It is the 2nd anniversary of Robin Williams' death, and I still miss him. I know, he wasn't a personal friend; I didn't know him in "real life," but I loved him. He was out there making magic, for most of my adult life... and several years before that. I miss him. I am sharing this post again, to remember all of the things I loved most about him. I am sharing this post, because Robin Williams has become my own personal reminder, my solid ground, whenever things feel dark.
This post also marks my own coming out. I had not shared my own struggle with suicide and depression, until I posted this piece. Much has changed in the past several years. I am well. I am strong. But Robin Williams is a reminder that many of us stumble. We feel alone; we feel sad and hopeless; we don't know what to do. Robin Williams is a reminder that endings like his leave only pain and lost opportunities. I am here, as a reminder that things do change. We do find strength, and joy, and reasons to live. If you are struggling, please reach out.
*As you start this post, know that there are some great links here. I spent a lot of time digging them up- there are so many, it's hard to choose! Play them.
It's been a full week since I heard the news that Robin Williams was dead. I was driving to Seattle for a concert with a good friend and our two sons, and my friend's older son texted us the news. When he added that it was suicide, we all gasped. That's not some literary description; we truly gasped. All four of us, 17-50'something year-olds, were utterly shocked. Honestly, I felt such a jolt that momentarily it felt wrong to continue on our way to a happy event. It was like the world tipped sideways a little and everything felt off balance.
Throughout the evening as we listened to the Arctic Monkey's perform (an amazing concert) the news washed over me. Oh my God, Robin Williams killed himself? When I went to the bathroom, it was obvious that others were were stunned too- people looked dazed. As I stood washing my hands, I realized that all of these much younger, much hipper women were talking about Robin Williams. "What?! Are you serious?" "I can't believe it!" "Oh my God- Robin Williams!" "That's so sad!" "I can't believe he's gone." Robin Williams crossed so many generations, in his appeal. Those who hadn't heard were shocked and incredulous, and those who'd heard earlier, were stunned and reeling, like me. Sadness prevailed, as we stood washing our hands- strangers sharing knowing glances and sad acknowledgements. We were all at a sold out concert, and this is what people were talking about. When we got home that night, my 17 year-old son and I were in our kitchen. It's hard to know that he was that sad and hopeless, I said to him. "Mom, it's really sad to know that he was busy making so many people happy-making so many people laugh- and he was that hopeless." Out of the mouth of babes.
The next morning, when I woke up, the news rushed right back in and jolted me all over- like hard news does, as it settles on your brain. It's been hanging on me all week- spider webs in my head, sticky and dark. Given the number of things written this week, the Facebook posts, and the news items, I'm clearly not alone. It's been a week since we heard; it's all been said, and yet my mind is still swirling, trying to make sense of this tragedy.
I'm 51 years old and I've followed Robin Williams since I was 15 years old; it feels like he's been around my entire life. For some of you, he has. When he debuted on Mork and Mindy in 1978, he blew. Us. Away! My brother and I took turns bending our hands and saying "Nanu, nanu" in a funny voice; my friends and I all bought and wore suspenders, rolled our pants up and wore colorful socks. Mork was everywhere; Robin Williams was everywhere! His comedy was crazy; it was brilliant; his talent was enormous!
Robin Williams shifted gears faster than most of us could think. His imitations and routines were high octane; his physical comedy was so electric, you couldn't take your eyes off of him. Three minutes of stand up, and he'd do so many characters, my head would spin. But he always made me laugh. Watch this early clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi3Eg3c_82M
Over the years his talent expanded, and amazed me even more. His serious roles in movies touched me as much as his huge humor made me laugh. The Dead Poet's Society has always been a favorite movie of mine. When I heard he'd died, "Oh Captain, my captain" is the first thing that popped into my head. In his tribute, Jimmy Fallon used that same line, and brought me to tears. I think Jimmy Fallon's tribute is one of the greatest tribute to Robin Williams that I've seen.
The fact that Robin Williams was a bit broken inside came through in many of his performances. I always felt that it was that vulnerable place in him that made so many of those serious roles that much more compelling. His sadness felt real. Behind all of the crazy, zany facial expressions, his eyes looked sad, as often as they twinkled. He seemed to understand pain and struggle, and when he played certain characters, that shined through. It's what made his Mrs. Doubtfire so relatable and touching. It's why his Peter Pan -- in one of our three favorite family movies, Hook, held you. You felt for that broken Peter, and cheered that much louder when he found his Bangarang again. His Genie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLQLFJrV_o4) in the animated movie Aladdin was a character that my kids knew was something more than funny and crazy- and they loved him for it. Robin Williams brought heart to everything he did, and that's what touched so many of us.
The many faces of Robin Williams:
I was and remain a huge fan, and like so many others I'm grieving.
