(This post does discuss suicide, depression and grief. It could be triggering to some who are struggling or who have recently lost a loved one.)
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Robin Williams left this Earth. So many of us who adored him as Mork and then grew to love him in his myriad roles on the big screen – as a teacher, a therapist, a medical student, a lovable genie, just to name a few, felt like we had lost a beloved friend. Many of us had never even met him, didn’t really even know him, but we cried when we heard the news and grieved like we lost a family member.
Up until his death, I had never shared with anyone, verbally or in writing, about my amazing encounter with him at LAX. During one of my lowest moments after my late husband’s suicide, he was there to pick me up and offer me kindness, grace, and love. And when I heard the news of his death, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I felt like I had lost a member of my family. The feelings from all those years ago came rushing back to me, and all I could do was internally berate myself for never reaching out to him again to let him know just how much his kindness sustained me. What a lesson he taught me that day.
I have regularly volunteered as a co-facilitator for the Survivors After Suicide Support Group here in Los Angeles, offered through Didi Hirsch. It’s a group I went through after my late husband’s death, and it saved me in so many ways. Grief is so difficult, and the grief brought by suicide is perhaps the most difficult to process. Suicide is a loss like no other. It’s messy. It’s unexpected (even if the person lost was troubled – you never think “this” will happen to you). And, mostly, it’s misunderstood. Chaos becomes the norm. Nothing is as it was. One wonders if any sort of normal will ever return.
I have always been determined to give meaning to this awful experience, and I wanted to give back to those who had given so much to me. Certainly the love of family and friends and the support of my parents were essential to my survival. But, the group, the facilitators and the members, the ones who really, truly understood what I was talking about when I spoke, saved me. Truly saved me. I had never been a depressed person before – I didn’t take drugs or drink daily and never, ever did I think things would be easier if I was dead. But, in the days and months after the suicide, I was and did all of these things. I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I popped pills for anxiety. I drank to numb myself. I thought about ways I could just end my pain. I considered ways to die. The community of survivors were the ones that knew my secrets. And they were essential to my healing.
I continue with the groups not only because I think it’s essential to be there for those experiencing the most horrific level of pain they will ever experience, but because I receive so many gifts from them. And, in the back of my mind, there is always the memory of how Robin Williams was there for me, a perfect stranger, when I needed it the most, and I try to live that spirit of giving as much as I can. Asking if someone is ok if it seems they need help. Not being afraid to ask the difficult questions if I feel they need to be asked.
In group, I often speak of the gifts that come from suicide. Those so raw in their grief usually look at me like I have two heads – what good could possibly come from this horrific event? There are many. We need only look to the last year since Robin Williams left this Earth to see how this tragic event and loss has turned the tide and created waves of good.
Calls to the Suicide Crisis line were at an all time high in the weeks and months after his death. Suddenly depression wasn’t a dirty little word – we saw how this beautiful man could be silenced by it, and suddenly we knew we had to talk about it. We knew that smiles often mask sadness. Jokes often mask misery and pain. So we collectively started to pay attention. To ourselves and each other. We decided that asking for help was a sign of strength, not weakness. We proclaimed that we would not let a word or a diagnosis minimize who we are. What we are capable of.
I have had more honest conversations with friends and strangers alike about mental health issues, suicide and suicide prevention, in the last year than I have had in the last 13 years combined. That is victory to me.
It’s incredibly tragic that we lost such a generous talent. Such a good human being. But it’s incredibly beautiful that the legacy of that loss is awareness. And compassion. And empathy.
He left us with amazing gifts.
I’m grateful for all of them.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please never hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline which is available toll free 24/7
1-800 -273-TALK (8255)
Support and Resources:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness
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