When I learn that someone has died, I always send up a quick prayer to my sister, organizer of angels, so that she will welcome them into her part of the universe. I make a special urgent request that she do so when it’s someone that has died unexpectedly or senselessly, so that he or she will have a friend greet them wherever they land.
I’m not suggesting that the death of Robin Williams was senseless. On the contrary, and I do not presume to know a damn thing about depression except for my own bits and pieces of sorrow, and even they bewilder me sometimes.
But I think that probably in his mind at the moment, his death, well, it made a great deal of sense.
It may have been the only thing he could do to stop the pain.
It sure seems like I’m having my angel sister work overtime these days, doesn’t it? A friend’s mother, another friend’s father, a seventeen-year-old from a local high school, all lost within a few days of one another this summer. And it sure is hard to write when you’re crying.
But then again it sure is hard to NOT write when you’re crying.
Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation. ~ Kahlil Gibran
Mr. Gibran’s words resonate deeply with me. My heart goes out to all the families experiencing pain and loss right now.
Just a few hours after my grandfather died last year, I wrote this post. His death, while tremendously sad, made sense to me, and the words came easy. On the other hand, I’ve written about sudden loss due to accidents, bombings and guns in schools, and those words are a struggle to put on the page.
Managed pain is still pain. Controlled depression is still a deep well in which one swims, where the light seems far, far away. I grow sunflowers to cope with sadness. I admire the tiny seed that sprouts from the earth, fragile and small, that keeps on reaching for the sun until it is seven feet tall and brilliant. Its edible seeds start to tumble and twist from their place on the blossom, and squirrels feast while the great stalks gently fold back onto the earth to close another summer season of light.
Just over a decade ago I was living in central California with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We road tripped to San Francisco to spectate a professional cycling event in which the then-much-adored Lance Armstrong was racing. While walking around the course we heard a familiar, friendly voice.
Robin Williams was standing next to a bike and a guy who might have been an assistant or a friend. Within minutes everyone around us immediately recognized and surrounded him, and for about ten minutes he joked and smiled with the crowd. An old lady nearly knocked him over trying to get a photo, and he made a kind joke about being taken down by someone just a tad older than him.
I shook his hand.
When I moved to California I expected two things: 1) warm, sunny beaches and 2) frequent celebrity sightings. We lived less than a block from the spectacular coast, but it was chilly and foggy most mornings. And I guess most of the celebrities lived somewhere several hours south of us.
Robin Williams remains my one and only celebrity sighting. When I shook his hand, it felt like a normal, healthy, happy guy’s hand, one whom life blessed with talent and opportunity, and certainly not one that belonged to a man in a critically unhappy and potentially life-threatening space.
I’ve been pretty lucky not to have too much direct experience with depression other than that which was mixed up with bereavement. I’m not depressed anymore. But I am Sad with a capital S about the death of Robin Williams.
Crying isn’t innocuous in public spaces. It may be rooted in deep emotion, but it isn’t always appropriate. You know that moment when your voice catches and you pause in order to suck back in the sad? Jimmy Fallon did that last night on his show. I do it all the time.
Please seek out help if you’re feeling deeply or desperately troubled.
You can reach The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 day or night.