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

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

Photo by Eva Rinaldi

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Suicide

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

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. I told her to call 911, but I knew then we would never see him alive again. For more than 30 years, my [...]
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 [...]
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, [...]
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. [...]