Robin Williams's death hits and the news surrounding it hits me in a few ways. First, my sister committed suicide at 15. I can't say what she was thinking or feeling at the time, I can only say that it shattered my family. Shattered it. We all regarded one another differently. We couldn't help it. In some ways it brought us closer. In some ways it tore us apart.
More recently, my father, a retired politician and public figure in my home state of Montana, suffered a stroke in 2009. While we were showered with love and support from friends, family and loved ones as well as former staff and supporters, the comments on the news stories of his stroke were--how to say this kindly--horrifying. People said he deserved it. People told him a debilitating stroke was too kind for him.
As a daughter, it was devastating.
Look, I get it. You might not agree with my dad. Hell, I didn't always agree with him. But he was, first, foremost, and always, my father. He taught me how to catch a pop up fly ball. He taught me to change a tire. He taught me that I could change my own oil. He taught me to catch a fish. He taught me to love the land. Believe it or not, he taught me how to be a woman who respects herself. He was the man who expected great things from me and any partner who might consider himself good enough for me. He was, by no means, perfect. But he was my dad. He hugged me when I cried, he rewarded me when I succeeded, he bragged on me constantly.
Having been a U.S. Senator for nearly 20 years, I knew that not everyone liked his policies. Hell, I didn't like them all. But when he suffered a stroke that left him nearly paralyzed on his left side, politics didn't matter. He was, and is, my dad.
The comments on the local Montana newspaper websites were devastating. I wanted to respond to every commentor: you don't know him, he didn't hold you when you got beat up by the bully down the street, you just don't get how much he cares. But obviously I couldn't.
All I can say is this: thank God that Twitter and FB weren't the big part of my life they are now back in 2009. I would have shut down completely, much like Zelda Williams. I can't change internet trolls. I can't tell them how hurtful and horrible they are, since I believe in my heart that they already know it.
All I can do is to shrug and to understand. And that, frankly, sucks.
The mere idea that a person can't be who he or she is because of celebrity by relation sucks. The idea that someone lives to torture the already grieving heart distresses me in a way I can't express.
While I think the conversation that is happening now regarding mental health and suicide is important, I think the more important conversation is that of torture. We've had plenty of chances to discuss mental health, and we as a society are unwilling to admit that mental health is important. I get that.
What is so horrifying, and no I'm not using hyperbole here, it's fucking horrifying, is that people on social media are allowed to literally torture family members who are grieving via their posting of disparaging and mean (that's right, just plain mean) content on sites like Twitter and Instagram. But more importantly, it also happens on news sites (as it did in my family's case).
While I understand that free speech is a sacred part of what makes us a republic, I do not understand why news sites, which often review comments on stories before allowing them to be posted, do not filter out hateful or mean comments on stories of personal tragedy.
Why doesn't the Billings Gazette filter out comments like "serves him right, I hope he dies" comments on the story of my father's stroke? This was a comment I actually read, I'm not making this up.
It's not censorship, it isn't. Those sites have a policy regarding comments that violate their policies. Hate speech is not allowed. If this isn't hate speech, what is?
My heart breaks for Zelda Williams, and the family of any celebrity that grieves a personal tragedy. I only had a very very VERY small taste of what she must have experienced, and it broke my heart and tore at my soul. I applaud her for leaving social media, but grieve that she had to do so.