Your Mipps-Sized Mark

Still ascending. That's what your boss told me, during our many conversations about you, Mark. He said that you were definitely still ascending. I like that, so I put it on the last photo you sent to us, of a paradise you saw in Maine on your last trip, just two days before you'd head to your heavenly paradise. Oh, how you loved to travel!

Dear Mipps,

Tears flow again as I try to put into words what we've been through since the morning of August 25th when I heard that you didn't wake up, so I'll start with the story about how you got your nickname. To the best of my recollection, it was when you were a little guy on the farm, following your big sister, me, around, watching me do my chores. As I recall, you did a LOT of watching; we always teased you that as the youngest you didn't really ever WORK on the farm. Anyway, you asked if you could help me feed the horses and you put you hand out hoping I'd set some pellets there for you. I cautioned you to keep your hand flat, because if you were to curl your fingers up, they might inadvertently nip you. You listened well and worked SO hard to hold your hand flat without dropping the goods onto the ground. I can still hear your giggle when Scooter came over and tickled your hands with her soft nuzzle. "She's giving me nippers," you called out courageously. Well, that makeshift word stuck. Nippers morphed into Mippers (perhaps because your name was Mark?), and eventually shortened to Mipps to fit better on your license plate, I think.

Anyway, at your funeral, the Pastor said that you've left a Mipps-sized hole in our hearts, little brother, and he wasn't wrong. I kind of like the thought of your name as a unit of measurement. I think you'd be surprised, proud, grateful and honored at how many people came to talk about the Mipps-sized impression that you made on their hearts and souls. How you changed their lives. How you made them better. We stood in line for five hours receiving hundreds of people and listening to all of the ways you left your Mipps-sized Mark on them and those in your orbit.

So what in the world are we going to do without you here? 
OK, first step, breathe. Yes, I hear you.
Next, cry it out. So cathartic. Check.
Finally, get to work feeding God's lambs.
I just know that's what you'd tell me to do.
And I'm on it, but first, some memories
from my time in WI saying goodbye.

You saved SO many treasures; here's a card
I wrote you last year after Kaitlyn's wedding.

Your nieces and nephews all served as pall bearers;
it was super painful to watch them carry you 
to your final resting place.

You truly were the BEST Uncle Mipps, and not just
to your biological family. I hugged some children
at your funeral for whom you were Uncle Mipps, too,
children I'd never met before in my life. Clearly,
you didn't need a blood connection to be family.

You were SO faithful about reflecting in journals;
here's a poignant piece with your thoughts on death.

I was glad to find this picture of us from 2012 in your stash;
it was always one of my faves, and I suspect yours, too.

We found your childhood stuffed animals in the basement; 
we gave your Velveteen Rabbit to Mom and your Teddy Bear to Dad.

The license plate on the Mercedes you worked so hard for is now going to hang in the Mark Natzke lounge at Clear Channel Outdoor. Your work family loved and appreciated you so SO much! They invited us to a Happy Hour on the Friday after your passing; we met for three hours and they shared such beautiful stories about you. Mike was impressed that on your six-hour drive touring the company's billboards, you stopped five times to let children and the elderly pass. Tom told me that you would never let anyone swear around you, and Steve came late to the party because he turned around and went back to see what the Plumber who arrived at the office wanted. He said he'd seen the billboard with your picture on it and wanted someone to know that he'd met you a week earlier and that he was looking forward to doing business with you. Hearts warmed!

We held an Open House so that your friends could come by and snag something that connected them to you; Fernando was SO happy to get your walking shoes. He loved your walk 'n talks. 

Linda cried when she found the Gator puppet that her son loved.

Andy looks slick in your cool seersucker jacket ... 

Tim chose this shirt, which he wore to your funeral ...

Beckett fit perfectly in your blue suede jacket ... 

 and your mini-me at work got your Roladex.

One of your work wives, Marie, came over every morning to check on me. On Wednesday, your work family all wore hats on their Zoom meeting in your honor and she looked precious in this one from your collection. I really miss my Mornings With Marie now that I'm back in Texas.

