*As you start this post, know that there are some great links here. I spent a lot of time digging them up– there are so many, it’s hard to choose! Play them.
It’s been a full week since I heard the news that Robin Williams was dead. I was driving to Seattle for a concert with a good friend and our two sons, and my friend’s older son texted us the news. When he added that it was suicide, we all gasped. That’s not some literary description; we truly gasped. All four of us, 17-50’something year-olds, were utterly shocked. Honestly, I felt such a jolt that momentarily it felt wrong to continue on our way to a happy event. It was like the world tipped sideways a little and everything felt off balance.
Throughout the evening as we listened to the Arctic Monkey’s perform (an amazing concert) the news washed over me. Oh my God, Robin Williams killed himself? When I went to the bathroom, it was obvious that others were were stunned too– people looked dazed. As I stood washing my hands, I realized that all of these much younger, much hipper women were talking about Robin Williams. “What?! Are you serious?” “I can’t believe it!” “Oh my God– Robin Williams!” “That’s so sad!” “I can’t believe he’s gone.” Robin Williams crossed so many generations, in his appeal. Those who hadn’t heard were shocked and incredulous, and those who’d heard earlier, were stunned and reeling, like me. Sadness prevailed, as we stood washing our hands– strangers sharing knowing glances and sad acknowledgements. We were all at a sold out concert, and this is what people were talking about. When we got home that night, my 17 year-old son and I were in our kitchen. It’s hard to know that he was that sad and hopeless, I said to him. “Mom, it’s really sad to know that he was busy making so many people happy–making so many people laugh– and he was that hopeless.” Out of the mouth of babes.
The next morning, when I woke up, the news rushed right back in and jolted me all over– like hard news does, as it settles on your brain. It’s been hanging on me all week– spider webs in my head, sticky and dark. Given the number of things written this week, the Facebook posts, and the news items, I’m clearly not alone. It’s been a week since we heard; it’s all been said, and yet my mind is still swirling, trying to make sense of this tragedy.
I’m 51 years old and I’ve followed Robin Williams since I was 15 years old; it feels like he’s been around my entire life. For some of you, he has. When he debuted on Mork and Mindy in 1978, he blew. Us. Away. My brother and I took turns bending our hands and saying “Nanu, nanu” in a funny voice; my friends and I all bought and wore suspenders, rolled our pants up and wore colorful socks. Mork was everywhere; Robin Williams was everywhere! His comedy was crazy brilliant; his talent was enormous!
Robin Williams shifted gears faster than most of us could think. His imitations and routines were high octane; his physical comedy was so electric, you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Three minutes of stand up, and he’d do so many characters, my head would spin. But he always made me laugh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qi3Eg3c_82M
Over the years his talent expanded, and amazed me even more. His serious roles in movies touched me as much as his huge humor made me laugh. The Dead Poet’s Society has always been a favorite movie of mine. When I heard he’d died, “Oh Captain, my captain” is the first thing that popped into my head. In his tribute, Jimmy Fallon used that same line, and brought me to tears.
The fact that Robin Williams was a bit broken inside came through in many of his performances. I always felt that it was that vulnerable place in him that made so many of those serious roles that much more compelling. His sadness felt real. Behind all of the crazy, zany facial expressions, his eyes looked sad, as often as they twinkled. He seemed to understand pain and struggle, and when he played certain characters, that shined through. It’s what made his Mrs. Doubtfire so relatable and touching. It’s why his Peter Pan– in one of our three favorite family movies, Hook, held you. You felt for that broken Peter, and cheered that much louder when he found his Bangarang again. His Genie in the animated movie Aladdin was a character that my kids knew was something more than funny and crazy– and they loved him for it. Robin Williams brought heart to everything he did, and that’s what touched so many of us.
The many faces of Robin Williams:
I was and remain a huge fan, and like so many others I’m grieving.
Other celebrities have died: drug overdoses, cancer, accidents, old age– you can’t escape real life– And I feel a loss of their presence and contribution to film and entertainment, but there is something much more troubling about Robin Williams’ death: the idea that he was that sad, that broken, even as he made so many people laugh and feel happy, is troubling beyond words. It’s hard to justify those two facts and not be left feeling incredulous, helpless, sad, a little lost. If he had died any other way, it would still be shocking. It’s hard to believe that anything could put out that wattage, but the idea that he sat there alone and chose to end his own life, is what shakes me the hardest.
I’ve always told my own children that “suicide is never the answer,” that the hopelessness you feel in that moment, always passes, but that the loss you would leave in your wake, would never leave those you leave behind. “Dad and I would never recover from something like that,” I told them, hoping that as they weathered the potentially rocky years of youth, that point would stick. Yet four years ago this December, when I felt so hopeless and dark that suicide seemed the answer, all of my own words deserted me. In those hours, I could only hear my own self-recriminations, my own loss– a mountain of pain and hopelessness seemed insurmountable; the voice in my head were ruthless and harsh.
I came as close to where Robin Williams went, as I ever want to be again. I reached out in desperation and luckily a friend answered that night. We were both left shaken; it took me weeks to recover any vestige of solid ground. I felt numb and cut off, shaken by what I’d done, but still unable to really feel hopeful.
Ever since, I’ve been in my own 12-step recovery. I watch for the signs that I’m “flooded,” and I reach out to the very small group of people who I can be truly vulnerable with. That circle has changed in four years, as I learn how to take care of myself. I seek refuge when I need it– I will probably always be someone who needs to drive off in my car. I continue to work on my own insecurities and demons– All. The. Time. It hasn’t been easy. I feel very lucky that my husband and kids understood and have supported me since that night. I feel grateful that most of the (very few) friends and family who I told then, stood by me. Others couldn’t accept that I was suffering, and needed a life line. That I would bounce back eventually, and not remain so lost.
In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, I’ve heard so many people say: If only someone had known, if only he’d reached out for help. My guess is that maybe he did reach out at some point, but I’ve also learned that people sometimes react from their own place of fear, insecurity, or inability to understand, when they hear that someone is feeling that hopeless. Just weeks after my own fumbled attempt, I was talking to a friend who didn’t know what I’d been through, and the topic came up (after a suicide where he lives). My friend said: “I have no compassion for someone who chooses that route– They leave such a mess behind. It’s so selfish.” He’s not a callous person at all; he was being honest. I got it; it’s not that far off from what I’d always told my kids. I also knew that while his words might be a bit harsher than some others might be, he was not alone in that thought. But it shut the door on my ever being able to talk to him about my own demons. I instinctively knew not to share it lightly, or with just anyone. For a long while, I felt alone in my struggle, knowing that only a small group of people were there, and I wasn’t always sure if I could call and bother them. That’s how your brain works when it’s depressed. The voices you hear, are not the supportive, healing, confident ones… they’re the ones that might push you off the ledge.
It’s taken nearly four years for me to be able to talk about this without feeling like people will run away, or judge. Some of them will; I’ve seen the awkward expressions, heard the conversation change quickly. I noticed who called to say are you ok, and who avoided bringing it up. I’ve accepted that and moved on. I may have lost some friends and connections, in the aftermath of my depression and suicidal hole, but I climbed out with the help of family, and some friends who became that much dearer in that same aftermath. I let go of my need to cling, and do whatever I thought it would take, to make a relationship work. Over time I got a lot clearer about boundaries and what makes me feel safe and happy. I’ve spent so much of my life taking care of other people and feeling responsible for their feelings and lives, that it’s been truly freeing to let that go, and take care of myself. I keep working on me.
I think that what haunts me about Robin Williams death is that I really get it. I got so close to where he went, and I survived. I came to understand that all those words I’d fed my kids were true. It does get better; the potential for it to get better is always in your own hands. I truly get that you can feel so tired of trying, and so sad that the potential seems hopeless, but it’s not, unless you’re terminally ill, and truly suffering. My mother knew there was no hope of ever feeling better again. She was depressed; she was in pain, and she knew it would only get worse. Aside from my sister and I, and her grandchildren, she was alone. Her doctors knew the same thing, but at the time there was no Death With Dignity law in Washington state (there is now). Still, her doctors advised that she would benefit from palliative care and would die faster, without intervention, honoring her wishes and her life. She did, and it was the right decision. It gave her time to say whatever she needed to say; to be free from pain, and to die with some dignity. However, aside from those horrible cases where the end is clear and there is truly no hope, suicide is never the answer.
