by Mary Jo Hazard
Last August 11th, Robin Williams committed suicide. He left three adult children to cope with his death—heartbroken, without a choice.
On September 26, 1972, my father shot himself. It was my sister’s birthday. He sat on my old twin bed, in the bedroom my sister and I had shared as children, and pulled the trigger on my brother’s .22 caliber rifle. Eleven long days later he died, leaving three adult children grief-stricken.
There were other similarities—both men battled depression, anxiety and substance abuse. My father was diagnosed as a manic depressive when I was six years old. His disorder was never successfully managed, and every year he spent weeks in the hospital receiving shock treatments.
Both men loved to joke and laugh. When I told people about my father’s death, most of them said they’d remember him with a big smile on his face. I remembered his smile too—but to me, the smile masked an ongoing pain and sadness he couldn’t shake no matter how many shock treatments he had or how much alcohol he medicated himself with.
Suicide isn’t a normal death. The effects of a completed suicide are devastating on the family. As for me, I beat myself up for having moved my family to California three years before he died. I thought that if I hadn’t moved away, maybe he’d still be alive. He loved my young children and maybe if they had been around…
How I wished my father had reached out to me the last time I talked to him on the phone. I wanted him back, and I hated him for leaving me forever. I couldn’t stop the intrusive thoughts that flooded me night and day. Nothing gave me pleasure, and grim nightmares jerked me awake when I managed to fall asleep.
After Robin Williams’ death, his son, Zak, told People magazine, “Often if I see something, or if I’m watching a film, I think, ‘Oh man, he would have appreciated this’ or ‘He would have gotten a laugh out of this.’” It was the same for me—the grief was always there. I’d see a sunrise and think that my father would have loved it, see men fishing on the lake and think how he would have loved to be there, catching a bass.
You quickly find out people don’t know what to say to the family after a suicide. My friends well-meaning attempts to comfort me were awkward and brief. I didn’t blame them, but I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and alone. I didn’t even want to guess what they were thinking about my father—about my family—about me.
What helped was having my sister and brother near me. We’d experienced the same horror and were locked in the same overwhelming despair. We talked, cried, laughed a little or just sat together. We were one in grief, and I felt better being with them. I hope Robin Williams’ children are as close as we were.
Suicide isn’t a normal death—it takes years to come to terms with it. Survivors suffer from PTSD symptoms as well as grief. Recurrent thoughts, distressing dreams, flashbacks, and anniversary reactions were part of my life for almost five years. I couldn’t concentrate, read or enjoy myself. And although I never had considered it before, I knew suicide was an option if things ever became too much.
Years later, I became a licensed therapist. My education and training have allowed me to put my father’s suicide in perspective, and to help others going through what my brother, sister, and I did. My heart is with the children of Robin Williams on their difficult journey.
For support groups and information:
National Suicide Prevention Number – 1-800-273-8255