“I believe I could do dance on ice, or play in a musical of Freud’s life called “It’s Your Mother”- or maybe one for the symbolists: “Jung at Heart”. There’s always the one about India: “The Ghandi Man Can”.
She was the coroner for the county I came to when I started my private practice many years ago. She was well known around the area, sister to one of the local primary care physicians, and very active in trying to figure out why our county had one of the highest suicide rates in the entire state. She also started a custom of painting a white cross on the highway at the spot of each traffic fatality her office had to work.
I met her in the course of doing my own work, first as a staff psychiatrist, later as a senior psychiatrist and then as medical director for a two-county mental health center. We talked about the numbers, the cases, the treatments that worked and those that failed. We talked about her task force, and I came to be a more active part of it later, as time went on.
She was passionate. She was loud. She was persuasive. She was dogged. She was unconventional. She was driven.
She got cancer.
She was very sick, in and out of work, finally unable to do any more. We talked, on various levels and in various contexts, about what it all meant. Her work. My work. Her life. My life. Her death.
I don’t remember all of it, not the details of it, but I do remember one thing very clearly, even today. I remember the gut wrenching feeling I got, deep in my core, when I heard she had died. I was done for the day. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t do anything but go home. I did.
I lay across my bed, in my bedroom at home, and cried. Really cried. I don’t know how long. I just know I cried, hard. I didn’t know then what I was crying about. I just knew that I was tremendously sad. I knew that we had lost something important, somebody important, somebody who cared.
I was driving home today when I got the text from my oldest daughter.
No, I had not heard. What?
No, no, no, no, no, no.
More texts, tweets, posts, quotes, pictures, film titles, Oscar shots, more quotes.
I knew him like we all knew him.
Not personally, but as Mork. As the guy behind the mic loudly proclaiming “Good morning, Vietnam!” As the voice behind some of the most beloved characters in film. As one of the voices who made feet happy. As a man who sat and made a fund raising commercial with a little boy from my community, a boy who had defied all odds and survived the onslaught of a horrendous cancer with the help of the staff at St. Jude’s.
I felt the tears coming again, for this man that I had never talked to in person, or sat around a table with discussing suicide and mental health care. I felt the tremendous rush of emotion that comes with knowing that someone is really gone, permanently gone, and that nothing anyone can do will ever bring them back again.
I understand the tears now, though, at least better than I did when my friend died of cancer those years ago.
We weep not because we have lost someone. If we live long enough, ALL of us will lose someone, more than likely several someones.
We weep because we know what they have brought out in us. What they have made us do. We think better because of them. We ask questions. We marvel. We dream. We dance. We sing. We love. We laugh, oh, my do we laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
They make us better, and when they are gone we know that we will never quite be the same again.
Robin Williams 1951-2014