I am Pagliacci

Robin Williams

“Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says, ‘But doctor… I am Pagliacci.’ ”

My mind is still swirling with disconnected and confused thoughts. The loss of Robin Williams has had an unexpectedly heavy impact on me. How can you miss someone you never met? Its hard describe the feeling of loss of someone that since my childhood just always seemed to be there, ready to share a smile and lift the spirits of any feeling down. What could have caused someone who was always wanting to make others happy so terribly, terribly sad?

I think one of the things that has been hurting me the most since Williams’ death on Monday is the struggle to understand the spiritual implications of his actions. Most of my life I had been lead to believe that suicide was an unpardonable sin; that taking your own life meant you were no longer granted admission into heaven. Yet, as I’ve grown older and have encountered individuals who have struggled with suicidal thoughts, I began to question this understanding. Suicide can happen for a host of reasons and not everyone who commits suicide is the same or has the same sort of events leading up to the action. I was confused, unsure how to balance what many seemed to believe and what I didn’t feel was quite right. Its not necessarily a topic that the church speaks about freely or often, normally because no one seems to know what to say. I didn’t know where to look or who to ask.

After the news on Monday, the issue of suicide was brought to the forefront of my mind and of hundreds of thousands of others. After the initial shock, I decided it was time to make a position on this and I am so thankful for a friend who posted this status on Facebook:

“Robin Williams’ death has started a much needed conversation. I beseech you brothers and sisters, let us stop believing and spreading the belief that suicide is the unpardonable sin, it is not. The Adventist church does not believe or teach (individuals do not speak for the church) that the one who commits suicide is lost for eternity. God does not judge a person on one act of desperation. It is not up to us to weigh people, decide their worth, or judge what God will decide. Let us not assume the things of God we simply do not know. Samson’s death shows us that God cannot be put in a box, so let’s stop trying to put Him in one. God understands our frailty, He knows our human frame, and is loving in our times of desperate need. There are many children of God in the Bible who struggled with depression, loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness. God did not cast them away, it is not His character to do so. If we feel sadness and compassion for someone who felt so desperate as to take their own life, how much more must God, who sacrificed His own life for their life, feel towards them.”

God loves His children and wills that none should be lost. It is not my place to judge the eternal implications of someone’s choice to commit suicide. It IS my place to show love to those who are hurting, hopefully to prevent such desperate actions or to comfort those who have lost a loved one. Let us LOVE one another, as Christ loves us, for this is one of our greatest duties on earth.

I mention that I have met individuals who have had suicidal thoughts. Some have been close to me, others mere acquaintances. They have been people struggling for years or people that by all accounts are happy-go-lucky and free. I have not experienced losing someone in such a manner, but I know people who have. I myself have never had such thoughts, although I’m sure there were moments when they could have been entertained. The point I’m trying to make is that this is something that can happen to anyone, it is a condition that does not discriminate. Although not the only cause that leads to suicide, a condition that commonly precedes suicidal thoughts and actions is depression.

Depression, my friends, is no joke. It’s not fake, it’s not simple. You can’t just “get over it.” You can’t just “move on.” It’s something that has to dealt with carefully and over time with the help of a professional psychologist, close friends and family, and sometimes medication.  There are thousands of people today that suffer and struggle from clinical depression, and most of them are probably not getting the help they need.  Part of this might have to do with the fact that most people struggling with depression tend to isolate themselves, not wanting to be a burden to others. This shuts them off from the very sources of care and love that would be able to help them through these extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous times.

If someone expresses thoughts of depression or suicide to you – LISTEN. Be present, show you care. Your persistent choice of showing them love might make all the difference.

If you are depressed – TELL SOMEONE. You are not a burden, you’re a treasure. You are worth cherishing, worth loving. Maybe no one does understand what you’re going through, but they understand that you are special and loved and deserve not only to live, but to live abundantly. Please, seek the help you need.

To continue the Facebook status from my friend:

“If you are feeling desperation, sadness, loneliness, or have thoughts of hurting yourself know that God is with you in the mire. You are not alone and there is help. There are people who understand, will listen, and who can help.”

We are here to help each other. If you or know someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Your call is free and confidential, and will be answered be a trained counselor at a local crisis center.

