robin williams

When Robin Williams Comforted Me in the Airport After My Husband's Suicide


On Monday, August 11, 2014, I was sitting with my kids outside playing. They were in a wagon singing “So Long, Farewell” and pretending they were sailing to Ireland to pick up trash on their next expedition. A text from a dear friend came in. And then another and then a news alert. And it was absolutely heartbreaking and unbelievable news. Robin Williams was dead.

Before the sideline commentary starts about this being just another Hollywood star with a list of addictions who couldn’t get his shit together, let me share a little story I haven’t told anyone — not my husband, not my best friend, not my parents, not my sister, not anyone. Because it is too precious to me. But now is the time. Now is the place.

After my first husband Greg died by suicide, I went on a travel quest of sorts, scattering his ashes where he requested and trying to piece my life and my soul back together as best I could. I spent quite a bit of time flying between Los Angeles (LAX) and Oakland, as I was living in West Hollywood but contemplating a move to San Francisco or Marin and visiting my best friend monthly at a minimum. Post 9/11 it wasn’t always easy to get a Tupperware of your late husband’s ashes through TSA security, and at LAX one afternoon I found myself on the receiving end of an agent with a power trip like no other. After several threats telling me I was going to have to toss the ashes and me going ballistic and falling into hysterics and finally having a real cop come in and look at the death certificate I always carried with me, I made it to the airport bar still crying and clutching my little container. I sat in a corner table facing the wall so no one could see how hysterical I was, with my whiskey on the rocks providing support, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. A soft voice stated, “Miss, I just want to be sure you are OK. I see you are traveling alone, and I saw what happened, and I just really want to be sure you are OK.” Through my tears I could place the voice but couldn’t actually believe Robin Williams was just casually strolling through LAX and would actually take the time to stop to see if I was OK.

I was still crying that ugly cry where you are trying to catch your breath, and I gave him the Cliff Notes version of circumstances. His eyes got a little glossy. His voice got softer. And he said to me, “Addiction is a real bitch. Mental illness and depression are the mother of all bitches. I am so sorry for all the pain your husband was in. I’m so sorry for the pain you are in now. But it sounds like you have family and friends and love. And that tips the scale a bit, right?” And he walked me to the gate, as we were on the same commercial flight.

He was a gentle soul. He made us laugh, and he made us cry. He made us feel with his craft. He was honest about his demons. He was open about his mistakes and his faults. He was obviously in pain.

Mental illness and severe depression are the mother of all bitches. Damn straight.

He was always there for our veterans, always there for our service men, children in hospitals, his own friends and family in need, and even a hysterical stranger in the airport. And what I haven’t yet shared was that during our walk to the gate he got me laughing. Impersonating people we passed by. Making fun of the TSA agents, especially the one who gave me such a hard time. In a playful way though. Not insulting (even though the guy totally deserved to be insulted). He told me I had a wonderful laugh. A beautiful smile. And when we parted ways, he hugged me. With his famously hairy arms, he gave me a huge, warm, bear hug, and it sustained me. It was a moment I think about all the time. That moment saved me. And sustained me. He sustained me during one of the most difficult moments of my life.

He was as kind as he was funny.

His death is so terribly, terribly tragic. That someone who brought so much light and joy to others felt so much darkness inside.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. May you find the peace that eluded you here and may you keep the angels laughing.

Thanks for being there that day for me. You were the angel I needed. And I know you spoke from experience, and I appreciated that.

It was tough news for me to hear that Monday. It continues to be tough news for me to process.

Follow this journey on mamalawmadingdong.com.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Photo by Eva Rinaldi

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What I Know Now After My Father's Suicide


Sometime before noon on May 15, 2009, my dad left my parents’ house for the last time. At noon my mother called me in a panic to tell me dad was gone.

