The news about Robin Williams’ death has rattled me. I feel painfully gobsmacked. Gutted. Sad. Frustrated. Of course I didn’t know the man personally, so the comment trolls of the internet would tell you my feelings are invalid and stupid, but I feel compelled to express these feelings and the buried concerns that this man’s death unearths in me.
First: There’s no shame in mourning the loss of life, even a life you didn’t experience firsthand. There’s no shame in empathizing, absorbing some of the pain left behind, and letting sadness wash over you. There is no shame in feeling. Too often in my life I’ve been made to feel childish, small or immature simply because I feel deeply. I care about people, regardless of whether I know them personally or not. I’m tired of apologizing for it.
Robin Williams was a beloved celebrity, yes, but he was also a father, a husband, a son, a friend. His death sets off a ripple of pain that extends much further than the grieve he held inside himself. His daughter is my age. My heart breaks for her. She lost her dad yesterday. If she gets married someday, he won’t be there to walk her down the aisle. If she has kids, they won’t know their grandfather. She will never hear his laugh again. He will never hold her again in one of those warm bear hugs that are dads’ specialty. I can’t fathom the despair I would feel if my dad passed away, especially at his own hand. Could I have intervened? Could something have made a difference? I would always wonder, and the sadness would eat away at me for years to come. It’s heartbreaking.
How could I not tear up thinking about that? We should never apologize for expressing ourselves openly and embracing the high and low feelings of life. There is too much judgment in the world, and it’s stifling our humanity.
This morning my eyes landed on a troubling comment: “It’s not sad when you realize he did it to himself.” Comments like this make me pessimistic about the state of mankind. What a misguided perspective.
Personally, I feel more despair because Robin Williams killed himself. Loss is loss, but this wasn’t senseless. It wasn’t some flute, a freak accident that you can curse the heavens for and dismiss as uncontrollable and unpreventable to make yourself feel marginally better. This didn’t have to happen.
Knowing now he felt so much despair that the only solace could be found in death cuts me to my core and makes me ache for him. I’ve been to that dark place. Thankfully I haven’t paid a visit in years, but the scar tissue left behind reminds me of the helpless feelings and the seemingly unbearable pain that can make you surrender to terrible, unreasonable thoughts. No one should fall so deeply into the dark that they abandon all hope and end their lives. Our society needs to destigmatize mental illness so we can share our struggles openly and help one another find the light again.
If anything positive can sprout from this heartwrenching loss of life, I hope that the millions of people who loved Robin can now find connection to the struggles of depression and addiction. No one is immune to those struggles; it doesn’t matter how happy someone appears to be or how much joy they bring to others’ lives. Perhaps we can see mental illness in a new light and change those misguided perspectives.