“The impact of cancer lingers well after treatment ends. It affects relationships and emotional health. There is no happy ending when a doctor says remission.” (- Petrina Hamm)
Yesterday I spent a lot of time scrolling through my friend’s facebook page after hearing she’d passed away. My frenzied eyes scanned every word, my brain repeated the same thought over and over…
“I thought she was okay. I could’ve sworn she recently reported being in-the-clear. Had it come back? Did you miss her post revealing the cancer was back? How could you have been too preoccupied to know???”
The first thing I noticed was the lack of anything remarkable. She was posting the same content we all do; wisecracks, tender familial anecdotes, outrage at political developments and the occasional update on the progress of her nonprofit.
Almost every one of her posts were one I’d seen before and while I was not reading them for the first time, I was noticing that I’d reacted to precious little of them. Many of her posts I would’ve sworn I’d reacted to or commented on and yet, there was no evidence I’d even been there. The list of opportunities I had to reach out grew and so did my dismay. I had so many invitations to step into her journey and walk with her a while!
We tend to believe that each day is a portrait of our lives but the reality is that it could more accurately be described as a pixel. One event on its own is but a fragment of the canvas in its entirety and the complete picture cannot be revealed without all of the pieces. I had been looking at each by itself but when I scrolled them all in quick succession, something happened. The picture sprang to life like one of those stick-figure flip-books we draw as children. I could see her story projected like a movie and dancing a tragedy right before my eyes.
My friend was depressed.
Cancer didn’t take her; depression did. She was under water and it was obvious and I missed the signs. Worse, I missed dozens of opportunities to ask, “Are you okay?”
My friend’s story belonged to her and no one but she had the power to write the ending. But I should have done better. Maybe if I’d reached out, she’d have felt less despair. Then again, maybe she couldn’t see the dancing. Maybe she thought each day was a fully developed snapshot, unaware that they’re really only frames of a full cinematic experience. Maybe reaching out wouldn’t have helped on its own but if I’d kept reaching, if I didn’t stop reaching, maybe the pages would’ve come to life for her.
Petrina Hamm left a handful of legacies behind, of note were her four children and the nonprofit she created; Art From Scars. In a public post on his own facebook page, her husband Jon has painfully shared an agonizing account of her last few months in an effort to shine a spotlight on the shadows of depression and suicide. He wishes to see it shared and in that effort hopes to add another two-fold legacy to Petrina’s life… a promise first, that if you are suffering from depression, there are people who love you and will help you. Second, never forget that life is more than a blowup print, its a blockbuster film. What’s happening this second isn’t a full perspective of your life or mine.
Check in with each other often, for your benefit and theirs.
We must do better.
If you or someone you know is depressed or considering suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call 1-800-273-8255 to talk.
Amy Lola Darabos is a mother and author. She currently lives in Midland, Michigan.