Friends Forever - a true story
Best Friends Forever - a true story
Today, like many days, mental health is really on my mind. I’d like to tell you the story of a friend I had a few years ago. (It’s long, but it would mean the world to me if you read it.)
You can skip directly to the TL:DR (too long:didn’t read) at the very end if you want.
I met “Sarah” when we both joined an online mental health support group. From her profile picture, I could tell she’d been through a lot for a 36 year old. Sarah was bald, very overweight and she used oxygen. She also now had a bipolar disorder diagnosis and so did I (I was diagnosed in 1999).
I didn’t expect that Sarah would feel up to posting much, but she did, and she was wickedly funny. We hit it off right away. It wasn’t long before we exchanged phone numbers and soon we were chatting nearly every day. Often we’d FaceTime so we could see each other’s faces and share our lives.
We became so close so fast that I felt like I had known Sarah all my life. I learned that she had diabetes, an underactive thyroid, scarred lungs and she had beaten a battle with breast cancer. I was amazed by her and her strength. I began confiding in her and it wasn’t long before I was planning a trip to her city.
One day Sarah didn’t show up to post in our support group, like she had every day. I left her several messages there and later tried her phone but got no answer. I figured she’d contact me when she had a moment.
Two days went by with no word from her. I got worried, but since we’d met online and she lived about 1000 miles away from me, I hadn’t had a chance to visit. I had no one from her family to contact or any other friends who knew her.
I never heard from Sarah again. I missed her terribly and couldn’t quite believe she had ghosted me, but eventually of course I went on with my life.
Three months later, I got a call from a strange number. I don’t usually answer those, but this time something (God?) told me to answer. It was a woman who asked my name and then asked me if I knew her daughter Sarah.
I told her absolutely I did and that I was so glad she’d called because Sarah and I had lost touch. I asked her how she had gotten my number and she told me from Sarah. She then started crying and my heart fell to the floor.
“Sarah’s cancer has come back, hasn’t it.” I was so upset that I started shaking.
“No. Sarah died by suicide a month ago,” her mom finally choked out.
I was stunned. I couldn’t form words. Sure, Sarah and I were both bipolar, and had talked about her other illnesses too, but she was so strong and funny and friendly!
I said, “I thought you told me Sarah had given you my number.” She said, “she did, in a roundabout way. I found it in her phone when I got it back from Verizon and got access to it. I read through your messages and realized you were a close friend.” I confirmed I was and gave her a brief rundown of our friendship.
She then said, “Please tell me about my daughter.”
I spent the next hour and a half telling her everything her daughter and I had shared. We both cried. There were a lot of things she didn’t know about her life in recent years (after all, Sarah was 36 and living on her own).
As Sarah’s mental health apparently declined, she had withdrawn from her family. I was completely surprised because Sarah told me she was close to her family. Plus she was always smiling and funny and upbeat when we spoke or FaceTimed. Her mother explained to me that Sarah had always hidden the worst parts of her mental and physical illnesses and she had even died quietly by overdosing on her insulin.
Sarah’s mom told me, “we do have reason to believe she tried to change her mind at the last minute. She was found with an unlit cigarette in her mouth just steps from the outside door to her apartment building. We think she was going to ask someone for help by getting a light from them outside and asking for them to call 911. But her blood sugar bottomed out and she collapsed.”
When I hung up the phone, I was so heartbroken. I couldn’t believe that such a vibrant soul was gone from the world. I looked back at our messages, still in shock. I couldn’t believe that my life had been touched again by suicide when I myself was bipolar and also a crisis counselor. This was the third suicide among my friends, which is part of the reason I am a crisis counselor and certified in Psychological First Aid.
I decided I needed to do something, anything to remember her by. At that time I ran a Facebook page called the Empathetrix on which I posted my inspirational collage art for my 16,000 followers. I decided to do one for Sarah. It is attached.
The picture shows a little girl headed towards a white light. She’s carrying a backpack and on it is “I am in pain.” There is an angel crying, and she is carrying a teddy bear. Sarah slept with one every night. The quote by CS Lewis reads, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
I miss you, Sarah. I’m sorry that I didn’t know you were in such pain. I’m sorry you didn’t feel like you could tell anyone. I won’t forget you.
[TL:DR: I had a friend I met online in a mental health support group who ghosted me after several months and I didn’t know why until her mother called me and told me she died by suicide by overdosing on insulin. I made the attached collage for her.]