One of my most treasured relatives tells me that funerals are for the living. Funerals are for a time to remember and support and a way of showing the living that there is a reason to live. Depending on your religious or non-religious affiliation, there is an after-life or the body just ceases to exist; either way, the departed has moved on. The living is left with struggle, disappointment, pain, hurt, surprise, despair and sometimes eventually peace.
Given the news of Robin Williams’s death, it would make sense for me to use this space as an homage to all of the celebrities and “notables” who were tortured souls dealing with mental illness and/or substance abuse. I could talk about all of the talent, the feelings of inadequacy some of them may have felt, masking pain and living out-of-step with healthy mental well-being. But, I will leave that to all of the experts and all of the newsanchors who “are trying to make sense of it all.”
Instead, I’d like to focus on the suffering souls of the loved ones who suffer with the tortured. Those who stay up all night with worry, those who wonder if today is the day my loved one will truly self-destruct, those who feel inadequate because their love isn’t enough.
What I have to say to you is simply, do your best and STILL take care of yourself. Deal with your own sadness and anxiety by reaching out to people outside of the tortured soul.
Many years ago, I read The Suicidal Mind by Edwin S. Shneidman and the book echoed what I had been trained to know about the folks in pain. Folks in despair own it and vacuous depths of their pain is often held in secret. My job is to try to show alternatives, give support and resources and ultimately use and believe in hope when the tortured can’t see any signs of hope. Ultimately what I know is that their pain is not about me which gives me the freedom to know that I am a stop on the journey; I am not solely responsible for the journey.
This is my hope for those living in torture, with the tortured. Share your love and compassion everyday, keep hope in your heart, appreciate being part of and not responsible for their journey and take care of your sadness by finding support for you.
If you know of someone in need or you need professional support, contact your insurance company for mental health providers in your area, contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness for resources and support groups, ask your primary care physician for resources, and step up your courage to ask to friends and associates for suggestions on where to go for help. I know people fear stigma, but that is coming from a place of shame and when used negatively, shame can only breed more pain.