Last Monday afternoon when I heard about Robin Williams, I had been thinking about suicide all day, because a member of a social group I've been involved in had taken her life over the weekend.
Her friends' reactions were all over Facebook. And then with the Williams news, the two became intermingled; in my Facebook feed, they were equal Hindenburgs.
The outbursts of anger and accusations of cowardice were rare but present in both deaths. Of course such reactions are stupid. But if we're not going to condemn people for committing suicide, we probably shouldn't judge the people they shock, for crying out in pain.
The difference in people's reactions to the deaths of Williams and the death of this anonymous woman had to do with an assessment of output. Everyone wished this woman hadn't died, because at 40, she had so much more to give. (The last words of that sentence leave out, to us.)
With Williams, there was this sense, as we looked back at all those movies and TV shows and talk show appearances and sweaty, screeching comedy clips, that, since arriving from Ork, Mork had done his bit. And done it and done it and done it. He had done more than he was asked. So much more to give? We shrugged, and said, "Probably not."
The overall instinct was to give him the benefit of the doubt. To thank him for what he gave us, rather than berate him for not giving us more or implore him in arrears, Why didn't you give us a chance to rescue you?
Partly, that's the difference between a celebrity death and a friend's death. When a celebrity commits suicide, we can talk it over rationally with our friends. When a friend commits suicide, all our friends are crazy.
The general reaction to Williams' death—bless him, look how much he did give us—should be our general attitude, I think, toward all of our friends and all of our family, dead and living and in between.
And the reaction to the young woman's death—why didn't she do this, why didn't she do that, there is so much more she might have done—is an apparently natural but terribly foolish thought that we should try to banish from our hearts. And we will, just as soon as the drops of pain begin to subside and the wisdom starts to come.