Robin Williams’ death shakes me because I wish he could have understood that. I wish he could have had the good fortune I’ve had: to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel; that those who love you really do need you to make it to that light; that we grow and expand emotionally when we let others in, and let them see our vulnerabilities, our imperfections and “idiosyncrasies“and that it’s not all about making everyone else feel better. We don’t always have to be “on.” I wish that he could have rested peacefully and woken renewed, rather than leaving us all to question the missed steps and wishing him rest in peace. I wish he could have gotten it. It.
The many faces of Robin Williams, the actor:
I will never watch Hook; or Dead Poets Society; or Good Will Hunting; or Mrs. Doubtfire; or Aladdin; or Jumanji; or Jack; or Patch Adams; or Night At The Museum; or Awakenings; or Good Morning Vietnam; or countless other movies and videos, without feeling a little sad– without registering the lost opportunities and wasted potential. I think of his children and those who loved him, and hope they can find peace, in a loss that is so enormous. The world is a little less funny, a little less brilliant for now. Someone else will come along and fill that hole; that is how the real world is, dear people, but Oh Captain my Captain, you will be missed for a long time to come.
On a personal note: I’m fine. I’m working the program, and I feel like I’ve come a long way in four years. I really appreciate how many (TFTM hit 4,000 followers last week!) of you read these posts and reach out to me– but if you see me in town, or we run into each other, this is not something I want to talk about. I’ve said it several times: I write without filters– let’s face it, if you know me, I live without filters. As one very caring person pointed out recently– between vegetables and crackers at the market– that makes me vulnerable. I can’t be any other way… good or bad. However, when I write I go to a special place, and when I go to get my groceries, I go somewhere else. I like to keep it that way. If you’d really like to pat me on the back, hit Like at the bottom of this post, and then leave a comment. You don’t have to use your name, but I’d love to hear what you have to say. Despite what I’ve said above, thank you so much to the wonderful people, increasingly common, who have told me that my writing touched them, that it means something– that, means a whole lot to me, in return.
Final note: If you are considering suicide, please get help. It really does get better, and suicide is never the answer. It’s true, you will be out of pain, but you will leave a world of it in your wake. Call a friend, reach out to someone who loves you, or call the suicide prevention hot line; trust that it can get better and reach for a lifeline. Don’t believe the voices in your head– they are hurting and broken, and are not the right voices to trust. Trust me on this. Ask for help.
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What do I want? I’d love to see my Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 500 likes in 2014. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, it’s where I try to be brief. If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there. © 2014 Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.
Dawn, I’m so glad you’re recovering from your serious low. I’ve suffered depression, but never that bad. We suspect my husband tried at least once, but ended up in the hospital and wouldn’t admit the attempt. He drank something that he said someone else had added to his sugared drink at a gas station when he left it in the car. He drove to a friend’s home, and the friend drove him to the hospital. As you know, he suffers from bi-polar disorder. I think his sister might have also. She did commit suicide years ago by hanging herself from a ceiling fan. She had no children, and had recently lost first her husband from a heart attack, then her mother who died of natural causes. She had returned to the bungalow she and her husband had shared south of here. The company they both worked for had given it to them to live in. Tragically, she was alone in her grief. She took her own life using the fan in the bungalow. That’s a common method here.
It’s frightening, but many of the suicides here are children, especially if they get bad grades in school. A lot of emphasis is placed here on succeeding in school. Certain standardized tests are taken, and if the child does well, sweets are handed out to relatives, friends, and neighbors by the parents. Can you imagine how the children feel who don’t get good marks. Failure is a frightening thing in a country where you see a great many poor sleeping on the streets, train station platforms, etc.
Also, in years when crops fail, there are a great many suicides among the farmers. It’s a Hindu belief here that you go on to another life. I guess suicides feel that they might succeed in the next life. —Susan
Susan, I am moved by your amazing comment. What a sad state when children are killing themselves, anywhere, for any reason! It is not as common here, but it certainly happens! I appreciate your continued support as a reader, and have enjoyed getting to know you and your writing through these exchanges and FF. Thanks for taking the time.
This week it feels like so much of America is bouncing between watching Robin Williams’ movies (two nights ago we did Dead Poets Society, the night before was Good Will Hunting) and the news from Ferguson, MO. Sadness, depression, anxiety and fear are actually reasonable responses to a world gone crazy, but whenever anyone gets to that point in which we fear for our lives from our own hands we must find the strength to reach out to someone, anyone. I’m glad you did those many years ago.
