Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: The Joy and the Sadness


It's been a long time since I've felt irresistibly compelled to blog about something that's happened in the "real" world. My posting has slowed down considerably since my husband retired, and much of what I share is poetry at this point.

Having said that, today I hope to create some prose that somehow expresses my feelings about the death of Robin Williams. Experiencing such a visceral reaction to the passing of someone I don't even know surprises me, and I want to understand more about why I feel so personally bereaved. Clearly, I am not alone, because everywhere I look––both online and off––people are remembering him, talking about him, mourning him. I am mourning, too.

There was a joy about him, wasn't there? An irrepressibility of spirit that is rarely seen. It showed up in his comedy and in his acting, and it was carried in his eyes...kind eyes...eyes that twinkled both his joy and his suffering, often at the same time. In every close-up, you could see his humanity, his realness, his compassion...and he felt like your uncle, your father, your very close friend. There was a sweetness in his smile, one that transcended acting...or maybe I should say eclipsed it...because you could not look past the sense that he was every bit as kind and loving as he appeared. His unshuttered eyes were one of the remarkable things about him, I believe.

Of course he was funny, beyond funny, perhaps the funniest man we've ever seen; and he could act his pants off. (I smile, knowing Mr. Williams would have been off and running with that idiom.) Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets' Society and Good Morning Vietnam speak for themselves, and I believe Mrs. Doubtfire probably speaks for all of us who hope to find love and belonging in the world, with a few laughs along the way.

And so we are sad for ourselves, because we lost a bright light...a lively and creative mind...a genius of so much more than comedy. And we are sad for his family, who loved him as only those whose lives are personally touched by someone's energy can...up close and personal...so personal that his daughter Zelda's quote from Antoine de St.-Exupery's The Little Prince brought tears to my eyes in the reading, as did his birthday tweet to her last month (same link). But there is something more that saddens me, something that touches all of our lives as personally as Robin Williams touched the lives of his family.

Robin Williams was bipolar, which means he not only swung happy, but he swung sad...a sadness every bit as devastating as the humor that he so freely shared with us was elevating. Articles are saying that he "struggled" with depression, but that verb doesn't quite work for me. If my observations (formed by knowing and loving more than one person who is bipolar) mean anything, this remarkable man didn't struggle with depression. He was tormented by it, anguished by it, devastated by it. It terrified him in its unpredictability, in its inability to be reliably affected for the long term by treatment of any kind. Every remission was fickle, every relapse a desperate search for something new that might work, now that what was old had ceased to be effective. Most of the time, he didn't let that stop him. Monday, on one very bad morning, he did.

We are all the losers. The man was beloved, but I am troubled at statements made by strangers who would label him "selfish" for having the audacity to leave them and us bereft, people who clearly have never suffered as Mr. Williams did. Don't get me wrong, I am not a proponent of suicide...and I hope I never have to find out how it feels to love someone who seeks respite in that particular escape. But we can't judge another's pain unless we have walked a mile...no, 63 years...in his shoes, nor can we judge that person's inability to withstand the lure of permanent release in one weary, weakened moment when even his valiant spirit failed him.

Here's the thing. Robin Williams, judging from a career observed by many, was what we like to call in my family "a very hard tryer." He pushed himself to excel and achieve again and again, despite being afflicted (through no fault of his own) with the worst sort of burden to bear. I would guess that Sysyphus himself had nothing on Mr. Williams as he stressed and strained to push that boulder of depression up the hill, only to see it roll back down...over and over and over. Every time that stone hit bottom, I can only believe the heart of Robin Williams did, too...and as time passed, that bottom probably started feeling lower, that rock heavier. One of the most harrowing features of depression is its relentlessness...the inexorable nature of it...the entirely based-in-reality fear of never truly escaping it.

Selfishly, I wish Robin Williams had not escaped it. But I take exception to anyone calling him "selfish" for being temporarily overwhelmed by it. Another day, he might have found the strength to start pushing that boulder uphill yet again. Monday, he didn't. But that was one day out of a lifetime. And his courage was and is undeniable.

A final thing, if you'll bear with me. One actress tweeted, "If only Robin had known how many people loved him," her well-meaning inference being that, had he known of this love, he would not have ended his life. My thoughts run a different direction. I believe it is because Mr. Williams knew exactly how many people loved him that he found a way to live with his depression for 63 years. And for that, I thank him.

{I also thank untold others who are doing the same.}

22 comments:

yaya said...

Your post is heartfelt and loving. Yes, it's strange to have such strong feelings and sadness for somebody we didn't even know...or did we? We welcomed him into our homes in the 70's as Mork. We watched him have a wonderful, Oscar winning acting career and laughed at his comedy routines and plain fun, crazy antics on late night TV. No, I never met him in person but I feel that loss as if I had. My thoughts are with his family. I can't imagine their sadness and grief. I remember when Jack's brother died after years of fighting addiction. Jack said "I guess he had to die to get better". I hope Robin finds peace in the next life he couldn't find here. Thanks Sue for a wonderful tribute to him.

