Dear Family, Friends and Blog Readers,
I’m on my way home from a lunch meeting when my youngest daughter Karissa texts me…”I can’t believe Robin Williams is dead. Mrs. Doubtfire and Jumanji will always be my top favorites #RIProbinwilliams” And like so many others I thought it was a hoax initially…like Bon Jovi’s death, and Chum’s from Pawnstars…but it became painfully clear, very quickly that this notification was no sick joke or hoax, but was indeed true.
Why is it important? Why is Robin Williams’ suicide more important than the thousands of others which take place every single day, week, month and year? It’s not that his death is more important…it’s that his suicide is more public. We feel like we know celebrities because of movies that have impacted us emotionally like “Patch Adams,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” and “Hook.” We feel like we know Mr. Williams because we’ve been touched and moved emotionally by “Good Will Hunting,” and “The Dead Poet’s Society.” (My personal favorite). We remember the absolute laughter and joy from “Mork and Mindy,” and if you grew up in the sixties like me…”Laugh In.”
But like all of us, the hard truth behind the movie screen and public persona is a “real life.” And like many of us Mr. Williams’ real life was a battle and a struggle…like myself and others, self medication, addictions, and crying out for some help and some real answers was a constant part of each day…perhaps each breath. Any yet, because he was so successful and so funny and outgoing publicly maybe we assume that “there should be no inner struggle….there should be no darkness.” But the scary truth…there is darkness internally for all of us. And for some, that darkness can envelope every fiber of our soul as we seek answers in the hopelessness.
If you’ve had the privilege like I have to spend some time with Soldiers who have returned from war and suffer with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), some even dealing with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) alongside their PTSD…you encounter a struggle to survive the darkness and changes that confuse our very soul and emotions. Please, Please know that I do not have all the answers, nor would I ever throw rocks at those who are dealing with “something I cannot totally understand.” And yet, for 35 years I’ve been with parents whose children have committed suicide…or cut themselves to try to release the inner pain. I’ve looked into “hopeless eyes enveloped by the darkness.” I’ve seen Mother’s, Father’s, Mate’s and children try to find some reason why the one that they loved so much chose to leave them. I’ve sat at a funeral with my son Tyler who struggles with PTSD after serving as a gunner in Iraq for the better part of two years during some of the worst of the fighting. He came home and tried to deal with “the darkness” and the nightmares, and the lack of sleep and the self medication and stuff only those who have been there, like his grandfather, and other combat vets know. The preacher doing the funeral kept talking about this person being in heaven. And about this choice not making a difference about eternal destiny. (And there isn’t a loving preacher I know that isn’t tempted to try and say the things that “we all want.”) As we stopped at the gas station to put gas in his car Tyler said, “Dad, do you believe that?” And I knew exactly what he was asking me…so here was my frail, ignorant, hurting answer to him on that day:
1. “Tyler, I don’t know. I can’t preach anyone into heaven, nor can anyone else and you wouldn’t ask me that question if you didn’t have some doubt. I’ve not walked the road you or they have, I cannot throw rocks at anyone or throw out stupid cliche’s that hurt instead of help. I believe that only God is the judge of eternal matters and only He sees everything that is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of the One to whom we must give an account.” (Heb. 4:13) So those who try to Stand in God’s place when it comes to the unanswerable questions of life and death I struggle with.” And…
2. “I believe that the most destructive thing in anyone’s life is to reach a point where there is no hope for things to get better…or believing you are not worth things getting better for.” Satan is the god of darkness. He is a liar and murderer. His native tonque is lying…”and my beloved son…I’ve tried to speak eternal hope into eyes that had no “hope”…and it seemed the darkness had totally enveloped their soul. Eyes that had been scared by abuse, pain and inner turmoil…and hope had been smothered like a campfire with gallons and gallons of water…maybe, even to the point of “no return,” I don’t know…but I believe in a God of “hope.” I believe in His power. I believe in His promises…and I have to shout that I don’t believe there is anything so dark that His light cannot penetrate it…I believe that with all my heart for you and for me and for everyone. And he said, “So do I, I just don’t want anyone to think that suicide is the answer.”
3. Finally, I need to say this boldly. When I was 10 years old I was burned over 50% of my body with third degree burns after knocking a chemistry alcohol lamp over on myself. I still bare the deep scars on my face, stomach, back and arms after the skin graft surgery was performed…I spent 2 1/2 months in the burn unit in St. Joseph’s hospital…and my recovery was looooooooooooong and painful. I remember going out into the public and people would stare…adults as well as children would ask out of curiosity…”What happened to your face?” After awhile it irritated me so deeply I would respond….”What happened to yours?!!!” Well meaning people would come visit with me…pray with me…talk to my parents….and some would talk about understanding what I was going through. “We know how you feel.” My thoughts were “No you don’t….why would you say that?” And I felt anger…not consolation…Until one day Mr. Bryant came by to see me…he brought an old yellowed letter he had written from a Pearl Harbor Hospital to his girlfriend….after the bombing…during the time he lay in that hospital horribly burned and scared by an explosion of oil…even telling his girlfriend to go on without him because of his disfigurement (She didn’t…they married…and raised a beautiful family). He let me keep that letter for awhile (an amazing act of trust… considering I had just turned 11 in the hospital). He prayed with me…and as he left he said…”Ricky, I know how you feel and what your going through…give me a call anytime you want and I’ll be talking to you soon…and he did. When he left, for the first time I felt a hope…a consolation….true compassion from a fellow scared soul…It was the most Jesus-like response to pain I’ve personally experienced in 54 years….
Please….Please….may this be our response to the “darkness” and “hopelessness” in the world…if you don’t know someone’s pain…don’t say you do!!!! But extend hope nonetheless. If you do know someone’s pain, then…head to the burn unit…head to the PTSD meeting….head to the abused and injured small group with the power of God being demonstrated in your weakness…that is a Jesus like response to Mr. Williams’ family, Tyler and Rick Burdette and everyone who fights “the darkness.”
Trying to light the way,