In 2012, Jocelyn Flashinski took her own life. Jocelyn was an amazing woman who had made a tremendous impact on my son’s life, and upon hearing the news of her passing I shared my thoughts on the impact she had on my son’s life.
After last week’s news of comedian Robin Williams’ decision to take his own life following a battle with depression, Jocelyn’s mother Linda Flashinski wrote an eloquent opinion piece about the impact suicide can have on a family.
When our youngest son was in his early years of middle school, he spent one summer watching the movie “Dead Poets Society” about once every week. I remember asking him why he was so intrigued with it. He didn’t elaborate, but his one-sentence response spoke volumes. “It just means so much,” he said with a very intense earnestness. “It just means so much.”
The passing this week of Robin Williams seems almost more than the nation can bear. From his movies to his comedic standup routines to his TV and radio interviews, the range and genius of this man was profound. Yet he was so human, so kind, so vulnerable like ourselves. We feel we knew him.
Like my son, I also loved “Dead Poets Society,” but I remember my amazement at “Good Morning, Vietnam” as well. How could he do that, I wondered as we left that theater so many years ago? What kind of mind can have that quick wit, talent and compassion? His subsequent movies revealed even more of his humor and depth.
I remember the scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Williams’ character repeats over and over to his client, “It isn’t your fault, it isn’t your fault,” until the patient releases his pain in tears. How often those with depression could benefit from such words. And perhaps on some level, Williams was saying that phrase to himself as well. Perhaps he understood, even early on, his own demons.
In our family, we have the genetics for depression. A commentator said this week of Williams, “He struggled in an ongoing battle with profound depression.” I know the reality of that battle for I’ve seen it and felt it firsthand. I know the reluctance of people to discuss mental health issues, just as some people spoke of Williams’ addictions but not his depression. And I know the helplessness of those who love people in this battle and the futility they feel in trying to ease the pain. There seems so little we can do.
In 2012, our younger daughter died of suicide. Like the nation this week, we also were stunned into disbelief and silence, left with unhealing wounds. Like Williams, our daughter was a person with a quick smile and endearing sense of humor. She was sensitive and kind and, like Williams, she had an intense seriousness about things that mattered — in her case, the work she embraced with her autistic students.
Just as Williams’ family is feeling this week, we knew of her sadness. But her beautiful smile and work made her decision something unbelievable to us and to those who knew her. As a friend said after her death, “She hid her pain well.” This week, I know how the family of Robin Williams feels. Sometimes there are no words. We simply can’t believe what happened.
Williams’ wife gave a poignant statement following his death. She asked that the world remember Williams not for his death but for the humor and the meaning of his work. It is a request I make of myself every single day — that I continue to focus on the joy, the depth and the legacy of our dear girl’s life.
They leave scars on our hearts that time does not erase or heal, these intense, brilliant, hurting ones. And so we thank you, Robin Williams, for all the gifts you have given us. And we thank you, our dear daughter. You are not, and will never be, forgotten.
Your lives mattered.
Linda Flashinski is a writer who lives in Caledonia.