The recent death of Robin Williams put the discussion of suicide on the front page of every paper and in the conversation of almost everyone the next day, in fact, for days to follow. A celebrity – wealthy, adored, gifted – died at age 63 by his own actions. The first reports that came out said he died from asphyxiation, unable to breathe. Later we would find out that the asphyxiation was because he had hung himself with a belt. People who knew him and people like me, who never met him or watched many of his movies or knew much about his family, everyone began to chime in. Most of us were deeply saddened just to hear that he had died and many of us immediately began to think about his family and friends who are left behind with unending questions. He had had failed marriages, struggled with addictions, drinking and drugs, some said that he had financial problems and it was later told that he was struggling with the beginning stages of Parkinson’s. Some or all of those things kind of fill in our understanding of why this tragedy may have happened.
Tom Brokaw, the newsman now commentator, had a piece on Robin and warned people who were chasing after wealth or fame to take note that the cost of having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was extremely expensive. But Robin Williams only allowed national or even international conversations about suicide to take place, for it exists with us as a society daily. During the discussion one news report said that in America there are over 1 million suicides annually. That means that by average there are about 3,000 a day every day, and I can tell you from personal experience and involvement from families, they come in all shapes and sizes, all levels of giftedness and intelligence, all areas of careers and social standing. They are moms and dads, lawyers and doctors, chicken farmers and school teachers, teenagers and retirees. Robin Williams himself commented concerning his dad that when Robin told his dad that he was going into acting, his dad told him that he needed to have a backup plan, another career in mind like welding. You wonder if Robin Williams had not become the actor, comedian, professional entertainer that he was and had gone into welding, what would his life have been like and would it have ended the same way. There are no doubt welders who take their lives and it is also true that not all actors or actresses end their lives by suicide.
When someone in your circle of life and influence takes their life, immediately you may think well, if I had just known. Invariably, someone will say, “If we had just known, we could have done something.” Well, maybe and maybe not. The reason I say that is because, well, two reasons. One, Robin Williams, like many people, gave off constant signals and awareness that he was dealing with devastating destructive issues. He had been in rehab. That helped with counseling and encouragement that no doubt had made a difference. The alarms going off about the needs in his life, whether they were personal, family, financial, or struggles with chemicals and depression, any and all of those things have been given some attention by some people, and he took his life. In an interview played during the aftermath of his death he was being asked about his addictions and his depression and the possibility that he had thought about ending his life, and in typical Robin Williams fashion he just took off into a dialogue with himself, telling that absolutely he had thought about it, and then the sane side of him would point out all the good things and the positive things and the things that would cause him to want to live to the fullest, and he would push back the dark side and life would win. But then at the end the other part of him won the discussion. He had been helped, but obviously not at that moment could anyone step in and make a difference.
The other reality that I would set before you and my own heart is the fact that everyone you know, regardless of who they are, what part they are in your family or in your circle of friends or work, they probably are dealing with some personal problems, deficiencies, unsolvable issues, that wear away at their spirit. You may think you know them well and you may not have a clue as to what they are dealing with, but in spite of the fact that you are unaware, it helps you understand that you need to care about people whether you know or you don’t know. As it has often been pointed out, people who take their lives probably are not thinking clearly and they may not be feeling properly, but at some point, maybe every day, you come across one of those moments in your own life. Not that you are suicidal, but that you are struggling with the critical issues of life that seem to have no resolution.
Paul’s word to the Ephesians in chapter 4, verse 32 is thought provoking and spiritually calling to us, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” How many people have been helped, encouraged, boosted over the emotional problem of the day because some tenderhearted, right-spirited, God-used person lifted them up? No doubt there will be other suicides that we will hear about. There even may be some because of Robin Williams, not that he caused it but they become copycat followers – if he did it, I need to do it. But in light of all of that, here’s the bottom line truth for your life and mine.
Number one, God cares about you. He knows everything about you, he knows all the difficulties you are facing and all the dilemmas that you wrestle with and he cares. Now don’t be dismissive and say well, if he cares so much, why doesn’t he do something. Well, he will and he can. Will he step in and just change everything like you want it to be? Probably not.
Number two, it is a fact that all of us live alone. One thoughtful commentator after Robin Williams’ death said, “He was admired by millions and died alone.” There is a sense in which we all live alone and we die alone except for the fact that God Himself is the only person who come into those alone moments of life. That’s why the truth of Psalm 23 resonates with us so often, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (v. 4). God will go with you. Wherever you go and whatever you may be facing, he will come and he will help you trust him.
And third, may I say, there are people around you today who care. I know you can rationalize and think maybe they don’t but they do. They care about you. They care about the needs in your life. They care, and many of them if you will let them not just barge in to tell you how to run your life but come alongside you and lift you up during a difficult time.
Even as I write this article, I am thinking about people that may very well be in that dark corner of life today where no sunshine ever comes and you wonder if there is any path that leads beyond where you are stuck. Even now, I am praying that the Lord will meet you there and that the light of his love, power and salvation will come and fill your heart.