This is a post I didn’t want to write…

My brother Mark, my brother just older than me in my family, passed away today.  He was 35.  That’s way too young.

He had been sick for a long time.  In fact, I’m not sure when his health started declining, but I don’t think he was the same healthy Mark since his mission to Mexico (1994-1996).  At least by the time I returned from my mission to Costa Rica (1996-1998) he was often not feeling well.  Details are sparse on my end, but from what I’ve been able to gather, his health deteriorated quite a bit over the last 4 years.  Countless surgeries, doctor visits, and treatments didn’t seem to make a difference.  Whatever was causing his ill health was never really clear.  But the affect on Mark’s body was apparent.  Lucky for the rest of us, the affect on his spirit was less noticeable…

The Mark of my childhood was vibrant, stunningly athletic, and quirky.  Mark was probably the most naturally gifted athlete I’ve ever personally known.  Without effort he could out pace nearly any competitor.  We played on the same soccer team a few times and whenever Mark was on the field, it was always in the same position and under the same pretense.  He was a lightening fast center forward who would leave the defense standing still.  All we had to do was kick the ball over the defense’s head and leave the rest to Mark’s tenacity and speed.  It was a recipe that worked more often than it didn’t.

Mark at Hind's after a soccer game; 1992

Despite not being very big, Mark was fearless and highly competitive.  I watched him tie Mitch Johnson, who must have weighed close to 50 pounds more than Mark, up in knots, laughing the entire time.  His competitive nature reminds me of another story.  I’m competitive, but I also know when to give up.  Mark never would.  We learned to water ski around the same time at Lake Powell.  I don’t remember what year, exactly, but it was in the late 1980s.  I believe Mark got up on two skis before I did, but I picked it up pretty quickly after he did.  The next summer at Lake Powell we started dropping one ski so we could slalom, then learned to start on one ski.  I picked up the technique before Mark did.  To Mark, that was unacceptable.  He was the older brother (and the much better athlete).  He tried and tried, for hours.  I still remember sitting in the “Jeanne Mae” in the channel as the sun was beginning to set while Mark attempted to slalom.  He eventually got up, but how he had any energy left by that time is beyond me.  He wouldn’t quit, especially when the odds were against him.

Every sport and every team at Morgan High School wanted Mark because of his athletic ability.  He competed at the state level in wrestling and track and was very successful, but rarely practiced.  I vaguely recall one story he told me of a race he ran at state track.  He somehow mixed up the times he was supposed to run and ended up leaving the track to get something to eat, returning just before his heat.  When he returned, someone told him he was running next.  Without warming up he ran and took second.  I’m not sure why Mark didn’t capitalize on his natural talent, but it may have been his free spirit.  In one conversation with him after he told his wrestling coach (who eventually became his father-in-law) that he no longer wanted to be on the wrestling team he told me that he just didn’t like people telling him what to do.

Perhaps him being a free spirit is what led to his quirky behavior.  There are a lot of people from Morgan (and other parts of the state of Utah, and perhaps even beyond) who are probably still traumatized from having Mark blow in their nose (if you’ve never experienced it, be glad).  I’m not sure where that particular activity originated, but there were many victims.

I'm not sure who the victim was in this photo, but I know it was from the state FBLA competition in SLC in 1992

I’m not sure whether it says more about me or more about Mark, but I can honestly say I never really understood him.  He was a remarkable conversationalist and could put people at ease nearly instantaneously.  But he was also withdrawn and loved to make people feel uncomfortable as well.  Perhaps this split personality is related to his position as the middle child (5 of 9).  He caught the tail end of the activities the older children in our family experienced (hunting with my Dad, snowmobiling, etc.) but was also often forced to do things with the younger bunch (e.g., visiting the Christmas decorations in Ogden – not on snowmobiles).

Katie, Mark, Wendy, and Josh at the Ogden Christmas decorations

I’m sure Mark would have rather hung out with the four oldest rather than the four youngest, but he was a good sport about it.  Unfortunately, I think him falling right in the middle made it awkward for him to spend time with either group.  He wasn’t as geeky as the four youngest (though, like almost all of my siblings, he had a passion for reading and was a voracious reader), but he also didn’t seem to share the interests of the four oldest.

Being the closest in age to Mark, he and I didn’t always get along.  Some of it was competition between siblings, no doubt.  But some of it was probably just Mark doing his best to put up with me, which is no easy task.  We had our fights, some ending in blows.  But most of that was worked out by the time I reached high school.  By my freshman year, everyone called me “little Cragun,” even though I was taller and heavier than Mark by my sophomore year (he could still take me and I knew that, so I didn’t egg him on).  I never feared hazing – Mark would have killed anyone who tried, and everyone knew it.  He took me under his wing at times and, while not all of his advice he offered is appropriate for this blog, I can say that it is some of the best advice I ever received.

