Last night, as I left the State Hospital, I crossed paths with a woman who caught my attention.
It was the pizza box she carried and the multiple bags she had slung over her shoulder. All that stuff you bring to a visit - your purse, dinner, snacks, drinks, games, books, an iPad, napkins, silverware, new socks and shirts and underwear - just in case.
Even though she was a few steps ahead of me, I commented to her that I was glad I wasn't the only one who looked like I was moving in when I came to visit.
She turned around. And then I saw her tears. Immediately, my arm was around her.
She told me her son's story - a classic story of how schizophrenia steals your child's soul and leaves you with a disconsolate uncertainty about what the purpose of this trial is.
It included the worst parts. Run-ins with law enforcement. Multiple hospitalizations. A marriage that couldn't survive it. Her attempts to do her very best, alone, with no improvement. Tolerating the ranting and swearing because you know it's the illness talking - not the child you love. The unrelenting caregiver fatigue. The willing abandonment of your own dreams and things you love because there's no time for anything but battling the illness.
We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and a long hug.
She said, "I didn't know how I was going to be able to drive home. You're like a little angel that was sent to me."
I told her I was blessed as well, because her courage and her unwillingness to give up on her son was beautiful and inspiring.
Even though we were strangers, we knew each other very well. We were having the same experiences.
The experience of all those bags and the desperate attempts to help with the only tools available - those being love and Domino's.
The experience of walking out alone, in tears after a failed visit, and having to re-group before making a long drive home.
The experience of grieving over a young son whose destiny was not to serve a church mission or go to college, but whose life would be to battle a tormenting illness that sometimes makes him do things and say things he never would have before.
I tell you this story not to garner sympathy or promote my own actions last night, but to plead with you to reach out to others who are struggling. Tell your story as you feel comfortable.
If you'll approach the journey this way, you never know when you'll be presented with an opportunity to be someone's angel and, in return, meet someone whose courage and beauty will inspire you to carry on as well.
Stay strong, moms.