To Robin Williams: ‘Nanu nanu’
And so he’s gone. But not from our memories of laughter and sadness to which his movies moved us.
Robin Williams, 63, ended his life two days ago and we are stunned by the suddenness of it all. No final goodbye notes or video (please, let there be) to soften the loss, to make us understand and see why he turned off the lights, closed the door behind him, and left the building without so much as a by your leave.
Once, while mulling over movies, I thought that if I were to be asked who my favorite actor was, I would say without any hesitation: Robin Williams, of course.
Now that he’s gone, I imagine him walking on Van-Gogh-ish fields of flowers or on a distant pristine shore in the afterlife depicted in the heartbreaking movie “What Dreams May Come.” I can’t imagine a sadder movie brought to life by the world’s funniest actor. Or now I try to imagine him swaying to James Brown’s “I Feel Good” song that kicked off “Good Morning, Vietnam” to a rockin’ start. See, I remember that small detail.
I have watched many Williams movies on the big screen, among them “The Birdcage,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “Hook,” “Awakenings,” “One-Hour Photo,” “What Dreams May Come,” and “Dead Poets Society.” They were not just very funny or sad, they had soul, a something that brought the viewer to unexplored landscapes of human life. I hope a cable TV channel would do a retrospective.
US President Barack Obama’s tribute stabbed the heart: “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien (as Mork in TV’s “Mork and Mindy”—CPD)—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who need it most—from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”
“Apparent suicide” by asphyxia was how police investigators described the death of Williams, who did not hide his on-and-off battle with alcoholism and, recently, with depression. Chronic clinical depression, it must be, for there didn’t seem to be any sudden triggering factor that made him spiral down the steep hole and into the dark depths. Or was there? So many unanswered questions only Williams and those very close to him might be able to answer.
Some years ago I wrote a magazine story about a support group for the clinically depressed. I provided the hotline number. The support group forwarded to me the readers’ rain of text messages that poured in. They were mostly cries for help. Only then did I realize that there were so many of them out there. I later wrote a column piece titled “Txt mssgs frm d clncly dpressd” (March 7, 2002).
I am not a depressive, so I don’t know what it is like. Someone described it as extreme sadness and being under a dark cloud. Another said she felt heavy bricks on her chest. People do get depressed while sick, or after a loss or a traumatic experience. That is expected. But depression as a chronic illness is different and needs professional attention and treatment. Still, many who we thought had easy access to professional help chose to just end it all. The severity of it must be beyond the person’s level of endurance.
We never know what it is like at that particular instance when they are alone and they suddenly decide it should be over in an instant because it’s time. The love, appreciation and adulation that Williams had could not make him stay.
I have written several times on the subject of suicide, which springs up in the media when a well-known person carries it out “successfully” or when someone unknown or unlikely (very young, for example) commits suicide in an unusual manner or place for very strange reasons. For some information, two books I open are “The Savage God: A Study of Suicide” by A. Alvarez and “Survivors of Suicide” by Rita Robinson, a journalist.
One foundation that aims to prevent suicides especially among the Filipino youth is the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation founded by Jeanne Lim Goulbourn, who lost a daughter because of depression. The World Health Organization provides health kits for support groups, families, schools and health professionals. WHO’s “Towards Evidence-based Suicide Prevention Programmes” provides basic suicide prevention strategies, but it also stresses that there is no single solution in a heterogeneous environment—that is, one size does not fit all, and therefore the need for novel approaches.
One may ask, why efforts to prevent suicides when there are people who want to call it quits? One could rationalize that the suicide victim would be in “a better place” or beyond suffering. But what about the bereaved who will bear the loss, trauma, stigma, guilt and blame? (Though guilt should never be assigned.) Death through suicide diminishes a family and a community in many ways.
On the part of the deceased there is the death of dreams and unfulfilled possibilities. The same goes for those who truly loved them and hoped in them, they who must move on.
Experts say that among the “protective beliefs” that lower the suicide risk among college students are: spirituality, family support, peer support and positive expectancy. Components of national suicide prevention are public awareness, media education, access to services, building community capacity, means restriction, training and research and evaluation.
Those of us who appreciated Williams’ gift to make us feel deeply for ourselves and others—through laughter and sadness—feel diminished and will truly miss him.
To Robin Williams, thank you and “Nanu nanu.”
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