Robin Williams died yesterday.
I don’t really think about what I’d feel if a celebrity passed away. It’s such an intensely melancholy thought to think on anyone’s death. But I think that even if it had crossed my mind, I would never have imagined the feeling of sadness that overwhelms me now.
Of course, Robin Williams felt like a friend. He was a familiar face in our home and in our lives. He transcended genre, bringing sincerity to all of his roles–from Genie to Peter Pan to Dr. Sean Maguire. I know that much of our sadness comes from the loss of great talent and a staple in the world of entertainment. Robin Williams was the first “funny man” I ever knew, and the world certainly seems darker without him.
I’ve written about our collective loss of Williams on another site, exploring on why we as a society felt such a blow with his death. If you’re interested, you can find the article here. But for me, there is another reason that I cannot seem to shake the memory of him.
It was confirmed earlier today that Williams had taken his own life.
The loss of any individual by his or her own hand is of course, a terrible tragedy, and one that hits especially close to home for me. A little over a year ago, a family member took her own life without warning and without explanation. It’s not something that I like to talk about because I don’t want to cheapen her life by remembering her only for her death. Unfortunately, that has proven much more difficult than I had anticipated, as every time I turn my thoughts to her I am overwhelmed with the same feelings of sadness and confusion that I felt on the day of her passing. Every time I mention her name, I can feel everyone in the room tense up. I feel my cheeks redden, afraid that I’ve just somehow insulted her memory. But I don’t mean to bring up bad feelings. I just don’t want to forget that she was here.
A person is so much more than “how” or “why” they died, but I think we tend to forget that, especially when they’ve taken their own life. We become angry with them, demanding to know how could you do this? How could you leave me? But there are no answers. No explanations. Depression isn’t a disease of logic or reason. It’s a disease that eats you up inside until you have nothing left. We tell people to “get over it” and “move on,” but don’t you think that if that was an option that they would do it? A person with depression can’t make themselves better anymore than a person with cancer can.
I think that underneath it all, what really plagues us is that we didn’t catch it. How did I not know? How did I not see this coming? You feel responsible for their death, but sometimes instead of blaming ourselves we blame the person we lost because it’s easier. Because we don’t want to have to feel guilty on top of feeling the overwhelming desire to lock ourselves in our rooms and never come out again.
People tell you that it gets easier as time goes on, and I guess that in a sense it does. For me, the pain is never really gone. It just sits inside of me, waiting to take hold for small moments every so often. Even now as I type this, I feel a tightening in my throat. But I suppose that I’d take this small pain any day over the alternative: forgetting her all together.
At her funeral, the pastor quoted minister and author Norman Vincent Peale’s The Healing of Sorrow, and it’s something that as given me great comfort. Peale spoke of a friend who took his own life, writing, “We shall remember not his death, but his daily victories gained through his kindness and thoughtfulness, through his family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely, and honorable. We shall remember the many days that he was victorious over overwhelming odds.”
That’s the way I like to remember her–to remember anyone that we’ve lost to depression. Instead of remembering her final day of defeat, I want to remember every day that she got out of bed. Every day that she got ready for the day and put a smile on her face. Even though it hurt. Even though it was hard. She wasn’t weak for succumbing to her illness. She was strong, so unbelievably strong, that she was able to live with the disease for so long. I only wish that we could have known of her struggle and could have helped her. My biggest regret is that she fought this battle alone.
Robin Williams died yesterday.
And it’s not okay. It’s not all right. His death serves as a reminder that depression doesn’t care if you’re famous. It doesn’t care about your age. It doesn’t care who you are.
It does no good to say, “But he was rich!”
“But she had a good job!”
“But he had kids!”
None of that matters to depression.
So please, if you or someone you know is struggling with depression and/or is having suicidal thoughts, seek help. Call your mom or dad. Call your friend. Call a teacher. Call a hotline. Know that this is not your fault and you are not alone. Know that you are so loved and worthy of a happy and full life.
And so we are left to mourn Robin Williams, and everyone that we have lost to this horrific illness. We are left to pick up the pieces. Left to hope and pray that wherever they are now, they are free of all the pain and suffering that took them from this world.
We miss you. We remember you. We love you.