It was so healing to stay in your home and get to know
your friends better; Jill took me to lunch one day,
Mike Smith took me to dinner another. Mary Clare
checked in on me every day; Eric and Ellen from work
both came by. Your church family visited, Luna came by,
Sarah and Sarena both helped out a lot, as did Shawny. 
You were so well-loved!

Paul brought Mom down for some time in your place; she snuck 
a few of your pears, even though they're not quite ripe yet.

When we got home to Wayside, my kids and John helped Dad make
these crosses, one for your casket and one for all of the cousins.

We are trying SO hard to make sense of our grief,
participating in the process and staying 
connected, one cleansing tear at a time.

Your church family posted a beautiful memory;
Pastor Randy gave a passionate eulogy at your service.
There's SO much more that I could say, but I think you are starting to see
that you, my friend, left a Mipps-sized Mark wherever you went, and
that you're gone from here way too soon. That same huge heart
that held so many of our hearts gave out because of a blockage
in your left main artery and we're left wishing for just one more,
one more smile, 
one more hug, 
one more story,
one more laugh,
one more cheesy grin, 
one more sarcastic remark, 
one more phone call or text, 
one more chance to connect.

You were, indeed, still ascending,
and I'm so SO proud of you.
Yesterday, today and always.

But you were also exhausted, so I'm comforted
knowing that you are home and at peace.

Thank you for your shining example of what it means
to love everybody, always. Unapologetically.
Unconditionally. With your whole heart.

For now, you've passed the baton to us and 
I promise to do my level best to carry on your legacy.

I've been enjoying sharing some of the treasures you left behind,
tickets to the Packers, the GooGoo Dolls, and Andrea Bocelli,
books and CDs, your Christmas ornaments. 

And John got us tickets to For King And Country's Christmas concert; you told me last Christmas that theirs was your favorite new holiday CD. I've been cranking up their song AMEN in your memory.

I went to text this sunset shot to you last night,
until I remembered. Sigh.

I guess that will happen for awhile, that urge
to text or call you, to check in, to kibbitz a bit.

So I'm crying. A LOT. A whole lot. More than ever before.
This truly is the hardest burden I've ever had to bear.

This morning as we picked up sticks and debris
after Hurricane Nicholas blew through, I had a big,
ugly cry remembering how much you like sticks,
and how you'd love to come use our new chain saw
as we clean up nature's mess. The realization that
you're never coming to visit us again is crushing.

But I celebrate with you at your heavenly homecoming
and I'm certain that you're making your Mipps-sized Mark
on the others who've gone before us. Thank you, kid,
for all of the love and joy that you've given to all of us.
You truly crammed a century into your 53 years and
I treasured every moment being one of your thousands
of best friends; thank you for being a gift to me.

I miss you, sweet Mippers; 
rest well until I see you again.

All my love, Bird


  1. Thank you for sharing and honoring Mark. I waited until late this evening to read this because I knew I would not be able to hold back tears. Tears that continue to come. Through Mark I was lucky to meet you. You too are special. Thank you all for allowing me a glimpse into the Natzke family. Hugs and love - Jill

  2. Barbara, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost one of my older brothers in early August. This coming Friday we are having his celebration of life. He was a part of a very large music community. We will be celebrating him in laughter and song. He too left a giant hole in our lives. To lose our brothers is painful. May we all find peace in our memories of them. Thank you for sharing your memories of your brother with all of us. Sincerely, Mary-Jo

    1. Thank you, Mary-Jo, for sharing your burden so that we can hold your heart tight and remember you in our prayers. I am so sad to hear that you lost a brother in August as well. So sad for those of us left behind to mourn and grieve.

  3. I was curious about the nickname "Mipps" and your words were so descriptive that I can clearly imagine the two of you standing before the horse feeding it and hear his little giggle. The photos of his friends taking a memento with them (and how happy they look to have a piece of Mark) are really special. Sending peace and comfort to you.💗


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