Before I even start with this I have to warn anyone who is reading it that it is extremely personal and not easy to read. It’s been 26 years now, and although the pain does lessen, it never really gets any easier. That said, if you do read this and you didn’t already know the story, I am not writing this for sympathy, it took me a long time to get past it without feeling anger and sadness and incomprehension, but once I did my life took a better turn. I’m writing this as a perspective on what drives someone to do something that many of us don’t understand. All of the below is personal, all of my thoughts based on personal thoughts and feelings. In no shape or form do I want to start a discussion on whether this is right or wrong.
There have been too many deaths over the past couple of years, some that have stabbed me full on in the heart as they have been untimely deaths of friends, and others that have chipped away at my heart, maybe because they were friends of friends, or because they were a public figure that I loved and/or respected. Death is obviously part of life but that never makes it any easier. The knowledge that it is inevitable doesn’t make the pain any less, and we all want our loved ones to live forever, or at least as long as possible. And now that I am a mother it makes me even sadder to think that my daughter will never know these people that I loved. It makes me so sad to think that she will never have a grandfather who will take her to the seaside and make her a rocking horse from scratch. I can’t even imagine how my mother felt when she had to tell her two little daughters that their father died, as much as I can’t imagine how his girlfriend felt the moment she found him, as much as I can’t imagine how Robin Williams’ family felt when they discovered he was dead, and then saw it blasted all over the media for everyone to comment on. I bring these two people together, my father and Robin Williams, as they both died in exactly the same way. As much as it is devastating and heartbreaking and completely life changing to all of those affected by it, suicide is by no means selfish or cowardly. I will come to my reasons why shortly.
Depression is a tough topic. If you are lucky enough to never have suffered from it then you cannot understand it. I don’t mean that in any way except for that is what it is, in the same way as a person who has never broken a bone cannot understand how it feels to have a broken bone. You can imagine it, but you cannot understand it. There are so many ways that people try to deal with depression (often depression or another similar mental illness goes undiagnosed), from self-medication (alcohol, drugs), prescribed medication (anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills), therapy (in all of its forms), life changes, to the last resort, suicide. Even then suicide may be a cry for help, but it can also be the real end to something that someone deems unfixable. Basically, the thought that there is nothing else to live for, and that it would be better to be dead than alive. Depression is a debilitating illness, and there is not one fail safe cure, just because it manifests itself in everyone differently and there is not a perfect one cure solves all. You may not even feel it creeping up on you until it’s too late. Or it may only hit you once in your life. Sometimes addiction causes depression, and sometimes depression causes addiction (it’s often hard to know which one is the chicken and which one is the egg in this case), but they both go hand in hand. I know they did for my father, and I know that I have been prone to be a complete mess when my life has been on the grey side. I would go through periods of acute drinking followed by long periods of sobriety where I would learn how to live with myself and my demons and then fall back into drinking again. Nowadays I am sober and doubt that I will ever be a drinker again, because I am not only responsible for myself anymore. I have a child who will see me as one of the two most important people in her life and I need to be the best person I can for her. I always considered my darker moments to be because there was something not quite right in my life, and by working out what was creating these feelings of sadness and removing them from my life I always felt better (a job, a person, a problem etc). I never felt so depressed that there was no way out (apart from the time that I felt completely trapped in a job I had grown to hate), and I always knew that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. My therapy is writing, my depression is feeling trapped and my cure is freeing myself from what is trapping me. I have pages and pages of words that I will probably never publish or even reread. But they are as important as they were cathartic. Sometimes I would imagine what it would be like to end it all, but only as a question on what it would be like afterwards, rather than an end. Suicide was never an option for me. However, I DO understand when people feel that it is their only way out. In my worst moments of darkness my ideal way out would have been to disappear and be myself in another country or city, not letting anyone know where I had gone. By saying that I understand it, doesn’t mean I accept it though.
I still miss my dad. I am happy that I have a wonderful memory and have many a moment stamped in indelible ink in my brain. Those cherry red Doc Martens and his long black beard. The huge Mohawk and the dark glasses. My eyes that are his. The passion for literature and music and the immense love he had for my sister and me. And while I know full well that he wasn’t always a good person, and that he had many a demon torturing him, I keep my image of him in my heart. And while I will never know how bad it was that he had to end his life, I finally came to terms with it a few years ago. While I have always chosen to find a different way out, this was his way out. Why was it not selfish? Because he most likely thought that he could not bring any more happiness to anyone in his life anymore. That he was becoming a burden, that he had nothing more to give. Why was it not cowardly? Because he didn’t choose to NOT face/fix whatever was wrong in his life by killing himself, no, he must have felt that there was nothing else left to do. It wasn’t a cry for help, it was a last resort.
And that’s the whole thing. As much as it hurts to have to say goodbye to someone because they chose to end everything, they did it because of a reason that maybe they carried with them to the grave. And we should respect them for that. That doesn’t mean that we cannot grieve, be angry, be sad, spend years trying to understand why, but we should respect this death as we would any other. I’m still angry at my father, just because I had to grow up without a dad, and my daughter will grow up without a grandfather, but I know now that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could have done.
And so, therefore, as much as Robin Williams’ death may have shocked us all, we must remember that he had his own reasons for this, may it be because of depression, because of Parkinson’s disease, or because of something else, and we must respect that. For his family who have to grieve in the public eye amongst the sympathetic and the downright vile. We should remember him for the wonderful person and actor that he was, and for how much he was a father figure to many of us, not for the way he died.
And yes, we should maybe take his death as an opportunity to open up the discussion on mental illness and depression and addiction. To start to remove the still existing stigmas created by these illnesses and create a path for people to find the type of help that works for them. Show people that there are different ways out, or at least give them the option to find out if they can be helped. Also, maybe create easily accessible help groups for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. I know I really could have benefited from something like that, somewhere where I could have met other people who were going through the same thing as I was. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I met someone else who had lost a very close friend to suicide, and I finally felt that all my muddled feelings were mutual and understood. I wasn’t alone in having to deal with this anymore. People don’t like to talk about suicide. I still avoid answering the question of how my father died, but nowadays it’s mainly because I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, not because of the stigma it held. Actually, come to think of it, it’s because I don’t want to make others uncomfortable. It’s easier to talk about my father’s drug problem, as I suppose it is more acceptable than suicide. Then again, do I want suicide to be “acceptable”? Not really. I just want something there as a safety buffer people can rely on, a hand that tells them that there are other answers. I just want there to be less of a stigma on those who decide to end their lives. It’s time to stop judging someone for what may have felt like their only option.
As much as I know that I could not have changed my father’s mind, a part of me will always wish that I had been there to give him my hand and to pull him out of the hole. And then part of me knows that he is always here, and if Luna can’t see him, at least he can see her.
And even though my daughter will never know her grandfather in person, I will make sure that she knows who he was.