Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams, Suicide, And Depression

Like many people, I find Robin Williams' death sad and tragic.  I was shocked by both his death and the way he died.  What has shocked me more, however, is how insensitive people have been regarding his death or the choice he made to end his life.

I've seen people call him a coward or selfish, for example, and these words have hurt my heart.  Judging from all the kind things people who knew Williams personally have said about him, I doubt the last thing he would ever have wanted to do was hurt anybody he cared about, although leaving behind those that he loved has likely done just that.

I myself have never suffered from severe depression, although I have (in the past) wondered if life would be easier if I just were dead.  I have a few dear friends who do suffer from severe depression.  I have one friend who is so talented and terrific, but he deals with terrible depression.  I have fully expected to hear that he has taken his life, but he hangs on even though life can feel very miserable to him at times.  I know he has thought about suicide at times.

The sad fact is that there are some who suffer from depression that just can't seem to get out of its throes.  I've seen people insensitively question why a man as rich, successful, and funny as Robin Williams would take his own life when he seemingly had so much to live for.  But none of those things can fix true depression. 

Larry King, in referring to Williams' depression offered the following description of someone who suffers from depression:

"With depression, somebody could walk into a room and tell you that your rich uncle just died and left you a million dollars. Or that same person could walk in and tell you that your uncle died alone, face up in a gutter somewhere. The news would hit you the same either way."

Having never experienced the kind of depression my friends or Robin Williams have experienced, I cannot say I know how it feels.  I just know I can't judge the choices someone makes who suffers from depression.  To me, there is a little difference between cancer, a broken leg, a stroke, a burn, schizophrenia, or depression; they are all ailments that need treatment and if not treated, can lead to complications or death. 

I do not know how it feels to think the only option to release from pain and sadness is to take one's life, but I know there are people who do and sometimes they make that choice, and I can't judge them for that.

I remember many years ago a friend of mine committed suicide.  He was just a wonderful man, and I was shocked by his death by his own hand.  At his funeral I got the very clear impression that he was genuinely surprised by how much people cared about and loved him - and I guess that's the thing, when a person is in a frame of mind to kill themselves, they aren't seeing things as they might actually be; their perception has led them to believe that this is the only way out.

In the end, I'm glad God is the final judge.  I surely don't need to condemn Robin Williams.  He was, by many accounts, a very kind and open individual and he was a great actor and comedian.  I liked him very much and I hope he has found some of the peace that seemed to elude him in his mortal life.

The Period of Mourning Is Officially Over

Sunday night I was feeling particularly sad and missing Mom a lot.  It had actually been a rough day for both Jonah and me.  He had been thinking about his dad a lot and I had been dwelling on my mom. 

Jonah had gone to work and I decided to listen to some choral music.  I found a playlist on Spotify and started listening.  The second song was one I had never heard before based on a poem I was not familiar with.

Here are the lyrics:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of far-off birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
Lacrymosa, dies illa (That sorrowful day)
I am in ev’ry flower that blooms,
I am in still and empty rooms.
I am the child that yearns to sing:
I am in each lovely thing
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die."

As I heard these words I felt Mom's presence very clearly, and the message she had to give me was simple and direct: "Stop mourning!"

I felt her spirit say to mine, "It's okay that you miss me; it's even good that you miss me.  It's okay that you cry because you miss me.  It's okay that you're sad sometimes.  But you don't have to be sad, you don't have to miss me, and you don't have to cry because I'm right here.  I have never left.  I am still with you, so there's no need to mourn anymore."

I felt no judgment from her, and I also felt that it was my choice to continue to grieve or not, but that she was simply telling me I didn't have to anymore; that if I was grieving for me, that was my choice, but if I was grieving for her, it isn't necessary.

Part of the reason I get sad about Mom (aside from the fact that I just miss her incredibly) is that I never want her to forget how much I love and miss her.  She was essentially telling me she already knows, nor is she gone, so it's not necessary for me to be sad.

Little things trigger my emotions.  On Saturday I was thinking of going to Wells Fargo to deposit a check, and for some reason I started thinking about the branch my mom banked with in Utah and how the tellers were all so friendly with her and new her by name and appearance and I wondered if any of the "regulars" she had seen in there ever wondered where she was or if they missed seeing her, and it made me sad.  It was a weird chain of thoughts, but it just made me miss the way things once were.

When I researched the poem the song was based on, I found this on Wikipedia:

[Mary Elizabeth] Frye, who was living in Baltimore at the time, wrote the poem in 1932. She had never written any poetry, but the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband, inspired the poem. Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to 'stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear'. Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words 'just came to her' and expressed what she felt about life and death.

I completely agree with Frye's assessment on life and death: Mom is actually here with me.  There is no need to weep over her loss because I haven't actually lost her at all.  While I can't see and talk to her in the same way I could when she was in her physical body, I can see talk to her and hear and feel her if I pay attention.  I can still "see" her in many, many different ways.  This knowledge is of great comfort to me, and I believe it.  As we approach the first anniversary of Mom leaving her mortal body, I am choosing not to mourn and grieve, for she is not gone at all.  I'm sure there will be moments when I forget that and become sad. but I am actively reminding myself that she is still right here with me.