We live in a free society, right? No . . . wait, not if you are considering dying. People are only free to die once they have a terminal illness or six months to live. Desperate times call for desperate acts and deliberate understanding. Robin Williams had the rare, artful ability to weave and communicate messages on the silver screen, in person and now, through his death. With his health potentially affecting his livelihood, his carpe diem was to act on taking his life. The urgency of his death suggests that he wished to depart prior to becoming trapped by physical limitation or societal restraint.
Debilitating illnesses rarely allow for personal freedom. They provide entitlements and pain management to enhance quality of life. People with debilitating illness frequent the Emergency Department and are typically admitted to the hospital or other types of institutions. We care for people in order for them not to die. Robin Williams had the notoriety, likeability and means to be doted upon unrelentingly. Similar to Nelson Mandela, the only choice allotted to Mr. Williams would have been to have his life prolonged before he might rest in peace.
As a society we need to evolve on the prospect of dying being a necessary aspect of living. The death and seeming crucifixion of Robin Williams conveys the pretext that he died in order to avert past offenses against those with end-stage disease. All too often, people are sinfully encouraged to live too long. The disgrace attached to dying persuades most people to do anything and everything to not die. Death is rarely appreciated in conjunction with dignity. My book, WISHES TO DIE FOR, explores changing this disparity. People generally know what they want but are not always effective at articulating their wish list. Generally, wishes need to meet specific standards before healthcare providers will honor them.
Societal standards and conditions necessary to allow death to occur need to be lessened, while paying homage to wishes that add grace to dying. The promise of Robin Williams’ brilliant movie, What Dreams May Come, prompts those hopes and dreams that exist for transitioning from this life. Might individuals be set free and still be loved to death? Robin Williams’ greatest legacy may have been to lay down his life in order to send a message. His choice was to engage death freely. He could have hidden his affliction in shame, however, he chose to portray what people often confront while being strung up by the figurative noose of healthcare regulations before being allowed to die.