When I was in eighth grade, a boy in my class, a boy named Brett, took his own life.
I had known Brett since kindergarten, but by junior high, we weren’t close, the pressure of different social spheres weighing heavily. We passed each other in the hall at school, not even saying hello anymore. I remember his brown hair and shy smile.
I always wondered why he killed himself. Afterward, when my mother drove down the main street in our town, we would pass by his family’s house. I would sit in the backseat, staring intently at the house for the seconds it took us to go past, as if willing an explanation to come to me. It never did.
I was reminded of Brett today when I heard the shocking news that Robin Williams had died of an apparent suicide. I am lucky to have been a beneficiary of Robin Williams’ talent. So many of us are. I grew up on “Mork and Mindy,” I cried during “Dead Poet’s Society” (and did again when I watched a clip of it tonight), I laughed during “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and I have watched “Good Will Hunting” so many times, I may have the dialogue memorized. Most of all, I marveled at Robin Williams’ gift for humor and for connecting people through comedy.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 40,000 Americans died from suicide. That number has been increasing over the past ten years to the point that now suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for Americans.
SAVE lists depression as a strong risk factor for suicide. As I have become more aware about suicide and as I have known people with depression, I understand that, as SAVE explains, “most people who attempt or commit suicide don’t really want to die – they just want their pain and suffering to end.” What heartbreak there is in that statement: to wish the end of suffering more than to live.
Suicide prevention organizations urge education in order to make more people aware of the signs of suicide. They also encourage people to get involved and to get help. Reach out, connect, support. Be there. I hope we can all do that. I know I will try. For Brett. For you. For me.
In honor of my beloved “Dead Poet’s Society” and in Robin Williams’ memory, I leave you with a poem featured in that film:
O Captain! My Captain!
By Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.