For every celebrity suicide, there are hundreds more teenagers who just can’t take it anymore, whatever IT is.
For every high profile funeral covered by the news there are multitudes of housewives who’ve wiped up too many spills, changed too many diapers, cried too many lonely tears in the bathroom, away from the confused eyes of her children.
For every mansion littered with flowers and stuffed animals and notes from unknown fans, there are dozens of men swallowing their anger and fear, kicking out with too many sips from too many drinks, or hiding in the garage, or in papers from work or on the golf course*.
For every Hollywood family asking for privacy, there are millions of wrecked families, begging for mental health help, begging for someone to say the right words at the right time, praying for something to bevel the jagged edges that shred them.
Of course we mourn Robin Williams. He perfected the art of acknowledging human sadness through laughter. This is no new art. Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize winner novelist, told a Tulsa audience that humor and sadness are a hand slipped into a well-made glove. They are partners in life. He said that this is why we laugh at funerals, because while in the throes of grief, we are humming with the life of the one who is gone. The best comedy is often a bloom on a tree of hurt. And before them were Shakespeare and Wilde and Austen and and and…
This from my own book, Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo
Of course silliness was tolerated. Mom daring to restrict our silliness was absurd. Silliness was how we managed to endure the icy, disapproving stares reserved by congregants for the pastor’s family. We applied a thick coat of silliness to everything. Laughter kept the tears at bay when the family traumas arrived. Kept us talking through our most difficult challenges. Laughter resolved every conversation; laughter was for us both extraordinarily fun and like getting stitches from the ER. The cuts and bruises were inevitable. The stitches, our stupid sense of humor, were the sterile needle, the special thread, and the careful ex-ing through our wounds that began to tie it all together again.
My sister texted me this morning.
You working today? And how are you?
I knew what she meant. I replied:
Working from home. Girls start school tomorrow.
She texted back:
Now answer my other question.
I knew what she was getting at. I knew what she wanted to really know. She did not want “Fine.” And she would press the point until I answered. Because she knows me. Because she loves me. Because she understands that I, like thousands of others, walk a sliver blade of contentment thanks to brain chemistry. She knew, when I called her sobbing some weeks ago that the spiral had accelerated, that the beast had reared its head, that I was being swallowed whole by my own self.
Today, we are all reaching out to our people. And this is good. I don’t like to use someone’s death to make a point, and I hate that it comes to this, always comes to this, to remind us: hug each other, be gentle, walk with compassion, and reach out.
I want you to stay here. I don’t want you to be the lost teen, the angry mother, the hidden man. I don’t want you to be the solitary family, drowning in unanswered questions. Call the Suicide Prevention hotline. Get help. 1800-273-TALK.
*please pardon the gender specific cliches