Remembering Mark Buettner: a truly grace-filled walk to the wings
In My Father’s House / Paul Thomas Moore
I am reminded of Mark Buettner with every move I make.
Mark was a physical therapist at OSF HealthCare on North Glen Park Place in Peoria and a member with his wife Pamela and five children of St. Mark Parish in Peoria. He died on Nov. 20, 2023. In October of 2018, he had been diagnosed with what turned out to be pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor cancer. The prognosis was that, with treatment, he could hope for, pray for, five years or more.
Being a competitive guy, Mark passed that five-year checkpoint with a month to spare.
I interviewed Mark and Pamela for a Catholic Post story (“Cancer diagnosis takes couple on an even closer walk with God and each other,” Aug. 3, 2023). As it is when one is talking to a doctor, a lawyer, a plumber, or any professional about something in their lives, the temptation can creep in to talk about yourself.
So I mentioned to Mark about some back and knee issues I had been having. And I ended up as his patient.
A DAY FOR PRAYER WARRIORS
My wife and I attended his final — though we didn’t know that at the time — “Prayer Warriorfest” on Oct. 8 in Lower Bradley Park in Peoria. He and Pamela had invited everyone to come out for a day in the park and to enjoy “pizza, a hot dog, and a hug for all of the love, prayers, and support you have given me over these last 5 years.”
Mark was looking a little tired, it’s true, but the people coming up to talk, shake his hand and get one of those hugs was a steady stream. At one point, a lady waiting behind us in line asked if she could say a word to him before we had our “turn,” when, as per usual, he would be totally focused on us. “I’m his mother,” she explained, “I just want to make sure he gets something to eat.”
The day after the Bradley Park event, I had a physical therapy appointment with Mark at 7:30 a.m. He’d already had coffee with someone before me that morning. Mark was one of the most totally social people I’ve ever met.
He counseled me about healthy strategies for bending down and rising out of a chair or low car, and gave me a page illustrated with photos of him demonstrating some “countertop exercises” for use when standing by the kitchen sink. I often felt silly bringing my little aches and pains to him when he was carrying such a heavier load, but he didn’t see it that way. “It helps me to focus on other people’s problems,” he told me.
FUNDAMENTAL LIFE LESSONS
That’s one reason why he kept working (his wife and family of five children were of course another), sometimes coming in with only a few hours of sleep after a late-night/early-morning trip to the hospital emergency room.
Mark used his last five years to focus on practicing gratitude, extending forgiveness, and wasting no more time in the anteroom, but approaching the throne of Grace with deliberate steps.
When I left him on Oct. 8, Mark said our next session would be a reassessment of how my treatment had progressed thus far. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that my wife and I learned through his Facebook support blog, “The 300: Mark Buettner’s Prayer Warriors,” that his health had slipped a little further. Soon, instead of Mark being the one who usually posted to Facebook, it became Pamela. On Nov. 5, she reported he was “significantly weaker.” Two weeks later, he was gone.
But not before the way he lived his cancer journey illustrated a few life lessons, the kind you can only really appreciate when you realize how short life really is, whether you have five years left or 50.
As Mark’s brother, Father Matthew Buettner of Charlotte, N.C. related in his homily at the funeral Mass at St. Philomena Parish in Peoria on Nov. 25, Mark used his last five years to focus on practicing gratitude, extending forgiveness, and wasting no more time in the anteroom, but approaching the throne of Grace with deliberate steps. In other words, the fundamentals: getting good with God and man.
In the same way, Mark would put me through paces with gentle persistence if I forgot my fundamentals. “Butt back, chest up,” he’d say, “when you do your squats, takes the stress off the knees and onto the hips, which are better able to carry the weight.”
He ought to know — he carried the weight of his own cross so well.
To help provide stability for Mark’s family and allow Pamela to stay home and continue homeschooling the children, a fundraising site has been established at givesendgo.com/MarkBuettners300.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a staff writer with The Catholic Post. He and his wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.