I Can't Face Talking to My Son about Robin Williams' Death

I am very, very shaken by the news of Robin Williams' death. I read about it on Facebook yesterday while my oldest son was sitting behind me in the office, using his computer. I couldn't help but verbalize my shock. "Oh my God," I said. "Oh my God. I can't believe it. Oh my God."

"What, Mommy?" my son asked. "What happened?"

"Oh, um, an actor died. I'm just really surprised. He was only 63."

"How did he die?"

I stopped. It was only just being reported. Suspected suicide...struggle with addiction and depression...suicide by asphyxiation...died after a battle with depression and addiction... I couldn't. I didn't want to explain. I didn't want it to be true. Why couldn't it have been an aneurysm, or cancer, or a heart attack, or a car accident? Something tangible that I could easily explain as an external force, a tragedy.

And yet, depression so severe that a person cannot live with it anymore is a tragedy. A horrible, silent, gut-wrenching tragedy. But it's so much more hidden and so much more unrecognized, and it should be treatable. It should. It just feels so unfair.

I didn't know how to say this to my tender seven-year-old. How could I explain that some people get so sad that they kill themselves?

"Oh, um, they don't know yet. They just found out about it," I lied. I couldn't face the conversation.

"But why are you so surprised?" he asked. As if to say, he was 63, and sometimes people die, and it's not like you knew the guy.

"I guess I just wasn't expecting it. He's a really well known and loved actor, and 63 is still pretty young," I said. How could I tell him that this was a man so full of life and light? How could I explain that it was unbearably sad to see someone so admired and successful struggle through such a dark tunnel that he couldn't find his way out? How could I convey the depth of grief I feel for someone I've never met and yet could make such an impact on me and on so very many others?

He's probably already forgotten about the whole thing. After all, Robin Williams isn't a household name for him the way it is for me. One day we'll watch Mrs. Doubtfire together, or Jumanji, orHook, and he'll ask if the actor is still alive, and I'll tell him he's not, and he'll ask how he died (because he's that kind of kid) and maybe then I'll be far enough removed from the shock and grief to find the words. But right now, I just want to protect him from that kind of knowledge. The kind of knowledge that sometimes the world is unfair and diseases take people from us who had so much more to give.

If you're hurting, please seek help. And if you think someone around you is hurting, please reach out. Depression is a disease just as much as cancer or diabetes, and no one should suffer alone.


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