When Someone Dies… By Their Own Hand

August 12, 2014

In between therapy sessions for my son and the long driving that accompanies them, I have been watching the outpouring of reactions to the news of Robin Williams death, by suicide. Most have been heartfelt, sad, and filled with regret for a man who endeared himself to so many with laughter and joy, yet struggled so greatly to find hope for his own life.

Sadly, a few responses have been less than generous and kind, including some from the Christian community. I was especially appalled at a popular blogger, claiming the same faith as me, who decided Robin Williams simply needed to choose a little more joy and all would be well. A facebook friend claimed he had wasted his life and compared his death to another woman’s fight to live with her physical illness (she later had the integrity and courage to apologize). Still another made the audacious proclamation about his eternal destination, comparing his life to the nihilistic ending of one of his movies in which he played a teacher in a boys’ school.

It ached to read these and to hear such unmerciful, uncompassionate responses to a man who was clearly gifted, clearly talented, and clearly loved. I often wonder if these fellow Christians have forgotten the Jesus they claim to follow. At the same time, I know that we all make mistakes, snap judgements, and say hurtful and harmful things.

But I think what is more beautiful than the ugliness of these comments is the groundswell of stories and experiences and words from people who have lived depression and other mental Illness, who have walked the rails of darkness, who have come so close, so close to tasting death because living is so incredibly painful. I have been moved to tears more than once reading these stories, these journeys of people who know the difficulty of a disease no one can see, a disease that is not cured easily, a disease where no one brings casseroles or volunteers to watch your kids. There are no outward signs of illness that people can pity and respond to generously. It’s socially acceptable to say you suffer from cancer, parkinsons, or other debilitating and life threatening diseases, and those journeys are wrought with their own forms of hard and painful. But depression has no obvious outward signs. And it is not always acceptable to speak of this disease. To be able to see these stories grow into a loud clanging of voices speaking against the ugly of harmful judgements and the stigmas brought about through silence is quite moving. And maybe, for those who are listening, it is way to learn. A way to peek into this particular disease that affects more people than we even know.

I have never been where Robin was. I have never planned my death. But I have walked darkness. I have screamed into the abyss around me to only hear an echoing silence. I have dragged myself from day to night not certain if I could even do one more step. I know how painful that experience was; I cannot imagine the sort of pain that drives someone to prefer to die and to move into that desperate place, because living is so unbearable.

So, I think it would be a good idea for many of us to perhaps pull a chair close to someone else, sit and listen. Listen. Listen without judgement. Listen without quick and easy and unknowing answers. Listen without the selfish tendency to try to fix. Listen to the stories. And learn from those who have walked the edge of suicide and lived to tell us how things really are for people caught in the grips of darkness. Learn and do better. Learn and check in more often. Learn and be more merciful. Learn and cut through the stigmas. Sit, listen and learn. Ask me my story and tell me yours, because really, I want to know. I want to care. I want to love. I want to understand. Sit with me a bit and teach me, and perhaps we can try to see the love of God soaking all around the brokenness in all our souls.

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