Robin Williams’ Son Strives to Honor His Father’s Legacy by Helping Victims of Suicide
By Tess Farrand, Staff Writer
It’s hard to believe that this August will mark five years since comedian Robin Williams’ passing. Williams fell prey to the darkness of suicide and left generations of fans and family members devasted by the sudden loss. In recent days, however, Williams’ 36-year-old son Zak Williams honored his late father’s legacy and hopes to shine a light on the devastating impact of suicide.
Seattle-based photographer, Mariangela Abeo, runs an Instagram account titled Faces of Fortitude. Abeo is a suicide survivor herself and seeks to educate users about mental health and those affected by suicide. Her three most recent posts included Zak Williams. In the three posts detailing his thoughts on the matter, Williams got candid about his father’s bout with mental illness and encourages others to share their story to find healing.
“Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same. Remember who you are, and why you’re there,” Williams implored. He explained that he has practiced what he’s preaching. “So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss.” Williams continued, sharing what happened next, “then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share.”
View this post on Instagram
“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn't just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse and cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, even venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for: To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak Williams and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words and photos from Zak’s session with you all week.
Zak is on the board of Bring Change to Mindy, which is “a nonprofit organization co-founded by Glenn Close and her nephew, Calen Pick, to encourage dialogue about mental health and raise awareness.” The cause is obviously near and dear to his heart. Zak also mentioned that he tried to numb the pain from losing his father but has sought healing the past three years. In response to her conversation with the late PATCH ADAMS actor’s son, Abeo said, “when we strip away everything we have been using to numb ourselves, and we are left alone with our grief, we are confronted with this dark and exposed part of ourselves, but it is also a place where we can learn so much about our capacity and abilities as humans.”
Although Williams doesn’t tie his words into a Christian worldview, his cautions and advice carry a significant weight that Christians know can only be found in Jesus. Movieguide®’s obituary article on Robin Williams points out, “Dr. Ted Baehr met Robin several times at press junkets for movies. Once, Dr. Baehr shared Jesus Christ with Robin because they both grew up with a few similar parental beliefs. Robin had, at one point, accepted Jesus Christ in one of the recovery programs, but he was always searching and never quite finding.”
Going forward, please continue to pray for healing for Zak and all those affected by suicide and mental health.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 38:18 (NASB)