I have a number of fun, random memories of Mark.  There was the time we almost burned the neighbor’s house down by lighting their doghouse on fire… it happened to be under the neighbor’s deck when we lit it up.  There was also the time Mark piled about 9 of us into my Dad’s Honda Accord and drove us to Park City.  I don’t remember why we were going to Park City, but I remember riding in the trunk with Tom Triplett the whole way there.  There was the jump along a dirt road Mark showed me near John Carter’s house that became a frequent lunch time activity in our shared Isuzu pickup (I still don’t think my Dad knows that’s how the windshield kept getting cracked).

There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll end with my last good memory of my older brother.  We went to Utah to visit family in 2008 and timed it just right so we could go to Lake Powell with my family as well.  Mark wasn’t at Lake Powell the whole time, and by this time he was already quite ill and had already had a number of surgeries.  As was typically the case, all of our nieces and nephews were ecstatic when he arrived as he was always considered the favorite uncle.  As an avid hiker myself, I scaled a number of the hills around where our boat was anchored, but in the short time he was there, Mark scampered up the mountain like a goat and found a number of cool geographic features I had not found.  He organized a hike up the mountain that led to a narrow chute canyon that ended about 40 feet above the water line.

Mark shepherding all of us down the chute canyon

He was fond of activities like this, that pushed boundaries and made people uncomfortable.  I guess he and I have that in common, though I tend to prefer to do it cognitively, while he preferred to do it physically.  He insisted that everyone who worked their way down the chute canyon couldn’t turn back – they had to jump.  And with Mark’s help, jump they did.

everyone who jumped, with Mark's coaxing

While I’m not much of a believer in the idea that helping people overcome physical hurdles can help them overcome mental hurdles, I do think there is some satisfaction that is derived from such activities.  It can bolster self-esteem.  And it may even inspire.

If Mark was anything, he was inspiration for a lot of people.  His tactics may have been unorthodox, but his intentions were always sincere.

Mark Cragun, Lake Powell, August 2008

Goodbye, big brother.  You are already missed!

(Note: Feel free to share your memories of Mark in the comments.  I’ll make sure Hillari gets them.)

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11 Replies to “Mark Earl Cragun – 10/15/1974-09/11/2010”

  1. That’s funny about you being called the little cragun. I remember Mark and Trev used to carpool with my mom or dad to driver’s ed at good ole Morgan High and my dad would always call Mark “the little cragun boy.” I always remember Mark’s laugh. I hadn’t really seen or talked to him in quite a long time, but I will never forget that laugh. It came very naturally for him to crack up laughing, which seemed to run in the family. During the years that Mark and Trev were in high school and they’d hang out a lot, I remember how much he just exuded cheerfulness, and joy as he’d laugh out loud at something. He also seemed to always have a smile on his face not matter what. He was an amazing man, and will surely be missed.

  2. I didn’t know Mark too well, but I am one of the many that got a nose blow from him. I do remember him being good at soccer and remember him being the cool one in the family. Don’t know if that is accurate, but it’s what I remember.

    Thanks for the post – feel like I know him a little better. Sad that he was so young and it is hard to imagine that one of your brothers is gone. I feel for the Craguns and I hope Mark’s family will be alright.

  3. Ryan–you have brought me to tears! I miss him! Mark and I went to lunch after Maurie Johnson’s funeral. We talked about high school and current life situations. Mark said he and I were the same…free spirits. How true this was! He and I loved people and had the same personality. We made a person feel like he/she was the only person in the world. On the other side of the spectrum, we could make people so uncomfortable. As we were leaving, we said we would stay in touch. Like most good intentions, we did not.

    The next time I heard from Mark he called to tell me John Carter had died. Again, our intentions were good, but did not stay in touch. Fortunately, I did see Mark at Target a few years ago. I was standing in line and was looking at the guy standing behind me. We caught each others’ eye, smiled and turned away. I was thinking, “Who is this guy? He looks so familiar.” I looked back at him and caught his profile…I said, “Mark Cragun!” And in his prepubescent, squeaky, half laughing voice he said, “Diana Johanson!” We chatted for a minute discussing our careers in education. We had a plan for him to teach at whatever school I would be working at when his degree was complete. We said goodbye again with stay in touch and we went on our ways.

    And here I am, tears rolling down my face, writing this message knowing full well there will be no lunches, working together, bumping into each other in odd places. He touched my life, my best friend from high school who took me to prom, made me laugh, and countless hours of hanging out…the gang – me, Cathy, Mitch, and Maurie. He is my kindred spirit; however, I don’t have the high squeaky voice, Hallelujah!

    To Hillary and the Cragun family, my thoughts are with you. This is a very sad day. The world has lost one of its best contributors. And to Mark, I will hold you in my heart and will keep you with me always. Free spirits forever!

