What follows is a written version of the eulogy delivered for my brother Mark at his service on November 12th..
I've included the music that was played before and after, and the piece below by Craig Cardiff is referenced in the eulogy itself. I've also included pictures of Mark throughout.
I'd offer here that for those looking to know Mark as we did and who are wishing to find their own completion, to carve out some time in a sacred space to take this all in. Listen to the music, read the words, sit with your own memories. Let him feel your love.
Eulogy for Mark Donald Leonard
I’d like to invite you to close your eyes.
Take a slow, deep breath in.
As you let it out, and as you take the next one in, feel the connection of your feet to the floor. Feel your seat in the chair.
As you continue to breathe, notice your breath as it first fills your belly. Notice the feeling as it then moves to fill your chest.
Notice what’s alive in your heart space right now. Whatever may be there or not there… is ok. Just feel yourself immersed, bathed in the present moment.
As you breathe, feeling your body in this space and its connection to the ground, call in Mark. Feel him in you, feel the taste of his essence in this moment, whatever it may be for you.
As you call him into the right now, feeling the flow of him in your body, remember a time he made you smile, or laugh, or feel loved. Remember a warm moment you had of him.
Feel what shining memory wants to stir in you, what wants to arise. Don’t worry at all about finding the right memory, or the best memory; just find a warm one and feel Mark in it.
Breathe in this personal, private moment you’re having with him right now. Bathe in it. Savor it with every inhale and exhale.
Mark Donald Leonard. We love you.
As you open your eyes and come back to the room, feel that love for Mark radiate in you, through you, and around you from everyone gathered in this room, and from everybody who knew him that’s still connected to us in the world outside these walls.
In the years we grew up together, my brother and I often saw ourselves as distinctly different from one another, if not total opposites. He had brown hair, I had blonde. He wore red, I wore blue. He was the builder and tinkerer, I was the reader and computer nerd.
As we grew into our teens and adult lives, this concrete red-and-blue, brown-and-blonde way of holding our brotherhood relaxed, and we began to understand what we really were: two halves of the same whole. So many times I found myself in a deeply respectful awe of how his qualities and capacities far outstripped my own in the areas he committed himself to, with that sentiment being mutually echoed from him to me.
I say this to make an important distinction. I’m not standing here today to speak about Mark, I’m here to speak to him. I’m here to give voice for that missing half lying peacefully here beside me, and to share perspective from the view of our whole we both made, a whole that’s been stitched and threaded together since his birth thirty-seven years ago last month.
An outsider looking in on Mark’s passing could, mistakenly, see his death simply. That outsider could see the facts of his death, draw conclusions, and leave it at that.
Let’s look at those facts, because they’re here in front of us, uncomfortably staring us in the face, and are the circumstances which have brought us here to mourn, grieve, and love today.
On the afternoon of November 8th, 2016, Mark Donald Leonard died. He died while in the care of a detox program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. He was being treated for an addiction to opiates, an addiction which spanned several years. His death was very likely the result of an unintentional drug overdose, specifically of hydromorphone and fentanyl injected intravenously.
These statements and facts of my brother’s death leave me feeling deeply uncomfortable. They rankle me, they make me defensive, they get my back up.
Drawing conclusions on little more than these… facts… offends me. They may be true, but they are very, very partial.
In Vancouver, Chela and I live not too far from one of Canada’s worst drug neighborhoods, the Downtown Eastside, a several block stretch centered around the intersection of Hastings and Main. It’s a neighborhood teeming with the bustle of addiction. It’s full of people who have nowhere left to go, whose whole lives centre around the business of finding the next fix, whether it’s running any number of sketchy scams, or sitting on the dirty street with a cardboard sign and a hand out asking for change. It’s a neighborhood of barred windows and dirty storefronts; of under-resourced shelters and clinics. It’s a neighborhood that provokes discomfort and fear for “normal people” to walk through, and if you stop to watch these normals passing through, they often scurry past quickly, rigidly, with blinders on.
In the Downtown Eastside, a physician named Gabor Maté worked as the resident doctor for a system of long-term shelter housing converted from old hotels. The housing offered by these shelter clinics was unique because they didn’t push any particular agenda, rather having the mission only to provide apartments and assistance to those who had hit rock bottom.
