Thoughts on Untimely Deaths
I was just shutting down my computer last night, when I started to reminisce about a friend I lost many years ago, and began to think about my reaction to his death. I compared it with what I’ve seen on Facebook this week: three online friendships ended, a lot of criticism of a respected blogger, long threads filled with nastiness, all reactions to the death of Robin Williams.
Reading the whole spectrum of comments about that famous comedian, from those convincing us he is burning in hell to others lamenting that the world is a sadder place without him, made me think about my friend; about how his life was so sinful in many ways, yet how my heart is always touched by the memories of his kindnesses and thoughtfulness.
We grew up in a small country town in Queensland.
It was a very unremarkable town, and Robbie’s family were quite unremarkable in most ways. Except that his parents were swingers. I don’t mean beautiful celebrities that partied their way around Hollywood, but just your average, middle aged swingers. They regularly swapped partners with other unremarkable, ageing swingers.
Hard-core pornography was freely available in their home, and was often just playing in the background, in much the same way as most people would have the radio on for company.
He went to my Catholic school; his family was nominally Anglican. Such was Robbie’s upbringing.
By the time we were around 15 or 16, Robbie had embraced the gay lifestyle. A couple of years later, we met up in Brisbane, where Robbie was part of the gay clubbing scene. I would sometimes go dancing with him and his gay friends. Lots of 80’s dance music, lots of Eartha Kitt.
And for Robbie, lots of heroin, as well.
This is what I remember about Robbie: I remember him talking about his clients – he was a hairdresser in an upmarket salon – he would listen to the tragic stories of the rich women who were using anti-depressants to numb the pain of their lonely lives, or were perhaps alcoholics. He felt so sorry for them. He wished he could help them. He liked to make them feel better about themselves, by doing their hair really well.
I remember sharing a house with him, and thinking I could hear his car come home. When he didn’t come upstairs, I thought I had been mistaken. The next morning, he burst through the front door, flustered and disoriented. He had come home the previous night, after shooting up at a friend’s house, but had passed out in his car and was now in a daze, unaware of whether it was day or night.
I remember driving with him to a brothel to try and persuade our friend to leave there and get a different job. She wanted to be a prostitute, but Robbie didn’t think it was right. He was very upset about it, but she wouldn’t leave with us.
I remember when my first little baby was born: Robbie bought her a beautiful plush golliwog. It was very beautiful and expensive – from a specialty store: I lost at a hotel in while travelling and have never seen one like it since.
I remember when he gave my daughter her first haircut – she was eating an ice-cream and sitting in her highchair. She hadn’t had a nap that day, and went to sleep while he was cutting her baby hair. He was so very gentle with her. He loved little babies, in a very innocent way.
I remember when he found out that I was leaving town. I was newly-married and we were moving to Mt. Isa – almost two thousand kilometres away. He couldn’t rest until he finally found me to say good-bye. That was the last time I saw Robbie.
No-one knew whether or not he had overdosed intentionally; he had not long recovered from hepatitis, and some friends speculated that he may have contracted the AIDS virus.
At his funeral, I saw his parents. They seemed …. relieved.
Robbie had asked that Edith Piaf’s ‘No Regrets’ be played at his funeral. I’m sure by that time, his eternal soul had no desire whatsoever for such a song, but it was played.
What a piece of irony. Everyone there had regrets about Robbie’s life and death.
I suppose when a friend dies, or even a celebrity, we hope that they haven’t gone to hell.
Robbie was very mixed up, addicted, an active homosexual. He sometimes lied to get money for drugs. He probably did far worse than that as well. He never stole from me, he was never rude to me.
He had been brought up with no real family support, and no decent catechesis.
And yet we know that God’s Law is inscribed on every human heart. Like me and all my friends of that time, he chose a sinful lifestyle.
Some of us repented and converted. Some died. Some … I don’t know about the others.
I trust in God’s infinite Mercy.
When we pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, we say, “Jesus, I trust in You”.
We say, “Have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
That includes people like Robbie, and Robin Williams, and IS terrorists and the abortion provider down the road, and my ex-husband.
I know that if I could love someone like Robbie, and see through his flaws a reflection of God, however dim or tarnished that may be, then how much more must God love him.
How much more forgiving must God be, how much more tenderly must He have watched over my friend.
And I have to ask, if I wish for my friend to have everlasting life, then how much more does God want my friend to be in heaven with Him?