Robin Williams's Filipino connections

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

The “S” Factor

Sunday, August 17, 2014


I LEARNED about comic legend Robin Williams's death in the news and as I join his countless fans and admirers in mourning his untimely demise, I was struck by this news item which detailed that his second former wife was a Fil-American. Robin Williams's Philippine connection, if I can say so, was Marsha Garces whose father comes from Bohol province in the Philippines while her mother is from Finland.

His second Philippine connection, albeit a fleeting one, involved him posing casually with friends of mine, Sandra Alm and her friend, Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro editor in chief Grace Albasin.

Williams's death was yet another painful reminder that all of us, be they rich, powerful and famous or average people on the street, are mortals which means we can die anytime.

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What I've read about Williams's death are none too pleasant as reports linked it to depression and drugs which are two of the most vicious enemies to a person's well being. There was a backlash on media coverage about his death. Big fan On a related side note, I recently came across a study on happy people around the world. The result shows that it is the Danes or natives of Denmark who are the most happy.

The reason given for their bright disposition was they have “low expectations.” A recent study conducted by Eden Strategy Institute showed the Philippines ranked third behind Singapore and Malaysia on the Asian countries’ Happiness Index.

The study was based on more than 200 million social media accounts in the five countries covered by the study. It showed the Philippines scored 90 points in the Happiness Index, while Singapore scored 518 points, followed by Malaysia with 245 points.

That study showed that Filipinos “are among those who smile and laugh more often compared to other people in this planet.” I asked some friends here in Charlotte, North Carolina to share their thoughts on this.

Malette Aquino-Oliveros, incumbent president of the Filipino American communities of the Carolinas (FACC) said she was a big fan of Robin Williams. Resilient “I'm a fan of Robin Williams. Loved him on “Bird Cage,” “Jumanji,” “Night at the Museum,” “Bicentennial man,” and so many movies. Who can also forget Mork Mindy and his voice as the Genie in Aladdin?” she said. On her Facebook post after learning of Williams's death, Oliveros told her friends that “awareness is the key factors to this silent disease (depression)... hug your loved ones now.”

It had been said that Filipinos are among the most resilient of peoples around the world as evidenced lately by the victims of supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda back home in the Philippines). Rain or shine, crisis after crisis, calamity after calamity, Filipinos are known to smile and laugh off their problems which amaze and befuddle foreigners.

What makes us Filipinos, even Fil-Americans so resilient? Former FACC president Lynn Lorenzo-Polk said it's our devotion to our religion that helps sustain us and shape our values and culture.

Religion

A Filipino acquaintance who requested for anonymity told me that “we are religious.” It's also our being religious that allows us to forgive and forget the atrocities committed against us by our corrupt leaders back home but that's another story. “I think it's our religion. We are mostly Catholic and we always believe that God will take care of things,” Polk said.

Another Fil-American friend of mine, Nellisa “Beth Perez” Kremer agrees saying no matter how dark and challenging times get, Filipinos always look for that light in the darkness. “When we are spiritually abounded with God’s love, we are content and we face the day with a smile and no room for depression,” Beth said. She also cites the Filipino's deep religious faith which allows us to hope for something better in the future.

“As one of the most religious people in the world, we pray and attend worship services regularly in the company of our family, who again we want to, take care of and provide the necessities in life,” she said. Example Polk, who's been in the US for so many years, said she never reached those low moments in life. “Never in my lowest moments have I been depressed,” she said.

The Filipino family's close family ties is also cited as another factor in the Filipino's continued optimism and positive outlook in life, Fil-Am friend Maria Corazon Benrokiya- Ducusin said. Ducusin's view is shared by Nelissa who said “Filipinos are family oriented people; we face our challenges together as family.

We are there for each other no matter what happen therefore we stand strong.” We see these close family ties and bayanihan (community) spirit here in Charlotte, North Carolina whenever a Fil-American is giving birth, sick or having problems and his or her friends rally around to support him or her. “And most of all is our kind nature where we are willing to help anyone,” Ducusin said. Over at Greensboro, North Carolina, a Fil-American Nenette Zink said Filipinos look to their parents for guidance and example.

Positive step “We saw how our parents raised us the best they know how, even in times when there is hardly any food on the table. We saw how hardworking they are. And they are accustomed to just being outdoors with friends and families,” Zink said. The Filipino's resilience allows him or her to laugh at himself or herself and the situations they find themselves in, even if it looks hopeless.

Back in the Philippines, whenever they learn someone is seeing a psychiatrist, they immediately assume that he or she is insane, rather than seeing it as a positive step toward healing. For by seeking counsel, one deals and eventually overcomes depression, whether it be caused by alcohol, drugs or any traumatic experience.

The facts I gathered about Robin Williams showed that he also suffered from bipolar disorder, which causes extreme mood swings. Neth Zink told me that depression affects every country and race and it usually affects those who expect so much and receive so little. “It also depends if there is help available to conquer that depression.”

I agree with Neth that family, friends, peer pressure and expectations are all factors that cause depression. To overcome it, he or she should have the courage to accept that they are experiencing depression and they need help. While we mourn for the loss of Robin Williams, we also pray that he regales the heavens with his jokes. That others like him continue to entertain us mortals who still continue to live in this Earth.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 17, 2014.

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