  4. Ryan,
    Thanks for writing about Mark, that was an excellent portrayal. I got wrestled to the ground enough to always keep an eye on Mark whenever he was in the room. I haven’t seen or heard from him in years but I’m still shocked to hear the news.

  5. My heart just aches for you and all the loved ones of Mark. He was such a fun guy and he did have a way to make you feel comfortable and uncomfortable all at the same time. I regret to say that I never was given a nose blow from him but I do still have nightmares of the nose blow I recieved from you. He must have taught you well. YUCK!!!!!! May his memory live on and know that he has touched many lives.

  6. There are just so memories of Mark. How could there not be?! Just hanging out at the Cragun house fills your life with them. It was always fun to see what Mark and the gang would come up with next! The most craziest thing I remember is coming home from a dance of some sorts. Of course you’re dad’s car was packed with kids. Mark was driving and decided to have a chinese fire drill after starting on the freeway on ramp back to Mt. Green. I don’t remember how old you were, probably just got your license.
    But you took the drivers seat and Mark took the hood of the car. You started down the freeway which seemed to me way to fast, but you probably weren’t going that fast and then you slammed on the breaks and Mark went rolling off the hood onto the road. He had some scraps but came up laughing. I was terrified you’d killed him.

    Like I said, there is alot of memories of his free spirit. He was always laughing and joking around. During college, it was fun to hang around w/ Mark’s gang. We had a good time. It’s sad to think that his life was so short, but it’s good to find comfort in the fact that he’ll no longer have to deal with his health problems.

    Stay strong, especially Hillari. You are an amazing woman and you loved him so much and we all know it! I can only imagine the reunion between those friends already gone and Mark. He was an amazing person who loved life and lived it!

  7. Oh Mark….. I can’t even tell you the times he scared me to death out at the cherry orchard!
    There was one time in particular that I was asleep on the tanker down by the dock and he scared me so bad that I jumped and landed in the tanker full of water! He was laughing so hard and his laugh made me laugh even harder so there was no way I could get mad at him =)
    The other vivid memory I have of Mark is when I wouldn’t wake up for the Cherry Harvest one night, so Mark came in and blew in my nose!!! What was he thinking?? ha ha…. it sure woke me up and now when I do it to my kids, I tell them that my cousin taught me how.
    I will sure miss you….. my cute cousin!!!
    I love you,
    Jill

  8. Oh how my heart aches for the loss of this marvelous man. My heart sank a million miles when I first learned of his ever increasing illness. I had hoped for the best. I had just recently moved to Utah with the hopes that we would be able to say hello, but I guess I was a little to late. I realize that my sadness is mine to own as Mark is free from his ailments and working hard for his family on the other side.
    As far as memories go, Mark was a very memoriable person to me. I moved down the street from his family his junior year. I was a little taken back when I first met him because of his sillyness and smile. He was different somehow but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I was definitely intrigued by him and the way he behaved. So I continued to get to know him, very much to my benefit. Mark had his serious moments trying to figure out life. We would spend time listening to music and talking about life. He has a very strong heart and always will. He has always been an example to me of kindness. He also taught me that any moment can be a fun moment, it is all in how you look at it. He always knew how to make me smile, even when I didn’t want to. There are many memories of sports trips that shouldn’t be shared, but were so fun. Unfortunately we lost contact after our missions. I got wrapped up in my own life and he in his that we never really saw one another. It has been years since I have seen him, but I guess that reunion will have to wait for another time and place.

    To Mark’s wife, Hillary, and to his kids, there will be no greater challenge than now. My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you go through this trial. I pray that your testimonies of eternal families will blossom as a rose as you continue forward. There are many, including myself, ready to help, just reach.

    To Mark’s parental family, the Craguns, I love you all. You have been my second parents since I met you. I have always loved being in your presence. You have taught me a lot and have given me encouragement even when I didn’t deserve it. You are great parents and great examples to Mark. My prayers are with you as you struggle to find understanding and heal from your loss.

    And to Mark…………………dang it, you did it again, I am speechless. Thanks for the memories, until next time.

  9. Genie, Brent, Siblings, Hillary and children,
    We are so sad, our hearts go out to you. We and our kids have shared so much with you for so long, doing life, being neighbors, working together, serving, raising our children–we are all family. We feel our loss intensely. May we be comforted in our memories of Mark and our faith in the hereafter.
    John and Joan and our kids.

  10. I have not seen Mark in years. I was fortunate to have grown up in the same neighborhood as the Craguns. I was also unfortunate enough to have been a victim of Mark’s “nose blows”. I only knew Mark to be a great person, and a mentor to me growing up. I am very sorry for the loss to the Cragun family. I also introduced my 3 three year old daughter to the “nose blow” tonight. She thought her dad was pretty silly.

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