Like a lot of people, I learned of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide on Facebook. And when I did, I dropped my phone onto the kitchen counter and wept. Really wept. The first words out of my mouth were directed at him: You didn’t just do that to your wife and kids. The second were prayers for them, because my kids and I know. We know how it feels to be on the receiving end — of the pain, and of the prayers. One was hell. The other was not quite heaven, but an earth where at least we felt ourselves carried by love. God has many hands, I often said in the months following my husband’s fatal leap.
No one knows what to say after a suicide. Some people, too afraid to say the wrong thing, say nothing. If we can’t find reason or meaning or some lenitive hope behind a death, how can we console in its aftermath? How can we say anything that soothes, relieves, explains?
We can’t. You can’t. There’s nothing that soothes or finds reason after a suicide. There is none. All there can be, all anyone can ever express to the grieving and each other, is love. All we can do is promise to love one another better in the brief time we have.
Here’s what you should say to suicide survivors: anything. Here’s what it means to them: everything. Here’s the best explanation for their loss: nothing. There is no explaining either the act of suicide or the anguish that leads someone to commit it. If we could understand one, we could understand the other; instead, all we can do is parse the turns and tragedies in a person’s life, the drugs or depression or dalliances with all the wrong psych meds or snake oils or habits of self-abasement, and even then, we don’t have an explanation. We only have a narrative.
All the baffled postings on Facebook reflect this horror in the face of cosmic unreason and embattled faith. And indeed we should be baffled. Indeed there should be horror: suicide should never be treated lightly. How could Robin Williams, a brilliant, explosively insightful, comic-genius man-child who brought joy to so many for so long, have done this to himself and his loved ones? Expect everyone everywhere, every online gossip site and supermarket rag, to dig deep into the causes. Maybe we’ll learn there was an obvious trigger. Maybe we won’t.
Either way, Williams’ death will never make sense — just as my husband’s death will never make sense, just as no suicide will ever make sense. Not in this world. For suicide is a violation of all that we know to be true: that life is precious; that love prevails; that parents will put their children first; that light and joy and hope are stronger, infinitely so, than darkness and despair.
No. It will never make sense. It shouldn’t.
What does make sense: the love that surrounds Williams’ family now and in the long months ahead of them. That’s the love that will prevail. That’s the light that conquers. And they’ll emerge from that darkness. They will. They will.