I've known Robin Williams for 38 years. He was a comic genius. I had no idea, no idea, that he was in such pain. That he was suffering.
- David Letterman
His picture is on almost every magazine in the grocery store. When I pushed my cart to the cashier at Safeway yesterday, there was an explosion of Robin Williams photos everywhere I looked. Old pictures. New pictures. Pictures of Robin getting an academy award. The tabloids are even trying to exploit pictures of his home with titles like "this is where Robin Williams died."
And almost everyone who has every seen him on television or seen Robin in a movie shares a similar refrain...he was a comic genius. He was one of a kind. He struggled with drug addiction. He struggled with depression. What a huge, huge loss. And there is shock. Shock that he took his own life. We can hardly bare to think of the great pain this has caused his children, his wife, his family, his friends.
No one likes to talk about suicide or think about suicide. It's one of those
'hard to bring up' topics. A bit of a taboo, perhaps. And then something like this happens. Robin Williams takes his own life, and for a moment suicide is on our agendas, our lips and in our hearts.
My heart is broken for Robin, especially. What kind of awful, awful pain must
he have been in that he felt this was the only option left open to him? What black hole must have over taken him that this was the only viable choice he felt he had left? He was so troubled. What kept him from reaching out and telling someone that he was suicidal? We may never know any of the answers to these questions, but if we don't learn from this tragedy, his death will be even more of a loss.
My husband Bert is a gifted counselor and he has worked with so many people over all the years that are suffering, deeply suffering. He never tells me who they are or breaks confidentiality, yet I know he has helped lots of folks who were down in the same hole Robin Williams found himself in. I know this because from time to time their family members see us in Spokane, give Bert a huge hug, and thank him for helping to save the lives of their family members. Their dad is still alive because he got help. Their sister or brother or best friend or mother is still alive because they sought help. Help is available.
Yet in this culture, in my opinion, there is sadly still a stigma about going to counseling or getting help for mental health issues. It's okay to go to a dentist when you have a dental problem that hurts your health or go to a doctor when you feel so ill you can't go to work. However, for lots of folks, they feel uneasy about seeking out counseling when life throws them a huge curve or they are so down or depressed that they have lost all joy or hope. They are so stuck that it seems there is no way out.
And when someone loses hope and takes the choice to take their own life, life changes for everyone around them. It changes forever. Their loved ones never get over it.
My grandpa took his own life when his children were young and my Mom was never, ever the same. My Grandma suffered forever, somehow blaming herself that this had happened. His two boys grew up without a Dad and that changed them for forever. Yet because my Grandpa took his own life, and suicide was a forbidden topic, I never knew this happened until I was an adult. My Mom never dealt with all the pain until my own dad died, and she was in a Hospice Grief Group. Her good friend Jean took her so they could both deal with the pain of being widows and as they talked about old hurts or feeling abandoned, my brave, sweet Mama talked publically, for the very first time, about the loss of her dad. The cost to her life that he had taken his life.
I am also reminded of losing one of my precious college students to suicide.
There was a knock on my office door and when I opened it a handsome Native
American man was on the other side. He was the husband of one of my students who had recently had a baby. I invited him in and as soon as he sat down he put his head in his hands and started to weep uncontrollably. His wife had been depressed after the birth of their child. He just thought she's get over it and didn't take her anguish too seriously. And then the worst happened. She took her life. Now she was gone and he blamed himself. He was racked with guilt and pain and remorse.
There are no easy answers in any of these cases and it makes no sense to lay blame. That would only cause more pain. Every suicide is different and the people impacted have different stories.
Yet what I know for sure is that each time this happens, we have an opportunity to learn from the tragedy, to perhaps keep this from happening again.
What could we learn?
1) When we feel super overwhelmed or sad or out of control ourselves, when we feel helpless and hopeless, there is help available. Tell someone, make a call to a counselor. Call a suicide hotline. There is no shame in needing help. We all do.
2) When we feel like someone we know and care about seems to be using language that expresses helplessness or hopelessness, ask the hard questions.
Are you okay? It sound like you are feeling hopeless. Are you feeling like you might hurt yourself? And if your intuition tells you they are in trouble, even though they may protest, don't drop the issue.
3) Learn about suicide. Find out about the resources in your own community that offer mental health help. Get a pamphlet from your doctor or Community Mental Health facility.
And on a personal note, I will so miss Robin Williams... the zany comic, the sweet actor in Good Will Hunting, the kind and humorous doctor in Patch Adams. I will miss the miracle of his humor, his one-of-a-kind electricity,
his over the top portrayal of the human condition. He will be dearly, dearly missed.
Rest in peace, dear Robin. Prayers to you, your sweet children, family and friends.
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