“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled out the back door.
“Go back to bed!” he shouted back. “I’m just protecting my house and my family.”
In the middle of the night, I woke up to see my husband outside, in nothing but his underwear, walking the property with guns. I had three children to protect and care for, a boy age seven, and two girls, eight and seventeen, and I got scared. “He’s gone nuts!” I thought to myself. This wasn’t the sweet, normal husband I once knew.
I was aware of Mark’s progressive drinking problem—up to ten or twelve beers a day, but I didn’t know that he had also started to take speed and marijuana. Crushed and pressured under the stress to get his tire product business off the ground, the speed kept him working late hours into the night, and the marijuana helped him to finally pass out. Then after just four hours of sleep, he would get up to start the work day again, and at 11 a.m., pour himself a beer.
Clues of his drug use popped up when I started helping him with work. I had never before gone downstairs into his office, and when I did, I found guns and pornographic magazines. When confronted, he told me the pornographic magazines had been brought into the office by the guys who drove delivery trucks for the company—this turned out to be true, and the guns were there because he needed them, since somebody was trying to kill him—not true. Then one day, in a hidden corner, I found the drugs.
“Yes, they’re mine,” he confessed, and after a couple more days of his paranoid prowling, I told him that he needed to go to a doctor or to rehab. He told me he didn’t need to, that he could quit all on his own. For a few weeks, he seemed to have stopped, and then the drinking and surveillance pacing in his underwear began all over again.
I told him I was leaving him, and I did. One day, I packed up myself and our three kids and left to go live at my brother’s house. During my stay there, Mark must have called me twenty-five times a day to ask me to come home. We fought terribly, and I told him, “No, not until you get help and go to rehab.”
Paranoid and ready to fight, Mark instigated a domestic violence brawl with my brother, over who should be taking care of our children, and my husband ended up in jail. Caught behind those bars, he made the decision to go to rehab.
I truly don’t understand how you can love somebody one day and gradually fall out of love with that person, but I lost all the love I’d had for my husband. I felt disgusted with him and really wanted a divorce. He called and begged me to come and see him in rehab and to bring the children, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of being near him.
During my husband’s thirty-one days in a recovery home, he received a lot of help, and so did I. I had always had a strong devotion to Our Lady, so I never stopped praying the rosary, and I was seeing a female Catholic therapist. When it was time for my husband to check out of rehab, he begged me to let him come home, rather than go to a half-way house. Still feeling no love in my heart for him, much less a desire to live with him, I let him back into our home on sheer faith. I saw that he was trying.
My husband came back a different person. He was calm and filled with peace. Three to four times a week, he attended AA meetings, received the help of a sponsor, and switched from drinking beer to Dr. Pepper. Mark had always been thoughtful and helpful to me around the house, and now these traits were magnified. He was still walking the property, but now he was out early in the morning; and instead of a gun in his hands, he carried a Bible.
A few months after my husband returned home, my love for him tricked back into my heart, slowly, almost imperceptibly. Once a week, we went together to see his male Catholic therapist, and I went regularly to see my therapist. It took a year, but eventually our lives returned to some semblance of normalcy.
With my home life under more control, I began to immerse myself in Catholic women’s ministries, attending meetings and prayer groups at night. During one of these prayer groups, a lady came in and shared how she and her family had won a trip to Europe and had ended up going to this little town called Medjugorje, where the Blessed Mother was appearing.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I exclaimed. “You mean the Blessed Mother is appearing in this town?”
I had only known of Mary’s apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, and Lourdes, France. As I listened to this lady’s story and of how her rosary turned gold, I just couldn’t believe it. So excited, I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my husband about how the Virgin Mary was actually visiting earth in Medjugorje. “I have to go there. I have to go there!” I exclaimed spontaneously.
I couldn’t understand why no one had told me about this. This was 1990, and she had allegedly been appearing there since 1981. I rushed home and shared the news with Mark, because I always told my husband everything. And he said, “Well, how much does a trip like that cost?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, honey, we don’t have the money.”
“I know. But I have to go.”
“Okay. Well, you’re the pray-er in the family. Just pray.”
So I took the rosary I’d had for many years, held it in my hand, and said, “Blessed Mother, if you want me to go there, please give me a sign. Help me.” I went to sleep with my rosary in my hand and Medjugorje on my mind, and when I woke up in the morning, my rosary had turned gold.
I went to morning Mass, after taking my kids to school, and approached one of the priests there, whom I liked a lot: “If I form a group to go to Medjugorje, would you come along and lead it?”
He said, “Yes.” He had never been there, but had heard about it and wanted to go. Organization comes naturally to me, so I got a flyer out to all the churches in my area, and through the mouths of my friends, little by little, calls of interest came in. In February of 1991, myself, the priest, and twenty others were flying off to Medjugorje. Tucked in my bag were hundreds of prayer petitions I’d gathered, plus my own. I wanted Mary of Medjugorje to help my husband, a “CEO” Catholic, “Church Easter Only,” to develop a strong devotion to her and become active in the Catholic Church. I prayed three to four rosaries a day, if I could, but my husband never joined me.
