I did what most do when a beloved celebrity passes away. Since I heard about Robin Williams’s passing, I’ve watched moments that encapsulate his time machine. From his early acting days, I caught a clip of one of my favorite characters, Fonzie, interacting with Mork, the beloved alien that Mr. Williams played with such intensity and authenticity. I laughed again, remembering my childhood and recalling how much I loved these two shows, Happy Days and Mork and Mindy. Watching this clip, led to opening a treasure box of other performances by Mr. Williams. His stand-up routines contain jokes that even decades later still offered many belly laughs. Sitting at my desk, I kept clicking on other memorable movie scenes, from What Dreams May Come to Dead Poet’s Society to Jumanji. I singled out these three movies because the impact of watching Mr. Williams portrayal of his characters resonated in a way that endured. Who can forget Whitman’s line, “O’Captain, My Captain” in Dead Poet’s Society? It is in this movie I discovered and associated a meaning to the words, “Carpe Diem.” In the same vain, I remember Williams portrayal of a grief stricken widower in What Dreams May Come and his playful and entertaining demeanor in Jumanji.
I never met Mr. Williams, but like his movies, his passing had a palpable effect on me. Since Monday, I’ve read tributes by those who knew him, who not only acknowledged his genius as a comedian and an actor, but also emphasized his generous soul. So many, from high-profile actors to ordinary people, conveyed how he valued kindness and the pressing need to give to others. I suspect Mr. Williams often offered tangible help to those who needed it. But I also suspect those people asked.
Asking for help is a tenuous act for most and I’ve learned that culture plays a predominant role as to how this terrain is navigated. As an Indian woman, I’ve witnessed how my own culture undermines the necessity in asking for help. Growing up, I heard, “Oh, those kind of things don’t happen to us.” Somehow, belonging to a particular culture, kept us immune from the problems that plagued others. I never really understood this philosophy and of course knew that illness, anxiety, depression and other common struggles were all equal opportunity employers for all cultures.
I still remember a conversation that happened years ago after my father learned of his cancer diagnosis. He ordered my family to not reveal this news to anyone. I thought, in retrospect, he eventually might change his mind, but he never did. Throughout his cancer battle, I pled with him to seek some kind of support, whether it meant seeking help from group therapy or telling a friend or confiding in his sisters. He refused. Asking for help never materialized as a feasible option. In the process, the people who loved him the most served as collateral damage. I’ve witnessed countless other examples of the same cycle repeating itself among family as well as friends. There is a resistance to reveal what is ailing us the most. The irony is that it is probably more of a universal pain that we realize. For him, the idea of acknowledging a private battle meant weakness.
Entering into midlife, I’ve learned that asking for help is not a weakness, but a path that needs more accolades. In the last ten years, I’ve raised my hand, extended my reach and asked for help.
Robin Williams life is just about that. That is what I am choosing to remember. Mr. Williams asked for help, too. Sometimes it isn’t enough. But let’s not forget that he asked.
I have a relative who is bipolar ( and would not accept this diagnosis) and at times stops taking meds and refuses help and falls into a terrible place. This has been an ongoing cycle for more decades than I can recall. Robin William’s death has opened her eyes…she had recently stopped her meds again and is falling into the same abyss refusing to admit anything is wrong or accept help. Due to the media coverage of his death she (on her own) has started back on her meds (just in the past few days) and has reached out for help. I’m praying all will be well and she won’t fall back into the past cycle. I’m sorry for the death of a wonderful man, but perhaps he has just saved one person through it if not many more.
Cheers to you, Rudri. This got me thinking 🙂
This post must be very close to your heart, Rudri. Thank you for writing it. xo
Thanks, Luanne. I had trouble writing it, but wanted to express my feelings about his passing.
It saddens me to read this, he is the age of my mother – such a long life lived and to end it at such a stage? It must have been a hard decision for him to carry through with.. My mother said “he’s going to hell for that” and it saddens me to think that; I’d like to believe in a God that forgives those with an ailment that is so powerful no help in the world can repair it.. Sometimes asking and acquiring help isn’t enough; sometimes it’s just too much and people feel as though they’re suffocating.. It’s truly heartbreaking – such a wonderful person and human, I hope he is in heaven I hope his one bad choice to end it doesn’t discredit all the good and joy he brought to humanity over the course of his life. Happy Monday Rudri! -Iva
Sometimes I’m afraid to ask for help, but it’s for the strangest reason. I’m afraid that I’ll ask for help, and it will come, but it won’t actually help. I suspect that could have happened with Robin Williams, at least for some of his years.
It’s weird because I like to work things out myself. It’s not always the best way at all but I get scared.
Rudri, I absolutely agree with you. Asking for help is not a show of weakness, it is a show of being human. It is a show of trust. I used to be quite proud in that I didn’t want to ask for help, because I figured I could handle it on my own. Even if I could, the stress of it took a toll. Now, I have no problems asking for help when I need it. I am only human, after all.
I don’t know if it is only the Indian culture that doesn’t believe in asking for help. My heritage is most definitely mixed as my family has been here in the U.S. for several generations, but for the most part I grew up in my mother’s paternal Italian culture. There was most definitely an attitude of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” and move forward. Asking for help, even in a medical crisis, was frowned upon; and there were always secrets.
I think we Americans come from generations of independent people, who were determined to make it in a new country that values independence. Independent people solve their own problems. They don’t burden others. They don’t reveal weaknesses.
When it comes to mental health, there is a growing awareness about it as an illness. However, since it is an illness of the brain, it carries a horrible stigma. Many people do not ask for help because they become labeled. Forevermore, they are that person who has mental illness. If they do get help through psychiatry and therapy, they still keep it secret. Or as, Suzi Cate stated, they will deny their diagnosis. I also have a relative that lives in denial and he is afraid to take medication because he doesn’t like the side effects.
For a person who is in the public eye like Robin Williams, it must be even more difficult to ask for help, for fear that other people will never look at you the same. His death saddens me. I can’t even imagine how much pain he must have been in to believe that death was his best solution.
This is a very poignant post.
I find myself nodding at Robin’s comment, thinking about my own (stiff upper lip, New England) upbringing. I was raised to extend help to anyone, yet asking for help was taboo. I suspect this may be somewhat less the case for women in general, yet it makes me very sad that in so many cultures, regions, communities and families, we perceive needing help as weakness – much like your dad.
This struck me in your lovely piece: “There is a resistance to reveal what is ailing us the most. The irony is that it is probably more of a universal pain that we realize.”
There is great truth in that statement. How many of us would willingly be more open about what truly ails us if we didn’t feel we would be penalized for it somehow, in some essential way. And how surprised might we be to find many others with the same concerns or experience.