Robin Williams died two days ago, not from suicide but from depression. His movie entitled, Where Dreams May Come”, tells the story of a family crippled, but never broken by depression. The movie tells the story of such love by a man for his soul-mate that he would fall into her Hell and stay there with her, leaving his own Heaven, where his children and his joy reside, to find her in her deepest sadness and bring her back to joy via his devotion and love. Would it not be a wonderful world if we could save our loved ones from their demons?
My extended family has had their share of demons. My Grandpa committed suicide when I was a little girl. I barely remember him. What I do remember is him pulling candy from his pocket for me during church, and standing next to him while he laid on the couch, probably because he was in pain. That’s all I remember of him. My mom remembers her daddy who laughed and loved her and all the fun and good times, until the depression took over. My cousin Jon committed suicide a few years ago. I remember a silly kid who loved to wear blue, who smelled everything he ate before eating it, who laughed and joked, who told funny stories about the cows he raised, who loved animals. His mom, dad, and sisters remember a son and brother who did all those things I remember plus many more, until his demons took over. His suicide was especially devastating because his mom lost her dad and we all lost another family member to depression.
Both these deaths in my family caused incredible pain that still stays with us today. My Grandpa died when I was 3 or 4, I’ll be 55 next month. Back in 1963 nobody wanted to talk about suicide and surely, my Grandpa’s death wasn’t publicized as a suicide. My family still conjures reasons for his death–business failing, the pain he was in physically–it’s all speculation. My cousin Jon’s death is still hits hard after 8 years. We all surmise why Jon felt the need to end his life, we’ll never know the true reasons. There was lots of talk at the funeral about his sexuality. He was a gay man in a straight community, in a religion he loved that didn’t accept him as a perfect child of God, and a business (farming) in a community that didn’t accept his “life-style choice”. It’s all speculation.
After Grandpa died, my Grandma had no money and a 12 year old son to raise. She was a typical 1950’s housewife. She had to find a job to pay the bills and the debts that were left–not an easy task back in 1963, especially if you never worked outside the home. She married three more times after Grandpa died, to men she loved but probably not for the best reasons. My uncle lost his dad (who he loved dearly) at age 12. From that day forward, I lost my favorite uncle. He didn’t play with me anymore, and over the years covered his own pain with alcohol abuse and probably deep depression that carried through to his wife and kids. I can only surmise about the effect my Grandpa’s suicide had on my mom and her sister. I can spend time analyzing my relationship over the years with my mom and see the effects of that loss in her. I have no doubt it caused both my mom and my aunt to struggle with their own depression over the years. They were very good at not letting us kids see it, but looking back and hearing stories, I’m sure it was there. Over the years, other family members have struggled with depression, their own demons maybe from a genetic predisposition, maybe from chemical imbalance, maybe from life hitting them wrong. We don’t talk about it much in our family. I don’t think many families do talk about it much. Which is probably a good reason why the family still struggles and probably why our own kids will struggle.
I’ve had my own struggles with depression. Especially, when I was much younger, when I didn’t get out of bed, when I drank myself silly to mask my anxiety, when I found people who were probably not the best influence on me because they fueled my numbness instead of fueling my joy. I rolled through parts of my life as a spectator and a follower. At the times it was an easier path than dealing with the anxiety of cutting my own trail. Depression even in it’s mild stages causes us to lose our excitement and courage to face the unknown. I hid from my own demons, and when confronted I lied about those demons that controlled me. I didn’t want anybody to worry about me. Which in retrospect probably caused them way more worry. My depression was never enough to want to end my life. I never wanted to die. I never thought my death would be better for everyone else. But, after all these years seeing the effects of depression severe enough to effect suicide, I understand the thinking. People who have severe depression don’t kill themselves because of selfishness. They do so because they feel it’s more selfless. They don’t want to burden anyone, anymore with their pain.
Depression is rampent in our society. I saw a statistic–the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people from 18 to 44.5 is Major Depressive Disorder (from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America). It is interesting that we spend millions fighting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and not that we shouldn’t. We talk about cancer all the time. We run marathons, we put on pink ribbons, we buy stuff with pink ribbons–all for cancer research. But for depression…we don’t even have a conversation about it. Even with those we love the most. We watch our most favorite people die from this disease, then we suffer with their death for generations, and we barely acknowledge it. The toll from mental illness is staggering. The cost of disability and all the ancillary diseases stemming from depression–anxiety disorders, OCD, drug abuse, etc costs our society billions of dollars. I heard a news columnist and doctor say today (paraphrased), “we treat every disease except the one that attacks our brain”. We watch people living in a hell of depression, we suspect it, we worry about it, but we still treat it with hush tones and stigma. It’s part of our human hell on earth.
I believe we make our heaven and our own hell, which is why I like Robin William’s movie. I also really like Rob Bells book, Love Wins. The movie and the book are two rather different theologies. Rob Bell tells us that it is more important to create our Heaven right now. Here on earth. He also tells us that we are really good at creating our own Hell right here. Right now. In his book, Rob Bell asks if we’ve ever sat down with a mom who’s child has been molested. That’s Hell. I’d like to believe that when we do pass into the next life, our Heaven will be glorious and will be a place we are happy and living our dreams. I part from the movie because I don’t believe for one minute that anybody who commits suicide will end up like Robin Williams wife in the movie, living through an eternity in a place of no hope, no dreams, and no happiness.
Really, I’ll probably get all sorts of Bible thumping over this statement but, I don’t believe in an afterlife called “hell”. We as humans are good enough at creating that while we are here on earth. I do believe my Grandpa and my cousin Jon are living a beautiful existence right now in a Heaven of peace and comfort and love. I believe that because I could never believe in a God who would cause any of his creation to suffer for eternity. I would never believe that by taking their own life God would punish them in an eternity of despair and pain. In my happy existence a loving God would never do that. I also believe that God is laughing like crazy right now–how could He not with Robin Williams standing at His feet. I also want to believe that someday we will be able to understand the causes of such severe depression that robs us of our most beloved people. Maybe as stated my many, Robin Williams death will start the process. And, I do believe that Heaven isn’t a dream. It can be here and now if we let it.