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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Grief & Memories & Sadness & Joy

Like many, the death of Robin Williams has had a profound affect upon me. I asked a colleague why we feel so deeply stunned by this and she said what many of us think: He was such a memorable character in so many different ways, you just felt like you knew him. Sadly, Robin himself did not feel fully known and thus lived in the isolated and lonely world of depression and self-doubt. We feel this loss acutely because we wonder how someone so brilliant, so funny, so talented could feel so bereft of value and meaning. Depression is an ugly beast that rears its head in strange and unexpected places. I've struggled with depression in my life for no apparent reason. And when there is no apparent reason to be depressed, then you just feel that much worse because you feel like such a loser for feeling so crappy. I am so sad that Robin was so sad and could never find the light that he brought to so many others. I believe with all my heart that God holds a special place for his beloved who cannot escape this earthly darkness and feel that death would be a better option. My brother lived a fairly tortured existence due to mental illness that was tough to get a handle on. He was erratic and attempted suicide on more than one occasion. He died at 48, of a heart attack that I'm sure was brought on by a mixture of prescription drugs and and unhealthy living. I believe these tortured souls find rest and peace in the arms of a loving God whose compassions, they fail not. Remember...Great is thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.
But I suppose another reason that this very public passing of a very beloved person is more profound for me as I walk through the continued grief of losing my parents so close together. I'm still in a state of shock that my father actually died in April. I often say to Doug, "I just can't believe he's really gone." And I re-live those painful final days, those awful decisions, the sad reality that he was not going to return to the vibrant, brilliant, very funny man he was. I miss him in profound ways as I long to speak with him...to share with him how GREAT the PGA golf tournament was, how sad I am that Robin Williams has died. He would've been devastated by this as well as he so respected and loved his humor and talent.
Of course, like many, Doug and I are recalling the memories we share around his films. I had forgotten that Mork began on Happy Days but I do remember faithfully watching Mork and Mindy week after week when I was a freshman in college! But it's the movies that have burned quotes, moments, profundities into our psyches. For me, I recalled immediately Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. But then Mrs. Doubtfire comes into view, followed by Patch Adams. (If you have missed this one, see it soon. It is based on a true story and is amazing). And who could ever forget the genie from Aladdin?! On and on and on....So one of the responses to all we were feeling yesterday was to watch Good Will Hunting last night. It was a good choice. We had not seen it in a long time so the details were sketchy. It was also the film in which Williams won his Oscar. He wasn't as funny in this film but offered incredible insight into the human condition. Of course, when Williams utters the line, "Real loss is only possible when you love someone more than you love yourself" I knew I was done in. The depth of emotional loss and expression and healing that unfolds between Matt Damon and Williams is just so palpable. I was actually wondering the depth of pain that Damon was feeling upon hearing this news and that made me weep a little more!
It's a toss up between Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society as far as favorite Williams' films but since Dead Poets is in my top 5, I would have to give it top billing.
When Dead Poets Society first came out, it was 1989. I was just back from living in Colombia, South America for two years and had landed a teaching job at the very same school where my father was the head football coach. We had this one very special year together, teaching at the same high school, a lower income, 50% hispanic school where there were lots of underdog kids that we both cared deeply about.
The year we taught together at Anaheim High School, I dressed up like him on Halloween!
You've heard a lot about my dad's incredible influence over young men through his coaching years and I was seeking to aspire to be even a fracture of that influential in my own life. I had made the decision to move to Chicago to go to seminary and my folks were leaving Orange County to move to Palm Springs. So on Father's Day of 1989, I took my dad to the movies to see Dead Poets Society together. There is no other person on earth with whom I wish would've seen this film for the first time. We were enthralled by the story. I was taken up with the language used in the film. We were enchanted by the way Professor Keating gained a hearing with these young men and sought to deeply transform them into thoughtful, thinking men. And then, the ending unfolds with the controlling parents and the pressure on the kids to conform to their parents dreams and wishes and the kid kills himself and the professor is fired and we were an absolute mess. Both of us were sobbing as the film ended. We could barely walk out of the theater and I'm really not sure how we drove home. We were still pretty weepy when we got home and when we walked into the house and my mom saw us, she just laughed out loud and said, "You Two!" Clearly, my father was the more sentimental of those two!
I went back to see the film again and again, taking notes in the dark theater, writing down all of my favorite lines...suck the marrow out of life...using the film in talks and sermons and allowing it to continue to influence me over the years in that Carpe Diem sort of way.
So now, of course, I am dying to watch the film again, but my grief is causing hesitation. I know if I get into it I will SOB and I'm not sure when that SOBBING will stop. And it's not that I mind SOBBING but I'm just not sure about how deeply I want to feel the loss of my father right now. And yet, feeling that loss as deeply as I do reminds me of how we lived our lives in a Carpe Diem sort of way...He allowed me to pursue the things in life that I loved with no pressure to conform to any preconceived notion of how his daughter should be. He was demonstrably proud of me and equally as loving. I think I've made it clear how much respect and admiration and love I had for him as well. I know that there are a host of men in this world for whom Coach Moon Mullen is indeed captain, their captain...for this legacy I am grateful. But I'm also deeply grateful that for me, I got to know him as dad.
Dad and I with mom's tree when we scattered her ashes. Some of his will be scattered there next.
Grief...many of us are feeling it these days. Some over public less personal matters. Others over a deep sense of loss that leaves a dull ache where the love shared has been severed from earthly expression. I hope that Robin and Dad find a way to sit down and share a good laugh together. They would appreciate one another on so many different levels. Rest in peace you wonderful men...who made me laugh, made me cry and helped me understand life just a little better.