Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I will not honor Williams’s death

Robin Williams: 1951-2014 (Publicity photos)

But I will remember a comic and acting genius who gifted us for decades with laughter, tears.

The suicide of Robin Williams came as a shock to many of us. His genius was as readily apparent in his manic comedy as it was in his insightful, incredible talent as an actor. There is no doubt that the world has seen a shining star fall from the sky, its dazzling brilliance extinguished.

That his death was a suicide actually angered me for so many reasons — my own experiences dealing with depression throughout much of my own adult life, watching the pain of others struggling with the beast that Winston Churchill dubbed as his own “black dog,” and ultimately seeing the effect suicide has had on members of my own family.

Then, to my dismay, I started seeing Facebook posts asking people to “honor Williams’s death” by promoting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

However well-intentioned those posts may be, they are misguided, and at the risk of being perceived as being both heartless and politically incorrect, I refuse to honor Williams’s death in any way.

I will however, honor the memory of a valuable, wonderful person whose life brought laughter to so many people. And I will do that by promoting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-2738255.

There is no honor in suicide. Those who tell themselves otherwise are seeking comfort in a lie that relegates a conscious act of will solely to the effects of a disease called depression.

To borrow a line I hear younger folk use from time to time, and please excuse the scatological reference, but “I call bullshit.”

I have read much about depression over the years, and have written from time to time about my own struggles with it particularly as I have waded through layoffs; protracted and frustrating job searches, failed relationships, and worries for one I hold dear who checked into a hospital after confessing to trying to overdose on Tylenol and having suicidal thoughts.

Here is the bottom line as I have seen it, both from the perspective of one who has struggled with suicidal thoughts and as one who has seen the effects suicide can have.
  • Robin Williams made a choice, certainly driven by desperation resulting from his struggle with depression. He also had been seeking help for it and for his struggle with addiction. He knew there were other options available to him but he chose to ignore them.
  • Ultimately, suicide is a supreme act of selfishness, although some have tried to paint it as selfless, or as solely disease=driven. The point at which the final decision is made, the individual is consumed by his or her own pain and wants it to stop, consequences be damned. That is the selfishness to which I referred, because the consequences will be very real to the survivors. Williams had to know how devastating his suicide would be to his wife and children, yet he did it anyway. Here’s the kicker, though. He probably rationalized that it would be OK, because they would not have to watch him suffer over the course of the rest of his life, say for another 10 or 15 or 20 years. Instead, for the rest of their lives, his wife and children will be haunted by the specter of “Was there something more I could have done?”
  • Suicide is an act of cowardice. I say that without equivocation. There are two choices: The easy way out, and the way that will test you and help you to grow. The test requires effort, perseverance and fortitude, not to mention selflessness, which involves loving others enough to place their needs ahead of your own. Those are all elements of courage. They also distinguish suicide, for example, from the desperate act of self-sacrifice soldiers have displayed from time to time on the battlefield, throwing themselves upon a grenade to shield their companions, for example.

So, no, I will not honor Williams’s death by urging people to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. His death represents his failure, his own poor choices and nothing more.

Like many others, however, I will mourn his loss, remember fondly the laughter he brought in his comedy, and recall how profoundly he, as an actor, could draw out my empathy, even to the point of tears in Good Morning Vietnam and in Patch Adams, among others.

And THAT is why I will urge those who are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-2738255. Evert life is precious, and every moment God gives us is a gift.

“If you feel you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline. People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.” — The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.