Dear Dr. Hedda:
When I heard about Robin Williams death it felt like I lost a family member. His comedic presence was with me all my life. I remember as a child watching “Mork and Mindy” and all of his great shows and movies that followed.
This is a man I never met, he never played any role in my life and yet, I find myself grieving his loss.
Why am acting this way ? I am deeply depressed and find myself crying over his death. And the way he chose to die seems so painful to me.
Why am I grieving someone I don’t now?
Dear Grief Stricken:
You are not alone. People all over the world share your feelings. His talent brought us laughter and joy. Sometimes his just plain silliness made us laugh out loud.
Losing a loved one is probably the greatest sorrow anyone of us will ever experience. And over the years we have lost many celebrities in tragic ways. There are times for all of us when a famous person dies and we react as if that person was a friend or family member. We grieve over the loss of what could have been. What wonderful performances we will now never get to see. Their great talent was a gift that was stolen from us.
It is even more painful when they die by their own hands. What horrible sadness did this person experience that death seemed like the only alternative? That is a question we will never know the answer to. They seem to have it all: fame, recognition, wealth and all the special privileges we associate with stardom.
But what is grieving? What function does it serve in our lives ? Why do we mourn strangers.
Most of us remember with surprising clarity the day JFK died, the day John Lennon died and the day we lost someone close to us. Robin Williams was close to us. Like a family member, a friend we grew up with. Someone we could count on to make us laugh, cry and now, grieve.
There are many writers who have specialized in finding these answers. Trying to make sense out of the intense feeling we are experiencing.
One of the best known is Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross. She, in her research, defined the stages of emotions we go through when we experience the death of a loved and or respected someone. And the first step is denial. We respond in our feelings that this couldn’t be, must be a mistake, someone else with the same name. Next comes bargaining, he (she) had it all, the good life. Why them? We continue on till we reach stage 5- Acceptance.
It is not a just world. The good aren’t always rewarded and the bad frequently go unpunished. And some tragedies should never have happened.
We mourn what we will miss, we feel cheated and betrayed. Even if we never met the person and they had no real role in our lives. We grieve for what could have been.
This is normal human behavior. We live in a close knit world. Tragic events that happen 10,000 miles away can still bring tears to our eyes and pain in our hearts. Mass media makes almost everything that happens seem to be happening in our backyards.
We will all miss Robin Williams, his talent was a rare gem. Sadly we didn’t know the pain and intense sadness that he was experiencing. It seems even those close to him did not understand how depressed and how overwhelmed he was by these feelings. Whatever he was experiencing he felt there was no way out, no chance to get through the darkness that surrounded him. He believed that things would never change and he chose to end it by taking his own life.
We, his worldwide audience, didn’t know about his severe depression. All we saw was Robin the gifted performer. The Mister Happy. The let me make you laugh self.
So let this be a wakeup call to those who are depressed. Suicide is not the answer. Suicide is a way to stop the pain and your life forever. There is no coming back.
As much as we grieve and mourn Robin Williams he will still be dead.
Therapy, family and friends can help, help a lot. We need to be more open with our feelings, we need to share them to decide what is real and what is perceived. Talking can benefit us by sharing , knowing we are not the only ones feeling them and that we are human and therefore frail.
I grieve, we all grieve, the loss of a great talent who might have had a longer productive, happier life if he had had the opportunity to share his deep unhappiness and find some answers that might have made the pain and sadness more bearable.
All of this means that what you are experiencing is normal human behavior we all share when faced with a tragic, unnecessary loss. How long you grieve, how intensely you grieve is your choice. But remember to keep your life happy, remember the good stuff and those who love you.