Dr. Maté worked in these shelters and walked the Hastings and Main area for years, becoming a familiar face with a curious spirit for the locals who called the street their home. He was adept at leaving judgement aside, and doing so allowed him to become fascinated by the stories of the souls whose lives were consumed by the chaotic, manic fire of addiction… in all it’s distorted shapes, sharp colors, and slippery forms; and all the associated mental health concerns that come with it.
Gabor Maté’s celebrated book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, advances a view of addiction that fully embraces and fully empathizes with the unique life history of the individual; applying compassionate curiosity to hold both the painful, brutal behaviors of addiction right alongside the life story of the soul’s essence and its always perfect aspiration for expression.
I would offer that the arc of Mark’s life should also be held and viewed in this way. The final cause of his passing is clear, we’ve got those facts. I would offer that by way of being compassionately curious, understanding the high sky of ideals that Mark’s essence or soul was reaching for – and how the story of circumstance and choice conspired against him – it is in this way that we see the whole scintillating beauty of Mark’s life, in color both morbid and beautiful, and do honor to his memory instead of offense.
My past days have been spent taking and sharing in as much of my brother as possible. So many pictures have made my heart smile and my chest sob. I’ve smelled his clothes, read his journals, retraced his footsteps from inside his loving home on Draper to our childhood home on Evelyn, making every stop along the way. I’ve heard stories told about him that were well worn and familiar, but so many others that have surfaced around his fianceé Jennie’s living room and through messages sent that have had us exclaim with an astounded smile: “I had no idea!”, and all with the same thread of how he was able just to drop into penetrating, unassuming, heart-first connection with those around him.
For as long as I knew him, Mark had a deeply sensitive essence that longed for a structure of love that he could be held in, for a hearth of warm security where he could stay safe from the dark. One of my earliest memories, and maybe my earliest memory of Mark comes almost thirty-five years ago.
During the period in which my parents were en route to their divorce, which later on opened some really nourishing partnerships for each of them, there would be nights where fights broke out between my parents downstairs after they’d put us to bed upstairs. It was on nights like these that Mark, almost silently, would crawl into my bed to sleep with me. I remember the lightly visceral reaction of those moments when he’d do this, and life had made it clear that this was my younger brother, that the contract had been inked for me to protect him.
Mark’s desire to have and to contribute to a loving environment is a thread which wove its way through his entire life. Whenever the structure of the environments he loved were upset, he became upset. My father and I both came to this simple, shocking realization at different times in Mark’s life.
For my dad, it was when he broke it off with his live-in girlfriend in our house on Evelyn Avenue, when Mark was in grade 1 or 2. I think that he thought a clean break was probably best, and she just moved out. When Mark came home one day and found out, he burst into tears, devastated.
For me, it was when I decided somewhat suddenly to move out of our home on Dovercourt when I was 19. After school one day, Mark ended up picking an epic, acrimonious fight with me over something that seemed trivial, and we wrestled until he was exhausted… he collapsed into tears, looked at me and said with a sobbing, naked innocence: “I don’t want you to go.”
As Mark grew older himself, I either helped him move into new apartments or houses, or was excitedly invited over shortly after he settled.
Almost everyone I know, in the first couple of years after moving away from home, went through a phase of posters and pictures taped to bare walls, makeshift furniture, and any number of trappings of cheap and temporary living. From his very first apartment, Mark insisted on framed and mounted pictures, and solid furniture, because anything less didn’t feel like a home.
Whenever he moved into a new place, he’d carefully organize and place his unique, semi-vintage, semi-eccentric, semi-antique collection of belongings “just so”, in a way that when you were in Mark’s space, you knew it was his; his home was truly a creative extension of himself.
I credit Mark’s unique sense of style to two influences. Our granny and grandad were an absolutely rock solid and massive influence on both our lives, providing us with a regular cadence of ground and stability during rocky times in early childhood. The stable love they provided was done in spaces that felt grounded in tradition, steeped in history, and quietly understated in quality; both in their Ottawa home and island cottage.
The second influence is my mother, who had a decorative flair of her own. She supported Mark unconditionally and unreservedly in every one of his creative expressions, from music to getting his first tattoo to owning a restaurant. She’d often supply him with many of her own pieces of furniture or artwork which were the base on which the atmosphere of Mark’s homes were built on.
As he grew older, Mark’s desire to contribute and bring family together became more pronounced. Of the two of us, he was the one who had the ability to naturally reach out and connect.
The challenges and struggles we faced in childhood, both at home and at school, pushed us inwards but in different ways. For me, I went in and up to my head; finding myself most at home in the cognitive-intellectual, and fearful of leaning into emotion, connection, and putting myself out there. For Mark, he went in and down to his heart, finding the superpower of his intelligence in the waters of the creative-emotional realm.
What this meant for those around him was that they’d always get something from him… whether it was a ping or a conversation or a desire to get together, he was always genuinely intrigued and admiring of those closest to him; and nothing was closer or meant more to him than family. When he was at his best or, for that matter, even just his most average, his reaching out was done in the same unassuming, understated-yet-elegant way he lived the rest of his life. Whether he made something for you, held a conversation with you, or just sent you a quick Facebook message or text; his happy desire to reach out and be felt was always there.
My step-siblings, particularly my step-sisters in Ottawa, got to reap the benefit of Mark in his fullness. I don’t know if it needs to be said, but he loved and admired all of you so much; and what I find the most beautiful about it as I reflect on it now, is that it was precisely your own unique qualities and ways that you were admired for. He knew who you were, what you were about, and threw himself into his admiration. Ben, Jake, Caitlin, Kelly, and Tiffany; I could write paragraphs about what he saw in you and how he loved you, even when through his demons, there were bridges he burned.
Mark had a marvelous ability to connect with children. His nieces and nephews, you need to know that he loved you. You were such joys in his life.
He met Phoenix, my soon-to-be stepson, two summers ago. Mark spent a few days with Phoenix, canoeing and playing with him up in Gananoque. When we were back again this summer, Phoenix was so excited he spent three days getting ready for Mark’s arrival; excited and wanting to build and show things to him. It was a superpower of his.
His family at large, you’ve heard the impact he had on his Aunt Janie and Uncle Michael’s lives, and the impact they had on them. His Uncle Paul and Aunt Pat who can’t be here today. And conversations around the dinner table and forays into the forest and so much more… so many ways in which he unfolded into family and shared himself.
And, never more than at Gananoque, his most treasured place and where his ashes will be spread.
With all this laid out, I’d offer this… that Mark’s core structure, that pure gem of light set in the center of him… if you listen to it, free of all other circumstances and just for what it was reaching for… its aspiration was to build and create things out of love for others and in alignment with himself that were in social, environmental, and spiritual harmony with the world.
For many of you, if you think back to the memories of Mark that you first found at the start of my words, you can trace this. There was an element of building or creation, an element of love that resonated with both him and you, and a desire to be in harmony with his surroundings, the people in it, and a little farther down, the ultimate spiritual aspirations he had for himself.
With these parts of Mark’s story told, and they’re only parts – I’ve had to play the role of curator here, assigned the difficult task of being representative but being keenly aware of just how much I’ve had to leave out – I’d like to shuttle the loom from the weave of Mark’s brightness back to tread lightly on his dark.
In his book, Gabor Maté includes the portraits of several of his clients and patients that he writes about. Most look weary from shouldering the load, some look beaten, some look hopeful. But they are all adults, and they are all living with their own life’s fingerprint of circumstance and choice.
A theme Dr. Maté returns to several times in honoring the life story and path of his clients and patients goes something like this.
When we come across children who suffer developmental traumas, whether those traumas are biological or psychological, as a society we generally have no problem rallying around those children. We give them aid, support, shelter, and protection. We see this as our moral duty to those kids.
Yet, when looking at the thirty-seven-year-old addict, the one whose addiction is a highly correlated product and behavioral expression of those very same childhood struggles and traumas, we don’t see that child in them. We often lose our compassion. We turn a blind eye, resources drop off, they’re sent to the street, and need to fend for themselves at the point in their life when they need help the most.
I’d offer here that this is what happened to my best friend and soulmate Mark.
I’ve spoken about Mark’s move into himself and down, and some of the superpowers of creative-emotional genius that unlocked for him. But it would be disingenuous for me to stand here and say that many of his years in childhood were easy ones. They weren’t.
Mark got hurt in many ways, and was often on the receiving end of just plain bad luck of the draw. He was subject and witness to some experiences that no child should have a part of, and I believe they scarred him in ways that he never found nourishing means to heal from.
Being built as he was with a desire for creative, loving, expression and reception, Mark found chemical surrogates that artificially created these experiences and sensations for him. The shadowy wolves of addiction padded quietly around the edges of his heart and psyche in early years, gnashing their teeth and becoming bolder as time went on and the fires in his being burned unchecked.
