My Cousin Mark: A One In A Billion Life

This week I’ve been blessed to think a lot about life and death and the meaning of things. I’ve been reminded we all have so much more potential than we really know, and there’s no better example of that than my cousin Mark. Everyone needs to know Mark! Today I’m going to share him with you, so that your life can also be blessed and inspired.

Meet Remarkable Mark

When Mark Christiansen was 16 years old he was involved in a tragic swimming accident which suddenly and permanently changed his life forever. Mark woke up in a hospital a quadriplegic. He could no longer move, do the simplest of tasks, nor care for his most basic needs by himself.

Mark, age 16, in the hospital
Mark, age 16, in the hospital

Mark was not supposed to survive, but he did. He was not supposed to live more than a few months, but he did. Mark was told that he would not live more than 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 years… but he proved them wrong. Time and again Mark defied all of the odds and limitations set by others. He married. He fathered children and raised a loving family. He learned how to drive a special retro-fitted van – using his teeth! He built a career in investment and real estate and he served on multiple boards advocating for the disabled. Mark was adventurous! He went snow skiing, water skiing, paragliding, skydiving… and he kept on doing all kinds of “bucket list” adventures that most able-bodied people never even try.

Mark Skiing!
Mark skiing down the slopes!

As of today, Mark has lived 54 years as a “quad” making him literally 1 in 10 billion in the history of the world to live so long with his type of injury.

My hero Mark
My cousin and hero Mark

Mark is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. A true quiet hero. The very best thing about Mark is his sparkling, positive personality. His smile lights up every room he enters. He has the ability to make everyone feel better about themselves and more hopeful about life after speaking with him for even a few minutes.

Loyal MoTab Fan

After the death of his parents, Mark’s grief was nearly unbearable. He found a special solace in the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. For over ten years Mark has been attending in person the Choir’s weekly Sunday broadcasts of Music & The Spoken Word. To do so requires rising earlier than most MoTab members do in order to go through all the necessary morning routines with his home care nurse. Then he drives his special van from his home to downtown SLC, where he makes his way to either the Tabernacle or Conference Center, arriving no later than 9:15 am. He has rarely missed a Sunday over all of these years. It’s become a very special treat for me to look out into the audience and see Mark’s smiling face week after week. I love singing for my cousin Mark. It’s been a special little bond we’ve shared each Sunday.

Me & Mark visiting after a Tabernacle Choir broadcast
Me & Mark visiting after a Tabernacle Choir broadcast

It’s hard to adjust to not seeing Mark in the audience each week. Ironically, it is not his life-threatening spinal injury which is ending Mark’s life on earth, but cancer. Mark is enduring the end-stages of the disease, fighting his brave fight to the end. He still remains positive and hopeful, generous, loving and kind. With a smile in his eyes Mark told me emphatically;

“I’m looking forward to going home.”

A week ago Friday I had the privilege of spending some precious hours with Mark. I came to practice the song he’s requested I sing for his funeral. I came to serve and uplift Mark, but it was I who left uplifted, healed, and restored. We spent a few hours making music. He had many requests, and I sang them all, accompanied by another talented cousin Richard playing the cello, with vocal harmonization’s added by my Daughter A. It was a very special, sacred experience. It reminded me why I love music so much. It reminded me what the best and really important things about life are; human connections, friendship, family, sharing, loving, gratitude, living in the moment.

Consider saying a little prayer for Mark and his family today. And then, why not go out and honor his life by doing something Mark would do? Share your smile, say a word of encouragement, do an act of kindness … boldly embrace and celebrate each and every day of your gift of life – no matter how difficult, or what it brings – until it’s time to go home! – MoSop

UPDATE 9/13/14

Hooray for Mark! After living 70 years, 54 as a quadriplegic, he passed away peacefully in his home on September 11, 2014 surrounded by his children!

Mark’s full obituary can be read here.


  1. My cousin, Mark, will always have a special place in my heart that time cannot erase. I’ll miss you but happy you are free from pain and running with the angels.


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