A black and white photo of a man with his hand to his chin

I told her to call 911, but I knew then we would never see him alive again. For more than 30 years, my dad had struggled with depression. I grew up prohibited from talking about his suicide attempts, his diagnosis or whether or not he was taking his medication.

Dad’s mental health was a forbidden topic.

My dad left. For two days, we called everywhere we could think of. We finally thought to call the morgue.

My dad’s death by suicide is by far the worst thing I have ever lived through. He didn’t just die. He left us. He walked out the door and never came back. I felt betrayed, abandoned. It felt like a choice. Although, rationally, I understood it was not.

Did he go out the front door or the garage door? He had a picture of our family in his wallet when they found him. Did he look at it and have second thoughts? Was he scared?

Two small kids standing next to their dad, who is seated at a piano, as they all laugh

I will never know the answer to any of these questions. These are the things I have thought about, for a long time obsessed over, during the last seven years. What if my mom hadn’t gone back to sleep after she got up in the morning? What if she’d been awake and thwarted his plans?

It was tempting to blame her. It was tempting to blame the friend who was visiting the month prior, who took my mom to a museum and gave my dad the opportunity to disappear and attempt suicide for the sixth time.

For years, I blamed myself. I should’ve been more vigilant. It was my responsibility to save him, and I failed. I’ve heard versions of this sentiment from people ranging from his dearest friends to colleagues he hadn’t seen in years. Over and over, people expressed the belief that they could have said or done something that would have saved him. My husband doesn’t think if only he had said or done the right thing it would’ve kept his father from dying of pancreatic cancer. His mother doesn’t think she could’ve prevented it.

I submitted my dad’s obituary to the Washington Post on the chance that they might be interested in publishing it. He’d been in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. He’d worked with the precursor to USAID in Vietnam during the war. He also had an interesting career in the Foreign Service.

The woman who called said I hadn’t specified the cause of death. I said it was suicide, but my mother didn’t want it published. She said they couldn’t print it without the cause. So I said, thanks, but forget it.

With suicide loss there is shame and there is fear. Would others think my dad was weak? Would they judge him? Would they judge us?

I no longer worry about being judged. I know what my father did not, that mental illness and suicide are not weakness. There is no shame in taking medication or in seeking help. Those are not beliefs I was raised with. I was raised in silence and shame. It took me years of work to arrive at this point. I wonder, if mental illness weren’t stigmatized and if it were discussed in the way we talk about high blood pressure or diabetes, then would my father still be alive? This is another question I cannot answer.

It is common, I think, to define a person who dies by suicide by cause of death. I call myself a survivor of suicide loss. It is my invisible badge I wear every day. It’s become less painful over time, but it is always there.

I’ve survived and I’m stronger, kinder and more understanding for it. I talk about mental illness and suicide all the time. I drop them into cocktail conversation and treat them as casually as one might discuss the weather. I do this for my dad, my children, for friends and for myself.

Sometimes people are shocked, but more often than not, someone confides in me. They take psychiatric medication, see a therapist or have faced the loss of a loved one to suicide. These are all common. What we lack are the avenues for talking about them.

I speak because I want to live in a society where mental illness has no stigma and no attached shame. Where people who need mental health help do not hesitate to reach out and ask for it. Where, if we lose someone to suicide, we do not hide and grieve alone, for fear of being judged.

A bride walking down the aisle with her dad at her wedding

I love my dad, and I still mourn his loss. Now, after seven years, I can conjure up the fun memories and dwell on the good. I can think of him as a whole, wonderful and complicated person. I am able to get past focusing on his depression, on the difficult latter years and on how he died.

He was bright, charismatic and generous. He loved people. He had a Monty Python-esque sense of humor. He embraced the irreverent and thrived on shock value. He was funny, truly funny, and when he laughed, he laughed with his whole body.

While I would undo his death if I could, I am not ashamed to say he died by suicide. Devastated, yes, but not ashamed. I love him, and I am proud of him.

