A message to Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda

As I hurtle, disbelievingly, towards 29 August, the 10-year anniversary of my Dad’s death, I am catapulted back to those first days in 2004 on hearing of Robin Williams’ suicide this morning.

They call suicide “grieving with the volume turned up”. For anyone to lose a parent is hell, but to know that they did it by their own hands and because they were so unhappy is almost unbearable. They say suicide usually leaves 6 “survivors”, in my case it was 4 immediate family members: my sister, my mum, my dad’s brother – our uncle – and me.

The survivors will go over and over the events of the past few months. What could have they have done differently? Why would that person leave them? The infinite questions usually beginning with the word “why”; the all-consuming guilt; the anger, which if it doesn’t come immediately will come later; the feelings of abandonment; the absolute desperation that your father who was there one minute is now no more, can consume your entire being.

Having the perspective of 10 years of grief which has moved through the 5 stages and then some, I can safely say to Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, that, whilst her life will never be the same and she will miss and love her Dad every single day, she will find a way to be happy eventually. I know this because I was 22 when my Dad died and she is 25 and I know this, because, despite everything, I am happy. One of the most poignant things my Mum said to me sitting in her kitchen about two weeks after my Dad had died was “Jane, there are no shortcuts, we’ve just got to get through this”. Knowing and accepting early on that this would be the biggest challenge of my life to date, and since, helped prepare me for the immensely difficult task ahead.

For our family it wasn’t just the emotional upheaval of coping with the death, it was the practical implications too. My sister and I were just students with no money and who totally and utterly relied on our Dad for survival. Dealing with a person’s probate and estate who has taken their own life, in my experience, is hugely complex. I soon adopted the mantra for my Dad of “complicated in life, complicated in death”.

That first year was just a blur: waking up and remembering he wasn’t here being number one for worst feeling on earth; trying to continue with our lives, me getting a part-time job, my sister going back to university; raising thousands of pounds for charity SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide) and, most importantly, learning to laugh again. I couldn’t decide what to wear from one day to the next but within 6 months I’d decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. I guess to me, the small things didn’t matter anymore.

So, Zelda, I will say this to you. Be prepared for people you have known a long time to let you down because they cannot deal with your grief, but equally be prepared for the most amazing and warm support from the most unlikely of places. Be prepared for this to be hard work. Don’t try and ignore your grief, coming to terms with a loss so huge can take years. Be prepared for people to say stupid and ignorant things about suicide which will likely break your heart, but which ultimately you will get used to and will be able to challenge with reason and logic. Be prepared to miss your Dad more than you ever imagined missing another person but be prepared, eventually, to remember him not as depressed and unhappy but as the way my Dad was before: larger than life.