I am familiar with suicide

August 12th, 2014

Koko the firecracker

Suicide runs in families, and my family’s first suicide was when my grandfather gassed himself in his office.  His two surviving sons were kids, and when they grew up, they both killed themselves, bullet and gas.  Robin Williams lived in my town. He was on the same track team as my high school boyfriend. We were in the same high school drama department.  Although I didn’t know him as a famous man, I know what depression and a substance problem do to people. He described the issues clearly during many personal interviews.

I saw Robin in my home town two weeks before he left this planet, and had a chance to tell him how much I loved his time with Koko the gorilla on YouTube.  Koko was a nickname for Haribiko, which means firecracker, because Koko was born in Japan on the fourth of July.  I was also born in Japan on the fourth of July, which started my connection with her, and her marvelous journey with her kittens.  I feel I am a gorilla in spirit.   I recently watched Robin interact with Koko, and I made multiple connections.  I believe my mother was a gorilla spirit, and Mom and I both acted like gorillas sometimes.  Recognizing my gorilla heritage allowed me access into my dream life, which led to making powerful gorilla art, which instilled tremendous confidence in me as an artist.  I was able to tell Robin about my gorilla connection.

He was the type of man who listened and understood my story.  I am grateful Robin listened to me for a minute.  He graciously accepted my thanks, and we said goodbye and went separate ways.  Our short conversation was probably typical of the conversations he had throughout his life, with people he barely knew.

I was lucky to close my time with Robin in person.  When I heard he passed away, I remembered other suicides in my life that didn’t have closure, which is why I’m writing this blog.  I didn’t get a goodbye with my grandfather, uncle or my father.  No one in my family even left a note.  We don’t expect someone we care about  to choose leaving by their own hand.  We cannot control the option each person has every day.

I understand depression, and I know grief.  I know about substances and sorrow.  I cannot say why I choose to live through today, but I live.  Robin chose not to live after today.  He was a good man with a spirit soaring with other suicides out there, although I don’t know what that means.  It must take a tremendous pain to choose suicide.  Although every culture judges the person who goes that way,  I do not feel that I have the right to judge people for such a personal decision.

Survivors must live with a person’s suicide decision every day of their lives, after our people are gone.  We also have to live with society’s judgements, and that hurts in unspeakable ways, too.  As the girl whose father shot himself in the head, I remember how much I yearned for mercy from other people who knew me, as well as people who didn’t know me and made assumptions about me and my life.  It took a long time to recover from shock, shame and sorrow.  It was easier to say nothing and pretend like suicide didn’t happen.

Not today.  Today I speak of my experience with suicides.  I feel compassion for what the Williams family endures right now.  Telling the truth is what I offer their family.

People say don’t kill yourself.  But who are the people?   What gives them the right to tell us that?  What do they know about us?  After my father shot himself in the head, people judged my father.  During the earlier years, people judged my grandfather, my uncle.   There was no one I could talk to about my father’s decision.  Few people are trustworthy enough to understand my point of view.  The whole idea of taking ones life terrifies people.  It is a terrible Tabu.  We are lucky to find listeners who give us their time and openly talk about the devastating effects from taking one’s life.

I don’t say suicide is wrong.   It is a forever life-changing event for all concerned, beyond heartbreaking, and I don’t think a survivor fully recovers from feelings of abandonment.  Perhaps it’s our selfishness that makes us want to keep our people on this planet, to be there for us.  Who can really say?

When my life hit the skids more than once, I did consider suicide.  The thoughts run in my family, of course I would consider it.  I chose to face the topic on another level, beyond my own pain.  I paused to consider my loved ones, and what my suicide would do to them.  Sometimes we have to live through tremendous pain for others, even when we truly don’t want to live at all.  I’m not saying suicide is an easy decision.  For me, thinking of my kids going through what I endured, reduced thoughts of suicide as an option for just one day.   Then I gave it another day.  Eventually I did not choose to die.  My ancestors chose otherwise.  I may choose otherwise tomorrow.  Nobody really knows what’s going on with suicide.

Robin made a devastating choice today, and he is in my heart, bigtime.  He is part of my family in more than one way now, more than my high school friend.  I feel heartbreak for his inconsolable soul, and his family’s struggle from his choice to leave.  May peace abide.  It’s not easy.

9 responses to “I am familiar with suicide”

  1. Charleen says:

    O Robin – What were you thinking? What were you thinking?
    You made us laugh so many many times, and now we cry.

  2. Kathy says:

    Such an interesting point of view, Pru. Of course I remember Robin well, mostly from College of Marin, not Redwood, and I feel incredibly sad at his death, not so much that he’s gone although that’s a huge loss, but thinking about the vast pain that caused him to make this choice.