This post originally appeared on This Is My Brave.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Images provided by Lisa Jordan

bouquet of flowers on a gravestone

The Words at a Funeral Service That Helped Ease My Shame About Suicide


This past summer, I attended the funeral of a fellow member of my church who had died by suicide. Death by suicide is despairingly sad, and it can be especially scary when a fellow warrior dies from a disease you share. I didn’t know him much at all, but I was and still am in complete shock by this great loss to our community. As many do in the face of death, I wanted to do something. I wanted to be there to offer support however I possibly could. The tangible manifestation at the time was this: I offered to provide nursery care during the service so that any families who wanted to attend the service could do so and have space and peace to grieve.

So I found myself there, sitting on the floor of the nursery, playing with my kids and a darling 6-month-old baby. I sat with a few other congregants and listened to the service as it was piped in on an old cathode ray tube TV. I listened to the hymns the congregation, bursting at the seams, sang mournfully together, while playing with an assortment of trucks and trains. And then I listened to the message from our pastor. And I never could have known the impact the words he used that day would have on me. I didn’t realize the words spoken — and the open and honest hearts from his family — would give me an incredible gift. It would allow me to finally let go of the shame I’ve felt surrounding the time I almost died by suicide.

As I reflected on the words in this sermon months later and I allowed myself to feel the intense emotions that were coming up for me, I thought about how I write, talk and think about my own journey with mental illness and my own brush with death. And now I wish I could go back and erase every journal entry I’ve ever written and re-have every conversation. I want to change every time I’ve uttered the words “I attempted suicide” to “I almost died by suicide, a complication of my illness.”

The brave and honest and compassionate language our pastor and his family gave me through the message at his funeral service this summer has forever changed me. A message whose words I go back to in my head again and again and again. A message that has helped me begin to ease the shame I’ve always felt about my illness and transform it into compassion for myself and my fellow warriors. This small gift of freeing language has meant so much to me. Thank you.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Robert Griffo working at the Veterans Crisis Line

What It Means to Work at the Veterans Crisis Line


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

What does it mean to be a Crisis Responder at the Veterans Crisis Line?

It means having an honest dialogue with people. It means talking openly about trauma, addiction, suicide, homicide, rape, abuse, homelessness, mental illness, poverty, sexual deviance, criminal activity, racism, sexism, aging, illness, gay marriage, religious freedoms, euthanasia, financial issues, issues related to military combat, gender identity — among other topics. It means discussing these matters in the complete absence of judgment and over a phone line instead of in-person.

It means early mornings, late nights and  sometimes going to sleep on a cold night thinking about the caller you had that was sleeping in his/her car and finding out that they have died from hypothermia while you slept in a warm bed. It means understanding that someone you may have helped earlier has now died from jumping in front of a train or hanging himself in the woods or shot himself in the parking lot.

It means no longer finding it strange when people talk to themselves, or talk to people you cannot see. It means that a person who utilizes self-destructive behavior by cutting to feel does not surprise you. It means building meaningful connections with resilient and actually fascinating individuals. It means the precious opportunity to learn from people that may be very different than you. It means experiencing the struggle with someone who so generously trusts you over the phone without knowing you from a can of beans. It means sitting quietly, listening to someone in a moment of hardship and realizing that you do not need words to feel someone’s intense gratitude for your being there on the phone with them.

It means being a vessel for someone’s possible first step into recovery. It means being a voice for those who may not be able to speak for themselves in a time of crisis. It means learning to treasure success, however small. It means constantly seeking to uncover the inherent strength of others we speak with. It means always keeping faith and never giving up hope. 

That’s what being a Crisis Responder means to me.

— Rob

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Or send a text message to 838255.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

woman looking straight with her hand on her head

Yes, I Tried to Kill Myself


I tried to kill myself.

I know that makes you uncomfortable. I know you don’t want to talk about it. I know you would like to pretend suicide doesn’t exist.

It does. Suicide exists. Suicide is frighteningly real.

