Robin Williams's son poses for suicide awareness project

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. 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.

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“There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside. It wasn't just the survivor network for me, it was the whole world.” . . Zak is the son of beloved comedian Robin Williams- a suicide loss survivor, entrepreneur, investor, and mental health advocate. He serves on the board for Bring Change To Mind, an org whose mission is to end the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by creating campaigns, storytelling movements, and youth programs to encourage diverse & cultural conversation around mental health. I prepared for days before, venting to a dear friend moments before Zak arrived. Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I was overwhelmed.Then my friend said something important -they said, “Be yourself, share your pain. His pain is the same.Remember who you are and why you’re there.” So that’s what I did. In front of me sat a man who lost a loved one to suicide. A man who understood the same level of devastation as I did, as so many of us do. I shared my story, of attempt and loss. Then I was honored that he shared with me his feelings of loss, devastation and growth. THAT is what I strive for:To create a safe space for ANYONE who’s been touched by suicide so they feel able to share. For 90 min, we were just 2 people who had lost someone, and found a common ground in our pain. After he left, I packed up, got in my car and started to drive.Then immediately I realized, OH YEAH, I’m not ok. I pulled over to the nearest park and I sobbed for 30 minutes. The tears were a culmination of what I’d accomplished in 18 months, they were hearing this man tell me my project was “extraordinary” and that he was happy to be part of it. That somehow, through the death of my sweet brother, I’ve been able to provide a safe space for Zak and so many other people. It was a defining moment for me and for my project. I’m so fortunate to share words & photos from Zak’s session with you all week.

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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 realized 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 realized 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.

20 PHOTOS
Robin Williams Quotes
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Robin Williams Quotes

“You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty

“Comedy is acting out optimism.”

​Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty

“You have this idea that you’d better keep working otherwise people will forget. And that was dangerous.”

Photo Credit: NBC via Getty

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.”

​Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”

Photo Credit: Alan Levenson via Getty

“We’ve had cloning in the South for years. It’s called cousins.”

Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures via Getty

“If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you… I don’t see an intelligent, confident man… I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my fucking life apart.” (From Good Will Hunting)

Photo Credit: Alamy

“Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.”

Photo Credit: Bob Grant via Getty

“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” (From August Rush)

Photo Credit: Vera Anderson via Getty

“We were romantics. We didn’t just read poetry. We let it drip from our tongues like honey. Spirits soared. Women swooned, and gods were created, gentlemen. Not a bad way to spend an evening, eh?” (From Dead Poet’s Society)

Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures via Getty

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. You hear it? Carpe—hear it? Carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” (From Dead Poet’s Society)

Photo Credit: Frank Edwards via Getty

“Okra is the closest thing to nylon I’ve ever eaten. It’s like they bred cotton with a green bean. Okra, tastes like snot. The more you cook it, the more it turns into string.”

​Photo Credit: Jack Mitchell, Getty

“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.” (From Patch Adams)

Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty

“You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I’ll guarantee you’ll win.” (From Patch Adams)

Photo Credit: Universal Pictured via Getty

“Do you think God gets stoned? I think so … look at the platypus.”

Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures via Getty

“The Moon… It hangs like a testicle in the sky…”

Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Getty

“I believe in destiny. There must be a reason that I am as I am. There must be.”

Photo Credit: Scott Gries, Getty

“Most of all, I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful. Just have a back-up profession like welding’.”

Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Getty

"What's right is what's left if you do everything else wrong."

Photo Credit: Time & Life Pictures via Getty

“Death is nature’s way of saying, ‘your table is ready.’”

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. via Getty

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