    I remember how devastated my father-in-law, Sy Kahn, was when Carolyn Heilbrun made the same choice. She was a well known academic, taught at Columbia university and wrote (in addition to her extensive scholarship) a wonderful series of mystery novels under the pseudonym Amanda Cross. She was much older than Robin, and apparently she had always intended to end her life before old age made her life less enjoyable (in her view) and had written about it. But Sy remembered Carolyn as a teenager, when they were sweethearts and before he enlisted at 18 to fight in WWII. She was one of the things that symbolized home for him, and one of the people he had thought about and written about when he was a soldier in the South Pacific. And when she took her own life (60 years later) he was so devastated, so sad and angry, and couldn’t see her point of view at all. She, like Robin, had a life that many people envied, but that didn’t make it worth continuing for her. We are all, to some extent, lonely creatures, aren’t we? No one can see all the way into someone else’s life.

  3. Lisa says:

    My heart is broken. I cannot believe our old friend did this. I can’t imagine his pain, to leave his children this way.
    I will miss him always.
    Nice words Pru. Love you too!

  4. Fancy says:

    The depth of your blog is both insightful and heartwrenching! For all those left behind, including Robin Williams, peace on earth!!

  5. Leslie says:

    Beautiful, Pru, and very wise.

  6. maryann gravitt says:

    you are a powerful force for good pru. thankyou.

  7. Madeleine says:

    This is very insightful. You show great compassion for people who feel the level of pain that makes suicide possible and the people let behind afterwards dealing with the consequences.

  8. Phoebe says:

    I love you, Pru, and I’m lucky to have you as my “older sister”/cousin. I really appreciate hearing your deep thoughts on all of this, especially from my experience of some of them first hand.
    I struggled, especially with your father’s suicide, to not run away into fear and judgement, but to stay with his humanity, which then gives me back mine.
    There never seems to be a great place to share this, but in the spirit of honesty, and knowing several people who have committed suicide, or considered it, I’ve wondered why I HAVEN’T thought of it in times of great pain. I don’t think it’s because of any wisdom on my part, but more a case that my fear of the future and lack of faith have actually worked FOR me in this area. It seems to me that one must have some thought that suicide would make something better, if only to lesson the pain. And I could only think, what if it makes it worse? But the friend that scared me the most, describing his brush with it afterwards, said that he actually DIDN’T think – it was more of a disconnected urge that seemed to have nothing to do with him. It is a blessing that he was able to stop himself.
    My close friend’s brother just committed suicide last month, and had struggled with mental illness. Though sad, an unexpected outcome for me was that it jolted me into appreciating more the everyday immediacy of my life, noticing how thin my wrists are, right next to the unliving computer.
    Anyway, life and death (and suicide) are very mysterious, and I think the healing comes from being able to share our true, unedited thoughts and feelings. I appreciate hearing from everyone here, and you, Pru, for your courage and honesty in writing about this, and making a place for others to share.

  9. Tami from way back says:

    I have been so caught up in a whirl of thoughts brought on by the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. It has focused my awareness on everyone my age, Death, Depression and Living a Giving Life (evidently he really had that last part nailed). Your blog post is so SPOT ON, my Dear. It is because you write from the heart and tell no lies. But more than that, you have the acute insight into the truth that lies within the Truth.

    You were fortunate to have experienced him in person. I was in the same class at Redwood but none of the same classes. I remember him from the vantage point of the audience, doing his brilliant improv stuff in a dress rehearsal in the little theater. And when I discovered him in Mork and Mindy, as countless others did, he touched my soul as if bringing a piece of Home to me, and I was unaware that he was from Marin at the time.

    I have been composing in my mind as the thoughts continue to wash over me, but unable to really write about them. It isn’t from an unfamiliarity with the subject. The news of Robin’s action brings back all my feelings about my husband’s “allowing” of death to come. We survivors always blame the departed ones a little (or a lot!) for their responsibility in having left us. I embrace what you have to say about that. I see little difference between the two, since my husband kept from me any inkling he may have had that health was declining and Robin kept choosing Life as long as he had his good deeds to do and also had his health. The old adage, “Where there’s Life, There’s Hope” comes to mind. I don’t buy that Depression finally “got” him. I am certain it was the diagnosis of Parkinson’s that made him decide to leave without waiting for the slow torture of physical deterioration. Depression simply provided the familiarity with thoughts of Death to ease into the final transition. Who are we to say that was wrong? His children were grown into beautiful people he was proud of, he didn’t want them to watch him slowly die. So it goes when we all face the threshold, regardless of the circumstances. I neither judge nor condone. I do feel tremendous sadness. On these three things we both agree.

    Jon Carroll wrote a very profound article about Depression the week that Robin died. Jon had been down for the count for quite some time in recent years. This was his coming out statement. He was incapacitated by it, but he did not consider killing himself. I can relate to Jon’s perspective. My depression lasted from the age of 16 or 17 through to 24. I was never about to kill myself, but it was definitely depression and my shame prevented me from seeking help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *