Monday, 11 August 2014

Another Heartbreaking Loss

Robin Williams. Wade Belak. Rick Rypien. Derek Boogaard. If one of these people doesn't seem like the others, you're not seeing the full picture. While one is an Academy Award-winning actor and the other three are hockey players, they shared one common trait. It's not something physical, but the manifestations in their physical lives are very, very real.

Mental illness affected all four of these men.

I was shocked when it was announced that actor Robin Williams had committed suicide. This was a man who had brought joy and laughter to millions and millions of people through his comedy, movies, and general craziness, yet he couldn't find that joy in his own life. For a man so respected by his peers and by the public in general, the depression he faced on a daily basis was hard to fathom. However, mental illness doesn't discriminate nor does it relent. Mental illness grips its subject and doesn't let go without a considerable battle. Robin Williams succumbed to this battle.

The image above is how I remember Robin Williams. Unlike Belak, Rypien, and Boogaard, I met Robin Williams once. He was sitting in a lounge with a carbonated, clear beverage that had a lemon and a lime in it. He wore a hoodie and sat at the end of the bar so that he either wouldn't be noticed or wouldn't be bothered by the other people in the lounge area of the restaurant.

I had dropped by the lounge after a long, hard day of work with a friend named Steve* (name changed for privacy reasons). I needed a beer, and we ordered a pair for ourselves. The bartender struck up some friendly conversation about "Happy Hour" being in effect with regards to the large group of people in the lounge who seemed to know one another. And then there was the guy at the end of the bar with the beard in the navy blue hoodie who silently sipped his carbonated beverage while glancing at the TVs behind the bar occasionally. From the side, he looked like any other guy who was down on his luck and needed an escape.

"What's his story?" Steve asked the barkeep.

"He just wants to sit quietly by himself," the bartender responded quietly.

"Whatever he's drinking, we'll buy his next one," I offered. The barkeep nodded and headed down towards the hooded man. As the party behind us was enjoying drinks and appetizers, my friend and I had struck up chatter between us when we were interrupted by the bartender.

"The gentleman would like you two to join him at the end of the bar," the bartender informed us. "He'd like to thank you personally."

Steve and I glanced at one another, and then decided to head down to see what the mysterious hooded man's story was when it came to him sitting by himself. He never turned his head as we sat on the stools to his right. We both greeted him with a "hey, man" and he continued to look up at the television situated in front of him.

"Thanks for the drink, gentlemen," he said quietly, "but I'm drinking club soda, and refills are free." This brought a chuckle from me, and he turned to face us. Steve's face went into a look of disbelief, and I'm pretty sure I was wearing a similar look.

"I know you recognize me, so keep your voices down," he instructed us. "Thanks for the drink, guys. I'm Robin Williams."

We sat with Robin for at least an hour as he asked us about ourselves, work, what we did for fun, and a host of other stuff. He made jokes at our expense when we said something funny, but he was polite and he listened to every word he said. He answered some questions from us, and we "bought" a few more club sodas for him. He informed us that he had to leave, though, since he was making a movie, and he shook our hands and thanked us. Steve and I, in the presence of comedy royalty, thanked him for putting up with us for an hour, and he seemed to have a twinkle in his eye when he left. Both Steve and I were tickled pink after having met a living legend.

Today's announcement of Mr. Williams' passing shook me once again. I lost a great friend in Brad Drake a couple of years ago to his demons, and I still miss him today. While the world will mourn the loss of Robin Williams for all he brought the world through his comedy and crazy self, I'm going to miss him because he did what more of us should do in our daily lives: he listened.

Robin's demeanor that night was not his manic, crazy self. He was very reserved, and he certainly listened to us. Whether or not we helped him by being friendly that night is debatable, but I like to think we made his short stay in Winnipeg a little better through our actions. If you know someone who is battling their own demons, please listen to them, spend some time with them, and show them how much you appreciate them. Read through the Canadian Mental Health Association's website to learn more about you can help yourself or others who may be in this struggle. Far too often, it seems we miss the warning signs.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. Your demons will no longer haunt you. You will be missed.

No comments: