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Suicide, Depression, Forgiveness, and Robin Williams

Robin Williams starred in one of my sister's favorite films, "What Dreams May Come."  In it, he portrays a physician who marries an artist (played by Annabella Sciorra).  They later have two children, a boy and a girl, who are killed in a car accident.  Although the deaths of their children bring them to the brink of divorce, they decide to stay together.  Then the husband dies in a car accident and ascends to Heaven.  Grief-stricken and unable to continue on, the wife kills herself and ends up in Hell, not as punishment, but because the pain that brought on the suicide creates Hell for her in the afterlife.  The husband attempts what had never been achieved: Leaving Heaven to rescue a soul from Hell to bring to Heaven.  He succeeds.

This movie resonates with the African-American Protestant upbringing of my youth to a certain extent:  The idea that suicide on earth equals Hell in the afterlife.  Like many other African-American Protestants, I was taught that suicide was the one unforgivable sin for which you most certainly would be sent to Hell.  "Self-murder," my Baptist mother-in-law called it.  My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), tells me he learned in his new membership class at his church that suicide is indeed forgivable.  How can it not be when someone suffering from mental illness commits the act?

Whenever I hear of someone having taken their own life, I wince with the residue of the beliefs of my upbringing.  Now, I question those beliefs.   I can't believe a merciful God is incapable of forgiving someone who is so mentally wounded that he can't bear the pain of another day on this planet.

If suicide is indeed a sin and a forgivable one, I pray that God would forgive Robin Williams.  If suicide is a sin and isn't forgivable, I hope God makes an exception for Robin Williams.

Growing up, I would have put Richard Pryor at the pinnacle of comic genius.  But when you look at the versatility of Robin Williams, tie goes to Robin Williams.  He wasn't like some comedians who were only capable of comedy that appealed to those who shared their race, gender, or class; he made comedy that was funny to everyone.  His mind was so quick, so sharp, so able to bend into different characters, voices, you name it.  And then he could play a dramatic role so moving, such as his roles in "Good Will Hunting" and "The Dead Poets Society," that he reminded you that, yes, he was a top-notch acting student from Julliard.  He gave so much joy to the world and did such good works while he was here.  He deserves divine forgiveness, assuming he needs it.

What should we take away from this tragic loss?  Many things.  You never really know what a person is going through, even if you think you do.  People who are depressed don't always admit it because of shame and stigma.  What looks like addiction to drugs or alcohol may often be self-medication of depression. Depression knows no boundaries -- it strikes the rich and the poor, men and women, and people of all social classes.  Just because someone has all of the makings of success -- wealth, fame, etc. -- doesn't mean they are immune from depression or any other mental illness.

If Robin Williams' soul is in the Hell of my upbringing and of the movie "What Dreams May Come," he's worth some soul in Heaven taking a risk to save him.

Robin Williams, may your soul know the peace that eluded it on earth.


Anonymous said…
Sigh. As usual, BWB, very well-said.

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