It’s been a sad week, kids. Robin Williams, one of our most beloved comedic icons, took his own life this past Monday. I’m old enough to remember when he first broke into our collective consciousness (on Mork and Mindy) and watched his trajectory from street mime to comedian to TV star to movie star, handling both comedy and drama with aplomb, winning an Oscar in 1997. I saw countless appearances on the Tonight show and Late Night.
It was a horrible shocking sadness. And yet for me, it wasn’t a complete surprise. Because I had read for a long time of his struggles with depression and addiction. I’d watched his manic performances and knew there was a very dark flip side to that seemingly boundless energy. I knew, because I know that flip side myself. So I felt very sad for him, for the extreme pain that drove him to ending it.
But nothing prepared me for the next couple of days.
Monday was mostly about reaction and shock and tears. Tuesday brought on the judgments.
Suicide is selfish. Suicide is the coward’s way out. Suicide is for the weak. He gave no thought to his loved ones and how they would suffer. He had all that money; he could have paid for the best of care. Lots of people get depressed; they endure it and they get over it. And so on and so forth, blah blah blah.
And I felt all-encompassing rage.
You know what? Until you have existed in the living shroud that is depression… until you have known, up close and personal, that utter darkness, despair and hopelessness… until you’ve counted the minutes every day until you could go to bed and sink into oblivion for a few hours of respite from the misery… until the simplest of acts, like putting on your clothes or brushing your teeth, are Herculean feats for you… until you’ve listened to hours, days, months, YEARS, of negative nattering in your head… until all that and so much more… you do not get to say jack about suicide. You do not get to judge, and you do not get to condemn. If you have never experienced any of this, then more power to you. I envy you. But have a little compassion anyway. And if you can’t find it in your heart to feel that compassion for a another’s tortured soul, then keep it to yourself. Think your judgmental thoughts if you will. But SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. You are helping absolutely no one with your intolerance.
No, Robin Williams wasn’t thinking about his loved ones, because he’d gone beyond rational thought. Depression isn’t about logic. Depression isn’t something you can talk yourself out of; it’s a brain disorder, a chemical imbalance, and victims of it can’t talk themselves out of it any more than diabetics can talk themselves out of low blood sugar. Suicide is born of the worst despair imaginable, a relentless torment.
I know, because I attempted it when I was 19. And one thing I will never forget, as long as I live, was the way I felt the morning I decided to do it. After so much crying and agonizing and fighting, peace descended over me, enveloped me. My crazed mind went blank, I felt calm. Finally. It would be over. I thought of nothing else — not my family, not my friends, nothing. All I could think of was my deliverance from pain and how relieved I felt.
One of my friends on Facebook wrote a blog in which he compared Robin Williams to Roger Ebert, who suffered for years from the ravages of cancer before he finally succumbed to it. He claimed that Ebert faced his pain heroically, while Williams surrendered and betrayed his loved ones in the process. I did not wish to disrespect or insult my friend, but I had to say something. So I commented that it was unfair to compare the two: Ebert had a ravaged body, and Williams had a ravaged mind. I was respectful, and he was respectful in his comment back to me. But it made me sad. People just don’t understand.
But wait, there’s more. Wednesday brought yet another type of judgment and condemnation.
Certain members of religious groups were, almost gleefully, saying that because Robin Williams committed a mortal sin with suicide, and because he was blasphemous and profane in his comedy, he was burning in hell for all eternity. The Westboro Baptist Church clan intends to picket his funeral. And so on.
When I read about this, I waited for the next wave of rage. However, it didn’t come. Instead, I broke down and bawled.
I am not a saint. I have felt anger, and yes, even hate, toward certain people, particularly those who have done dreadful things to me or to those I care about. But what the hell did Robin Williams do to any of these people? How anyone can wish eternal misery upon a fellow human being, whose only “sin” was his inability to endure his own torment, is beyond my scope of understanding.
As I wept, I read further, searching for some sanity. Fortunately, I found some. I am an atheist, but I wanted to find some goodness, some human kindness and compassion, in both realms: the religious and the secular. So I found two quotes, which I will share here.
This one is from Mark Shea, a Catholic blogger:
And this one is from Michael Stone, a secular humanist:
In the end, of course, there is no heaven, and there is no hell. Death is final, and that is tragedy enough. There is no afterlife. All we can do now is mourn the loss, and celebrate the life.
Pick whichever one works best for you. For the record, I found both comforting.
So I will mourn our loss of a great entertainer and humanitarian, and I will celebrate the good memories and honor his life by enjoying his performances. I feel the need to see Dead Poet’s Society again. O captain, my captain, please rest peacefully.
A final note: I don’t wish to minimize the death of screen legend Lauren Bacall, who passed away on Tuesday. She was one of the few remaining greats of that era, and it’s sad to see her go. She was 89; she had a long and fruitful life. And while I don’t believe in heaven, I’m going to suspend that disbelief here just for a minute. Because if there is indeed a heaven, then Bogie has been waiting there for her since 1957. That would be one hell of a reunion. ♥