“What does a lighthouse do? I ask myself. It never moves. It cannot hike up its rocky skirt and dash into the ocean to rescue the foundering ship. It cannot calm the waters or clear the shoals. It can only cast light into the darkness. It can only point the way. Yet, through one lighthouse, you guide many ships. Show this old lighthouse the way.”
― Lisa Wingate, The Prayer Box
My father had a love of lighthouses. For him, they symbolized stability & safety, a calming presence in the midst of the storm. In recent days, as my father battled with a deep depression & growing levels of anxiety, he described himself as a “ship without sails.” Unable, it seemed, to move himself forward, to reach a place where he felt grounded, safe and at peace.
It breaks my heart that my father felt so alone in his pain. So deeply immersed in darkness, he could not see the light & the love that surrounded him. We, his family, stood steadfast in the storm. We offered unconditional love, ongoing support and words of encouragement. We simply tried to hoist the sails, to conjure the winds and to help guide him lovingly to a place of wholeness.
My father took his own life. Six words that I never thought I would say. My- father- took- his- own- life. The enormity of that pain cannot be put into words. The grief is so complex. Yes, there is the suddenness of the loss, the knowledge that I didn’t get to say goodbye, to hold my father, to hug my father and to kiss him one last time. But there is a whole other layer, which leaves me feeling so very lost. Suicide does that. It leaves those of us left behind with so many questions, so much pain, and the desire to make sense of the senseless and to understand why a beloved husband, father & grandfather, with so much to live for, would choose to leave us. We are left to navigate through these murky waters, without a compass, searching for the light to guide us back to joy, to life and to a remembrance of happier times.
My father lost his battle with mental illness one week ago. But his is an illness we don’t often talk about. It is taboo, cloaked in shame & secrecy. Even my father felt it. He was ashamed at his own inability to pull himself up and out of the depths of darkness & despair.
But I cannot live in the shadows. Nor can I save my father, though I would give anything… anything to have another chance. So what can I do? I can tell his story. I can share his truth, our truth. Through my tears and my profound sense of loss, I can speak these words. My father was ill. Depression and anxiety plagued his mind, like a cancer. And when they took hold, they festered & they grew. They blinded my father to the light that surrounded him, to the glimmer of hope on the horizon, to the rays of sunshine that lay just beyond the clouds and to the candle in the lighthouse that sought to bring him home.
“There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”
― Hannah Senesh
My father loved lighthouses. And though he is now gone from us, far too soon & before it was his time, perhaps in sharing his story, I can light the way for someone else, struggling at sea, feeling lost in life’s storms, floating along like a ship without sails. And if I can make even one person feel less alone & less ashamed, then the light my father carried within him, the divine spark, will continue to burn, guiding the way home for another lost soul.