“I pray to God everyday that the depression stays away.”
That’s what my Oma said, whenever she was well. My Grandmother, a Dutch-migrant, was one of the happiest people I knew. So when she disappeared into one of her depressive episodes, to my child’s mind, she wasn’t Oma anymore. The sing-song voice that soothed me with bed-time stories completely flattened out. Her eyes lost their mischievous sparkle. Her body was there, but her soul was somewhere else.
That’s the cruelty of depression; it steals the light that sustains hope. And when hope is gone, what’s the point of living? When the darkness is all-consuming, that’s when suicide, ironically, must feel like the only sane choice left.
Oma died late last year.
In her final years the depression stayed away completely. And for that I am truly grateful. Speaking at her funeral, I felt free to share all that I loved about her, knowing that the times she went away from us — into depression — didn’t define her, so needn’t be mentioned. If anything, those periods she left us, served to strengthen our faith in her return. And in her return, we got to appreciate her all over again.
Like the rest of the world, I’ve been gutted by the recent death of Robin Williams. Like everyone else I’ve wondered why a man who made his living out of bringing joy to others could be in such pain as to take his life.
And then I remembered. Depression doesn’t discriminate. It regularly hunted down my Oma — my laughing, arms-ready-to-hug-you Oma. I wish it hadn’t claimed Robin Williams. But it did.
As a child of the 90s, Robin Williams is inseparable from my childhood memories. I took comfort in his portrayal of Mrs Doubtfire as I was dealing with the divorce of my own parents. He played the teacher I wanted to be in Dead Poets Society. I watched with enchanted delight (+ now watch alongside my own children): Hook, Aladdin, Patch Adams. I loved him in Good Will Hunting. We all did.
It struck me as I was reading through my various Social Media Feeds, scanning for articles + perspectives on Robin Williams’ death, how much I needed to take something from what had happened. I had to find some piece of wisdom that helped me make sense of it all. I needed to find some truth that I could diligently apply to my life. In some ways, Robin Williams’ death has nothing to do with me. Yet, he served our culture as an archetype. He was the eternal child, the stand-in-father, the wise guide, the joker. He represented so many sides of human nature, it’s hard not to feel his loss because of this.
Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her recent article in The Moderate Voice, had this to say of Robin Williams:
“Robin seemed in his chosen roles and in his comedy routines and in his actual private life… understood at some level, was rocked and washed, half drowned and yet surfaced topside, in all these. He is what we call “a Sensitive.” Easily written upon, easily drowned, easily bobbing back up again time and again. Time and again.”
While collectively we grieve his death, we are grieving the roles + symbols he represented. We don’t feel the loss like his kin. My heart ached when I read his daughter Zelda’s letter…
“While I’ll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, there’s minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions. It doesn’t help the pain, but at least it’s a burden countless others now know we carry, and so many have offered to help lighten the load.”
That’s all we can do, really, in response to this tragic death. We can only “help lighten the load,” in anyway we can.
Here lies the final answer I’m seeking too — the answer to my underlying question in trying to make sense of this tragic ending:
What is the point of life, anyway?
To lighten the load. Maybe that’s it.
What if our only sane response to this event echoed the whole purpose of our life? What if we are here simply to lighten the load?
Please notice the light. In moments. In people. In yourself. In the little cracks within the darkness. The light is everywhere, but it’s so easily obscured. Sometimes I wonder if that’s all we’re here to do in life. To stop hunting for things outside of us, to quit the relentless acquiring + aspiring.
What would you do today if this was all you had to do? How would you lighten the load?