I was watching TV on Monday afternoon, enjoying another re-run of MASH, when a text alert flashed across my phone: Robin Williams had died. How sad, I thought. He wasn’t that old, way he? A heart attack, or maybe an accident. Yes, sad.
But as I was sending a text message about Robin Williams to my daughter at work, another alert appeared. I saw only one word on it… and I sat up straight on the couch and stared, simply stared at the screen with my mouth open.
How could this have possibly happened? I have been a fan since Mork & Mindy. And not only was Robin Williams a hysterically, incredibly, amazingly funny man, but he loved to laugh. He always seemed to enjoy his own humor as much as we did. He was always so happy. I just couldn’t believe, couldn’t grasp what I was reading and seeing.
The press conference the next day brought me to tears. This poor man was so desperate; he must have felt so totally and completely alone. Absolutely heartbreaking.
Robin Williams and my great-aunt Hattie Lee Stanley never met. I’m pretty sure of that. Robin was born in Chicago and lived most of his life in California. Hattie was born in Texas and lived most of her life here. Robin was in high school in California when Hattie died in New York.
No, they never met.
But they shared one decision, one act, one consequence.
My Aunt Hattie Lee Stanley also killed herself.
I have a vague memory of being in my grandparent’s living room that night in 1966. My older brothers and younger cousins and I were all playing while the adults spoke in tears and hushed tones. We kids were told simply that Aunt Hattie had died. I was 8 years old.
I barely remember Aunt Hattie. I remember going to visit her at her house in Fort Worth. That’s about it. I don’t recall if she was cheerful and carefree or dark and unhappy.
So I really don’t know what could have been going on with her, what left her feeling like she had no options, no alternatives.
I only know what she did. And I know how my great-grandmother cried.
Families have secrets. Things they don’t talk about.
We as genealogists spend our days picking our ancestors’ lives apart, trying to learn every detail. Where did they live? Where did they work? Who did they love? How did they die?
But can we ever know what they were thinking?
My Aunt Hattie has been gone 48 years, Robin Williams just a few days. I hurt for them both.
If you or someone you know is struggling, help is out there:
*National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
*American Foundation for Suicide Prevention