Five years ago my father Richard Leshin died. He left this world in a bleak, “barely-assisted” senior living facility with the ludicrous name of “Holiday Villa”. Believe me, it wasn’t a holiday for anyone there, either resident or staff. He died exactly the way he had feared he would die: alone. How I wish I could have been there with him.
I was very close to my father, and he also had bipolar one. Six weeks postpartum, I called him from my local hospital’s behavioral unit phone to tell him I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He felt so terrible that he cried. (I had only seen him shed tears a couple times in thirty-seven years.) Since I was manic, I was infused with a false sense of well-being. I reassured my Dad that I was “fine” and that “everything made sense” to me. He felt utterly responsible for passing on the bipolar gene to his child. Furthermore, he was remorseful because throughout my life he had reassured me that I wouldn’t “get” bipolar, and if for some reason I did get it, there would surely be a cure by then.
When my father died, I had already felt depressed, and his death (which I had been dreading for years) sent me over the edge. I broke down and I went to the hospital yet again. I felt so terrible that I asked for my first round of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), otherwise known as the gruesome-sounding shock treatment. In an ironic twist of fate, Dad had tried ECT for his bipolar depression many years before, but it had not worked for him. To my regret, we never had a conversation about what that was like for him to experience ECT, but amazingly the ECT helped me after his death and I was slowly able to function again.
As a result of that hospitalization, I missed Dad’s memorial service, but I knew that wherever he was, he would understand why I couldn’t attend. My mother thoughtfully arranged for a videographer to film the service so I could view it at a later date. It took me a long, long time to be able to watch it.
Finally, I forced myself to sit down to view the DVD. It was a beautiful ceremony, complete with a string quartet of Dad’s colleagues from the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing in tribute. Those attendees who gave in-memoriam speeches were often humorous (some of them were musicians like Dad) and they captured the different aspects of Dad’s personality with vivid recollections. Dad would have gotten a big kick out of it all.
I do believe in the afterlife, and I feel that someday I’ll see my Dad again. I’ll have the chance to apologize to his face for missing his memorial service. He’ll have the chance to tell me how he happy he was to see me rise again from the ashes of bipolar depression and give life another chance.