I have to confess, on my work schedule for today I had, ‘write comedy blog.’ And then, while reading a book in bed at 12.55am this morning, a message popped up on my phone:
This was how I learned the news, in a KIK message from my son.
My first reaction was to (want to) believe it was a terrible hoax, so I took to Google. When I found out it was in fact true, to be perfectly honest, I lay back in my bed and sobbed for half an hour or more, crying for a person I never knew or met.
This is the mark of true genius.
Like many people today, I am watching the news, the tributes, the social media outpourings and reading all the reports, seeking answers as to why he is gone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this in my lifetime. It would appear that the incredibly sad and untimely death of Robin Williams touched just about everybody in the civilized world. The newsreader on BBC1 this morning even seemed to be struggling at times to read her script on the tributes that were pouring in. I am crying again now as I type.
I just can’t take it in and I hardly understand the depth of my own grief. But then:
‘What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humour. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference.’
Patch Adams is one of my favourite films of all time. I think I have watched it maybe twenty times or more. It hit home to me because eighteen years ago I was an auxiliary nurse who was often in trouble for behaving, shall we say, ‘less than seriously in a very serious environment’. Many of the patients on the ward I worked on were terminally or life threateningly ill. I have been present as countless people came to the end of their lives and to say it was a humbling, life-changing experience for me would be an understatement. Those people taught me how fragile life is and that every day is a gift. They also taught me that laughter can lift us through the most trying moments of a lifetime. I once told an elderly and very proud amputee, who had refused a much needed bed bath out of awkwardness and embarrassment, ‘not to worry, at least there is less to wash.’ He laughed. And you could literally feel the tension leave him. He would only let me do it from that day forwards.
My own father was an amputee. When people asked what had happened to his leg, he would tell them he’d been biting his toe nails and forgot to stop.
More than teaching us that humour can be a powerful medicine; more than its showing us that humility is one of life’s greatest and most admirable traits in a person, this scene from Patch Adams tells us it is okay to say how we feel when someone we loved and admired has died; that no one has to suffer from indifference.
Today, I confess I was unable to write my comedy blog. I could only come here to tell you that I loved Robin Williams, ‘as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.’
He was that hilarious alien on the telly when I was a girl. The army DJ I loved to impersonate when I was 16; the Peter Pan who reminded me how much I missed my father when I was 20; the madcap nanny who helped me laugh away the tears from the pain of divorce and the quick-witted comedy genius I wished I could emulate.
Robin Williams did that thing I try to do in my own work – find laughter among the most serious of subjects, putting a little unashamed heart into everything and being able to leave the world having made as many people as possible in some way changed. Even in his last act, Robin Williams has taught us yet another important lesson: that depression is a darker and deadlier thing than a great many of us realise. Today I suspect many people will contact that someone in their lives that they worry might be or have been a little lost and reach out a hand to say, ‘I am here should you need me’. I know I have – twice already.
So I am sad today; I have nothing funny to write and have failed miserably on the indifference scale concerning the death of someone I have no right to grieve. He wasn’t my relative or my friend.
He was just a guy on the telly that made me laugh, cry, think and – yes goddammit – feel. There is, was, nor will there ever be anyone else like Robin Williams.
Sorry Robin, yesterday the world lost a spark of madness.
You will be missed. x
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