For those of us that saw him at his darkest, before the dawn of the last couple of years started to break, the mania that burned within him almost tore him to shreds as those wolves of addiction closed in.
Many of us in this room were affected. In the absence of any formal support structures that we could leverage, many of us gave everything we could to pick up the torch and do our best to keep those wolves at bay.
I’ll tell you what I loved, though. I abso-effin’-lutely loved seeing him start to come out of it.
Beginning with his apartment on Bronson and the regular, no-strings-attached resources to independently sort himself out, he began to feel it. He began to take responsibility; he began to source help for himself.
I began to have conversations with him that felt like I was talking to MARK, not some guy I was walking on eggshells around trying to manage or be worried about his reactions.
I loved seeing him with Jennie, in a relationship that I was increasingly learning was founded on love, affection, care, and respect… which was something he’d never had in a consistent way with in a romantic relationship before. I loved that he had animals around him to care for, and a house with a partner that he could stretch and unfold a real home into, meeting his innermost longing.
In September, Mark had decided he’d had enough. He didn’t draw a line in the sand, he carved it in rock. He’d finally found and began to own his “no”.
He had already been working through a methadone program to ease him off the addiction for some time, but he’d found the strength of will to try completely cut his addiction out of his life. The withdrawal symptoms he experienced in those weeks were so strong they put him in the emergency room, and that’s how he came to the detox program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week tracking my anger. I’ve kept a close ear on it, waiting to see if it would flare up towards Mark. It hasn’t. There hasn’t been a single wisp or trace of anger or even disappointment towards my brother for the last slip that cost him.
I think this is because I was intensely proud of him. I mean, I was always proud of him for so many of his abilities and capacities, but I was so proud of him for finding his “NO”. For taking up arms and bringing his full force to wage war against the wolves that were stalking him.
While I believe he was already on his way to finding it, I have to thank Jennie for helping him stand in it. And for giving him the most loving compassion, free of judgment, that allowed him to unfold and be open and honest in a way that I’d never seen him be before with a partner.
Those wolves were strong. One of them leapt as Mark was climbing with everything he had into the light.
It got him.
And Mark fell.
Before I close, I’d like to rest solidly on a piece that I’ve heard consistently in these days since Mark’s passing, both in myself and nearly everyone close to him I’ve heard speak. Whether it’s whispered or said aloud, I’ve heard many variations on this same question:
“Could I have done more?”
“Could I have done more to help him?”
You could have.
... but only if you were the person you are now after being put through the experience of his death.
Guilt and regret are natural, and I will certainly be carrying mine over my brother’s death for years to come. Mark was the two-year-old in the onesie that crawled into my bed at night looking for protection, and there are many ways in the years between then and now that I let him down and I didn’t come close to meeting my contract with him as an older brother. Even though he was on my mind and in my heart nearly every day, there were emails not replied to, and calls I didn’t make.
I know my parents as they look to the memorabilia and pictures in this room of their beautiful baby boy, my brother, and they feel… intensely… all the dreams and aspirations they had for him; that they wonder if they could have done more in both the recent and distant past.
And I know it spirals out; sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, fiancées… they all wonder, whether consciously or not: “could I have done more”.
For me, this is the message of the song God Said No which played as a reflection before I spoke. We like to think that if we went back to who we would’ve been at any of these times in the past, that we’d be stronger, better, more able. We’d take the gun out of Cobain’s hands; we’re use one to take out Hitler; we’d stop the crucifixion of the most compassionate being the world has ever seen.
But we wouldn’t. We wouldn’t know, we wouldn’t be the people that we are now having gained the compassionate wisdom that these events led to.
The same goes with the passing of Mark as we get ready to leave him in this form. I’ll be saying goodbye to him for the rest of my life.
But if I don’t become more attuned from the day of his death onward to the questions of “could I do more? Could I put in more effort? Who needs my help? Who should I reach out to?” Then I will be a universe away from honoring his memory in the way he deserves.
It’s been an honor to be in this room and to stand in this place, feeling the love from the memory of Mark. I can even now feel the cycle of life that exists from this peaceful body at the front of the room, and the hearing the soft cries of a baby being held in the back of the room.
As I pause in this moment and take in your faces, I want you to know that Mark loved you all.