The death of Robin Williams this week was shocking for many reasons.
First and foremost it was hard to believe that a man with such an incredible life-force had gone, that he too, who had made us all laugh and cry in equal measures, was mortal like the rest of us. Death might be an inevitability, but it doesn't stop us from secretly believing that our nearest and dearest, (including those we believe we know through our time spent with them on the silver screen) are exempt from it, or at the very least that they will depart this world peacefully at a very old age.
The violent nature of suicide didn't help. To imagine a man who brought so much joy and light to this world to leave it in such a terrible way has been hard to reconcile.
People around the world have been sharing their feelings of loss at someone we held dear from a far, whilst his family and friends have been going through real grief, the kind of which I hope most of us will never experience. One of my dearest friends lost his best friend to suicide a few years ago, and I know the agony he stills feels over that one call he could have made, that one extra hug he could have given, the futility in believing he could have changed the course of events. In my own arrogance I even momentarily berated myself for not sending Robin Williams a tweet about how incredible I thought he was before his death, as if that irrelevant message from a stranger could have made even the smallest amount of difference to the internal battles he was fighting.
The subsequent widespread debate about why someone so beloved would chose to end his life was inevitable. Is there was direct correlation between mental health problems and performers/ artists? Does a sensitive and intense nature lent itself to both the limelight, and to depression? Do comedians give so much of themselves away in their work and performances that a mental toll is inevitable? Maybe it is it those who already have some deep sadness within who are driven to crave validation and love from others on a world stage? Or perhaps (as I believe) no relationship exists at all, and mental health issues are simply a democratic scourge, striking regardless of wealth, status, or situation.
All these thoughts are natural, and important, encouraging a healthy debate about the way we treat those who struggle with their mental health, and hopefully encouraging others to seek help and speak out about their own internal struggles.
But the thing that I have found the most shocking of all is the ugly side of human nature that has been revealed in the week after Robin Williams tragic death.
Firstly by those who have pored over, in gory detail, the last moments of Williams' life. The precise details of how he was found or how he chose to end his life, are surely things that neither he or his family would wish to be plastered over the front pages of our tabloids. I've avoided reading those particular papers myself, but a trip into my local newsagents made it quite clear that many were indulging some sort of public morbid curiosity with giant headlines about his "last hours" and his possible motives, and social media has been unavoidably full of it. I'll be quite clear about this. This kind of detail is absolutely none of our business and as the charity Mind have pointed out could even lead to copycat suicides. I cannot see any kind of public interest it serves, and if anything it risks humiliating the recently departed by giving us a less than dignified image of their ending.
Even more abhorrent has been the way in which his family (who clearly need support the most) have been treated by some people. His daughter had to leave social media after abuse from trolls, who may have even possibly sent her images of her father's autopsy (and then threatened to print it out to use as toilet paper). His wife has been subjected to whispers and speculation as to why she may not have spent the night in the same room as her husband, and how this may possibly have been a sign of a marriage in trouble, theorising that she might have fought with him, and that's what pushed him over the edge (as if any of us haven't spent a night apart from our partner for a variety of reasons veering from snoring, to feeling unwell, to insomnia, or yes, even the occasional row).
Of course I don't wish to speak for her motivations, but it's certainly possible that one of the reasons she might have now chosen to reveal that her beloved husband was in fact in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease was to silence this undercurrent of accusation aimed at her, also adding that William's "sobriety was intact" following various seemingly knowing cries of how he must of falling off the wagon. Her quite fitting use of the word "brave" to describe his battle against his illness (both physical and mental) seemed to me to be a response to the lazy, ignorant and cruel accusations that he was in some way a "coward" or "selfish" to choose to leave this world. Suicide is never simple, is never a decision taken lightly, and is never (in my opinion) the direct result of one situation, one person, or one event. It broke my heart a little to read her statement which seemed to be in part to be an answer to all those "haters", for want of a better word.
How utterly cruel it is (I include myself here, I recognise the irony that by writing this article I may be contributing to the very thing I find so distasteful) to publicly and privately pick over the bones of a man who brought us nothing but joy and who we claim to have admired, whilst causing pain and distress to those who really loved him.
Perhaps we've said RIP so many times that we've forgotten its actual meaning. Rest In Peace.
Yes, most of us have expressed nothing but sadness and grief, offering love and support (which his family say have helped in some small way) but (as someone who has been party to twitter abuse/ criticism of a incomparably less grave nature) it is the negative comments that stick and hurt the most. Such is human nature.
So what should we do? Hide away from the world? Shut out the haters, remove ourselves from society, close down all our social media (which was supposed to bring us closer together, but is now abused by those minority who see it as a means to directly hurt someone they previously had no way to reach)?
No, I believe should do the opposite, and take a leaf out of Robin's daughter Zelda William's book to "work twice as hard to fill [the world] back up [with laughter, joy and colour]".
Tell a loved what they mean to you, then do it again, and again, follow Stephen Fry's advice and don't question a friend's depression, just offer them your unconditional friendship (as hard as it may be), and continue to spread words of kindness and support far and wide on your social media. And remember the words of Wendy Mass to "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about". Shout loudly and kindly enough and maybe we can drown out the voices of hatred.
And hopefully, in future, when other public figures inevitably come to pass, no matter the circumstances, we will start to respect what Rest In Peace truly means.
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