After nearly five years since Robin Williams took his own life, the late comedian’s eldest son, Zachary Williams, now appears in Faces of Fortitude, a campaign from photographer and mental health advocate Mariangela Abeo designed to provide “a safe space for those touched by suicide.”

Robin Williams
Credit: Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP Images

Faces of Fortitude began when Abeo took a self-portrait of herself, shared it online, and included her thoughts about the loss of her brother, James Duruz, who committed suicide. Abeo also speaks regularly about her own suicide attempt after surviving a sexual assault. Now, Faces of Fortitude exists as a whole photo series shot by Abeo that features those affected by similar tragedies.

Williams, 36, is one of the latest to be interviewed and photographed by Abeo for the campaign.

Credit: Mariangela Abeo/Faces of Fortitude

“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,” he says. “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 grieving with the whole world.”

Robin, the Oscar-winning actor and comic behind such films as Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Patch Adams, died by suicide at the age of 63 on Aug. 11, 2014.

“The past three years have been healing for me,” his son explains. “I started to feel bad for myself, I was seeking solace and healing through my grieving. Once I took out all the inputs and elements of self medications, it all became really raw. It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there. I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”

Credit: Mariangela Abeo/Faces of Fortitude

“When you’re grieving and going out into the public to seek validations, it’s very fleeting,” he adds. “I was seeking support outwardly and not from my family. It’s not where you will find sustained support. A lot of people wanted to be part of the process for so many reasons, especially if you are a people pleaser. Public grieving times out quickly, it’s on a public and press media cycle. It’s so important to prioritize your grieving process. You can’t be there for others until you first have done the work and processed for yourself. Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like. It’s something I wish I had realized for myself.”

Abeo describes Williams’ photo shoot as “the most emotional day of my project, hands down.”

“I prepared for days before, even venting to one dear friend moments before Zak arrived,” she recalls. “Would I say the wrong thing? Would I make a fool of myself? Would I accidentally say ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ and burst into tears? I felt so overwhelmed. Then my friend said something so important: ‘Be yourself, and share your pain. His pain is the same. Remember who you are and why you are there.’ So that’s what I did.”

Find out more info about Faces of Fortitude.

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