But with thousands of expertly carved cabinets, doors, restored homes and circular staircases to his name, scores of which are spread throughout the world, most people viewed Mark Tylinski as a giant of a man.
“He was a perfectionist – everything had to be perfect,” said Geri Reiman, who knew Mark since birth. “He was such a compassionate, fun and loving person – you can’t believe how loving he was. Once he made me some little birdhouses with little birds on them – he was into woodworking even when he was a young boy.”
Reiman recalled a time when her daughter brought home an abandoned black and white puppy whose sloppy wet kisses would forever touch Mark’s heart.
“My daughter was 16 and brought home this little puppy and wanted to keep him,” explained Reiman, member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. “I said we couldn’t keep him because we already had a dog, so we gave him to Mark. He named him Patches and he became Mark’s constant companion. In fact, (future wife) Diane had to love the dog to get married to Mark.”
Recently, praise from many of the people whose lives Mark touched over his short life started pouring in.
Just 46, Mark died Dec. 9 of pancreatic cancer, a battle he had precious few months to fight.
His death shocked many, according to high school sweetheart Diane, his wife of 20 years, because unlike Mark’s mother, who 11 years earlier, died after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer, Mark was healthy and strong and showed none of the common symptoms of the disease.
“It all started Aug. 19. I received a phone call from Mark around noon that he was dizzy and nauseous and experiencing double-vision,” Diane said. “Our doctor told us to take him to the emergency room. They ran a series of tests, and the next day we found out that he had a genetic defect we never knew of, in which he had several small holes between the minor chambers of his heart.”
A common defect, the cardiologist explained that most people live a normal life never suspecting there is anything amiss. A recent leg injury probably caused Mark to develop blood clots and the doctor speculated that a small piece possibly broke off, traveled through his system, through one of the holes in his heart and lodged in the optic nerve, causing the double vision. They were told that corrective heart surgery would be needed, but the diagnosis quickly worsened.
“Mark had been complaining about some stomach issues he had for about a month, so I convinced him to have it checked out while in the hospital,” Diane said. “His doctor ordered a CT scan of his torso.”
Test results were grim on Aug. 21; Mark was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver and spleen.
“The diagnosis even baffled the doctors because he appeared so healthy with no outward signs of the disease, such as fatigue, massive weight-loss, severe pain, etc.,” she said. “He was doing incredibly well through Thanksgiving, but was hospitalized again on Dec. 1. His health quickly deteriorated, and on Tuesday, Dec. 9, Mark succumbed to the disease and died peacefully.”
His death took many by surprise, Diane said, because Mark spent much of his time, even until recently, serving the needs of others. Since 2005, he served as the Vernon town supervisor. He often helped Diane with the Our Lady of Lourdes drama ministry. She worked backstage and Mark designed and created props and stages. He also made a wooden cover for the baptismal font and made the front stairs going up to the church.
Days of hiking, gardening, swimming, birthday parties, games and laughter, Mark was dedicated to leaving a legacy for his family. While he didn’t expect to live long, his goal was simply to see his precious daffodils bloom.
“I was hoping he would,” said Diane. “Mid-November he and I planted the daffodils in our front flower garden. He was bound and determined to live to see them bloom, but that was not to happen.”
According to Mark’s close friend, Fr. Dom Roscioli of Kenosha, who hired him more than 25 years ago to remodel the kitchen of his family home to get his mind off his own cancer diagnosis, Mark was an expert craftsman.
“We had to take down this cherry tree that my grandpa planted and he made cherry wood cabinets in my kitchen, and a cherry mantel in the fireplace. He hand carved my front door and carved grape vines into it,” said Fr. Roscioli. “I always kept in contact with him and had his wedding 20 years ago. Whenever I needed him, I hired him for things. He even made a gazebo for my yard and gave it to me as a gift.”
Whenever Mark would travel to Chicago on business, he would call Fr. Roscioli and visit with his life-long friend. Lately, he saw Mark and Diane each week as he was assisting at Our Lady of Lourdes and he helped lead a fund-raiser to cover Mark’s medical expenses.
“He was such a great kid,” said Fr. Roscioli. “He was one of those old time artists trapped in a young body. He was a phenomenal woodworker.”
Most important to Mark was Diane and their two daughters Alina, 12, and Amy, 6, and his faith as a cradle Catholic. He rarely missed Sunday Mass as he felt a recharge of his soul each time he attended.
“It was very important to him, throughout all his life, to do what was right, even if it was unpopular,” bragged Diane. “Several years ago he had a falling out with his long-time friend from high school, and he was doing a little journaling when he was in the hospital in August. It was really important to him to make amends with this friend that he wrote about it. Not only did he reconcile with him, but also his former boss.”
Rather than fight the inevitable prognosis with anger or rebellion, Mark seemed to accept his death sentence with grace, peace and the way he lived every day of his 46 years, with great faith.
His parish priest, Fr. Mick Savio, arrived a few days before Mark died to give him the sacrament of anointing of the sick and surprised Diane and several others who were in the room with words meant to comfort them.
“Mark was telling Fr. Mick about how he was at peace with dying and about how he was looking forward to the ‘adventure’ ahead and that he knew things were going to be OK,” said Diane. “My sister and her kids were there and heard what Mark had to say and the next day I got an e-mail from her thanking Mark for what he said and stating how much that impressed the kids and filled her heart with hope.”
Part of her sister’s e-mail to Mark included the following passage, “While we are so very sad to see you go, because we know how much we will all struggle without you in our lives, you have left us with those few simple words that speak about what love, God and life are really all about.”
“He really did die with grace and a wisdom beyond his 46 years,” said Diane. “My hope was that he would die peacefully, with little suffering, and God did grant him that.”