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 news 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 a 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.