Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Grieving National Loss

If you are a parent today, you are well-versed in all things Dora. I learned this over the weekend at my niece’s daughter’s three-year old birthday party. For my husband and me with our son, who will soon celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday, it was Aladdin. We still will watch it on occasion and it makes us laugh as much is it did originally, and I still sing along about a whole new world.

That is one of the aspects that make news about the untimely death of comedic genius Robin Williams so unsettling. I have commented on this before but it bears repeating in this situation. In a "traditional" hospice setting, we are typically serving families with loved ones who are diagnosed with cancer or another terminal illness that has had a long, slower onset. Our "typical" patient is age 75 or older. This makes us baby boomers pretty comfortable – we are serving our parents, not our own generation. And while the amount of time patients and families access hospice is short – it is available for six months, but often families only access services for up to 14 days due to a variety of barriers – it is generally anticipated that there is going to be a death in the family.

This death in our national family was certainly not anticipated, at least not by those outside Robin’s immediate family. As a social worker by discipline, I am compelled to mention the serious illness that is depression, how silent its symptoms can be, how manic swings can be masking other serious issues, and how self-medicating behaviors create other challenges for the person and their family. Robin was such an accomplished actor and comedian in his field – many people will wonder with all of his success – awards, money and fame – what would drive him to take his own life? That is the inconsolable depths of despair that is depression left untreated, and why we need to address it as much as we address any other serious, chronic illness.

Grief support during any loss is important, and it is especially so during a sudden loss such as a suicide. I continue to be drawn to the news reports to witness others recollections of Robin’s impact on their lives, and remember how he impacted mine and my family’s – and I keep remembering other films he was in that I enjoyed. As we know too well, that’s part of the grief journey. I urge others to access support services, grief support services, or health care services depending on our need to ensure our well-being. We cannot help others when we don’t take care of ourselves.

This post was written by Gloria D. Brooks, Arbor Hospice President and CEO. You may contact Gloria by commenting below or emailing her at

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