meant. He knew it was about the hugs, smiles, kind gestures, compliments, saying “I love you,” laughing, dreaming, accepting the will of God, and knowing happiness.

As Mark began each day:

The Morning Offering:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them all for the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our Bishops and all members of the Apostleship of Prayer and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father.

This simple prayer was said by Mark Daly every morning even before his brain tumor took his life in February of 2007. No ordinary day in February, but the day after his wife turned 40 years old. Yes, Mark waited until after Nicole’s milestone birthday. His compassion and faith shined even until the last hours of his death. Nicole was by his side.

Several months later, as Nicole sat at an outside coffee shop, I asked her what she missed most about Mark and her response was having morning coffee with him. As a woman who underwent much pain, I also asked her what advice she would give to others and she responded, “Don’t take anything for granted and never ask what else can happen.”

Mark may be gone physically, but his inspiration still lives. Nicole even sometimes feels a warm hand on her shoulder that gives her much comfort. Much of Mark still lives inside each of us he touched, so here’s an Irish toast to you Mark!

Go maire sibh bhur saol nua.

“May you enjoy your new life.”

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