Six months ago, we learned of the death of one of our favorite actors. Along with the rest of the country, I was stunned and heartbroken. News of Williams’ death came on the eve of the release of my book, “Hope after Suicide,” which details my own healing journey following the suicide death of my mother nearly forty years ago. I was twelve years old at the time, the oldest of five children, and my mom was just thirty-one.
Remembering my own experiences, my first thought was for Williams’ family, for his wife, and for his children who must continue to live in the aftermath of his unexpected death. I pictured their grief, their loss, the helplessness they must feel as they try to find meaning in his death while remembering his life.
I love the thoughts a good friend, Jason Russell, shared with me:
In 1989, Robin Williams was cast in the role of John Keating, a teacher of English at the Welton Academy. The film was “Dead Poets Society” and Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance, with the call of “carpe diem”, was an inspiration to millions.
As Keating, he helped his students find joy in and appreciation for the arts and culture through humor and wit. That encapsulates what Williams did best. As a comedian, he transformed the commonplace and mundane into memorable punch lines. As an actor, he made us care. Like Keating in the film, he helped us connect to and understand what it meant to be human. In fact, “Dead Poets Society” poignantly expressed that too, with Williams stating:
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman,
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
“What will your verse be?”
Whether vacuuming a house dressed as an older woman, entertaining the troops in the hell of Vietnam as a DJ, granting wishes as a sassy Genie, helping kids as a doctor who believed laughter really was the best medicine, or as an aged, forgetful Peter Pan who rediscovers what matters most, Williams contributed powerful, memorable verses. He touched us. We miss him.
(Picture credit abc7news.com)