A little while ago, while it was still 11 August in Philadelphia, I learned that Robin Williams had died. Found in his home, the report said, unconscious and not breathing. Likely cause of death: suicide, asphyxsia. Age:63.
Any good person’s death is a great loss to those who knew him or her. The death of a good person who brought so much joy, light and laughter to so many others for such a long time is more than a great loss, it’s a volcanic loss. It leaves a crater the size of Lake Mead. The tragedy is compounded in this particular case by the fact that he fought bipolar disorder, compounded by addiction, for decades. If this was indeed a suicide, it was in all likelihood preventable. Every death that results directly from a severe psychiatric disorder should be preventable, and, in hindsight, the vast majority seem to be.
Until this evening I didn’t know that Robin Williams was my age. I did know that we had in common a diagnosis of severe bipolar illness, although, mainly because I grew up in a dry household–both my parents having had hepatitis A, which nearly killed them, a few years before I was born–my annual alcohol consumption consists of about one glass of wine two or three times a year, chilled and diluted, with a full meal. And having seen people about my age who were clearly in the throes of drug abuse, I’ve always stayed away from that. But no one should ever judge and condemn someone who has not stayed away. It’s entirely possible that the person was seeking relief wherever it presented itself from the agony of an illness like bipolar. I know what that agony feels like. What I don’t know is why someone so gifted, and my own age, died, if I’m still here. That’s a question best left to clergy and theologians. I’m not sure my rabbi would want to touch it!
I never met Robin Williams, but if I could turn back the clock, I would at least want to talk with him. I would tell him that, with our shared experience, we owed it to the world, our own small portions of it, and ourselves to stay alive. He had given so much to so many, and still had so much to give. So do we all. So do I.