I think, as a society, suicide is still far too stigmatized. Far too overlooked. Far too shamed. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to admit that it is a problem, a huge problem.

It isn’t OK.

No, it isn’t OK I tried to kill myself. It isn’t OK I apologized to the police officers and EMS personnel over and over again because I had always been shamed in the past. It isn’t OK I felt guilty for “wasting the time” of the nurses and doctors who cared for me in the ER and ICU. It isn’t OK I was afraid to look at my phone after regaining consciousness. I was afraid people would be mad. I was afraid of the criticism awaiting me.

When will we start looking at mental illness for what it is, an illness? An illness that can be deadly, just as deadly as a physical illness.

People with mental illness deserve compassion. People who attempt suicide deserve compassion. People who die by suicide deserve compassion. All people deserve compassion.

It’s time for change. It’s time that we start looking at suicide differently.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Image via Thinkstock.
A police man on the Golden Gate Bridge

Why the Aftermath of Suicide Loss Doesn't Simply Have a 'Ripple Effect'


This article was originally published by Active Minds and was written by Kevin Briggs, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau.

Nov. 19 was “International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.” This day is an opportunity celebrated around the world for people affected by suicide loss to gather at local events to find and provide comfort and gain understanding as they share their stories of their loved ones. I once read each suicide has what is referred to as a “direct affect” on six people. This means at least six people were affected enough to cause them to alter their daily life patterns. I believe this number is low. Of course, many, many more people are saddened by the loss.

Some of you may know this already… my paternal Grandfather lost his life to suicide. I was not born when this occurred, but his actions prevented me from ever getting to know him, and him, me. Who knows, we may have been best friends.

Those of us who are suicide loss survivors are no doubt forced into an association we wish we were never placed in, and really, didn’t even know existed in the first place. It’s well known that most people who take their life have a diagnosable mental illness. Even though suicide has been on the rise since 1999, I truly believe due to our better understanding of mental illness and the continual destigmatization surrounding it, suicide rates will go down. There are many organizations supporting those who are contemplating suicide, as well as suicide loss survivors. There are crisis chat lines, crisis texting help and even “apps” for assistance. Organizations like Active Minds, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and others openly discuss suicide prevention and have information readily available for suicide loss survivors.

Being that I never met my Grandfather, I will say I don’t suffer the anguish as a parent does who has lost a child, or someone who has lost a good friend or another family member that they have a deep bond with. During my career with the California Highway Patrol, I encountered hundreds of people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB).  Most “negotiations” were successful. But there are also those encounters with people with whom I was not able to help and they did in fact, perish. These encounters have significantly affected me, pushing my desire to help others to the forefront.

In my discussions with family members from those lost on the GGB and many, many others in my travels speaking about suicide prevention and crisis intervention, I see time and time again the pain left from loss. Some people say this is a ripple effect from the suicide. I can tell you the devastation is bigger than a ripple. It is a tsunami, a hurricane that strikes hard and leaves in its wake sadness, grief, unanswered questions and even guilt. Those left behind wonder what they could have done to prevent the tragedy. Please believe me when I tell you the action of the family member or friend was not your fault. The act of suicide is a personal one, not selfish, and in almost every case, not intended to cause pain or anguish to anyone. The common purpose of why a person dies by suicide generally, is to seek a “solution” to the intolerable psychological pain they are in. Their crisis management skills have been exhausted and they feel hopeless about their situation.

What can those of us do that are left behind, the suicide loss survivors? Do our best to live a life of happiness, continual growth and service to your community. This is what those who have lost their life would wish for you, I’m sure.

I urge everyone to take some time to recognize not only suicide loss survivors, but all who have lost their life to suicide. There are a number of events taking place worldwide. I’ve listed a few websites below for additional information.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Survivors of Suicide Loss

God bless and keep each other safe,

Kevin

This piece originally appeared on the Active Mind’s Blog

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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