08/14/2014 11:30 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

Tears of the Clown


It's hard to think that the person laughing the loudest may be masking the sound of his teardrops. But that's what I thought when the news broke about the tragic death-by-suicide of the talented comedian and actor Robin Williams.

Reports say he was battling depression and had dealt with substance abuse for years. The man with a hundred funny faces and boundless kinetic energy on the stage of life could no longer face his audience of demons.

Why it is that so many genuinely funny and talented entertainers who made us laugh out loud for all the right reasons leave us silently crying in sadness with unanswered questions when they suddenly leave us for all the wrong reasons? It makes me think of a theatrical comedy-tragedy mask. Except this time it's not theater. It is reality. Depression is real and lives among many we may know and love. It settles like a dark cloud, breaks the spirit and wears down the soul. Many try to mask it but you can't cure depression with a bandage.

Depression is emotional suppression, isolation, desperation and a darkness that envelopes you. There are many causes and varying degrees of depression just as there are the many people who experience it.

It is hard to fathom, really. Or is it really not? Look around you. Many people you know may be silently battling some form of depression. What a person may show on the outside could be a facade for a hidden dark place inside. The loud laugh is the mask for a silent scream.

What's important is that we all learn to use our senses to be more sensitive to those people in our lives who may need help but don't have the capacity to ask for it. Look for signs such as changes in behavior. Listen to what he or she is saying. Show compassion and interest. Touch and hug. Talk and share. We should never be so insensitive to others as we hurry about our lives that we disregard cries for attention and don't stop to offer help. But sometimes even our best efforts cannot save those we love who deal with depression, and we should never blame ourselves for trying or failing to help.

A comedic genius made his final curtain call by taking his own life. He didn't have the last laugh. He died in the depths of despair. Some say suicide is selfish. I say it is not because selfish people love themselves too much to take their own lives. It's the person who has lost all sense of self, and self-worth, who takes his life.

I don't believe any life should be taken, or taken for granted. Life should be given and shared. But we all know life is complicated. Suicide hurts the people left behind far more than the person who took his own life. Now we have to explain to our children and to ourselves why someone so funny and lovable was sad and tortured inside. And we have no answers, only questions. The joke's on us this time.

Songwriter George M. Cohan wrote a sing called, "Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Good Bye."

"I wish that was the case," said the clown.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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