Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?*
He was tall, handsome, with a head full of gorgeous hair, a warm smile and eyes…that always belied a world of sadness since I’d known him.
Sparkle missing, Life snuffed out.
Ravaged by an acrimonious failed marriage, the loss of daily quality time with his two daughters, and a place in his home, Life was hard for him.
He’d burned through careers – teaching, sales – but nothing stuck, nothing stoked his inner vocational passions.
He was a caring father and good friend.
He loved the Lake, it soothed him.
He served his community, volunteering tirelessly. He gave of his time, talents, and money.
He filled his summers with swim team. First, when his daughters swam with the team, but even after they were finished he continued his volunteering with the swim club.
He always used humor to talk to the children, daring them to counter his assertion that, “Swimming is NOT fun!”
He was always bursting with pride in their improvements and accomplishments in their swimming lives and/or academic, athletic, or other pursuits.
He was larger than life and yet he was increasingly devoured by it
Disappointments washed into him, not over him. He was angry and wounded and unable to get past his worldly troubles.
But this doesn’t define the man.
He offers us a legacy of service, selflessness, kindness, humor, and volunteerism.
He taught by example to revel in your community’s successes, to value the children. He showed us to teach the children and ourselves to face life with humor and find the fun.
He teaches us – in losing his own personal battle in Hell – to make mental illness a recognized illness.
If diagnosed with cancer or heart disease one seeks medical treatment to save one’s life.
A bleeding wound or broken bone is a requisite trip to the ER.
But mental illness still has a stigma. Its insidious destruction keeps those inflicted from seeking satisfactory help.
The human brain like the oceans or deep space is still largely a mystery.
When actor Robin Williams took his life conversations were activated. For some it hit too close to home and incited compassion, whereas others refused to accept Williams’ illness claiming his was a cowardice move.
Many make the same move as Williams yearly, monthly, daily.
When I was a teacher one of my student’s mother took her life. It was, as you can imagine, devastating.
But for me it was a positive in some way.
I used the death to motivate myself to get help, because I could see how one day dark thoughts could rule my judgement.
Therapy helped me, but only because I was willing to dig deeply for my bravery and seek help for my mental illness.
If you hurt, are sad, entertain thoughts of ending it for whatever reason – wait.
Fight for one more heartbeat, one more breath, one more stroke.
Fight, hold on, endure.
There is another option.
There is HOPE.
I won’t allow his legacy to be washed away. He deserves to be recognized for all he did to raise our children to the light.
And now for what he did to shine a light on the darkness he suffered.
I told my teenager this morning that this man he’d looked up to took his own life.
I did this so my son can fill his heart and mind with messages of hope, love, and acceptance. And I told him to educate him and dispel the myths of mental illness.
Once my son faces facts and accepts, he is equipped with more tools.
Because my son needs to know – I NEED him to know – that no matter how badly life tries to beat him down that LOVE can keep him present enough to fight for another heartbeat, another breath, another stroke.
That, my friends, is a lasting legacy.
We'll teach them how to say goodbye,
You and I,
One last time.*
*Hamilton: An American Musical
Lin-Manuel Miranda c. 2015