I was riding in the car yesterday when I saw on my Facebook feed that Robin Williams had died. I scrolled madly to find a news story that would explain what had happened. What I saw was amazing. Friends of all ages, from all walks of life, had commented to honor or mourn his death. Friends my own age remembered him as Mork or from Dead Poets Society. My younger friends, the young adults, mourned the Genie from Aladdin. Robin’s impact on the world through his acting, his comedy, was clear from these posts. His larger impact was evident through the organizations that posted to honor his memory–gay rights organizations, St. Jude’s hospital, theater groups, USO, the British Museum, and many more. Twitter told stories from his friends, anecdotes of how he made them smile when they were down or used humor to bring perspective to the world. People were calling him a national treasure.
I watched Mork and Mindy. I saw most of his movies. I followed him on Facebook and Twitter. I loved him. I hated it when people didn’t like his more serious movies and wanted to put him in his funny-man box. I loved his beautiful sparkling blue eyes.
But I didn’t know Robin Williams.
So why am I so sad to hear of his death? Why did the thought of his light going out bring me to tears in the shower, where tears and cleansing water mingle together to hide the shame of such grief? Why do I want to watch all of his movies again, search YouTube for standup bits, listen to interviews? Why this insatiable hunger to hear and see him?
My father died in December. He would have been 63 this July. I didn’t know he and Robin Williams were the same age until reading of Robin’s death. My father did not commit suicide, but I am/was angry at the world for losing him so early. I cannot imagine the feelings his family will go through as they wrestle with their grief at their loss and the way their loss happened. I cried for his daughter and cried for myself through her.
Is that enough to bring this grief?
Two years ago my uncle committed suicide. We knew he was depressed, but not that he was that depressed. My mother and aunt and uncle struggle with guilt that they didn’t know, weren’t able to do something. I cried for his wife and children, his friends, who will struggle with that guilt even while they know it was not their faults.
To my shame, I cried for all of us because we will not have the gift of his humor, his take on the world as we go on. I cried because I wanted more of him that he should not have had to give, but that he did give and so generously.
I also cried for the fact that life has to end. We all know this, but when we start to lose those we love, this intellectual fact becomes an inscribed fact, a physical reality that cannot be bargained or logiced away. Sixty-three is not nearly far enough away. No one says of a loss at 63, he lived a good life and makes peace with that loss.
Tonight my Facebook feed is still full of Robin Williams tributes–videos, memes, anecdotes, reminders of suicide hotlines, reflections on depression. Yahoo News reported in a single sentence the manner of his death. Our communal grief brings us together, ties us to our own losses, and offers us the kind of support we so rarely offer those close to us because we are a society that shares everything but fears intimacy.
At my father’s funeral, I was touched and lifted by the many stories told that demonstrated how many people had valued my father and how many people’s lives he had touched in meaningful ways. I hope Robin Williams’ family finds uplift in the celebrations of his impact on all of our lives.
Despite so many feeling as if they knew Robin Williams, I cannot help but call to mind the speech from Meryl Streep’s character at the end of Out of Africa at the funeral of her lover.
“Now take back the soul of Robin Williams, whom You have shared with us. He brought us joy…we loved him well.
He was not ours.
He was not mine.”
Thank you for the part of you you gave us, Mr. Williams. I am sorry we could not give you back enough.