My father died when I was 24. I can still see my mother hanging in the doorframe of my bedroom, her face torn with shock and grief. Her voice was broken as was her heart. She never really recovered, even after the requisite two years of outward grief.
The rest is a series of images, the funeral, the weight of the coffin on my shoulders, the gravesite. The aftermath of crying and then carrying on. I was young, resilient.
Yet I was marked by that event, perhaps more than any other. It was a pivotal moment in my road to maturity – a trail I hope to see the end of soon.
It was also an inoculation against all the moments of loss to follow. I feel somehow that I have suffered less than I should have from the loss of other family (my mother died nine years ago and I’ve lost too many friends to want to count), of marriages and jobs and opportunities. I was shielded from the grief of those losses by the enormity of that first one.
So I feel slightly stunned, slightly broken as I’ve said elsewhere, by the loss of Robin Williams. I didn’t know this man, merely knew of him. Yet there was something quintessential about his humour, his gentleness and deep sensitivity, something so intensely human about him that I find my mind dragged continuously back to the reality of his tragic death. Tragic because it was inevitable as all true tragedies are.
This was not mere chance, the unlucky mutation of cancer, the incomprehensible suddenness of a fatal car crash. This was a chosen death, a death of lost hope. Yet, I also believe it was a choice based in a deep sad self-awareness. Could it have been prevented? I think Robin Williams did everything he could to prevent it. He acknowledged his pain, tried to treat it, reached out to those who could be reached, who wanted to see beyond the comedy and the celebrity.
Then it was too much.
Sadly, we treat mental illness as something different. Depression is an illness and it can be treated. So can cancer or heart disease or diabetes. Somehow we think it’s a lesser thing but, no, it is not. We easily accept that an early death from these physical things is tragic but also a relief, a way out. For Robin Williams depression was terminal and he took the only way out available to him.
But that is ten minutes.