We lost one of the best last week. One of our greatest champions and warriors finally lost his battle with bi-polar disorder. He was 41, a wonderful special-ed teacher, active with our ‘Tilting At Windmills’ theater
company, my new vice president at Hennepin NAMI, and my dear friend. He had struggled for 25 years, and was one of those that isn’t always helped by the incredible new medications. It was no surprise when we heard, but it still took our breath away. His service was last Saturday, a warm, beautiful fall day. The church was filled with those who loved Mark, and the pastor gave one of the most insightful and hopeful messages that I’ve ever heard. He spoke openly about Mark’s battle with mental illness/brain disorders, and revealed that his insights were won at a terrible price with the struggles his mother had also had with the disease. He gave us a chance to speak about Mark and I’d like to share with you what I had the honor to say about my friend:
“Everything Mark did was a gift. Every hug he gave, every photo he snapped, every meeting or service he attended, every hour of volunteer service, every kid he inspired, every joke he told, every word, gesture, moment was a gift of spirit and love. He was one who devoted his life to truth and kindness and love, because with the terrible disease he was battling, sometimes those were things he sometimes could only experience in the privacy of his own heart.
He was a child of God, an ambassador of kindness, someone who, even when confronted with the heartbreaking rudeness and judgment of those less educated or sensitive, never lost his sense of humor, always turned the other cheek, never let his heart harden in bitterness or hate.
One of the most revered words and jobs in the world is that of “Teacher”. It’s a word and a profession that has lost some meaning to us in America today, but is still powerful in most of the world. “Teacher”–one who shares and helps and instructs. Mark was a great teacher, someone who not only knew, but he understood. He not only shared information, he inspired with passion.
And he shared with me that one of the deepest wishes of his heart, one of his greatest passions and dreams was to share with others his insights about mental illness. He wanted to speak and teach and educate the world so that others wouldn’t have to suffer as he did. He wanted to give a gift to the world so that his years of suffering and despair wouldn’t be lost, wouldn’t be in vain. He wanted to inspire us, to give the gift of knowledge, but also of compassion.
Even his death is a gift. I have no doubt that Mark somehow wanted his death to somehow spare us or help us or teach us or inspire us about the terrible truths of this most soul-destroying illness. And we have this wonderful opportunity to make his last wish come true. If all of us can learn and educate ourselves about mental illness, can tell others of Mark’s and our own struggles, maybe it will inspire others to seek help, to educate themselves, to not judge or be unkind to someone else who is battling this disease–that is truly Hell on earth.
And if we can all keep going, be inspired as Mark wanted, in the face of almost insurmountable sadness, we can transform our pain and Mark’s suffering into a victory. We, with Mark’s help, can sow courage into other’s hearts, as we have also been inspired.
Mark was a courageous man. The word “courage” comes from the Latin, “cor” or “heart,” and so “courage” means to follow one’s heart. And no one had more heart than Mark. Everyday he battled a disease that strikes not only the body, but the soul. He struggled not only against an illness that can be as fatal as cancer, but also the stigma, judgment and scorn that comes from an ignorant society, and from our own “inner tyrants.” If Mark’s 25 year battle had been with cancer instead of bi-polar, Hollywood would be making movies about his heroism because, on some terrible days, by simply getting up out of bed and putting his socks on, he showed as much moral and physical courage as someone who wins the Congressional Medal of Honor, or a Gold Medal at the Olympics. But our society still doesn’t recognize that kind of bravery. And only God knows of Mark’s courage. Only God knows of his struggles. But the
valor that Mark demonstrated in his life has set a standard of courage that will inspire others to add their gifts.
And I’m one of the many he inspired. Mark’s gifts and love and passion will guide me and reinspire me for the rest of my life. His gifts will always be with me, with all of us, and his spirit will never die.”