During a wonderful week in Medjugorje, I was present in the apparition room, when the visionary, Vicka, saw the Blessed Mother; I witnessed the miracle of the sun, spinning in the sky; and I prayed for my husband. Never did I let him know about my special petition.
I came back home, and it all started to happen. Bit by bit, Mark started to change. He joined a jail ministry, then started preaching in the jails. Already an executive chef, he agreed to cook at any and every function in the church, when prompted. Then he and I started to cook a special once-a-month meal for a retired priest, then for other priests, then we befriended them all. Our friendships began to change to primarily Catholic couples, and over time, completely on his own, my husband developed a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
When ten years had passed since my trip to Medjugorje, my petition to Mary of Medjugorje was close to being fully realized. My husband was well on his way to becoming a true man of God. Only one last mountain to climb remained.
One mysterious night, as I lay wide awake, unable to sleep, I curled up under my husband’s outstretched arm. Mark was lying on his back, sound asleep, with both of his arms extended out straight from his sides, and he was bare-chested, with a beard and dark hair. As I lay there, I glanced up at his face. Then a moment later, I looked up at him again. What I saw shocked me. My husband’s face had literally turned into the face of Jesus on the cross. I looked away and started blinking, then turned my eyes to stare at him again and saw only him. I thought I was seeing things, or perhaps dreaming, so I tested this several times. But I wasn’t dreaming or delusional. I was very alert and awake, and had never hallucinated in my life. Looking away, and then back again, I saw my husband on the cross. Then I saw Jesus Christ on the cross. My husband—then Christ—then my husband.
I started to cry and sat up overwhelmed with tears. Shaking my husband to wake him up, I said, “Mark, Mark! You’re not going to believe what I just saw.”
I told him my vision of him, and he said, “Well, get me off that cross. I don’t want to be there!”
I said sadly, “I’m sorry. I can’t change that. I know what I saw.”
Soon after the vision, my husband gradually became weak. But we didn’t think anything of it for a couple of years. We just figured he was simply growing old. Little things were happening to him but nothing big enough to get him to the doctor. “I was out in the yard,” he’d say, “and you know I just was so clumsy. I fell.”
“C’mon, pick yourself up,” I’d joke.
In November of 2005, as I was making dinner, I called down to him in the family room, and when he answered me, his words were jumbled. I came downstairs and asked, “What did you say?”
”I don’t know. I was thinking of what I wanted to say, but this mumbo jumbo came out.”
“Are you feeling okay? Do you have a headache or anything?”
“I feel perfectly fine. I don’t know why that popped out.”
Once again, we let it go, because we didn’t have an answer for it. Then about a week later, the same thing happened again. He spoke in jumbled words. He wanted to say one thing, but out came gibberish.
I asked, “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I feel fine.”
“Are you on drugs?”
”No. I haven’t had any drugs in years.”
“Are you drinking again?”
“No, I haven’t had any drinks. No nothing.”
I didn’t believe him. The next day when he was at work, I went through the whole house, everywhere—the garage, the upstairs, the downstairs, looking for drug paraphernalia. I even checked his wallet to see if there were any unusual telephone numbers, perhaps drug dealers in there, but I couldn’t find anything.
Then it happened again. He opened his mouth, and out came gibberish.
This time I called the cardiologist. “Something is wrong with Mark. I think he’s had a stroke. His words are jumbled.”
“Bring him to me right now,” he said. The cardiologist found nothing wrong, so from him, we were referred to a neurologist. Meanwhile, Mark’s speech worsened. At different times, I could hardly understand what he was saying, and his body was growing rigid at a rapid rate. “I’m so stiff,” he’d say. “My legs are killing me.”
The neurologist did a bunch of tests and had Mark stand up and walk for him. Then in an icy, impersonal manner, the doctor said, “There’s a strong possibility this is Lou Gerrig’s disease. I’m really thinking that this is probably what it is.” His words were flippant, as if he were diagnosing a cold. There is no cure for Lou Gerrig’s disease.
My husband put his head down on a table in examining room, and I tried to console him, like a mother would console her child. “That’s probably not it. They’ll get something for it.”
Then the doctor said pointedly, “I’m going to have to report this to the DMV, and you’re not going to be able to drive.” My husband’s body stiffened. Bristling over the doctor’s words, bedside manner, and casual life-threatening diagnosis, he blew up in anger, “Well, what do you mean DMV?”
“You’re not going to be able to drive because of the condition of your body.”
“You’re not taking away my driving privileges. This is bullshit.”
Afraid that my husband would knock the doctor out, I told him, “Mark, you have to leave.” So he went outside.
Turning to the neurologist, I said, “I’m so sorry for my husband’s anger. I’m going to get a second opinion. I’ll be calling you to have the tests you ran sent over there.”
We went home, and my husband collapsed from sadness. But we still didn’t know for sure. Lou Gerrig’s disease, also called ALS, was just a strong possibility. My son and youngest daughter, now in their 20’s, and my eldest daughter, who now lived forty-five minutes away, got on the internet; and my son, who was in paramedic school at the time, started to pore over his medical books. The children and I were looking up everything that we could about the disease, without telling or showing Mark anything. As more was learned, my kids grew very, very upset, for when they read about the symptoms of ALS, they began to recall different things their father had experienced. “Oh mom, it can’t be,” they said, “But this is dad. This is dad.”
