• Christopher Tanner

The Death of a Hero: Reflections on Changing the Future

As I sit here typing, feeling the words flow from me, I feel anguish, horror, anger, resentment, despair and an overwhelming need for a hug. Last Wednesday, we had Rebecca Hensler from Grief Beyond Belief on our show. The night was an emotional one as we learned about dealing with grief as a nonbeliever. I delved into the latter part of the show with a slightly emotional story about my father in law and his passing this year from a sudden heart attack. He was only 65 years old and there is still a hole in my heart that will not ever be filled. My father in law was a hero fighting in Vietnam, and raising a wonderful family while sacrificing his needs for the needs of the family. My father in law brought joy to us and I can proudly say he was a hero in his own way.

Tonight, I have learned that another hero of mine has passed away. The inter-webs have reported that Robin Williams has died at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide. Now many of you may scoff at the word hero, some may even lampoon me for saying so. But to me Robin Williams, even though his downfalls, is a hero in every right. A hero is defined as this, “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” I do not wish to get hung up on dictionary definitions that paint heroes only as men and I will openly state for the record that all genders have the ability to be heroes casting aside unnecessary and obsolete limitations. But this definition of a distinguished, courageous, and admired individual who has done noble things is what drives me to label Mr. Williams a hero.


Robin has brought much laughter into my life and I have to thank him to for his part in who I am. I started watching Robin at an early age. Even in a restrictive household, my mother loved Robin. My first movie was Good Morning Vietnam with the occasional fast forward whenever the R rating would postulate something my mother disagreed with. But for the most part, Robin Williams has been a part of my life for many, many years.

What Robin has brought to the table is laughter, a resounding determination to succeed, a desire to fix his addictions, and a love for humanity. He supported many charities throughout his life including comic relief.  His heart was always there for the kids and he has contributed to the world in a way that he will always be remembered.

As I sit here, struggling to hold back the tears, I reflect on the joy Robin Williams brought to my life.  For me, Robin held my heart and brought laughter in many troubled times and even felt like family even though we never met.  While I will never down play the tragedy that his family now has to live through, I will share my heartfelt words for someone who helped mold my life.  The loss that is Robin Williams will create scaring for his family a million times the pain that I now feel.  I never want to down play that, or to have the reader assume my affliction is the same.  It is not the same but my pain is real and what I hope for is to spark a greater need for mental healthcare within our society.  We will never have the chance to go back and ask Robin why he did what he did.  Nor do I feel it necessary to discuss it.  What is done is done and we can never turn to the past.


What we can do though, moving forward, is draw attention to suicide prevention and awareness. We as secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics and nonbelievers can come together and unite in a defining way to promote and instill suicide and depression awareness within our communities.  We need to take a stand and support these organizations that help people.  We need to talk about suicide and death openly to help reduce the stigma behind people who have depression.  This is our country, our world, and the people living in it are our species.  We must band together and raise the flag to help those who have depression to speak out and get help.  We must take action to help those in need, those with pain, and help promote the science behind healing the issues that depression brings.

As I wrap up, I remember a friend from high school who had also passed away our senior year.  He committed suicide ending his 17 year old life.  I remember the funeral, I remember the burial, hell I even remember where his grave is located.  If only back then I had stood up for depression, and did not follow suit withing the crowd. If I hadn’t trailed my elders who hid behind a curtain, not wanting to deal with depression, and only wished to pray to jesus that my friend become better.  But there is no time for regrets or looking back, only time for looking forward and for taking action. 


While I cannot bring back my friend or Robin Williams, I can move forward in changing the future.  While this tragedy will grip the nation, I want to encourage all of our readers to do two things over the next few days.  First and foremost take a second to hug your family.  Tell them you love them and that if they ever need anything your door is always open.  Second please take the time to support Suicide Prevention or to help make others aware that depression is real, and only we can help make a difference.  Let’s stand up and change the world, one step at a time.


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