Thanks so much. Yes, the news is especially hard to see these days. Frankly, it’s never good… and hard to watch almost ever, but in recent weeks it seems like it’s been one horror after another!
It really does take strength to reach out, when you’re at the bottom, but you’re so right: it’s the only way. Thanks for the kind response.
PS: I am absolutely horrified to hear about some people’s negative comments about Robin Williams on social media. The lack of sensitivity concerning depression and suicide in our culture is astounding.
It really is! THAT is one major reason why so many people do not reach out for help. It’s hard enough to get past your own demons; it’s nearly impossible if others add fuel to the fire. Thanks again hbk.
Your writing is so heartfelt and spot on and I’m so very glad that your friend was there that night for you. I feel only compassion for those who have chosen the path of suicide as I simply cannot imagine the pain they must have suffered. I’m still reeling from the news about Robin Williams, and I, too, feel that his talent, heart and humor has touched me throughout my life.
I think that, like losing a beloved friend or family member, with time the grief shifts somewhat and we can remember the good times and feel lighter. For me, Robin William’s life work stands as a tribute to the wonderful man that he was and I’ll always be willing to receive it as his gift to me and the world. I’m sorry that he’s gone and I’m sorry that his pain led him to such a choice and I truly hope that he is now at peace. And perhaps some good will come of this as it may help to raise awareness about the signs, symptoms and ways to prevent suicide.
Blessings to you, Dawn. I’m very, very glad you’re here.
Cathy, your comments are always filled with such compassionate wisdom; they mean so much to me. Some day we’ll sit over coffee and fill in the blanks, but until then, I so appreciate knowing that you’re out there. Thanks for your kind and supportive words. xo d
I look forward to that day.
Moi aussi! 😉
May the “raggedy love army of helpers” (thank you, Anne Lamott) keep us from that dark place, always.
Amen. Thanks Jennifer… how great to hear AL’s voice in this.
As always, Dawn, I am moved by your candor and ability to write about those things held back by most people, including me. I can relate to the depression you so vividly described. I also visited what I call ‘the abyss’ – that dark place from which there is no return if one chooses to take that last step. There was a time when my first marriage was falling apart that I felt worth more dead than alive, and you are right. It takes courage, strength and support from others to fight one’s way back. My heart goes out to you in gratitude for finding your way back and for sharing your story. Your friendship means that much to me. Thank you for a great personal story and an eloquent tribute to one of the funniest guys who ever lived. He will be missed! – Mike
Mike, your comments always lift me up and make me happy we’ve met. Sounds like we’ve both made the hard journey, and seen that things can get better! Clearly, your life is a lot happier now, and for many people you were clearly worth more alive! 😉 Thanks for your supportive insights.
What an amazing post.
I am glad you had such a great friend to turn too in your darkest moment. I am glad you are with us to share your story. Thank you.
I cry every time I see a tribute to Robin somewhere on the internet. I wish he had had someone to stop him from leaving us all. I will not chastise him for committing suicide. I will accept that he was in pain. I will celebrate the gift of laughter he gave us, if even for a short time. I know I cry because I fear he didn’t know how loved he really was. I hope that wasn’t the case.
Mike and I are looking forward to meeting up with you one day soon now that we have returned to the US.
Until then, peace and hugs.
Florence, thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. Yes, I think so many of us feel sad at the thought that RW didn’t “know how loved he really was.” I always knew I was loved, but I think there is a despair that clouds even that. It’s easy to think that perhaps even that love is not enough, when you are in enough personal pain. That is the piece that so many people find selfish. I get it, but I know it’s mistaken. It’s sad that RW could not get beyond that.
I too look forward to spending some time together, now that you’re back on this side of the pond! Ciao! d
Very honest, moving and illuminating. A big virtual hug to you, Dawn…
Thank you so much K. I always welcome a hug from you, friend. xo
What a moving, honest and open response to this awful tragedy.
As I started reading I thought this was exactly my reaction. Then as I read on I realised you were writing from a point of much deeper understanding.
I lost a close friend to suicide and I have tried hard to understand his thoughts and feelings at the time and I think I have come as close as I can. Privately trying to write the story from his point of view helped, I think.
