As I waited for my husband in the hospital hallway, my eyes met hers for a brief second. A stranger with drooping shoulders and a weary face. She was probably a little younger than me but seemed twenty years older. The heavy burden she wore like a coat filled up the space between us, not more than five feet. She quickly dropped her eyes, but I felt compelled to speak. I'm not sure why. Perhaps, it's just because she seemed so alone. Maybe it's that compulsion I had to fill up silence. I hesitated when I realized she was waiting to enter the mental health floor. Behavioral Management they call it, in small lettering on a sign right next to the locked door. The voice inside me urged me on, and I quietly said, "Hello."
"Hi," she softly replied. She glanced up. Our eyes met again, and I refused to let go of her gaze.
"Rough day?," I asked.
"Yeah. Rough coupla' weeks."
"I'm sorry." I didn't want to pry, so I wasn't going to ask any more questions, but my few words were enough to open a door she was eager to walk through. She needed to talk so badly, she was willing to share with a stranger.
"It's my husband," she offered. "His depression's been really bad the last coupla' weeks, and he..he...you know....".
"I'm so sorry. I know that's tough."
The tears started to leak in a slow drip from the inside of her right eye. She tried to hold them back, but couldn't.
"He's been here since Thursday, and he should get to go home tomorrow, but they told me today I need to remove the guns from the home. I..I..I just can't believe we're to this point. I can't believe we're here," her voice trailed. She didn't look away. She wanted answers. Answers that I didn't have.
"I understand. Really, I do. I know how hard it is, and I hope it gets better for him and you. You're not alone, you know. Lots of other folks are going through the same thing, so don't think you're alone."
"Thank you," she whispered. And then she wiped her eyes and reached for the opening door. It was time for visiting hours. I watched her walk through the door and stood glued to the same spot on the floor, staring at the door until my husband tapped me on the shoulder. "Let's go," he said.
I had wanted to tell her it would be better in a few days. That everything would eventually be okay. That this was just a bump in the road that they would weather together. And it may be. But it may not. You see, I really DO know what she's going through. I have someone I care very much about who has struggled with depression, and I know how debilitating it can be. How overwhelming it can be. How it can overtake a person and destroy them. I know what it's like to worry that today's the day this person will give up, that hope is out of their reach and unattainable. And I know that there are many people out there without hope.
We often try to hide our troubles, sometimes out of embarrassment, often out of pain. So many folks are walking around with problems we don't even know about. Things we don't find out about until it's too late to help. I don't have the answers, but I know they're not alone. And if you love one of those folks, you are not alone. Take comfort my friend, you are not alone.
The stranger at the hospital....I hope she's okay. She had me at hello, and now I can't let her go.
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