He inspired me by bringing characters to life on the big screen, his voice impressions and improvisation amazed me, and his suicide deeply saddened me. Robin Williams, in life and in death, impacted millions.
My thoughts have gone all over the place as I’ve remembered Robin Williams. I’ve enjoyed a YouTube journey down memory lane with Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and of course, a little Nano Nano from Mork and Mindy. Friday night we watched Dead Poets Society and once again “O Captain, my Captain!” inspired me to Carpe Diem!
Robin Williams: Carpe diem, Seize the day, boys!
But WHY does his death matter so much? People die all the time. Even the famous and well-known celebrities die all the time. Perhaps the death of Robin Williams stands out more because he took his life? Unfortunately, suicide has impacted too many families, the famous and never-heard-of, from all walks of life. Of particular concern to me is the high number of suicides of military veterans.
Permission to feel
Rhett Nelson, a radio colleague from our sister stations in Idaho, shared a thought on his blog BATJAC that has helped me process what I’ve been experiencing since the death of Robin Williams:
“Celebrities die all the time. Why is this one so poignant? It’s because Robin Williams gave us permission to feel. He made us feel like he cared when it mattered most. He gave us the emotional release we needed when the going was rough, and he allowed us to find healing from those insecurities and heartaches we’d been afraid to reveal, despite the personal struggles he was dealing with. He made a personal connection to each of us in a very real way.”
Too often society seems to dictate we keep our feelings and emotions locked up. Robin Williams’ talent for bringing characters to life has given us permission to laugh, to cry, to feel things immensely deeply, to wonder, and even to ponder.
More importantly, the suicide of Robin Williams gives us permission to ache, to cry, to hurt, to feel pain, and to ask the hard question: Why? Experiencing and expressing intense feelings is part of the healing process. Asking questions, even those very difficult questions where no answer may ever be available, is healthy and healing.
Seth Adams Smith, who has publicly shared his own battle with depression including a failed attempt to take his own life, has also helped me process the deep question of “why.”
“Why did you do that, Robin?! You were loved by so many people. You were an inspiration to millions! You should’ve asked more people for help! Others would’ve rushed to your aid to lift you up. So many people believed in you and loved you! But there’s another part of me—a quieter part—that tells me it is not my place to judge. Depression and suicidal thoughts are so subtle and insidious that they can take down anyone—even (perhaps especially) the happiest of people.”
Lastly, I turn to Alan Alda, who as Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H also gave me permission to feel. Alda called Williams a “Niagara of wit,” then added this plea: “I hope it makes us all want to do something.”
“While the whole country, and much of the world, feels this moment of sadness at his death, can we turn the loss of this artist we loved so much into something that pushes back against the ravages of despair?
“Can we educate one another to recognize the early signs of depression? Can we make it clear to one another how dangerous it is? We all know now that drunk driving kills. But, when I looked up the numbers, I was astonished. Each year there are more than twice as many suicides attributed to depression as deaths on the road due to alcohol.
“Maybe our grief can be transformed into an awakening. The man who enriched our lives could be the focus of saving countless other lives. Robin Williams could be with us a little longer.”
Have a great Monday. Thanks for letting me share.
p.s. Take 15 minutes today to do something, to make a difference, celebrate humanity, and smile.