Other celebrities have died: drug overdoses, cancer, accidents, old age- you can't escape real life- And I feel a loss of their presence and contribution to film and entertainment, but there is something much more troubling about Robin Williams' death: the idea that he was that sad, that broken, even as he made so many people laugh and feel happy, is troubling beyond words. It's hard to justify those two facts and not be left feeling incredulous, helpless, sad, a little lost. If he had died any other way, it would still be shocking. It's hard to believe that anything could put out that wattage, but the idea that he sat there alone and chose to end his own life, is what shakes me the hardest.
I've always told my own children that "suicide is never the answer," that the hopelessness you feel in that moment, always passes, but that the loss you would leave in your wake, would never leave those you leave behind. "Dad and I would never recover from something like that," I told them, hoping that as they weathered the potentially rocky years of youth, that point would stick. Yet four years ago this December, when I felt so hopeless and dark that suicide seemed the answer, all of my own words deserted me. In those hours, I could only hear my own self-recriminations, my own loss- a mountain of pain and hopelessness seemed insurmountable; the voice in my head were ruthless and harsh. One night in December 2010, I came as close to where Robin Williams went, as I ever want to be again. I reached out in desperation and luckily a friend answered that night. We were both left shaken; it took me weeks to recover any vestige of solid ground. I felt numb and cut off, shaken by what I'd done, but still unable to really feel hopeful.
Ever since, I've been in my own 12-step recovery. I watch for the signs that I'm "flooded," and I reach out to the very small group of people who I can be truly vulnerable with. That circle has changed in four years, as I learn how to take care of myself. I seek refuge when I need it- I will probably always be someone who needs to drive off in my car. I continue to work on my own insecurities and demons- All. The. Time. It hasn't been easy. I feel very lucky that my husband and kids understood and have supported me since that night. I feel grateful that most of the (very few) friends and family who I told then, stood by me. Others couldn't accept that I was suffering, and needed a life line. That I would bounce back eventually, and not remain so lost.
In the wake of Robin Williams' suicide, I've heard so many people say: If only someone had known, if only he'd reached out for help. My guess is that maybe he did reach out at some point, but I've also learned that people sometimes react from their own place of fear, insecurity, or inability to understand, when they hear that someone is feeling that hopeless. Just weeks after my own fumbled attempt, I was talking to a friend who didn't know what I'd been through, and the topic came up (after a suicide where he lives). My friend said: "I have no compassion for someone who chooses that route- They leave such a mess behind. It's so selfish." He's not a callous person at all; he was being honest. I got it; it's not that far off from what I'd always told my kids. I also knew that while his words might be a bit harsher than some others might be, he was not alone in that thought. But it shut the door on my ever being able to talk to him about my own demons. I instinctively knew not to share it lightly, or with just anyone. For a long while, I felt alone in my struggle, knowing that only a small group of people were there, and I wasn't always sure if I could call and bother them. That's how your brain works when it's depressed. The voices you hear, are not the supportive, healing, confident ones... they're the ones that might push you off the ledge.
It's taken nearly four years for me to be able to talk about this without feeling like people will run away, or judge. Some of them will; I've seen the awkward expressions, heard the conversation change quickly. I noticed who called to say are you ok, and who avoided bringing it up. I've accepted that and moved on. I may have lost some friends and connections, in the aftermath of my depression and suicidal hole, but I climbed out with the help of family, and some friends who became that much dearer in that same aftermath. I let go of my need to cling, and do whatever I thought it would take, to make a relationship work. Over time I got a lot clearer about boundaries and what makes me feel safe and happy. I've spent so much of my life taking care of other people and feeling responsible for their feelings and lives, that it's been truly freeing to let that go, and take care of myself. I keep working on me.
I think that what haunts me about Robin Williams death is that I really get it. I got so close to where he went, and I survived. I came to understand that all those words I'd fed my kids were true. It does get better; the potential for it to get better is always in your own hands. I truly get that you can feel so tired of trying, and so sad that the potential seems hopeless, but it's not, unless you're terminally ill, and truly suffering. My mother knew there was no hope of ever feeling better again. She was depressed; she was in pain, and she knew it would only get worse. Aside from my sister and I, and her grandchildren, she was alone. Her doctors knew the same thing, but at the time there was no Death With Dignity law in Washington state (there is now). Still, her doctors advised that she would benefit from palliative care and would die faster, without intervention, honoring her wishes and her life. She did, and it was the right decision. It gave her time to say whatever she needed to say; to be free from pain, and to die with some dignity. However, aside from those horrible cases where the end is clear and there is truly no hope, suicide is never the answer.
Robin Williams' death shakes me because I wish he could have understood that. I wish he could have had the good fortune I've had: to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel; that those who love you really do need you to make it to that light; that we grow and expand emotionally when we let others in, and let them see our vulnerabilities, our imperfections and "idiosyncrasies"and that it's not all about making everyone else feel better. We don't always have to be "on." I wish that he could have rested peacefully and woken renewed, rather than leaving us all to question the missed steps and wishing him rest in peace. I wish he could have gotten it. It.
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