“He had so much to live for…so much going for him…”
Only the beginning of the things that people are going to say about the loss of the superlative talent that Robin Williams has brought to audiences for over 4 decades. Others will blame him for not reaching out, or knowing better. Still others will rant and call him selfish for inflicting the tsunami of pain that his family will endure…forever. I know this, because I’ve lived it…twice.
The difference for me is: the men whom I’ve lost had their whole lives ahead of them. They were young…and as far as anyone knew, had everything going for them. They were my nephews, my younger brother’s only sons; and the devastation to our family, left us forever changed with each loss.
With the first–and oldest; 19–we assuaged ourselves that he was more sensitive than he let us see…and subsequently, he didn’t know how to handle the pressure of going out into the world.
But make no mistake, he was tough. I’m not kidding, he rode saddle broncs in high school rodeo. In his best year, he was ranked 16th in the nation. He could take the ass-kicking that a thousand-pound snorting, kicking, bucking bronco was able to dish out, and laugh about it afterward. He mentored the younger rodeo teammates, and encouraged them with his easy smile. He was loveable and he was loved…and he only had one fear: disappointing his parents. His last year competing at National Finals, he didn’t place in the National rankings. He’d been thrown. The physical defeat was not what he remembered, but instead, he felt like he’d let down everyone who was cheering for him. Although he dusted off the dirt from the arena, the sting of not delivering a better performance ate at him.
One night in late fall of 2008, in a dark moment, he couldn’t see past the pain that he was in, and he took his own life. Because he had been away at college, the family was notified through the tight-knit network of law enforcement. The devastation of the loss is indescribable. Struggling to understand, we sought to put the details together like missing puzzle pieces. It was as if there was that one magic piece that would make the whole picture become clear, but it didn’t. With everything that was found, the whole image was as hard to grasp as a Dali painting. “I think I know what it’s supposed to be, but damn if it makes any sense…”
So, we just loved. We cried. We ached. We clung to each other. We longed for the smile that we would never see again, and we amassed pictures, videos, and memorials to keep his memory alive. We endured the bittersweet moments of celebrations that were just a little less jubilant without him, and we did our best to rebuild after the tsunami of sorrow had smashed our world.
We sailed on.
And then . . .
Four and a half years later, the tsunami hit again.
The second loss was its own level of catastrophic shit-storm. The younger brother, also a saddle bronc rider…and also a kind heart with an easy and generous smile, lovable and loved, found himself in that same dark place where he couldn’t see past the end of his own pain, and couldn’t envision a tomorrow.
When it hit that time, I could no longer seek the details of the how and why. I was unable to reconcile it in my mind. I just couldn’t. I was angry. I was heartbroken (again). The only thing I understood, was that this could never fully BE understood. He knew the pain, he’d lived it. He knew what the loss would do, he’d been witness to it. But regardless of what his rational mind knew, this action was not one of rational thought.
Tsunamis don’t care. They are the result of an unseen, deep-below-the-surface fracture generating an unstoppable force. While at first there doesn’t appear much that is affected, as time goes on, the force reaches the shallow part, rises up from the water’s surface, and the wave is inescapable. It is inevitable and uncontainable. It just is.
The best we can do is remain as vigilant as we can, and try to give those living on the shoreline a safer way out.
That’s the bottom line.
So, while we eulogize, memorialize, and hypothesize, remember this: No matter what you think you know about it, it doesn’t change the result. That result being, that there is always wreckage in the wake.