Tuesday, August 12, 2014


'Oscar winner and comedian Robin Williams died this morning at 63. While his publicist wouldn’t confirm that his death was a suicide, a rep did issue this statement. “Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”'

This is one of many quotes I saw yesterday evening. It is terrible news from many angles--and doesn't help that no one wants to use the word suicide. 
Suicide is not just a death or a loss. Suicide is a willed departure. The person might not be in a healthy state of mind to make this decision, which allows for no other decisions--but it is nevertheless a decision which was made and acted upon. When the manner of suicide shows meticulous planning it can't be spoken of as an accident. The person was depressed. The person might not be what we call normal anymore. The person wanted to die. 
Family members especially don't want to use the word suicide because it's hard not to wonder how it reflects on the family. Supposedly they're the people closest to the person who wanted to be dead--who did not or could not reach out to them for help. 
As a family member it's hard not to feel at least partly blamed that your child, sibling, or parent chose to die. Suicide exposes the great despair this person must have felt. Suicide exposes how alone this person was in their despair. 
Well, okay, existentially we're all alone. But part of learning how to manage in life is making connections--lifelines let me call them--to others. 
As long as people don't talk about suicide openly, it will continue to happen and be swept aside as a shameful taboo. As a secret, suicide will continue to work its magic, beckoning those who only want all their troubles, darkness and misery to stop.
The implications for family (and society) who have had a suicide are stronger than the grief one feels over a death. We grieve for death. With suicide our grief is compounded by guilt and even anger. It's hard to grieve when you're angry at this goddamn stupid thing the person did. 
Earlier this summer the brother of a good friend, a man to all accounts successful at his work, much loved by his colleagues and friends, married and with two children, killed himself. Though it was hard, the decision was made to speak of suicide at the funeral service. I respect and commend that the family took this step.  
I'm remembering my sister's suicide over thirty years ago. Our family had no service. We're not religious. But we also never got together to honour her memory. Were we ever even all in the same room together after her suicide? Suicide has the potential to blast a family dynamic apart. 
What I realized, while listening to the readings at the funeral service for our friend's brother, was that I had allowed the manner of my sister's death eclipse the fact that she'd lived. All my memories of her were coloured by her final decision to go. That was wrong--but it's not only my wrong. It's how we deal with suicide in our society. 
Robin William wasn't "lost". He killed himself. I wish it would be said openly. Now is not the time for euphemisms. In his case at least, since he was famous, people will remember his life and accomplishments. But people also need to think why he chose death. 
In the years since my sister's suicide, I have talked to many people about suicide. It turns out many have a family member--an aunt, a grandfather, a mother, a cousin, a sibling like myself--who have killed themselves. It's still said with a hush. We have to say it out loud.  


  1. This needed to be said. And you said it so well...

  2. This is such a brave and honest piece, Alice. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for such clarity and candour, spoken from experience.

  4. Thank you, all, for your support.

  5. Very moving, Alice. Thanks for posting this.

  6. Last weekend I was telling one of my cousins about a time in my life when I was suicidal … but neither one of us said the 's' word. I was euphemizing all over the place: lots of long pauses and uttering of "dark place" and "dark time".

    I know that was rooted in some very conflicted feelings: my brother-in-law killed himself 5 years ago, and the ramifications of his decision persist. Just yesterday I was in the neighbourhood where he did it, and was compelled to go to the park where he died, overwhelmed with thinking about other public spaces with hidden tragedies. I knew how a suicide can affect those still alive (family dynamic blasting for sure) and yet I had been contemplating it myself while knowing how it could affect those around me: therefore profound shame and confusion over just saying the word out loud. Fearing a response of anger or denial, I suppose. Even though I knew my cousin is totally receptive to openly talking about such things; she was one of the few (or many, depending) who offered help and love after Hitoshi died.

    Thank you for writing this, Alice. I am so sorry to hear of your friend's brother's suicide.

    1. Yes, Carrie, I remembered you and your sister and her husband when I wrote this.