How What I Learned from My Friend's Suicide is Helping Me Cope with the Death of Robin Williams
By Charlene Harreveld on August 12, 2014
It's so ironic to me that my last post was about a definitive movie from my daughters' childhood and how that movie helped me decide to peel back my layers and write about things that really matter to me. I mentioned that one of my upcoming posts would be about my friend's suicide. All day today another quote from a different movie from girls' childhood resonated in my head:
"Genie! Of! The Lamp!"
I can hear Genie from Aladdin (a.k.a. Robin Williams) saying it over and over and over again. A little more than twenty four hours ago Neil told me that Robin Williams died. He killed himself.
I immediately told him to put on CNN and then I watched and listened and watched some more. All of the talking heads were discussing Robin's battles with addiction and kept mentioning the fact that his publicist released a statement in the wake of his death saying that Robin was seeking help for deep depression. The pundits encouraged anyone watching who was currently battling similar demons to seek help...suicide is not the answer. However, even though they said Robin was seeking help and they were encouraging others to do the same, they never acknowledged the fact that even though Robin Williams was seeking help, he killed himself anyway.
Does getting help matter? Does it make a difference? Does it change a person's mind once that person's mind is made up? Let me tell you my experience.
When my daughter Adrienne was in fourth grade, she was diagnosed with mono and missed about one month of school. Every day after school, I would meet the school bus to pick up my youngest daughter Erica and at the same time, I would exchange folders with one of Adrienne's classmates: she handed me the work Adrienne missed that day, and I handed her Adrienne's completed assignments. She was so kind to turn in Adrienne's make-up work and to pick up the stuff Adrienne needed to do at home. As a result, our family became friendly with this lovely little fourth grader and her parents. She was an only child and her mom and dad were wonderful. Once Adrienne recovered and began attending school again, we would often meet for smoothies after school with them. We bonded.
Summer came and my friend and her daughter travelled overseas for a month while the dad stayed home. We were about to leave on vacation when it was time for them to return. I called the dad to say goodbye and that we were sorry that we would be missing his wife and daughter upon their return; our vacations overlapped. He informed me that his wife and daughter wouldn't be returning until the end of the summer. His wife met another man and filed for divorce. Just. Like. That. I was so confused. Obviously, the family I thought we bonded with was not the family I thought they were.
Shortly before school began, my friend returned with her sweet daughter as a completely different person. She had a lover, she started smoking like a fiend, she divorced her husband faster than anyone I had ever known, and she informed me that the lover whom she had just met was leaving his life behind in that foreign country to come to America to marry her. Whoa. I didn't know how to comprehend any of this.
As the school year progressed, the mom's behavior became strange. She spent money like crazy. She threw lavish parties. She gained weight; so much so that I asked her if she was pregnant. She planned a wedding before the ink was dry on her divorce papers. She would show up at my front door unannounced. I felt like I was being swallowed by this woman. She was not the same person I met at the bus stop just a few months earlier. It was okay with me that she became a different person, but what I didn't like was that she assumed I would go along on the ride with her. She changed, but I didn't. I was still the same person, but she wasn't. She morphed into someone I never would have befriended or allowed into my life. I tried to give her what she needed. I tried to be a good friend, but I will be the first to admit it was difficult. Fifth grade ended and so did her contact with me.
Sixth grade came and went without her speaking to me. We would see each other at school events and she would barely look at me. She was rail thin. I knew something was wrong with her, but I couldn't bring myself to take hold of her problems. I couldn't allow myself to let her back into my life. I always desire to be a good friend to people, but I have to draw the line if and when the relationship is detrimental to my health and to my family's well-being. (I was enduring my own problems at the time, which I will write about one day.)
As soon as sixth grade ended, I began a math class as part of my master's program. It was a two-week long intensive course that went all day every day for two weeks. My girls went to "Grandmom and Grandpop Summer Camp" at my parent's house every day while I was in school. Neil would go there for dinner every night. The girls were having a great time, Neil was eating a healthy dinner, and I was able to be free to attend the class and do all of the work involved.
One night Neil told me that my dad and my brother were really late to dinner because they were caught in a really bad traffic jam. A train had derailed and it was causing all kinds of chaos.
The following evening, I went to my parent's house for dinner after my class. I was outside by the pool with my girls when my cell phone rang. It was my neighbor, who coincidentally had a friend who lived next door to my former friend's now ex-husband. I dropped to me knees when she told me the news because I immediately put two and two together. I wanted to vomit. The train accident that had delayed my brother and my father the night before was because of my former friend. She parked her car at a vegetable stand. A witness saw her walk onto the tracks. The witness saw her make the sign of the cross. The train didn't stop in time.
Several times during our friendship she told me that she had contemplated suicide. However, each time she mentioned it, she always ended the conversation by saying she would never follow through because one of our daughters' classmate's father had committed suicide and she said she never wanted her daughter to endure what that poor classmate had to endure. I listened. And listened some more. When she told me it was something she would never do, I did not have any evidence to support the fact that she wasn't telling me the truth. I screamed when I heard the news because she told me she would never do it. She lied.
I talked to a professional about the situation and he gave me some very helpful insight. He told me about the time during his training that he spent observing suicidal patients. He said that most patients who attempt suicide don't really want to die. They want to come back to life and talk about it. They are happy they lived. However, he also told me that when a person makes up his or her mind to do it, nothing can stop it. He said that even people on 24 hour suicide watch have successfully killed themselves.
What I took away from all of this is that the mind is a part of our body unto itself, just like an organ or an extremity; a hand, a liver, a foot. We can't physically see the mind, so when it is broken, it is difficult to fix. Just think about all of the thoughts your mind has in one split second. It isn't surprising to me that so many minds are broken. They try and try, like Robin did, but no matter what they do, the mind wins. I don't know the answers. All I know is that everyone has a cross to bear in this life; some seen, some unseen. I learned that even if I continued our friendship, I have no guarantee that she wouldn't have walked onto those tracks on that hot summer evening. Her mind was in control and I will be the first to admit that I couldn't do anything to help her stop it. Her mind won, and so did Robin's.
He was seeking help, but he did it anyway.
(If you know anyone who can benefit from this experience, please feel free to share on social media.)
This post first appeared on the blog "Sussex Circle Musings."
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