I wasn’t going to write a blog post about a loss that much of the world is trying to come to terms with: the recent death of the beloved Robin Williams. After a great deal of reflection, I decided that there’s no way I couldn’t.
I am an emotional person on the best of days. I cry during movies and good books. My eyes well up when I listen to a great story told by Stuart McLean on CBC, or when a touching song comes on the radio. My heart aches when I know people are hurting or facing struggles. But I don’t typically get this upset over a celebrity deaths.
The last celebrity I can recall whose death made the tears flow was Walter Matthau in 2000. The memory is vivid. I was baby-sitting at a neighbours, right around New Year’s Eve – the kids were gone to bed and I was watching a “Year in Review” of sorts. On came the part of the show about all the famous people that has passed away over the last 12 months. One by one, their picture/name/date of birth and death came up on the screen. I made it without shedding a tear until, there on the screen, was a picture of Walter. It was an ugly-cry that followed. From an outsider’s perspective, the overwhelming sadness I felt was totally irrational. I didn’t know this man. I had never met him, and I only knew him by his characters. But still, I was really sad, and I didn’t really know why. I felt like my own grandfather had died. Maybe it’s because I never really had a grandfather figure in my life.
And now, there’s the passing of Robin.
A man whose characters helped raise me from childhood.
When times got rough for my family, or we just needed a laugh, we always turned to Mrs. Doubtfire. My mum would throw it in the VHS player, and we’d cuddle up on the couch to watch the antics and trials of the Hillard’s (and Effie) unfold. It was that movie where Robin Williams’ character comforted us on our bad days, and we would share both laughter and tears with the family on screen.
He was brilliant in other big screen favourites like Hook, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, Bicentennial Man. This is what we have left of him to share – immortalized by his characters. However, Robin Williams, with his beautiful blue eyes, boisterous laugh, and quick-witted humour, is gone.
Not only am I reeling because the world lost such a great man, or because of the sympathy I feel for his loved ones, or because it feels like I have suffered a personal loss, but there is also that one big topic that everyone has been talking about: depression and suicide.
I came to work on Tuesday so upset. I had heard the news the night before, and my first reaction was that of many others: “But he had everything.” These thoughts persisted and I began to feel soul-crushing hopelessness. If a man can create a life of fame and fortune doing what he loves to do, and still cannot win the battle over his demons, then what hope is there for me? What hope is there for the one who often feels like she’s wasted years of her life on bad choices, the one who sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the morning because she feels no joy in what she’s waking up for, the one who sometimes feels useless and unsuccessful?
“If he can’t make it, how am I going to?”
I quickly realized that I needed to step back. Negativity was taking over and permeating my every thought. I needed to pull myself together and be rational. Because, after all, what I was telling myself were just lies that are often spread among the misinformed and the ignorant about depression and suicide.
I have read and heard terrible comments of blame this week:
“How could he do that to his family.”
“It was his choice.”
“Well, now everyone else has to deal with the consequences.”
“Guess all that he had wasn’t enough for him.”
My initial, misguided thought of “But he had everything,” subsided. I realized how cruel it was to think that; how false of an assumption it was, and how much this negative, blaming banter was upsetting me. Choices like this have nothing to do with money. They have nothing to do with fame. They have everything to do with mental illness.
It has been announced in a statement by Robin Williams’ wife that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A part of me thinks that he wanted to go out so that he would be remembered for who he was up to now, instead of as the person he believed he was going to become. I, for one, want to remember him for the emotion he conveyed in his characters, his sense of humour that made us think, and his laugh that couldn’t help but make me laugh. He was a talented man, and we’re lucky that he shared that with all of us.
“If heaven exists, it would be nice to know that there’s laughter. That would be a great think to hear, God go, ‘Two Jews walk into a bar…”
Here are some related articles that I read this week: