robin williams
Robin Williams

Robin Williams’ suicide was not a tragic waste.

RIP, Robin Williams. I’m sorry that Williams suffered from depression, and I’m sorry that many other people, including me, do too. His death may be regrettable, and his fans might feel that they’ve lost an important component of their entertainment cadre, but Robin Williams’s suicide was not a tragic waste.

Calling it “tragic” is a knee-jerk reaction a lot of Americans have to anything undesirable that happens to another American. I don’t think the people who are lamenting their loss would call it “tragic” if Williams had not been a famous, wealthy, American man. What if Williams had been an unknown, long-lived woman of color, and a lesbian?

Imagine this: an African-American woman of about 63 is living an impoverished life in a small town in the Midwest. The youngest of her birth family, she has no living relatives. She lost her long-term partner five years ago, to cancer. This woman has no viable support system, and she is suffering from depression which has proven untreatable.

After many years of unhappiness and illness, after a diagnosis of an incurable condition, she decides to end her own life, in her own home, at the time and in the manner of her own choosing.

Surely no-one who’s thinking clearly about this matter would insist that her suicide was a “tragic.” It was reasonable and planned, and it seemed to her the best course of action based on her likely future.

Neither could anyone reasonably say it was a “waste” of her life, since she’d done the best she could to make her life as good as possible up to that point. When living had become painful and the future dreadful to her, she chose to stop the pain.

Yes, Robin Williams left children and friends, as well as legions of fans, who are mourning. Still I object to their calling his suicide a “waste.” What was wasted? Williams had a long, brilliant career as an actor and a comic, performing a wide variety of roles well, to great public and critical acclaim. He enjoyed more success and adulation than just about any other 1000 American actors put together. He didn’t waste his intelligence, talent, energy, or heart. He fulfilled his ambitions and shared his talent with the world-wide audience for Hollywood films. Although he chose not to live out his natural lifespan, I doubt that he considered his time on earth “wasted.”

I respect Williams’s decision to end his life. Probably it was in part due to his suffering from alcoholism and depression, both of which are tenacious and difficult diseases. Possibly it was due to his diagnosis of Parkinson’s. He had the medical resources of the whole Western world at his disposal; if they were not enough to help him live with his diseases and conditions, then wasn’t it a reasonable, sane decision not to live with them?

I’m sorry that Williams is no longer with us, but I’m aware that many other people – including lesbians — who consider suicide and make the decision to keep on living, to give what they can to their communities, and to make what they can of their lives. In mourning to Robin Williams, let’s not forget to celebrate and support the many un-famous people who remain, despite struggling with depression, and who have hope that life is worth living.

Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider, released a statement saying in part: “It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.” I hope so, too.