Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams and Suicide

Robin Williams died yesterday of a suicide.

His death brought light to a difficult subject, and the discussions I heard afterward spoke of the mental illness aspect, taking the blame for death off those who died, as if they were too weak. I hope that these words continue to reach others who are struggling to hang on, so that they do not blame themselves but seek help for dealing with their demons.

Behind the laughter of many of the comedians we love, there are often tears. Their brilliance in being able to make us laugh is rooted in their anguish. Too many do not have serene lives when they’re not performing. They struggle with depression because they know the edges of human existence where life is raw and chaotic. While seeing the good things in life brings them balance for a time, the darkness slips back in like the tide and overwhelms the rest.

Like many others, I admired the improv zaniness of Williams; his ability to cut through the illusions that prop many of us up, and to speak of reality in the language of humor. I don’t know if all the personalities he was able to pull into his comedy in the blink of an eye were voices he battled in his head, voices that he was able to calm only through drugs and alcohol, addictions that got out of control.

The character he played that I value the most is Sean Maguire, the psychology professor and therapist in Good Will Hunting. In the movie he speaks of missing his wife who died of cancer. His character says that he would not trade any of the days he had with her, not the funny and good times, or sitting with her as she lay dying, holding her hand. He understands.

This is what I felt when my wife died in her 40s, a death that also did not make sense because it was a heart problem we didn’t know about. We do not want to let go, no matter how wrenching it is or what it costs us, because being without someone we love is worse. Two years later Maguire was still trying to let go.

Keep Robin’s family in your thoughts and prayers. Keep in mind, too, everyone who struggles with demons.

May those who live close to the bone because of grief, treat themselves with kindness today.

(An expanded version of this entry was posted on August 11, 2015. It is called "Lost to Suicide.")

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