Reflecting on the Death of Robin Williams to Suicide

Our Side of Suicide

Together, we’re facing another dreaded “morning after” today. In the wake of the untimely death of Robin Williams to suicide, we opened groggy eyes realizing that this nightmare actually happened, and that suicide happens. Days shy of the three-year anniversary of my dad’s own suicide, I am reminded of how I felt that next day. After a night of fitful (or no) sleep, I saw that our once charming grandfather clock was still set on the time I pulled its plug the night before (because I didn’t want to hear one more happy chime) and that my dad wasn’t manning his usual spot at the breakfast table. The house took on a creepy silence and the dreary weather outside seemed to match our moods. No one knew quite what to do or say, let alone how to process this unexpected and shocking loss. This was real and there was no going back to sleep to shake this off.

Like people began to do when word broke about Mr. Williams, friends and strangers began to share the newsBecky and dad of my dad’s death through calls, texts, gossip, news articles and Facebook posts like wildfire, not really considering the impact on the family. (My father was around the same age and a public, elected official who took his life in a local park, which elevated our city’s awareness of what happened. I couldn’t hide from it…) This kind of sharing really bothers me because in the moment, most people just want to be among the first to break the surprising news. While it sounds like Mr. Williams’ family was aware of his passing before the media bit, it’s still very difficult for loved ones to see the onslaught of headlines and photos alongside a word like “suicide.” They likely had only minutes to process what happened before having to surrender their lives so publicly to this news. I wasn’t even that lucky. The local newspaper decided to post the breaking news headline while my mom was on her way to tell me in person. So, not only did I learn about my dad’s death on the internet while at work (thanks to all the sharing), I feel like I was actually one of the last people to find out. This contributed to the post-traumatic stress I experienced in the days following. I truly feel for his family – and especially Mr. Williams’ young daughter – for the added distress they are feeling because this is so public.

The quick media analysis of Mr. Williams’ final social media posts also shook me. Coincidentally, he shared aRobin and Zelda Williams nostalgic, loving photo of himself with his now 25-year old daughter in celebration of her birthday two weeks prior. Today, there’s another young girl out there who lost her dad, her hero, to suicide. How could someone who brought so many laughs, smiles and contributions to this world do something so dark? Just days before my dad died, I’m reminded of how he took the time to remind me in our last telephone and email conversations how much he loved me, too. Though, I never saw his next act coming. I worry about Zelda and other family members who are so fresh in their grief that they don’t know how life can possibly pick up from here.

Depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder are life-consuming issues that can rob even the kindest, most thoughtful and previously “happy” people of their desire to go on. They didn’t “give up” and aren’t “selfish.” Life became too utterly painful for them to go on living and suicide seemed like the better option. How awful to reach that point – most of us will never understand that.

Unfortunately, there still exists a stigma in our society for those who are experiencing mental illness or have lost a loved one to suicide and the cycle continues. We’ve made progress with many other social concerns, but this one lags behind. People feel nervous or guilty about admitting they aren’t feeling like themselves. They worry they will be judged for seeking professional help for fear it shows weakness. They worry word will get out that they are taking medication and choose not to pursue it or the counseling that will help them navigate their healing. Survivors keep their stories quiet so people don’t label their family or loved one as “crazy.” And, most of us are too engrained in our phones, computers and lives to even notice that someone might be hurting. “This would never happen in my family,” they say.

It is extremely sad and unfortunate that we lost such a talented artist and human being to suicide and mental illness. However, I am hopeful that the significance of Mr. Williams’ death and the way in which he died will encourage a national conversation about what we can do to be more supportive of those who are in need. We need to eliminate the stigmas, provide more resources and be more in-tune with those around us.

In addition to sharing photos and memorable movie quotes of Mr. Williams today, let’s all take an extra step:

  • Check-in (more than once) on someone who hasn’t been acting like themselves or who has appeared anxious, down or in distress
  • Brush up on resources, for yourself or a loved one who may be in crisis, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Be courageous about sharing your own experiences to demonstrate that we need to continue battling stigmas that exist in our society

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Photo of Robin and Zelda Williams courtesy of DailyMail.uk.

Comments

  1. Cindy Barden says

    Thankyou for this, so well written.Wow did that bring back a lot of memories, fortunately at 4 years down the road I am in a stronger place today.
    I am impatient with the comments about drug abuse and depression when it’s always been obvious to me that he had some issues, bipolar comes to mind, and as many gifted people, artists, they don’t want to give up the highs of that disorder.
    I hope that this loss opens up the opportunity for dialogue on this subject.
    Now I must go to the gym and work off some negative

    • Becky says

      Cindy – I do feel the worst for the very newly bereaved. Those intitial gray, foggy days seemed absolutely unmanageable at the time. Time never fully heals us, but I too feel so much stronger in the years that have passed.

