Monday, August 11, 2014
Robin Williams: Lessons from a death
I was sad to learn that comic actor Robin Williams died today, apparently the result of suicide.
In one sense, it's not all that great a surprise. It's amazing to me how many great comedians have also suffered from serious mental issues - depression, paranoia, schizophrenia and others. It seems almost as if their sense of humor is a counterweight to the condition that would otherwise have dragged them down much sooner.
On the other hand, his death also highlights something that suicidal individuals seldom seem to consider. Death might appear to offer a solution to one's own problems, but it creates immense additional problems for those one leaves behind. Spouse, children, siblings, parents . . . all are left to mourn the void in their lives, and to ask themselves, "Could I have done anything more to help? Did I miss the signs that might have led me to help him sooner? Was this in any way my fault? Did I somehow contribute to his death?"
Those are terribly destructive, negative influences to leave in the lives of others, but almost every suicide with which I've had any sort of contact (and as a clergyman and counselor I've been involved with the aftermath of more than a few) has had that effect on the survivors. Frankly, I don't see how it's possible to leave any other effect. Suicide is, at its heart, an intensely self-centered, even selfish act - "I can't take any more of this". Whether one has the right to impose that burden on the others in one's life is a matter of personal judgment. I venture to suggest that in almost all cases, one doesn't.
I speak from some pretty dark experiences of my own. After the incident that left me permanently partially disabled in 2004, there were times when things were pretty bad. During those times I came to understand how some people, trapped in incurable illness or unbearable pain with no end in sight, might decide that they couldn't take it any longer, and that death would be preferable to a future crippled by such a burden. I never gave in to such thoughts, thanks to my faith and parents who raised me to not allow myself to become trapped in self-pity . . . but there were times when the temptation was very great.
I'm profoundly sorry for Mr. Williams - and for his wife and children - that he gave in to that temptation. His depression is now at an end. Their suffering has only just begun. Pray for his soul, and pray even more for them.