Today marks the passing of Robin Williams, and it is a sad day, to see such talent extinguished. To know that even wealth and fame cannot cure the strange beast of depression, and what I think was a history of substance abuse. But it’s sad for another reason too, not one I’ve written about before. As the great Stephen King said, to write truthfully means that your days in polite society are numbered… or something like that. Deep breath, go.
Euphegenia Doubtfire, a divorced dad who wants so badly to be with his children, that he dresses as a British nanny to care for them, was the hope of divorced kids everywhere. They try to tell you in divorce class (oh yes, there was a class!) about love pies, how everyone has a pie, and one can just cut another slice, there is always enough pie. To me this was a subtle message that my life would never again be the same, that I’d just have to keep slicing away at that damn pie, hoping against hope, like bringing water from a stone; loving and loving and loving and trusting there was enough to go around. That there was enough for me too.
I remember vividly the night our parents told us they couldn’t go on. I can’t, literally, remember what I wore to church last Sunday, but that I remember that night. How I was not surprised, all of my friends parent’s had been sort of a precursor, I’d honestly just expected this to happen sooner or later. Amy and Jared cried, and I remember, even then, feeling irritated with their tears, like they didn’t know what was happening and so had no right to cry. Now I know, when my sister gets teary, when my brother’s voice breaks in church; my eyes instantly fill. I can’t not cry if one of them is going to cry, and so they cried because our mother cried. And when your mother cries, well, there’s nothing for it but to dig out a handkerchief and shed some empathy tears. A Storge kind of love.
I resented divorce class. I plotted about how I would just announce, loftily, probably in high heels I did not own, that I was just leaving the whole mess and going to live with my grandmother who would take me to Fairway (the dime store) and let me sleep in the room with the cat sheets on the bed, who closed the curtains just right so I wouldn’t have to look at the gleaming and malevolent eye of the water tower, a broad red beam that shone across the field behind her home. I could work in their store and earn my keep.
Of course I still attended class, and I didn’t leave, I was only nine years old. Growing up I changed a bit, I learned to realize the tremendous work of marriage, and am not suggesting that my parents did not or would not do that work, they did; in the end though, it wasn’t enough. I moved from resenting divorce class to resenting my parents, who, in my view, plainly sucked at being parents. I would get so fired up with when the increasingly rare parents of my friends who were still married would say, with pity, stroking my cheek, oh, you’re from a broken home then.
Well no. I am not from a broken home. My home is not and, now, I know, has never been broken. The love that our mother felt for us, the devotion that drove our father to drive through blizzards just to see us for two hours on a Thursday night; that isn’t broken. And it feels like I’m sharing family secrets here, like I am somehow betraying my family even to speak of this. But everyone knows, though not everyone can ken, how our love was made stronger because it sat in that fiery furnace, was burnished by the hot, hot blaze.
And though I watched Mrs. Doubtfire for the first time and wept at the thought of contriving a way to mend my parents’ relationship, I cannot now wish for that now.
I would never have moved to Grand Haven. Jared would not be the rector of St. John’s, because he would not have grown up here, and when his home town parish called him, it would not have been to Grand Haven. I may not have met Casey, I may have married someone else and had children, but they would not be these children, the changelings in my living room watching Full House with the man who is patently, committedly, doggedly, their father.
So I’m sad to hear that Robin has passed, sadder still to read that he took his life, snuffed his own candle, gave up in the face of a disease so monstrous that he didn’t feel he could ever win. But it makes me think of that little girl who was me, with her freckles and her brown hair (which wasn’t curly then, believe it or not), waiting for her dad to come for her, waiting for her mom to wake up after working a third shift, sitting in an apartment and reading books while her sister and her brother colored or played with blocks. The little girl who sat in the waiting room at Tony Betten Ford sometimes on Saturdays, because her dad wanted her so much that he would take her to work with her brother and sister, and turn on the TV, and point out the books, and say, I’ll come check on you in a while. The little girl who had French Toast Thursdays, where we would all watch MacGuyver and eat our french toast off TV trays, the one who traversed this strange land called divorced and somehow came out on the other side MORE loved.
Mrs. Doubtfire taught me that not all prayers are answered, not all dreams are realized, and that there is a reason for that. My brother and my sister and I were shaped by our mother, our step mother, our father, into the people that we are today. I don’t know about me most of the time, but I know the other two are pretty amazing specimens. And we are ok. We are ALL ok.
So rest in peace, Robin, and rise in glory. Thank you for hope when I needed it and for always, always being funny.
“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Robin.Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”