When the sad becomes too big

I met my friend “Lisa” about 6 years ago when she was a new mother, and a single one at that. My sister introduced us, seeing how her friend felt incredibly alone in the process and needed someone who could relate. I was a little more seasoned in the single mom arena, and we hit it off immediately. It’s not often I find friendships like this, where we go from being perfect strangers to friends who confide in each other about everything. But when I do, those are the friendships that generally hold the most meaning.

My friendship with Lisa was just like that.

Over the years we became allies. At the time, neither one of us had the other parent helping out with our kids. But we did have each other. We created a babysitting swap between the two of us, watching each other’s children to create moments of sanity and reprieve from motherhood, and a chance to maybe find love in the dating world.

Being writers, we’d share our daily life stories through long-winded emails that only the two of us could appreciate. We both blogged, and were consistent in commenting in each other’s blogs. She might have been my only reader, but her hilarious blogs garnered tons of comments from all her friends and fans appreciating the laugh.

Lisa was the kind of person who said what she was thinking, even when it’s not something that should be said out loud. She pushed the envelope when she felt like it needed pushing. She never failed to shock me, or to leave me in awe of her bravery at being unapologetically herself.

I was there when she struggled in a one-bedroom apartment with a toddler. She was there for every dating disaster I subjected myself to. We overlooked each other’s messy homes and low-income living. I celebrated with her when she found Mr. Right, got engaged, and held a beautiful wedding. She was there when I found my prince among a trove of frogs and settled into a relationship that finally made sense.

And when a series of circumstances attacked her out of left field, I watched helplessly as depression overtook my beautiful friend, leaving her a shell of the women she once was.

I’ve suffered my own bout with depression. A decade ago I lived in a large house that didn’t seem to garner any light at all. We had just lost a baby to stillbirth. My marriage was failing. And our money situation was incredibly bleak. I lived in the darkness, every day excruciatingly the same. I stopped talking to my friends or leaving the house. In return, most of my friends forgot about me. I was afraid of the dark feelings inside me, as if they were an infectious disease. Caring for my kids became exhausting. Just getting up and walking in the other room to make them something to eat made me feel so tired. So I spent most of the day lying on the couch with the curtains drawn, and I silently hoped to fall asleep and just never wake up.

When someone is going through depression, they are the last ones to admit it – at least out loud. I knew I was depressed, but I was afraid to tell anyone. Of course, it’s not like depression is easily hidden. My mom, seeing that I wasn’t capable of helping myself, pulled me aside and insisted I needed serious help. I finally made an appointment with my doctor, a wonderful woman who recognized the devastation growing like cancer inside me. And as I sat and cried on her exam table, she gently handed me a prescription for medication.

However, even after suffering and surviving depression, I feel totally incapable watching Lisa suffer through her own battle with this debilitating disease. It’s hard to know what to do as my friend falls deeper and deeper into her grief, going from a normal sadness to something that is much bigger than she is. I miss my friend, and it’s been a struggle to sidestep my personal feelings of abandonment while my friend withdraws.

After several failed attempts to contact her, I finally made a decision to consciously step back from our friendship. I didn’t know how to be there for her, and was starting to feel like she didn’t want me there anyway. And this devastated me. But our lapse in friendship only lasted a short time. Her name showed up on my phone a few days later, and I listened to her sob for a full 40 minutes – giving her no advice except to tell her “I know”, and “I’m so sorry you’re going through this”.

And then I just listened.

When I lost my baby 10 years ago, I sat in the hospital room feeling more alone than ever. My husband was gone with the kids. The nurse had left the room. But another friend of mine showed up.

“I don’t know what to say,” she told me. “I have no advice at all. But I’m just going to sit here. And I’ll be here if you need me, even if you just need to cry.” And she sat there for over an hour while I slipped in and out of sleep and tried to escape my grief. And her presence meant more to me than almost anything anyone has ever done for me.

Being a friend doesn’t require knowing all the answers, or trying to fix what’s broken. That can be the hardest thing to remember, or even to accept. But sometimes, being a friend requires nothing more than just being there – and listening.


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