The tributes have stopped and the world has moved on. I, however, continue to cry, question, and grieve Robin William's passing. I feel an overwhelming sadness for Robin, yet when my own brother died, I felt almost nothing.
Am I still mourning Robin Williams because I could not mourn my brother?
(Credit Image: © Nicolaus Czarnecki/ZUMA Wire)
I remember sitting in my bedroom listening to “Reality … What a Concept,” Robin William's first comedy album on my stereo and having to turn the volume way up. I was trying to drown-out the sounds of my brother's out-of-control ravings.
There were many theories regarding my brother's behavior: he was on drugs, he was addicted to alcohol, or (my mother’s belief) his brain had been damaged when he was accidentally dropped on his head as a baby. My parents and I tried to ignore what was happening to my brother, pretending it was his own particular brand of growing pain that made him act the way he did.
It wasn't until my brother was diagnosed as a schizophrenic that my family finally received some of the answers to the questions coloring our lives. We didn't know then that just having a name for what was troubling my brother wouldn't stop his or our own suffering. Ultimately his pain wouldn't stop until he took a plastic bag and some duct tape and ended his own life.
My brother, Frederick, who was eight years older than I, was a stranger to me. Robin, on the other hand, was my inspiration and imaginary life-coach. Robin Williams was the brother I wished I had. I studied improv, made pilgrimages to Aardvarks, (where Robin allegedly purchased his colorful shirts,) and collected buttons with wacky sayings on them. Each button, each Robin-inspired activity made me feel a little closer to him. Every so often in my journal I would write, “Please God, please make it that someday Robin Williams and I will be friends.”
When I threw a sink stopper at my brother after a nasty comment he made about my weight, he became enraged and chased me out of the house. I ran down the street with my brother behind me waving a butcher knife. It would have been comical if I hadn't been terrified. After that incident, I always made sure that the door to my room was securely locked. I didn't feel safe with my brother around. If only Robin Williams had been more than a fantasy figure in my life; I felt positive that he'd protect me from my brother's rage.
I once had a “conversation” with Robin at a walk-a-thon where he was the celebrity guest. I pushed my way through the crowd so that I was standing opposite Robin with only a fence between us. I think I was about 16 at the time. I placed my palm against the metal circles, and Robin placed his hand opposite mine.
“I love you. You're the best,” I said.
“I love you, too. Thanks for walking,” he responded as he moved along down the fence.
When my brother died, I felt relieved that his bullying was over. I decided not to go to his memorial. I didn't want to pretend that I was mourning him just because that was the expected response. I felt guilty that I only felt relief, not grief at my brother's passing.
When I heard that Robin Williams had killed himself, and that it was asphyxiation by hanging, I was struck by the similarities between his death and my brother's own self-inflicted suffocation. Both men died in Marin County, both left behind three children, and both battled depression. In my brother's case it was depression and schizophrenia.
At least 50% of all schizophrenic patients are afflicted by depression, which increases their risk for suicide.
For years my brother self-medicated with illegal substances. Once he got so high during P.E. that he thought he was a fire engine complete with bells and sirens. He got expelled from our local high school. I was furious to ever be linked to my brother.
Obviously, Frederick wasn't famous like Robin Williams, nor did he have as many friends and family to support and love him. I actually don't know if Frederick had any friends, and as far as family goes, he was divorced and only occasionally saw his children. After years of his abuse, I couldn't deal with my brother and tried to have as little to do with him as possible. I considered myself an only child without any of the benefits.
While an assistant found Robin William's body, it was a hiker who discovered my brother dead in a local wilderness park. You may die alone, but there's always going to be someone to find you, someone to clean up, and someone to deliver you to the morgue. Managing death is a group effort.
Now as an adult, I have empathy for Robin Williams and for other people suffering from mental illness. I personally have a lot of fear and anxiety and am in no position to consider my behavior normal or better than anybody else's. I embrace and love those who struggle daily with depression, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. But I could never do this for my brother. I was unable to separate the sickness from the patient, and blamed all of his bad behavior on him, not his schizophrenia.
I lost out on having that brother/sister connection and the deep love that siblings often have for one another. Somewhere inside I ached for it but pushed it aside with my anger. It was easier to long for a relationship with Robin Williams than to do the work required to make peace with my brother.
I used to think that suicide was selfish. Now I understand how it can seem like the only way out, and it's not a decision made lightly. My brother knew that his mental state was deteriorating as his encounters with his children got more and more bizarre. In the end, I think he wanted to save them from as much heartbreak as he could.
When the news of Robin's death first came out, a friend (knowing of my teenage obsession for Robin) posted on my Facebook wall “I'm sorry for your loss.” My tears came fast and hard. Now, since some time has gone by since Robin passed away, and I finally see that I need to not only mourn my idol, an amazing but ultimately damaged man, I also must grieve an equally troubled soul, and one whose death caused very little notice, my brother.
Thank you Robin, for inspiring, guiding, and entertaining me and the world. But mostly thank you for helping to forgive my brother and mourn the relationship we might have had.
Image: © Panoramic/ZUMA Wire
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