When the news hit, it was all anyone could talk about—Robin Williams allegedly committing suicide at the age of 63. Everyone agrees it is a tragedy.
It seems like we all have a favorite Robin Williams movie. Who can forget Williams as Disney’s Genie of the Lamp and as the somewhat risqué, but also loveable, Mrs. Doubtfire? Many of us grew up with his movies: I can’t even tell you how many times my younger sister rewound and rewatched "Jumanjii." We never tired of his comedic genius.
Juxtaposed with the bright light of his acting career was a fairly open struggle with alcoholism and depression, particularly severe before his apparent suicide. According to news reports, he had recently checked himself into a rehabilitation center, one of many times he sought healing throughout his life.
His life and talents will be remembered many years after his sudden death. We cannot know his exact thoughts or what pushed him to the edge, but certainly we are right to react with sadness at his passing. How could we be happy about such a man taking his own life?
I cannot help but think that as a society, we are inconsistent about our attitude towards life. The vast majority of the country will mourn William’s suicide, yet an increasing number of people support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Why is it that in one moment we are convinced of the tragedy of William’s death and in the next we support the “right” of individuals or their family members to choose when they die?
Pope Saint John Paul II hit the nail on the head when he said in Evangelium Vitae, “There exists in contemporary culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope.“
As our newly minted saint points out, there is the façade of life and death that, as a culture, we are often willing to accept. We want to believe that we will always be in control, that we have power over everything, even over life and death. A natural extension of this belief is a support for euthanasia—if a person wants to die, why not let him die?
And yet, our instinctual reaction to the loss of Robin Williams points to the reality of suicide: it is an utter loss of hope. Despite what the advocates of assisted suicide claim, suicide is not “death with dignity.” Williams’ battle with depression and addiction signals that suicide is not a joyous occasion, but a moment of extreme despair.
We hope and pray that Robin Williams, and all of those whose lives end by their own hand, encounter the boundless love of God. Although we recognize the taking of any life—including one’s own—is an evil, we cannot presume to know the state of the soul, nor should we underestimate God’s mercy.
Robin Williams once joked, “Death is nature’s way of saying ‘your table’s ready.’” The gallows humor reveals death as the enemy of all that makes life a feast—a great and sumptuous pleasure. To invite death means the loss of any appetite for living; to lose in a black horror the simple pleasure of being alive. Tragically, depression stole away from Robin Williams the joy he gave to millions.
Caitlin Bootsmais the editor of Human Life International’s Truth and Charity Forum (truthandcharityforum.com) as well as the Communications Director for Fuzati, Inc., a Catholic marketing company.