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Spot on.thank you for this view!

Cheryl Kanenwisher said...

Oh I loved this. I'd like to think he related a lot to his character, Patch Adams. I heard a clip last night on the news where he said sometimes he heard a voice in his head that said, "jump!". I think he fought against that urge for many years and on Monday, he just couldn't. It breaks my heart to think of that kind of human suffering. I can't and won't judge. It's just not my place to.

EG CameraGirl said...

This is such a great tribute to someone who has suffered 63 years years with extreme ups and downs. His depth of feeling was likely a gift that made him funny but also the demon that created his addictions. I can only imagine the depths he has gone through, so feel it inappropriate to call him "selfish." We who do not truly understand are more likely the selfish ones.

Karen S. said...

Thank you for such an eloquent tribute for Robin. It's as if you're pulling word for word out of so many of our own hearts during this sad and yet joyous in the fact that he is at peace. He just has to be.

Janet Martin said...

I agree with each comment; a very tender-hearted tribute. I hope his family can read it and be comforted to know many mourn with them!

Laraine Eddington said...

Great post Sue.

LeAnn said...

Thank you for a very lovely post; tears on this one. Yes, depression and or Bipolar is such a big problem in our society and we can't judge unless we have walked in their shoes.
Blessings and hugs for this one, Sue.

Brian Miller said...

it broke my heart a bit last night to get the text from my friend letting me know...he touched me with many of the movies...and i feel i grew up with him a bit all the way from mork...it is all so very sad...

Elizabeth said...

Amen and well said, thanks Sue.

Lorrie the Schnauzer Lady said...

You said it well my friend. I'm grieving for him. Or for an era. I'm not sure. I do not know his life story. I've only heard from his own interviews he was very much into "recreational drug use" from his much younger years. These addictions are so strong, and take such a toll on the brain. I shudder to hear what they will find in his system when the drug tests and toxicology reports come back.

My nephew works with the mentally ill who are so unstable they get in trouble with the law. He says the most vulnerable time an addict has is in the first 30-40 days after leaving rehab. You go in on drugs, you often come out on drugs…and for alcoholics like Robin Williams admitted to being… there is always a liquor store available. The mixture can be too hard to handle. I cried.

Love your tribute and insight.

Grandma Honey said...

I very much appreciate your thoughts. One of my brother's life ended up in suicide also. We had no idea he was headed towards that and the sadness left in his aftermath I'm sure is just a speck compared to what he went through many years before.

I read this on Facebook yesterday written by Pam Stone who use to play on Coach: "We really need to have a serious national conversation about depression and particularly the link between cardiac surgery and depression. Some of you have asked if I knew Robin. No. Did I work with him? Yes. Did I go to his house with a friend of his for breakfast? Yes. Did I go bowling with him? Yes. Did I drop him off places in my car so he wouldn't be followed? Yes. Did I know him? No. I only sorta superficially knew the guy who always said, "Hi Pammy," at the Improv. He was white hot, a global star, always kind and approachable to fans, and he struck me as pretty insecure. Not unusual. A roomful of laughing people has a way of making you feel far more confident than you are in 'real life,' whatever that is."

Pondside said...

Beautifully expressed, Sue. Thank you for writing what many of us must be feeling. In Robin William's brilliance I saw something familiar - and you said it in your post - the essence of some members of my family who struggled with depression that runs in a heavy streak through the generations.

Splendid Little Stars said...

perfect.

Momza said...

Thank you for showing/expressing great love and compassion on this topic. Perspective is everything.You have described depression and those that deal with it, genuinely. It is a battle to be sure. Somedays we are more prepared for the battle than others. Mr. Williams was a brave man and will be sorely missed.

Friko said...

You said it beautifully.
I have nothing left to add.

karen said...

Beautiful. Perfect. Heartbreaking, but wonderful to think he is getting the help and peace that he could never find here in his body. Sometimes we just don't get that happy ending here on earth.

Donna Tagliaferri said...

This is amazing, I shared it
On my Facebook page, the best I have read about robin williams

Donna said...

I loved him too and felt the same as you. I felt incredibly sad when it was announced he was gone. Like the passing of a generation .....mine!

Sarah~Magnolia Surprise said...

Beautifully said.

Rita Richardson said...

Thank you for your eloquent assment. Robin Williams was a great man. He blessed our lifes whith his movies and sense of humor. On April 3rd this year my son also took his life. The pain that must have driven any person to make that choice must be so grave that they can no longer bear the pain. Thank you for standing up for all of us that must pick up the pieces and walk the lonely path left to us when we lose someone that we love so much. May God bless you! Rita

Gail said...

Oh, my, I have never read a more poignant piece that honors a person while truly understanding where he "was".

We are better for having know him.

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