Way back in ’09 I left a Pampered Chef party at my mother-in-law’s house to go pick up pictures I had ordered. When I sat down next to the photographer she began to weep, having a difficult time concentrating on my order. When I asked if she was okay she shook her head.
“No,” she said, rummaging through her purse for a tissue.
“Would you rather I come back another day?”
“No, I’m just sad. I can’t believe he’s dead.”
I looked at the woman like she was crazy for a minute. Did I miss something?
“Didn’t you hear?” she asked, her eyes bulging out of her head.
“Michael Jackson died.”
I admit, I thought she was a little nutty. Unless she knew Michael Jackson personally, I thought her grief was over the top.
God laughed at me and put me in my place yesterday.
When I opened my Yahoo feed I was slapped in the face with the news of Robin Williams’ death. My first reaction was to quickly search so I could find out it was a hoax. This simply cannot be, I thought.
But it was.
In that moment a wave of grief swept over me. No, I didn’t know the man personally, though that would have been cool as hell. No, I didn’t weep, but I did cry. I shed a tear for the comedic and dramatic genius that had fostered in me a sense of humor and a love for poignant movie moments since 1979.
As I read the internet stories I grew more and more eager to know details of this man’s death. Still too soon to report much more than the bare fact that he died by possible suicide, little was found to give answers. He was always open and honest about his struggles with addiction and depression, never hiding behind cliches or publicists. As fans, we had all the answers. We just chose to think the funny man would always have a well of strength to keep him soaring through the stratosphere of fame.
His well ran dry yesterday.
He crash landed.
It wasn’t until I read the tweet his daughter sent out into the world that I bawled like a baby. From “The Little Prince”:
“You — you alone will have the stars as no one else has them. In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.”
I was at a loss. How should I remember this man who bounced into my life at the tender age of 5, dressed in a red jumpsuit, flying in an egg, and made me laugh, even though I was too young to get most of the jokes? For decades, literally, he had released movie after movie right around my birthday. Each year I’d scoop up someone to go see My Birthday Movie, as I thought of it, as if the man made them just for me. It became my thing. My tradition. What to do?
The answer was simple.
I gathered my sons together.
I made them turn off the video games.
I fired up Hulu.
I began at the beginning.
I introduced them to Mork.
As we sat on the couch, giggling at the nearly 40-year-old humor, I had an epiphany. Robin Williams left us not just the legacy of an artist. He left us an entire cache of grief soothing salve in the form of Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Adrian Cronauer. He left us catharsis in movies like Awakenings, Patch Adams, and Good Will Hunting. We could still commune with the spirit of this short, furry and funny man.
As I searched through the boxes of DVD’s pulling out every Robin Williams movie I own, I heard my computer dinging with replies to my posts about how sad this news was. I quit my search and sat down to Facebook and saw post after post of folks who felt the same way I did.
My last epiphany of the evening wasn’t a pleasant one.
He was loved by more than just his family. And still that love wasn’t enough to save him from the demons that haunted him.
So my wish, if I get one, is that Robin Williams finally finds the peace he so desperately needed while he was here.
My wish is that, after his crash landing, he was lifted up and surrounded by our outpourings of love for a man the majority of us didn’t know personally, but felt like we did.