"What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference."
Hunter – Patch Adams
I know I won't be the first, or only writer to do this. Yesterday a man I had never met in person, but whom I've grown up with, took his own life. At least that's what they are saying. I grew up with Mork from Ork, as many of you did. I cried when I listened to him read "O Captain, my Captain," as many of you did. I loved him in his hilarious, yet sometimes stupid roles, and I loved him in his serious ones. Rest in peace, Robin Williams.
Here's what bothers me about his passing. Not only did the world lose one of the greatest actors it's known, but it didn't have to happen. It could have been prevented. On the outside, Robin Williams was a carefree, funny man with an uncanny knack for making you laugh and cry in the same movie. But evidently, funny and happy are not the same thing. From what I read last night, Robin Williams reached a level of despair that few of us ever know, and the ones who do know that kind of hopelessness usually don't survive it. But it doesn't have to be that way.
I'm not necessarily a movie buff. It's just too much of a time commitment for me, but I bought Patch Adams for a sermon I was planning a couple years ago and have to say it was probably the greatest movie I've ever watched. I know that it wasn't autobiographical for Robin Williams, but looking back today, I can see how he was able to get into that character so easily. The scene on the cliff is the one standing out for me right now.
Now, certainly, I don't have all of the details that led to that moment in his life from whence there was no return, and I don't claim to understand what was going through his mind at the time. However, having been in pastoral ministry for 15 years I've seen people in a similar place as he, and I have also been witness to the response from people around them. It doesn't have to be that way. It just doesn't.
Depression is real. It leads to addictions to drown out the pain. It leads to isolation. It leads to despair and despair leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness sometimes leads to that place from where there is no return.
Now, some colleagues might take this opportunity to talk about the sins involved with suicide, waving their bibles, shouting about all of the many different routes to hell this can take one down...but that's wrong. It's just wrong...and may God have mercy on their souls for turning a tragedy such as suicide into a soapbox for their fundamentalist beliefs.
What Robin Williams needed, and what others contemplating the same need, is not bible waving, narcissistic mouthpieces telling them that suicide is the unforgivable sin because there is no way to repent of it after the fact. I'm throwing the BS flag on that one, and here's why. From my experiences, when a person reaches that level of despair, there is no way they can be making rational decisions.
What they need is compassion. Wait...let me rephrase that. Since I have been there myself, having almost gotten my wish on two different occasions, let me include myself with the "They." What "We" need is compassion.
We need someone to notice that something isn't right in our lives and spend the time with us that it will take to help us find healing.
We need our families to love us, especially now.
Sometimes we need someone to just talk to...someone who will listen without trying to "fix" us.
Sometimes we need a phone call or a text just to ask us how our day is going and to let us know that someone cares.
Sometimes we need professional help, and if we know that you love us, we might not fight the suggestion.
Those are just a few of the things we need when we find ourselves in the valley, with no obvious way out. There are, however, some things we don't need.
We don't need you to yell, "Snap out of it!" at us. Believe me, if we could we would.
We don't need folks talking about us behind our backs.
We don't need to hear that we're going to hell, or that God can never forgive us for taking our own lives.
We don't need a spur of the moment "intervention." That will probably just drive us farther away from you.
And for the love of God, please don't tell us, "It's just in your head." We're already struggling with the demons running loose in our heads and don't need you causing us any more self-doubt.
We don't need to be ignored, but we're not just "looking for sympathy" either.
What we don't need is for you to act like it's no big deal. It is to us, but we just don't know how to fix it. Please don't be indifferent.
If you know someone who you may even suspect is at a similar place, please, for the love of God, don't blow it off and think they'll be ok. Your phone call may be the one thing that stops them from pulling the trigger or swallowing the pills. Please, if there is someone you love, whose behavior has changed inexplicably, ask them if there's something going on. They may be ready to talk about it or they may not, but they will at least know someone cares. If you suspect depression in a friend or family member, take them to lunch and just let them talk. Then keep what they said to yourself unless you sense that they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves or someone else.
Depression is real. I've been there. I've thought things I shouldn't have thought. I've even made plans. But thanks be to God someone loved me enough to pull me to the side and say, "I'm worried about you. Are you ok? Really?" When that person was someone I actually trusted, I was able, for the first time, to say, "Not really."
Robin Williams, you'll never know the impact you had on millions. You made us laugh. You made us cry. My heart breaks that we missed the signs. May you now, finally, find rest for your soul. God speed, Patch.