Robin Williams was truly a man loved by the world. He touched the lives of thousands through his own, unique spark and now the world is a little duller because he’s gone. Zelda Williams, Robin’s daughter, wrote a heartbreaking letter after her father’s passing with a small note of thanks to his fans saying, “While I’ll never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, theres minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions. It doesn’t help the pain, but at least its a burden countless others now know we carry, and so many have offered to help lighten the load.”

To Zelda and the rest of Williams’ close family and friends, our thoughts and prayers go out to you. May the Lord wrap His arms of comfort around you and grant you peace.

-Wandering Minstrelette




8 thoughts on “I am Pagliacci”

  1. I hear you loud, and clear, Juliana; thanks for your heart-felt confession, and compassion toward Robin, and all who walk that deadly, lonely walk of depressions in all its degrees. Spencerville truly has an elder for such a time as this.
    ~ mma

  2. Great blog, we need to be talking about this, espicially in the Church. We need to recognize that just as there is illness in the body, there is also illness in the mind and as you said it doesn’t discriminate. The statistics of those who struggle with some sort of mental illness in a given year is staggering. We need more education and more conversation. Honored you shared my status in your blog.

  3. I so appreciate your candid presentation and that it was picked up and published for SDA readers. Suicide knows no limits. It cuts across all strata and leaves many sufferers in its wake including believers. I have experienced this first hand. My firstborn died by suicide. I have since written a book about my experience,
    actually God picked the words and I wrote them down for the blessing of many. May you continue to write as He gives you words. And I will continue to blog on the topic of grief on social media. Blessings, Gracie

    1. Gracie, I thank you for your kind words. I’m am so sorry for your loss… I pray that God will continue to strengthen you and use you to reach out to others who are sufferinh through similar situations. What is the title of your book? And you say you have a blog? I would like to read both. God bless you.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this. I found your article, not here on-line, but in the Adventist World magazine. I was absentmindedly thumbing through it over a lunch break at the place where I was volunteering a few days after my friend took his own life.

    The news came while I was still processing an extraordinarily painful break-up, and while simultaneously trying to find work out of state and a place to live. Hearing about my friend’s suicide added some serious shock on top of the stress and trauma of being without a place to call home and feeling severe isolation from the break-up. I found myself in a seriously difficult emotional state of shock that came and went in waves of uncontrollable grief and disorientation.

    My friends back home didn’t know my other friend who died, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them about it. I was afraid I would burden them, or that they wouldn’t understand, and so I isolated myself in the same way as you stated in your article. After a few days of trying to keep it bottled inside, one afternoon something broke apart in me and I felt more helpless and lost than ever before in my life. I had been through counseling for my own suicidal tendencies many years ago, and the trauma of my friend’s death brought many of those reflexes back.

    Your article and the lady that I spoke with on the crisis hotline were the only forms of release and understanding that I had available that week. It didn’t take the pain away, but it at least helped me know that there was someone out there who wanted to help, who saw the suffering and wanted to do something, anything to replace that pain with a sense of love. And that got me through that hour, through that day. Since then I’ve had other people come into my life that have also helped.

    All of this shows me that that although our current culture promotes selfishness over true community, there are still happenings of synchronicity such as this because of faith and love in action. You didn’t know Robin Williams, but you felt like you needed to write that article. (I don’t normally read religious magazines, but that day I did.)

    It reminds me that love in action is what we all need. I look forward to doing more of that in my life.

    Thank you Juliana!

    1. John,

      Your story brought tears to my eyes…

      I’m so terribly sorry about the loss of your friend. There are truly no words for such an experience… But I am also thankful for the steps you have chosen to take for yourself – doing that is extremely hard and takes a lot of bravery.

      Honestly, I am at a loss of what to say except that I thank God for having that magazine cross paths with you to give you hope and release when you needed it most. I thank God that although you don’t normally read religious magazines, you chose to read that one. I thank God that my writing has been used to inspire you to have a new outlook on life and to choose to live as love in action. I thank God for your writing to me – you have been a blessing to me.

      Feel free to write back at any time. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to add you to my prayer list. You will now forever be in my prayers.

      John, may you always choose to live a life of faith and action. I pray God will carry you close to His heart forever, as I know He so greatly desires.


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