August 11

I admit, I was really shocked when I heard of Robin Williams’ death today. And saddened more than I thought possible. After all, I didn’t know him personally. I’m also not someone who normally follows celebrity news carefully. So I was surprised to find myself in tears over his loss. But then again, he had been an actor since I was a small child. He’d been around in movies for pretty much all of my life. Hearing about his death today felt a little bit like losing an uncle I didn’t get to see that often. In his memory, I rented and watched one of my favorite films What Dreams May Come. And I’ve been thinking about what his death means to me. And why I feel so affected. I think the key is simply to look at some of the characters he’s played over the years: Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society, Chris in What Dreams May Come, Daniel in Mrs. Doubtfire, Adrian in Good Morning Vietnam, Peter Pan in Hook, Alan in Jumanji, Armand in The Birdcage, Hunter Adams in Patch Adams…The bulk of his characters were inspirational. Characters who were compassionate, often struggling with their own issues but trying to help others overcome theirs as well. Because Robin Williams was such a great actor, it was easy to believe that he was just like his characters, which makes his loss to apparent suicide seem so much more tragic. He’s supposed to overcome. He’s the guy who’s always searching for the answers and fighting the good fight. How could he have found himself no longer able to?

I posted back in June about a friend of mine who had committed suicide and how much it affected me. My disbelief now is not as great as it was then, of course, but it’s familiar. When I hear of anyone’s death from suicide I immediately think of all the wonderful things they’re missing out on. However, that’s my view and I know that and I’m thankful that it’s my default. It helps me personally when I’m struggling. But there’s a line in What Dreams May Come that seems poignant What’s true in our minds is true, whether other people know it or not. We can’t always tell what struggles people are going through, and even if we did, we may not understand them anyway. Not all of our demons are the same. But there are many people living with depression or anxiety or any other illness that becomes a daily struggle. We may not be able to see it. Robin Williams is a perfect example, a man who always seemed so full of energy and laughter on the outside. While I’m sad to hear of his battles with depression and his death today, I’m thankful we were blessed with his talent. I wish his family peace tonight.

June 2

It was a good day. In many ways. I sit here at my computer thinking about what made it worthwhile, even though it wasn’t overly exciting or special. But it had all the necessary stuff of life for me: beautiful weather, a little work, good conversations and quality time with people I care about. I’m lucky.

Today I’m usually reminded of someone I loved long ago. He killed himself on June 2. We were both 25 at the time.  I still remember the phone call and how the sun shone through the window on the counter top where I was standing in my kitchen. I remember how I turned absently to look into the refrigerator and how, in my memory, there was nothing there. I remember how hard it was to breathe while trying to understand the message I was told. He overdosed on some pills he had found in his mom’s medicine cabinet. He didn’t want to keep living. And in the moment I hung up the phone, I knew everything was changed for me. In that split second, I was a different person. It’s strange how some moments are trans formative. How we can look back at a single point in time and say, yes, that’s when my life took a turn.  His death stripped me of my naivety. I had never lost anyone so suddenly before. Especially someone who chose to leave and never return. That moment was my epiphany.

It was only after his funeral that I was able to see a different side to the man I knew. His mother told me of his battles with depression and alcohol, facets of himself he had kept hidden from me. Apparently, he had tried to commit suicide at least once before, when in his teens. He had grown up with abuse. Everything she told me was opposite of the person I knew. A guy who was brilliantly intelligent, funny, laughed easily, well-liked. He was set to graduate from college with high honors. He had plans to live in Alaska. He loved animals. And he loved me. His mother told me that in the time frame he and I were closest was the happiest she had seen him. The most well-adjusted. She had hoped he had turned himself around. But he obviously hadn’t. And her comments only added to the guilt I already felt. I wondered how I didn’t know or hadn’t seen any signs. I agonized over what I missed because I hadn’t been paying enough attention. I recounted every time I could think of where he asked something of me and I didn’t respond right. Of when he may have needed me and I wasn’t there. I wondered how I could have saved him. I hated myself because I didn’t.

It took me many, many years to finally stop carrying his death around with me. I let it define me for too long. The grief, the guilt, the anger. I carried it with me like a treasure I was afraid to let go of.  It wasn’t until I had a long period of hard times myself that I finally understood the low point someone can get to where death seems a viable option. One particularly dark day of a very long year, I finally understood how hard it can be to stay hopeful when life seems so set against you. But thankfully, I never gave in to that despair. I knew I had things to live for. I forgave him that day. And it became easier to move on. I finally realized that setting aside the weight of his death didn’t mean I would be forgetting or not caring anymore. I needed to let him go for me. His death was tragic, of course, but it wasn’t my fault. It was his choice, and I’ll always think it was a terrible choice. He’s missed out on so much. And he had so much he could have contributed. The world really is a beautiful place. Especially on days like today when there’s sunshine and ice cream and laughter and love. I’m thankful.