§249 Comfort, encouragement and many hugs – my first encounter with a suicidal personOctober 16, 2008
It was a regular day like any other in the office. (Well, not really, we’re in the middle of the holiday, but pretty much a regular day). I had some errand to the shop that belongs to us, and as I come down the stairs I see three unknown women and my coworker standing around a chair. In the chair sits a weeping woman.
The three unknown women are friends of my coworker. They found the weeping woman on the street, and brought her to us. She is a Russian immigrant, and speaks perfect Hebrew. She has lived in Israel many years. Her English is not as good as her Hebrew, and there’s no one around who speaks her mother tounge, Russian. I’m the only one in the room who speaks Hebrew.
I have never been the comforter. There are people who are that way by nature. They seek up the vulnerable. I remember these people from school. They would play with the ones that no one else wanted to play with. They would sit with the students that had bad grades and do homework with them. They would always befriend the odd ones, the mentally challenged. They were even friends with the crazy evil bully kids who were bad just because they came from broken homes and had seen too much at an early age. I remember these future psychologists and professional helpers. I was never one of them. Not that I ever turned someone down, or behaved cold hearted against the ones in need. I just tried not to get in a situation like that. I always preferred to let the ones who knew how to deal with them deal with them. I was always afraid that I’d do something wrong, say something that would hurt them, or not know how to handle a situation. There are people who know how to deal with it, let them. Don’t involve me, please. It scares me. Make sure they get help, but not from me. I can’t.
But this day it was just me, and no one else around. I sincerely didn’t really know how to handle the situation. At first I just tried to talk to her, and hugged her. Pat her on the back. Tried to encourage without knowing exactly what. The lady who had brought her said things in English, and I went along with it. She understood the English, and I kept telling her the same things in Hebrew too. Over and over. Since she was talking about not wanting to live any longer, we kept talking about how beautiful she was, and that she has a great and long future. After a while I started to ask questions. Who she was, where she was from, why she is feeling the way she does. She was a believer just like I, so we also prayed together. She kept saying that God doesn’t help her, and I said things like “we often feel like that, but he is always close, he loves you” etc.
My thought wandered to the times my wife was in emotional difficulties. Then it was much easier, because I know her. And she never reached the point where she wanted to kill herself. But the burden of being home with a bunch of children, especially a few years ago when I was working much longer hours and at more irregular times than now, were difficult. This woman was much worse off emotionally, and her situation was much worse too. She was a single mom with 4 children. Working to make ends meet and still not make it. Her former home was burnt down, and she lost everything. She had run away from her husband. I didn’t ask why – no explanations needed. All these things happened a few years ago. She now lived among Muslims, but was a believer herself (or, actually, she contradicted herself. Once she said she believes and is still a believer, another time she said she lost her faith when her house burned down). She had been badly hurt a few years ago by believers and hadn’t come near a congregation since. She said it felt so good to pray with us. Her oldest child was 16 and the youngest 7. She said something about “the children don’t understand”. I can imagine children demanding things she can’t afford, not understanding the difficulty or the weight of responsibility she is forced to carry. When she said she doesn’t want to live any longer I asked “but what about your children”. She just replied “I don’t know… I don’t know…”
Besides the talks and the hugs we were scratching our heads what to do. There was of course the possibility to make an emergency call and get professionals to come and help. But what about her spiritual need? They wouldn’t be sensitive or understanding about that part of her trouble. We called a few pastors who only told us to make the emergency call. We called my boss who worked from home that day, and he talked with her on the phone for a while. He has a bit more experience about this than I, I think. He gave me a few tips on how to talk to her and told me to try to get her to promise to come back tomorrow – that would be a way to prevent an attempted suicide.
We called the professionals and I kept hugging her and talking and praying with her. I found a Bible in Russian, and opened my in Hebrew and read with her. If I had only known by heart the verse “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18). Instead I read with her Psalm 30, which I remembered had helped me when I went through a difficult time back in 2006. Verses like “LORD my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, LORD, brought me up from the realm of the dead, you spared me from going down to the pit.” (verses 2-3), or “You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever“. (verses 11-12).
It was around that time that the professional people came. She didn’t want to talk to them at first. She said “how can you help me if you don’t believe what I believe?” But eventually she opened up. They were even able to get her to tell them what she hadn’t told me – that she had been unemployed the last two weeks and couldn’t find a job. He assured her that they would help her find a job. She even had a profession – a cook – and he assured her that that made it even easier. She didn’t want to tell them where she lived. He told her to come with him and he’ll take her to a place that gives out food without asking questions – and she can bring it home to her kids by herself, no one would demand to go with her. Complete discreet.
I told her to go with them – they would help her economically and physically, but also come back to us tomorrow – we would help her emotionally and spiritually. As she left she gave me and the others a big hug. To the woman who had picked her up from the street she said “Thank you for saving my life”.
She didn’t come today. At least she hadn’t come by the time I left. In any case, I guess there’s nothing left to do now but pray.
I think she helped me just as I helped her. I’ve never known how to deal with situations like these before. I’ve always run away. Never again. I’ve learned an important lesson. Whoever I can help with the means I have, be they emotional, physical or financial – I will. I need to help. They need help. Other times I might need help, and they need to help. We are always dependent on one another. We always need one another. Whether we are strangers who meet at the first time, or if we’re close friends. We’re humans, that’s all that matters. We’re all God’s creation, and he loves us all, regardless age, sex, religion, skin color, background, sexual preference, political views. I need people, people need me. It’s a worldwide philosophy of humanity, that has existed since the dawn of mankind in every place on earth. It’s in the Bible. It’s actually in almost every religion. I like to define it by the word in Zulu “Ubuntu”. I am because you are.
“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” A person is a person through [other] persons.