It was funny, the way I found out about Robin Williams’ passing. I was sitting with my boyfriend on the front steps of his house when Tom “the tall white guy with the afro who goes to every show ever” walked by, dragging his baggy sweatpants along the sidewalk.
“Hey, did you guys hear that Robin Williams died?”
“Yeah, it looks like it was a suicide.”
“What?!” “Oh, my God.” “That’s awful” etc.
“Yeah, so… I’m just walking around. Trying to shake it off. There was a cat on the corner. I’m gonna go check on it.”
And he was off.
It’s funny that, in 2014, the news came to us through such an ancient avenue. Rather than a midnight ride, it was an eight o’clock stroll. Rather than a horse and a lantern, it was a pair of worn out shoes and oversized headphones. Sure enough, when I checked Facebook later that night, friends were mourning the entertainer’s passing left and right.
Confusion. Sadness. Trending articles. Nostalgia. Tearful emoticons. Sadness again.
The linkstorm made me think of Ned Vizzini’s passing in December of 2013. I heard about from an A.V. Club article on my facebook feed. A message from the Internet with only the Internet to scream to.
His death was also a suicide. Learning that paralyzed me for a moment.
Ned Vizzini wrote a couple of novels that saw me through some rough and formative years. It’s Kind of a Funny Story was the first place I learned that suicidal ideations/attempts are considered cause for medical intervention as the story’s protagonist, Craig, calls the suicide hotline. Sometimes I wonder where I would be if Ned, through Craig, hadn’t told me that.
Robin Williams, similarly, meant a lot to us, collectively. He was a beloved figure who entertained and delighted generations of people with humor and poignance. He made the world smile year after year and he will be sorely missed.
He, like Vizzini, battled some very sad demons.
The conversation surrounding Williams’ passing has gone in a few different directions. Many people wondered how such a kind, funny, successful entertainer could have taken his own life. Others recounted times when Williams personally touched their lives: a cell phone photo in a rural Dairy Queen, a comforting conversation in a doughnut shop with a family after a funeral.
The sad truth is that plenty of ebullient and generous people die by their own hands. Robin Williams was a giver, and givers too often hold sadness like parasites on their warm hearts.
You probably have a giver in your life. At least, I hope you do. A giver is the person who brought you wine and a mix CD to comfort you after a breakup. She’s the one who makes a point to ask you how you’re doing when she sees you at work and always hopes for an honest answer. He’s the friend who walked you home from a party at three in the morning just to make sure you got in your bed safely and without freezing to death. She’s the one who made you cupcakes and watched a cheesy movie with you after a bad day. Your giver is exceptionally empathetic and, somehow, can always tell when you’re upset. A giver is an attentive listener who asks good questions and gives personalized advice whenever and wherever you need it. Your giver is kind without expecting anything in return. You trust your giver because your giver’s arms are always open. Maybe somebody’s giver is you.
In the conversation about Williams, some sent a succinct and clear message, “if you are depressed, get help,” which is, without a doubt, an important message to send. But here’s the thing about givers: they’re really good at faking it and really bad at asking for things.
A giver you love might be struggling with depression. They may have struggled with depression for years. Your giver may be very very sick in their mind or their body, but they still show up and fight their hurt every single day. They may have problems with their family. They may struggle with money. They may have faced trauma and tragedy that you can’t even begin to imagine. They may have an addiction. They may have lots of addictions. They may stare death in the face every time they get up in the morning, thinking, “maybe today is the day.” They may have tried to kill themselves already but, for whatever reason, still find themselves in this world, awake and breathing.
A giver you love may be in pain, even if they don’t show it.
When Ned Vizzini died, I thought of an unfinished letter I had planned on sending to him when I was 17. It’s probably still hidden in a spiral notebook somewhere in my bedroom. I forgot what it said exactly, but a big portion of it was probably “thank you.” Now he’s dead, I never sent the letter, and that makes me very sad.
Would a letter from a 17-year-old in Minnesota have prevented Ned Vizzini’s suicide? Probably not. A similar gesture probably wouldn’t have prevented Robin Williams’ suicide either. That’s not the point. The point is that thanks and gratitude and reciprocal kindness aren’t things that can be effectively asked for, especially when mental illness is in play, but they are things that can be infinitely given. By you.
If your giver is depressed, you can’t expect--or even hope--to “save” them. That’s a very self-indulgent thought. Hoping to be some kind of hero puts you at the center, and kindness should be selfless.
Right now, I’m asking you to be selfless. I’m asking you to give to your giver. To a person in your life who gives so much without expecting anything in return, give them something anyway, even if that’s just “Thank you.” Even if that’s just encouraging them to get the help that they would never ask for on their own.
To Robin Williams, thank you for, among other things, the way that Mrs. Doubtfire touched every child of divorce in some goofy, bizarre way.
To Ned Vizzini, thank you for penning the novel that made depression feel like less of a one-woman battle.
To all the givers in my life: Thank you. I love you and appreciate you. Help is out there, should you need it.
Asking for help is hard, but if you are considering suicide or want more information on recognizing warning signs, go here.