  2. Mark says

    Haven’t been here in awhile and was hoping you were still writing blog posts. Thanks for putting some words together helping the rest of us to better understand and make sense of this latest tragedy. – Your old cube neighbor : )

    • Becky says

      I don’t do enough publicizing of this, often thinking it’s such a dismal topic for people to read about on a “normal” day. But, when things like this happen, it just reminds us all (myself included) that the conversation can’t stop. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Craig says

    Great post as always, thanks.
    I’m 10 years on from my Fathers suicide. News reporting, and the “glorification” of suicide in movies, TV shows, news reporting etc. has sickened, disappointed, or enraged me, every time I’ve encountered it since. For me, it hits in a lot of things, I can really point to the love I had for movies. Movies for me have always been about escapism of course. I hated that I had to really pick out what I was going to watch, avoiding heavy themes, etc. I still do. And then bam, somehow you run into a scene where a suicide was placed, and you couldn’t figure out why, but the shock value. I can tell you I don’t watch Law and Order, or those types of shows anymore, because I don’t want to have the additional surprise reminder. There just isn’t enjoyment in those sorts of shows for me. It just feels distasteful.
    What bothers me most is what you point to here. And today is more bothersome than yesterday. I understand the world we live in, whether or not we like it, this is the immediate gratification, “me first” technological age. I understand the reporting of his death, and even that he died by suicide. What I will never understand, and never want to understand, is the graphic detail news outlets now pain themselves to report about these types of deaths. USA Today and CNN today for instance have extremely graphic detail of the manner he was found and what he used. I know some readers here understand this, but I haven’t asked for as much about my own father as the level of detail that I have read on CNN about Robin Williams. I know enough about my father and the circumstances of his death. Who needs to know the level of what is getting reported? Who’s business is it but the family? There is nothing, no argument, no freedom of information act, etc. that should allow that. What that is, is disgusting, unneeded, tasteless “reporting”. He was an entertainment icon, as such forever in the public. I still will never see why that sort of reporting is ever, ever needed. Or, who wants it.
    And alas, as a suicide survivor, all of these things just always take you back places.
    I hope, as we all do, that the death of the very public figure that he was, leads to a drive to end the stigma of suicide, and mental health disorders. The eyes that the entertainment industry could bring to awareness campaigns could be immeasurable, and a true tribute to his memory.

    • Becky says

      Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Craig. I agree so much with what you’ve said. The media frenzy around highly-public suicides sickens me. They are so quick to jump on the details, but try getting them to talk about this topic on a quiet news day – how it is on the rise, how it can be prevented or how we can help surviving families. No one wants to touch it then…it’s too dark and depressing. I am choosing not to listen to, read or watch any of this coverage for that reason.

      I am equally disappointed when a movie or show I like “goes there” in such a way. Same when I discover that lyrics to a song I used to like are actually about suicide.

  4. Dogluvr says

    Thank you for sharing this! I hear so often it is a “spiritual” problem. And while that may very well be part of it, there is another component, a disease called depression. If you haven’t dealt with it, you don’t know what you’re talking about. These people are not trying to be selfish, they are HURTING deeper than you can imagine. For them, the pain of living is greater than the fear of dying. My heart aches for them and their families.

  5. CJ Moylan says

    Hi, I knew that amid the hype and scrutiny of the mainstream media you would have something more nuanced to say.
    One thing you talk about that needs even more emphasis – a suicide, especially a public suicide of someone so well known and adored, is going to trigger up some potent and painful memories of their own loss. It is normal and expected but that doesn’t make it any less painful. People with their own losses need to self-nurture at times like these and not get absorbed in the media.
    Second, I think the media hype is a symptom of a problem that goes deeper: people are in pain, even if they didn’t know him, confused, they want to know more, understand. The media has no answers but feels intense pressure to put something out there, and the individual people in the media are often no more knowledgeable about suicide or comfortable discussing it than their audience. So they talk around it. I think the current media approach to suicide coverage is off base because it is either too much – as here – or too little. Protocol for media is not use the word suicide – for example, the news has reported very few train deaths in years – it is usually low key and says “pedestrian died” even when that “pedestrian” was in a rural area 10 miles from a crossing or station. This is a stated policy to prevent dramatizing the act, and to prevent copycats. What is too much or too little? and how can we as a society grieve? Education through media may be a better choice but less “glitzy.” Less details of how his body was found (we do not need to know, none of us) and more details on preventing copycats by stating – if someone you know….or pointing out the pain this causes to so many others in hopes someone sees that and thinks, I can’t do that to my kids/wife/lover/dog/father/sibling/whatever…
    We as a society hide from dealing with suicide in part out of our own confusions and conflicted feelings. Our media creates us but it also reflects us.

    And I got the impression that he had battled demons for years, yes, and had the resources of both loved ones and money to seek help and had off and on. Yet still he succumbed. Behind all the bad reporting are worse questions, such as: if the rich, adored, talented, gifted and successful can fall prey to the demons of depression, what hope for the rest of us?

    • Becky says

      Thank you for adding these points! You are spot on in that news like this takes us all back to a memory or place we’d rather not be. I also agree that it can leave others with many, many questions and that the immediate resources available to them (the news) do not adequately help.

      I’m glad you raised these comments for others.

  6. Rachael says

    I lost my father one month today. He committed suicide. I am going through the motions of life, forcing myself to be strong. I want to do anything I can to help with suicide awareness. If there is anything I can do, whether it is attend or help with events. Please, contact me. Thank you.

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