We were walking along Ogunquit river when I heard Kyle say, “oh no.” I looked over at the kids swimming and then back at him. He was staring down at his phone and scrolling quickly. An icon had passed and his images and sound bites had flooded the internet. I looked back at the girls and their cousin floating with the current towards the open ocean and took a few steps with them to keep them somewhat within sprint distance if they needed me. Kyle seemed distraught, greatly affected by the news, my heart grew heavy for him. He shared that a legend created from our generation had taken his own life. I waited for the darkness to fall, to take hold of me and bring me back to a place I’ve fought so hard to leave behind, but it didn’t. Instead I walked further along the riverbank following the kids as they made their way in the warm August waters.
The next day my friend Erin and I took all our kids to Wolfeboro to spend the day at the lake. The sun felt warm and comforting as I staked my claim in the beach chair and watched as all the kids spent most of the day in the water swimming, following the ducks, and tossing a tennis ball. It reminded me so much of growing up on Spofford Lake and the endless summer days spent at Weirs Grove. Erin asked me if Robin’s suicide was affecting me. I looked up at her, almost surprised at my own lack of reaction to how his life ended. I shook my head no and listened as she gracefully shared how it had her. To be honest, I think it has affected almost everyone that knew him as a comedian and actor. I have loved and enjoyed his movies, comedy shows, hosting gigs, interviews, and articles. When he filmed Jumanji in the two towns close to my two homes, Keene and North Berwick, I felt a closer connection to the actor as if we had something in common. Even with Erin’s sharing her sadness for his loss, my emotions seemed to be flat lining at best. Then the morning after, the darkness fell and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Suicide had made such a dramatic appearance that this time the whole entire world seemed to be talking about it at the same time. Suicide had entered stage left this week, took stage center and bowed for the entire planet to be seen, felt, and acknowledged by everyone.
When suicide had entered my world in my early twenties, the loss of my father’s life was confusing, chaotic, and dark. I hesitated for years when people asked me if he was still living, knowing that the next question would be how did he die. I felt obliged to protect them from my response, inevitably they would withdraw from the conversation, pull their energy back not knowing what they should say. Even to this day, twenty years later, there is still the awkward dance when my father comes up in conversation and people wonder what happened to him. Most often now with the distance the years have created I am able to gloss over the fact that after a lifetime of threatening his own demise he finally carried through and took action. I’ve reasoned with myself that the knowledge of someone taking their own life isn’t helpful for anyone to gain. Maybe I’ve been horribly wrong, maybe like an ostrich burying my head in the sand, I’ve been giving power to the notion that suicide is a choice made by a few and in covering up my own father’s passing, I am enabling suicide to go unscathed and unchallenged in our society.
People need not be protected from the ugly of taking one’s own life, they need to know that any attempt whether successful or not is the greatest cry for help a human can possibly make. It is from this cry that we decide as a human being if we are truly connected to one another or not. Can we exist as individuals throughout life or must we lean on and be leaned on by others to truly experience life for everything it was always meant to be? I stood from my seat and clapped slowly, alone as others were mortified even shocked at my response. I wasn’t clapping for the passing of one of the greats, his loss will be mourned for generations to come and missed dearly. I was cheering for the fact that suicide would no longer be able to be ignored, filed away quietly as if the life it took was better off dead than alive. Finally suicide might be seen as something different in society; it may finally be known as a horrible deadly side effect of a disease instead of what many commonly refer to it as a choice.