Chris’ dad was a shell of himself in recent years, a combination of the bipolar chemistry ravaging his thoughts, the drugs he took every day to ‘manage’ those chemicals and the impact of the repeated failure of those drugs to mediate much of anything in him. I knew he was tired of fighting, but I did not think death was really a possibility. Not yet.
I am standing in line at the airport when Tina tells me the news that she has been holding onto. Chris’ dad has died. The news hits me like a ton of bricks to my chest and before I know what is happening, I let out a wail and begin crying before I remember that I am standing in line with people I don’t know, in an airport on the other side of the world. Immediately, I am disoriented. Like I am in a surrealist work of art. I can’t quite process what people are telling me quickly enough and they are having to repeat the instructions to me multiple times…though they are speaking perfect English.
Bob felt deeply and read voraciously…could talk at length about all manner of subjects. He was inquisitive and fascinated by people. He was such a kind heart, and you could see it even in his most frenetic moments. He also suffered mightily at the hands of the ups and downs of his chemistry. If you have never seen anyone at the mercy of that kind of horrific chemistry, trust me…it is heart-breaking.
But it was not always a problem. Bob was playful, energetic and brave. Once, when he was visiting us in Seabrook, he took an interest in a beautiful house on the water of Galveston Bay. I too was obsessed by this house. It was two doors down from us and had stunning details, like an observation tower rising above the roof line that held a telescope, and openings in the wall around the property that held a variety of beautiful bells. On one of his many walks, he brought his video camera along and moments later, as I was standing on the seawall having coffee and looking at the water, I hear Bob shouting hello. At the end of the dock of the gorgeous house just two doors over, he stood next to the grinning, happy owners waving at us. He had just asked them straight out if he could come in and videotape their house. And Bob was just the kind of person you wanted to say yes to.
That is the memory I am holding of him today. Not the man ravaged by a sickness that our culture does not really want to talk about. In our world, even an emotional outburst is seen as some kind of regrettably digression, a symbol of our lack of strength.
I read something recently from a woman who had just lost her husband to suicide. The wild trip of riding his brain chemistry overtook him one day and he came up with the only permanent solution he could imagine in his state. Her one wish, as she penned this post was that people start demystifying mental illness and talk about it openly. That these big, strong men who feel like it is a sign of weakness to confess that you need help, get help anyway. Before it is too late.
Bob did not commit suicide, but he did get exhausted by the fight. Because for him, it was a fight. He too believed deep inside him that his inability to overcome the genetic illness in his family line on his own was a sign of weakness. It wasn’t. It is a sign of the weakness of our culture that Bob still felt he needed to fight this fight alone.
Goodbye, Bob. Even half way around the world, you are on the top of my mind today. I hope the place you are resting your weary head is beyond the expectations your challenging and cynical mind could hold. I am imagining you standing on the deck of a house far away, camera in hand, waving like crazy to let us know where you are and that you are happy and fine.
And that you are getting some really cool shots for us to look at later.
I love you.