All of us are reeling from the knowledge that we will no longer laugh at the crazy and unpredictable antics of Robin Williams in the same way. Of course only a few truly knew him and experienced his depression firsthand, but for some of us- it’s a reminder of other loved ones who we have watched struggle with unimaginable suffering. I have lost two friends to suicide, both unexpected and heartbreaking with their tragic life changing impact on their loved ones. The questions- “What if?” the “What could I have done?” “Why didn’t I know?” plague everyone near the person and after the shock subsides, the anger, palpable rage at the loss of someone so dear that sometimes accompanies grief.
For me, making peace with loss at the hand of someone’s own hand challenged me to find a way to peacefully, without judgment, find a way to understand what seemed incomprehensible. How could my friends leave their families so shattered? I struggled with rage towards these friends as I listened to the despairing voices of the ones they left behind. And, eventually, over time as I worked through my grief, I found my clarity in my work with other good souls who struggled with addiction and or mental illness.
As someone who has supported many patients and families struggling with the effects of the dark, anguishing days of depression, I can say that despite every effort medically, physically and spiritually- sometimes the brain and its thoughts are too much. This experience of mental illness doesn’t make a person weak, or selfish or unkind or any of the value judgments we have all attributed to people who commit suicide. It just makes them human and regardless of everyone’s best efforts, including their own, they make a choice in the midst of such intense darkness to alleviate their pain. When they leave us this way, we are challenged to remember how they lived and not how they died. As hard as that can be…
My friends were both people who loved deeply, made many people laugh, and left a host of memories, good memories that when we want to we can draw upon and make ourselves smile. I like to think Robin Williams like my friends no longer suffers, but dances, free of pain and that someday, somehow, his loved ones will remember the love and joy he brought to so many- and how he lived.
The best way I can honor the life of my friends is to live, fully and completely and gratefully, without judgment, for those who could not.