It’s been almost five years since Robin Williams tragically took his own life, and now his oldest son Zachary is helping give a voice to those who’ve lost loved ones to suicide.
The 36-year-old is participating in the “Faces of Fortitude” campaign by photographer Mariangela Abeo.
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“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.
In the series of photos posted to Instagram, people with loved ones who have committed suicide open up about their struggles.
“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,” Zachary says. “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 grieving with the whole world.”
He continues, “The past three years have been healing for me. I started to feel bad for myself, I was seeking solace and healing through my grieving. Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw. It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there. I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
Zachary also gives advice to others working through the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
“It’s so important to prioritize your grieving process,” he says. “You can’t be there for others until you first have done the work and processed for yourself. Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like. It’s something I wish I had realized for myself.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.