This is a piece I’ve been working on since Robin Williams’ passing. His death touched so many people, including my Griffin who continues to bring him up.
I can tell something is bothering Griffin and so I ask him if there is anything he wants to talk about. Before I know it, he’s crying uncontrollably in my lap “Why did Robin Williams have to die, why?” I’m caught off guard, which seemed to be happening more and more when it comes to Griffin. He’s asking me questions I don’t know how to answer. Griffin is the type of kid that will keep asking questions until he gets answers.
My husband and I are always trying to balance teaching Griffin life lessons in a way that he can understand. Depending on the situation, developmentally he can be younger than his age, at his age, or even older. I wasn’t prepared for the impact Robin Williams’ death would have on Griffin. Before Robin’s death, we had watched “Aladdin” and Griffin had heard us talk about “Mork and Mindy” and just how much we loved Robin Williams. When the news about his death was announced we were deeply saddened and didn’t really give it much thought in regards to telling Griffin right away. But even with us limiting how much news coverage was on, he eventually found out. His reaction caught me off guard, although it didn’t quite surprise me. Because it was a suicide I really wanted to make sure I gave him the truth in a way he could understand and process. I was hoping to have more time but once he found out Robin had died, the questions along with the tears came fast.
Griffin: “Why did Robin Williams have to die?
Me: “Honey, I don’t know.”
Griffin: “But why? Was he old? Did someone kill him?
Me: “He was in his 60’s and no, no one killed him.”
Griffin: “So what happened?”
Me: “It’s hard for me to explain something I don’t understand very well.”
Griffin:” Mom, I want to know, what happened?”
At this point I know I have to do my best to help him understand a topic that is so hard for even adults to grasp. I really am worried I’m going to mess this up.
Me: “Well, Robin was sad and he went to sleep.”
Griffin: ” He was sad, why?”
Me: “I can’t say for sure. He made so many people happy but sometimes people are really sad and need help.”
I suggest we take a break from the conversation. Griffin is still so upset and decides to rest on the couch. I start to notice him trembling and ask if he’s ok. His answer: “Mom, I’m scared if I fall asleep I might die.”
“Crap, I really messed this up” was all I could think. What else could I do to help him?
I assure him that he won’t die if he sleeps and that we can keep talking about this later. I tell him that we need to think of Robin’s children and all the wonderful things Robin accomplished. I suggested we could find out more about him.
Before long we found out that Robin loved video games and that he named his daughter Zelda after the game “Legend of Zelda.” This sealed the deal of how awesome Robin was. I told him how he helped children that were sick and read him stories from people that knew him and who shared how kind and humble he was. Griffin started saying how he wanted to meet Robin, how unfair it was that he never got a chance to. Not understanding fully the concept of death he said “I want to die so I can meet him.” I knew he wouldn’t do anything to hurt himself. I didn’t however want to just dismiss it either by saying ” Oh, don’t say that or you don’t mean that.” So instead I improvised and tried to speak his language.
Here’s what I said to him. “Griffin, think of it like a video game. The first level is when you’re born. The second level is when you’re a kid. The third level is when you become an adult and so on… The last level is when you go to heaven. You just keep trying to get to the next level. Some people don’t make it to being a grandparent or a person that has lived a long time like Betty White. But you want to play the game for as long as you can.” This helped but it didn’t take away the sadness or the confusion he still had.
We continued to talk about Robin Williams. I tried to explain mental illness and depression to him in a way that would help him have compassion and awareness for others. I explained that Robin was very sad, so sad that he thought not being here would be better, that kind of sadness is called depression. That sometimes people with mental illness have depression.
He then asked “Do I have mental illness because I have Aspergers?” I once again thought, “Crap, I really messed this up!” I explained to him the difference between autism and mental illness. “No, you don’t have mental illness. Aspergers is a neurological disorder. (As I write this I really don’t agree that it is a “disorder”. I believe it’s just a different way of thinking, period.) Which means you think and see the world differently. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness and, just like you, people that have a mental illness are amazing. They just need love and understanding, like we all do.”
One of the things Griffin wanted to do to feel better was to reach out to Robin’s daughter, Zelda. We haven’t done it yet, but he actually made her a beautiful drawing. I think now might be a good time to send it to her. He still brings Robin up and even though we’ve talked about it and he has been able to find some peace around it, he still will say “I should have met Robin Williams. He would have liked me. We could have played video games together. I really love him.”
I couldn’t agree more. Robin not only entertained the world, he continues to make a lasting impression on those that discover him. I wish I could have discovered Griffin’s love for Robin another way. Like Griffin and millions of others, I wish Robin was still here. I have a feeling Griffin and Robin would have been great buddies if they had met. Just two kind hearted, quirky, out-of-the-box thinkers and gamer dudes making the world a better place.