I didn’t want to believe what was happening, but always practical, I sprang into action. I got in touch with the Association for Lou Gerrig’s Disease, and they said the best place to go for a diagnosis was the Mayo clinic in Arizona. We went, and in three days, Mark must have seen ten different doctors and undergone every test possible. When all was done, and they called us in for the final analysis of it all, they said with compassion, “We’re very, very sorry, but you do have ALS, and it looks like you have a very fast progression of ALS.”
For years, every evening after dinner, around 7 p.m., I would say to my family, “I’m going to say a rosary. Is there anybody who wants to join me?” And my children and husband would say, “No.” After we received Mark’s confirmed diagnosis, my kids still said, “No,” but my husband looked up at me and said, “Yes.”
I felt scared, but never angry with God. I never lamented, “Why me? Poor me! Poor Mark! Poor family!” Never. When something difficult happens, I can be strong. I’m the first on who picks up the reins and looks for a solution. I turned our entire downstairs into a medical facility, with an adjustable bed, which I shared with him, for as long as I could. And when I couldn’t sleep with him any more, I bought a twin. If he got up or needed anything, I needed to be right there. He never slept through the night—ever. After tucking him in at night, I would go outside, have a glass of wine and cry, asking God help us get through this.
By this time in life, I had traveled to Medjugorje, Fatima, and Lourdes, as well as to a couple different Marian apparition sites in the United States, but I had never been to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, even though I’m Hispanic—three-fourths Mexican, to be exact, with my mother being pure Mexican and my father part German and Spanish. Aware of my husband’s devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, I said, “Let’s go to visit her shrine in Mexico and ask for a miracle.”
“Yes, let’s do that,” he responded.
In May of 2006, just a month after visiting the Mayo clinic, we traveled to Mexico with twelve people from our church, including two deacons and their wives, and my brother and his wife, in order to pray for Mark’s physical healing. Not only did our tour bus take us to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but to other churches in Mexico, old and beautiful. At some of the churches, the deacons would take Mark, saying, “You go on ahead with the girls,” and relieve me of my caretaking responsibility. I appreciated that because all I did was live and do for Mark’s disease. My husband was going to die, so my whole focus was trying not to cry in front of him, being strong for him.
On that trip, my husband walked into one of the churches ahead of me, and when I followed, I gasped to see a beautifully sacred and ornate atmosphere of murals and gold and statues of saints everywhere. When I walked over to the left side of the church, I looked down to see my husband lying prostrate on the floor, face down, sobbing like a baby.
Seeing my husband weeping caused me to cry, because I loved him. “Oh Mark!” I cried out, as the two deacons walked towards him and lifted him up.
Then Marked looked at me and said, “I’ve had a healing. I’m okay.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him. “A physical healing?”
“I’ve had a spiritual healing,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.” Then he began repeating, “Thy will be done. . . Thy will be done. . .”
In the days to follow, he said those words over and over again: “Thy will be done.” Mark said it so much, that my youngest daughter had a hidden tattoo put on her ribs, which said, “Thy will be done.” My son also had a tattoo painted on him six months later. It was “November 21, 2006,” the date that his dad died.
During his last six months on earth, Mark became childlike. He sometimes giggled like a little kid and had an innocent playfulness about him, despite his debilitating disease. My husband had always been silly, friendly, generous and giving, and these traits, though restrained, were also now magnified in the twinkle of his eyes. Toward the end, my husband’s spirit remained strong, even as all his strength left him. During his last four months, he no longer had the ability to inhale the medical marijuana, which had temporarily relieved his intense pain, nor could he swallow, since ALS attacks the muscles. He lay in bed, stiff as wood, and I couldn’t move him. Hospice came into our home and started bathing him, because I couldn’t do it any more. By then, my work at a school district allowed me to work from home, and my wonderful church and school communities were getting together to feed us every single night for those four months.
People also came by to hold my husband’s hand and cry, as he cried silently with them—people who thanked him for helping them get off of drugs, save their marriage, teach them to cook, lead them to God.
Mark wrote a letter to me, which he put it on the computer, and I did not find it until two months after he died. It was a love letter that he wanted me to read on Valentines Day, but I found it sooner. In it he told me all the things that a wife wants to hear—how important I was in his life, how beautiful I was, and how thankful he was to God for me. As tears welled in my eyes, I felt like the thankful one, thankful to have lived with and loved a true man of God.
By Christine Watkins, for Rosemary Geiger
Read more stories, such as this, in Watkins’ book, Full of Grace: Miraculous Stories of Healing and Conversion through Mary’s Intercession.
Rosemary Geiger is the founder of the Mystical Rose House of Prayer and Retreat in San Diego, California–truly one of the most beautiful and peaceful retreat houses in California. Each bedroom is graced with a mural of Mary–Our Lady of Medjugorje, Fatima, Lourdes, and Mystical Rose.