Grandma, Robin, Joan, AIDS and more

I’ve resisted writing this post because so many people have commented on Robin Williams’ passing- what could I add? The passing of Joan Rivers, a recent article about how we old-time gay folk should stop obsessing over what we experienced in the 80s- when AIDS was first labeled GRID (gay-related immune disease)- combined with my reading the book Healing the Heart of Democracy reminded me that I must never stop speaking my truth.

Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall and now Joan Rivers. I’m beginning to understand what my paternal Grandmother went through. She was aging rapidly and stopped going out. A wise Doctor felt that some part of it was due to so many of her long-time friends passing (she had been very active in the church which had employed her late husband). It was suggested she move to Vancouver where her other son & family live. As I understand it, the move got her active with a new group of people: whether it gave her a longer life I can’t say but it improved the quality.

After losing so many young lives to AIDS (and fear and inaction) I moved here to Ohio and it was good. And some bad.. life’s like that.

But I’m not as resilient as once I was and I find the death of so many comics & actors & writers- whether influential in my youth or more recently- difficult to process. I know the rational responses: many lived a good life (or at least a long life), some contributed rather strongly to their own demise, every minute I’ve had since AIDS first swept across this continent is a gift denied many, etc.

That first group (stand-up comics and comedic performers) in particular touches on something that my brother said when eulogizing our Mum. He focused on three things she taught us; “the first has to do with respect for television comedy, the second with what I want to call ‘no taboos’ and the third with ‘no airs’.” Robin and Joan clearly fit the first two and stories seem to support the last aspect fitting each of them as well.

I can’t say I mourn every person’s passing or that I could function if I tried. But try as I might I’ve never been able to dismiss any person’s death as a trifle. To the extent I can not totally avoid judging someone, I feel that there are some things I can never be in a position to understand well enough to do so- the decision to end one’s life is one of them.

No matter what the Universe throws at me, I just can’t quit. (sounds like a C&W song in the making….) I used to think that I could never kill myself because I couldn’t do that to my family and friends. And that certainly is part of it; having been blessed with more than one circle of love I know what it’s like to have someone leave the bounds of this earthly coil too soon. I’ve seen what those left behind experience. But to stop there is to say that suicide is inherently a selfish act. And that is far too simplistic.

And even if that’s an accurate assessment in any particular situation, is it the sum total of the lesson?

I was a volunteer with ACT (the Aids Committee of Toronto) and sat with friends at Casey House (Hospice) or helped them in their homes. How dare anyone judge the life-ending decision of those who faced what those souls faced (and others face even now: see Physician Assisted Death ).

Slapping on the ‘selfish’ label is yet another approach that de-legitimizes the reality of mental illnesses. Many people are quick to parrot the expression ‘the mind is the most powerful weapon we have’ when it comes to ‘self improvement’ and yet would deny what damage it may do when turned inward – a mental ‘autoimmune disorder’ of sorts.

It will be said (if not done already: Hollywood Life and on CNN) that Joan Rivers contributed to her own demise by undergoing yet more elective surgery. Vanity, self-loathing (terms oft thrown at LBGT folk) career-enhancements at the expense of ‘natural beauty’ – we are quick to judge those who we demand so much from. Yes, that includes political and religious leaders as well as the cultural icons that often are followed and worshiped/hated to a greater degree than the first two.

Finally, the hypocrisy of such judgements from a society that seems bound and determined to place self-interest above all else is immense. The neo-con arguments of trickle-down economics and the supremacy of corporations are still far-too ingrained in the American psyche.

Kindness and empathy seem to be in short supply these days.


Update 11/17/2014:
Yesterday Peter Sagal (perhaps best known as Host of NPR’s ‘Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me‘ tweeted:

Judging from the tabs, we want our celebs to be perfect and as horrible as we are, simultaneously.
— Peter Sagal (@petersagal) November 16, 2014

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