|The Mark and Meg Sykes Family.|
His hair, when it grew back, had gone from a coal-shale black to silver white. Beautiful, luminous, post-chemo white hair. He earned every strand of it.
Mark Sykes joined the circle of love that is our neighborhood probably a dozen years ago, when his family filled a whole pew at church. He and his wife Meg were a fresh addition to our Zion tribe. They brought the flavor of the east, and South America, where they had lived. He and Meg had been married in the Washington DC temple, where Dave and I had been married. I have always felt a sweet connection with them over that. They brought a fabulous diversity to this white bread community of ours and we cherish them, all of them.
Mark was vice president and CFO for Grand America Hotels, the only 5 star hotel in Salt Lake City. He has had high powered positions in the hospitality field and fit the bill perfectly. But he never seemed to be much affected by the opinions of the crowd, though he certainly had appropriate respect for others. I remember singing at a wedding reception in our neighbor's back yard a few years back. It was a lovely late summer night, and the setting was spectacular. I recall looking over the crowd from my vantage point, on an upper terrace above the tents and gazebo where the wedding party stood. Among the typical crowd in standard wedding guest attire, there stood Mark, clean and crisp, his hair combed with a straight part on the side, wearing plaid Bermuda shorts and dark mid calf socks with dress shoes and a dress shirt and tie. It made me smile and almost forget the lyric to the song I was singing. He is his own kind of man and no one but he and his God need to define him. He was an iron man, a multi-marathon runner, and an adventurer extraordinaire. He pushed himself to the limits and beyond, on his feet, on a bike, in a boat, and in daily living. He climbed Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside of Asia, without oxygen, led his family through a 12 day trip in the wild of the Grand Canyon, forged the Amazon to the headwaters to scale Pico da Neblina, the highest mountain in Brazil, climbed the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Mt. Hood in Oregon. You get the picture.
But there is also a Mark who forced himself to be still. Stillness; purposeful stillness, takes much strength. He expressed to me, through the years, a few of the treasured times he had with his kids. He pulled me aside in church, on more than one occasion, to thank me for taking sincere interest in his children. Cassie is and will always be one of my treasured Young Women. I can still hear in my mind the voices of Porter and Bennion reverently and respectfully pronouncing the prayer on the Sacrament on Sunday mornings, or at the foot of my mother's bed when they came after church to offer holy bread and water to her when she became unable to attend church. Bowen, this very week, was interviewed on KSL as the Utah High School 1A Basketball MVP, talking about how his dad taught him to work hard at all times and in all things.
Mark and Meg's youngest son, Maxwell, sang in my little Heavenly Choir during my Christmas concerts. He has an angel face, and a beautiful voice. Mark told me how he cherished lying in bed beside Max when he was still small enough to want his dad to lie in bed next to him. They laid there and listened to my Sleepy Little Town CD, practicing the song the choir would sing with me, making sure he knew every word. Mark teared up when he told me this, knowing that there was a pretty good chance his boy would still be a boy when Heaven called his father home. And his instincts were right. Mark returned to his heavenly home last weekend. Today they laid his spent body in the ground.
It seems perfectly fitting for this man, who loved the earth and its beauties and challenges, to return to her on his own terms, with the trust that his Father's arms would catch him when he jumped.
Last Friday night Mark sat in the living room at his home, tired from the day. Tired from the fight. He had only the week before quit going to work every day. He and Meg talked off and on through the night. In the early morning hours he decided he wanted to go up to his room. Meg suggested he just sleep where he was. But this was the man who had scaled massive mountain peaks without oxygen. This was the Iron Man! Logic was not part of his thought pattern. And so he pushed himself up those stairs. At one point Meg suggested he lean on her and they took it together one step at a time. By the time they reached the top of the stairs his strength was spent. Meg put his arms around her neck and they took that last step to the top. It was there and then that cancer lifted its sword, wielding one last blow, and down he went, his arms around Meg, finally letting go. His spirit continued ascending from there. It is perfectly fitting that Mark Sykes died in motion.
There is deep sorrow, mingled with joy, here in this circle of our neighborhood. Because of the atonement of our Savior, we have a sense of general well being in the long term. Its the short term that worries us. But that Meg Sykes… she is one strong woman. And those kids? Those kids will be fine, even if they think they won't be. They have a sure foundation, and love still reigns. Porter, serving a mission in Spain, is in our prayers. All of them are. Their names are whispered from our collective lips:
Give them joy within the sorrow,
and comfort in their pain.
Comfort food is traditional food which often provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the consumer,and is often characterized by a high carbohydrate level and simple preparation.The nostalgic element most comfort food has may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture. (Wikipedia)
In our Mormon culture it is typical for the Ward (like a Parrish or Synagogue or other church community) to provide lunch for the family of the deceased and others who may have travelled for the funeral services. Often that traditional comfort food includes this….
2 lb shredded potatoes (32 oz frozen - thaw them… or 6 c. grated baked or par-boiled spuds)
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 c sour cream
1/2 c butter
1/3 c chopped green onions (optional)
1 c cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and saute 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft.
In a large bowl, combine hash browns, cheese, soup, sour cream, salt, pepper, and onion; mix well. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish.
Cover baking dish with foil and bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 10 to 15 additional minutes, or until golden brown and heated through.