I have taken suicide intervention courses and hope that I will never stand at a graveside again, crying tears of frustration because I failed to recognise the signs for what they were until it was too late. No doubt many of Robin WIlliams family and friends are thinking the same thing. I wish I could send them peace.
I really appreciate this very personal response, Siobhan. I have known 2 people who committed suicide. I was not close friends with either, but knew them both well enough to wonder and hurt that I had not done something. Such a helpless feeling! It would be such a beautiful thing if the death of RW could shed more awareness on this topic, and more healing… sadly, there are a lot of social medial things out there that are quite harsh and judgmental about the loss. I hope that those of us who get it and care, are a greater force in the world. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and share. It means a lot.
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Thanks for sharing Dawn – a very powerful and moving post xo
Thanks Sara; your support is appreciated. 🙂
Dawn, this is such a touching tribute to Robin. I’ve gone through the same exercise as you, watching the Birdcage last night and the Fisher King tonight. And I’m marveling at how many times he referenced suicide throughout his professional work. It all touched way too close to home – uncle, students, and friend – all gone and still holding a heavy place in my heart. It was so good to read your words. ~Terri
Terri, I haven’t been able to watch any of his films yet. I really feel so sad at the loss. In a way, I do know it’s silly… I didn’t know him personally, and I’m not suggesting that, but it feels personal. I guess his place in my life, for so many years, really mattered. I know I’ll watch all of them at some point… again. You should see Hook; that is truly a delightful movie! Dead Poets is my favorite, but there are so many great movies he starred in. I’m so sorry for your losses… that kind of death just leaves un un-fillable hole. Dawn
Probably the best and most honest tribute I’ve seen to Robin Williams. Thank you for sharing. Although I haven’t personally experienced the death of anyone close to me by suicide, our son and his best friend were broadsided by a drunk driver and both died instantly. The hole left is unimaginable. For those of us left behind, no matter how the loss occurred, it’s a long and difficult walk, full of difficult moments and questions “why?”.
Rebecca, I am honored by your kind and thoughtful words; thank you. I can’t begin to imagine the walk you’ve made; that hole is big beyond words. Yes, any sudden death leaves survivors seeking answers that rarely come, and healing that is so hard. My deepest condolences, for I know that your grieving is endless. Thanks so much for stopping by; it is much appreciated.
Rebecca, you should consider going back and answering some of the comments on your blog. I’ve been reading posts, and it is truly inspiring how many beautiful comments you have! Of course, it’s not my place, but I wondered if you know how much you have touched your readers? On one recent post, about your son’s birthday, there are some really powerful comments! I live in Bellingham, WA… today, I feel your pain, palpably, knowing you are close by, and have suffered such a loss. Continued healing, on your journey. xo
Our dear friends lost their son suddenly and tragically 4 1/2 years ago. The wound from that loss will never go away, but I am amazed and inspired by watching them find meaning in going on as parents without their oldest son alive. I wrote a blog piece in honor of him and them and the book that the father wrote, trying to help him process the unprocessible: the death of his son. If you are interested in reading his story or self-discovery and healing it can be found at: http://www.themagicofmothering.com/in-this-i-will-find-beauty/
Heidi, thanks for sharing this link. I just spent a little time looking at your friend’s blog… it is beautiful! I did not see a “follow” or subscribe link. But very powerful posts!
I can’t find the subscribe button either. Will write to him to find out what happened. I know they are traveling so it might take a bit. You can find it on Facebook and follow his posts. I can see it had been awhile since he posted.
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Your raw honesty and elegant prose has been responsible for quite a bit of my inspiration to continue writing candidly on my own site. Writing has always been cathartic for me but I’ve lived with the fear of sounding too whiny or wrong in someway for a long time. I still do at certain points. So, I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for choosing the light. xo
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Thanks so much, Jackie! I have been so lax in writing lately, that it’s a miracle anyone is still reading! I have never found your writing whiny or “wrong;” keep being real! Thanks for sticking around, and thank you so much for your kind words; they mean a lot! xox
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I’m having the same “lax” myself. It’s so frustrating for me because I have a lot of half finished thoughts and not enough umph to get them out.
I plan to! Your works are wonderful and I’m glad to be a part of the following. Be well! Xo
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