“This news hit me as if I actually knew him.” – random Facebook poster
But I don’t just want to talk about him per se. I want to talk about why the news of his death yesterday hit so many people in such profound ways.
Now, first of all, I’m no psychologist. I have no degrees in psychology or sociology or psychiatry or anything else that ends in a “y.” I’m no expert. But now that those disclaimers are out of the way, let me tell what I am.
And being human [See what I did there?], that makes me somewhat adept at understanding my fellow humans. (Well, sometimes….) In fact, I’m pretty fascinated with other humans. Why they do what they do, what motivates them, what makes them so different, so alike, etc. And a few of my fellow humans have had a response to Robin Williams’s death that is reminiscent of the responses to many other previous celebrity deaths. What response is that, you ask? Let me summarize:
Why do people care so much about a celebrity death? Stop posting all of these “RIP” messages on Facebook for someone you don’t even know. What about all the senseless deaths in Gaza, Iraq, etc. etc. Get your priorities straight, people! Being famous doesn’t make his life any more meaningful than anyone else’s. What about the soldiers that die every day? What about this, what about that…why is he getting so much attention? It’s a shame you people don’t put as much thought into the real problems of the world as you do into some celebrity’s death…
And so on and so forth.
You’ve seen them, right? Maybe you’ve even posted them? Or at least thought them. And hey, I get it. I do. I hear what you’re saying. I really do.
But I want to tell you why you’re wrong.
I used to be the same way. Seeing the outpouring of grief over a celebrity used to fill me with almost a bitterness in a way. I had all those above thoughts, and more. But this time is just different somehow. Hearing of the death of Robin Williams suddenly made me understand something that I didn’t understand before about celebrity death grief.
I just lost someone I know.
Now, of course, I don’t really know Robin Williams. I’ve never met the man. But, like my fiancé Richard said when he heard the news, “I feel like I grew up with him.” See, that’s just it. Robin Williams, and other celebrities, are people that have impacted our lives in one way or another. We turn on the TV, and there they are. We watch a movie, and there they are. They portray situations and events in their roles that give us something to identify with. We remember them. Especially actors like Robin Williams – the ones who have been around for quite a while. We connect them to events from our past because they were there.
Let me explain.
When I think of Robin Williams, the first thing that immediately pops into my head is Mrs. Doubtfire. And let me tell you why. The movie Mrs. Doubtfire first became popular right around the time that I was living in Germany. There’s a scene in the end of Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams, dressed as the old lady “nanny,” gives a speech about parents and children. He talks about their physical location and the love that remains between a parent and child no matter the distance that may be between them. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I can remember opening a letter from my dad back in the states (my step-dad was the one in the military and I lived primarily with him and my mom), and in the letter my dad told me to be sure to watch that movie. He said there was something at the end that he wanted me to pay special attention to. So, when I watched it, and heard that part, I cried. I knew my daddy loved me…even though I had only seen him twice in three years.
And you know who was there for that moment that I remember so well? Robin Williams.
I know that’s a stretch. But psychologically speaking, I don’t think I’m the only one who connects these people to events from my past. They’ve always been there. We’ve always known them.
And then they’re gone.
And in the case of Robin Williams – here we have lost this man who, on the surface, appeared to be full of happiness and laughter. And what took his life? Depression. Oh, how we can relate with that. Don’t lie – you know you can. Who among us hasn’t felt depression? Obviously not to the extent that he must have, poor man, but we know that feeling. We know the overwhelming sadness. And, we know what it feels like to paint a smile on to cover it up. We identify with Robin Williams. We identify with his family, with his pain, with their pain. We have lost one of our own.
It’s not a sadness that needs to be belittled.
Now, I’m not saying that the other events of the world are not worthy of our attention. Of course, we need to be saddened by all of the atrocities that are occurring overseas right now. But, thank the good Lord, we can’t identify with those atrocities like we can with the death of Robin Williams. We feel the most deeply over things that affect us. Maybe that’s selfish, but it’s just human nature.
Think how silly it sounds if you put it this way. What if mine and your fathers both passed away at the same time, and I got downright angry at you because you weren’t as sad over my father’s death as you were over your own father’s death. How ridiculous is that? Of course, you’re not going to be as saddened over my family member as you would be over your own. You know your father, you don’t know mine. Both are human lives that are lost, but one affects you more than the other. It’s just the way it is.
See the connection?
And that’s all I want to say about that.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams. I am so sorry for the loss that your family is facing right now and for the pain that you felt while you were here on this Earth. I hope you know what a legacy you have left behind you, and I hope you and your family will get the respect that you deserve through this devastating time.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for the memories.
Thank you for giving us the laughter that you couldn’t seem to find for yourself.
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
– Robin Williams