When beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life in August 2014, his three grown children were left to grieve him.
Now his eldest, Zachary, is opening up about his healing process as part of a moving suicide-awareness campaign. Zak, 36, recently posed for a portrait by photographer Mariangela Abeo as part of her Faces of Fortitude project.
The portrait series seeks to provide "a safe, stigma-free space" for people whose lives have been "personally affected by attempted or completed suicide," according to the Faces of Fortitude website.
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The campaign invites the portrait subjects to discuss their experiences during the portrait session with Abeo, who began the project with a self-portrait and a story about her own brother's suicide. See Abeo’s first photographs of Williams, below.
For Zak Williams, the difficult process of grieving his father’s death had the added complication of taking place in public.
"There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this," Williams told Abeo during their session. "To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly."
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Williams described the pressure of "grieving with the whole world," and how he finally managed to shut out the world and deal with the loss of his father on his own terms.
“When you’re grieving and going out into the public to seek validations, it’s very fleeting,” said Williams. “I was seeking support outwardly and not from my family. It’s not where you will find sustained support." The actor's son realised that he "had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward," because he couldn't help anyone else until he'd taken care of himself.
"I realised I wasn’t broken," he told EW. "There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
Zak Williams also serves on the board of Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Glenn Close to support people living with mental illness and end the stigma through education. Robin Williams suffered from severe depression before his death.
On the Faces of Fortitude Instagram, photographer and mental health advocate Abeo describes being "overwhelmed" by the thought of photographing Williams, worried that she would say the wrong thing. ("Would I accidentally say 'Oh Captain, My Captain' and burst into tears?" she writes.)
But she found that their shared experiences with losing loved ones to suicide bridged the gap between them. "For 90 minutes, we were just two people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain," she writes.
Abeo will be sharing additional photos and quotes from Williams throughout the week on Instagram. For more information on Faces of Fortitude, visit the website.
For support for you or someone you know suffering with suicidal thoughts, visit the Samaritans website.