I imagine some piece of every human heart broke with the tragic news of Robin Williams passing away. I have to admit, I’d hoped it was one of those cases where twitter trends “kill” someone that is still very much alive. But it wasn’t. I was visiting with my mother when the news broke, and you would have thought we lost a close family member with the way it stunned us into a silence, followed by tears. Here in the south, I think our first instinct to cope with deal is to cook and/or eat. Something about frying chicken, making a cake, or some other southern dish and taking it to the home of mourning takes the sting away, at least a little bit. On the other side, something about caring people showing up with fried chicken or a cake when your home is the home of mourning makes the moments feel less like shattered glass beneath bare feet.
But in this case, I think the house of mourning was every home in America, if not the world. It is easy to say that this brilliant man was in some way, a part of most of our youth. He was why we all tried to sit on our heads. He was a rapping bat. He was a genie. This man was Peter Pan. He was so many things, and he gave us the freedom to imagine, pretend, act, and for some of us, we wrote words and prayed someday, he, or someone like him, could make our words come alive for the rest of the world.
But the fact of it is, Robin Williams was not just the vision of our youth, but the understanding of our adult realities. Some of these need no explaining, just titles. Dead Poets Society. Good Will Hunting. Jack. Patch Adams. A million times during stressful kid moments, I’ve turned to my kids and said, “POOF! Whaddaya need? POOF! Whaddaya need?”
Jack made me appreciate life. I remember the local casting calls for this movie called Patch Adams, set in the 1970s. My (then) boyfriend at the time and I sent in our photos for a shot at being in a Robin Williams flick. We weren’t 70s enough, though with both of us having hair past our bottoms, I never understood. I recall us being upset, but quickly stating, “Well, I guess Robin Williams had nothing to do with extra casting, or we’d be in!” Because, come on, we all felt like he was our buddy, our pal, one cool fella.
Our kids are raised with Williams. Maybe a board game gotten out of hand, or some happy feet, or why we leave RV vacations to Papa.
Most recently, very recently, I saw Robin Williams in a role again for the first time. Let me explain. I was still pretty young when Mrs. Doubtfire came out, and being a child with parents that just did not work out as a couple, I loved this movie. I could see so much of my dad in the character of Daniel. I wanted to smoosh Robin Williams and Sally Field together at the end in one of those, “Now kiss.” moments but I understood when it didn’t end that way.
Remember the boyfriend that wasn’t Patch Adams 70s enough with me? Well, he became my husband, Daniel. Seriously, his name is Daniel just like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire. We married young and we made it though years and years and then we became one of those couples that just didn’t work. Not from lack of love or trying. It just didn’t work. We firmly agreed to remain friends, which as anyone can imagine, is work as well and some moments would be fit for reality television. Le sigh. Through all the tense moments and not seeing eye to eye and sometimes, not even feeling like we lived in the same world, we work on friendship.
Not long ago, likely not even a month ago, he came over and we were in one of those tense, working really hard to get along moments and when he showed up, Mrs. Doubtfire was on. We didn’t speak, but he ended up caught up in the movie and we sat in silence. Come on, you know it is easy to get caught up watching Robin Williams, even at your ex wife’s house But, as I said, I saw him again for the first time. Robin Williams wasn’t playing the role that reminded me of my father. He was playing the role of my ex husband. My mom wasn’t the Sally Field. I was. It hurt in a way I cannot put into words, and words are my life. And not just because Peirce Bronson is not my rebound, but because I could feel the side of the movie as I did as a child. And now, I could feel the role of Sally Field, and there is no “now kiss and make up” moment there.
I don’t talk about my personal life too often, not in detail. But I’ve been sick since before the end of my marriage with an undiagnosed illness. I’ve been blessed with a fantastic group of specialists that work with me constantly and try to figure out this grand mystery that has transformed my entire way of life. I’ve struggled with the single mom thing with a lack of mobility and days of constant pain. Little things have become big things. Field trips, awards, talent shows, trips to the park- all these things have become major events with the mystery illness. Sickness also brings about the truth most of us would be better off not knowing. The truth of the people in our life and what happens through thick and thin. Promises are broken. Wonderful people fall from the highest of pedestals, but then other people surprise you. Some people flake out when being in your life or loving you isn’t easy and some people you never expected to surprise you, do and they come with support and love and just knowing you are not alone.
During a long run of heartbroken and pain-filled nights, I’ve bonded with my oldest daughter. She has helped me so much. She helps make sure the youngest ones don’t see me as anything other than Wonder Woman. A gift I can never repay. She’s gone without a lot during this as well. She has taken on many responsibilities I’d prefer she not have just yet, but life happens. Summer break has given us lots of late nights for her to stay up while I could not sleep and I was proud to share with her something of my own youth. We had our own escape from everything- the stress, doctor visits, busy schedules, pain, etc, etc, etc. We had Mork. Mork and Mindy became a normal relief from our problems. We’ve come close to seeing all the episodes now and we’ve even joked about the perfect men were probably Orkan. Oy. Shazbot!
Throughout my life, Robin Williams has been one with wisdom, comedy, and comfort. How could anyone not feel like they’ve just lost one of the best friends a person could know. Depression. How heartbreaking it is to know that someone dedicated their life to entertaining others, cheering them up, making them laugh at the worst of times, and inspired so many of us not only in the arts, but life in general. If only we’d had the chance to make him laugh, to make the sadness take a step back, if even for a moment as he’d done for us.
Depression is real. It has been passed by for far too long as a mood or a weakness that could be gotten over if the person really wanted to get over it. Depression can strike anyone and until you battle the beast, you have no clue how deep his claws are. It is not something to be ashamed of, nor is it a form of self consumption. Depression can make you wish you were the one person in the world you could forget. Depression comes with emotional weight and physical pain. Depression is a condition. A sickness too often ignored for fear of sharing our emotions, fears, and pain. When someone battling depression thinks of suicide, it is not a quick escape for them, it is this ripping pain in the pit of your soul that makes you feel like not being around would be better for everyone else. It has nothing to do with feeling unloved. It is knowing people love you and feeling like your existence is a weight and burden. It hurts, but just like A Christmas Carol, you zone out and picture what life would be like for each person you love if you take yourself out of the picture.
Of course, depression is cruel enough to let us create our own illusions of what their life would be like. It is a beast, after all And once those thoughts exist, they will always exist. Even during good times when you think depression has been slaughtered from your mind. It creeps. It pops back in when you feel like you could have done more for someone or even a happy moment full of laughter with children opening gifts. You laugh. You smile, but you look right past reality and imagine a better one for those kids. The beast becomes your shadow and mocks every great moment in your life, making you relive it in your mind and showing you where you weren’t good enough; for anyone, anything, at all. You can push it back. You can remind yourself of the beast and know it is just out to get you, but sometimes, the shadow consumes.
I am not saying suicide is a good thing. We feel the loss. I am saying if the world became more open to the reality of depression as a condition, not a mood, maybe we could save more people by simply saying, “It’s okay. I get it. We’ll get through it.” Because it is okay. I do get it… and I bet most anyone reading this gets it, too.
Like my mom said, “If you know someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, why not call and just ask how they are. It never hurts to reach out. Most people struggle with depression without anyone knowing. Reach out. Know.”
She’s right. So I am going to wrap this up. I have some calls to make. God bless, everyone. Go hug someone. Hug them tight as all get out. It’s a cold world out there. Spread some smiles and warmth.