Yesterday’s post on suicide by Gordon Smith stirs several memories of experiences I have had with friends and ward members who struggled with suicidal tendencies. I appreciate the quote he provided from Bruce R. McConkie about the Lord’s mercy for those struggling with suicidal tendencies. I have seen a variety of small and sometimes very large miracles in the Lord’s dealings with those who have suffered greatly and are considering suicide.
Those who are facing suicide need to be reached and shown a touch of love. In some cases, a small act of kindness or a few words of inspired encouragement can shift their paradigm of despair, and give them courage to move forward. If only we knew how important our kindness is to other human beings, or how devastating a “trivial” act of unkindness can be to those with great anguish in their lives. Each of us should realize that there may be loved ones or acquaintances within our social circles who may suffer hidden despair and may be on the brink of suicide. May we pray each day to have the Spirit to be with us and to be able to respond to its promptings, such that those around us who need help or love may find it. Though I say this in full hypocrisy, having failed much, I believe that we cannot settle for being crass or selfish or cranky or otherwise distant from the Lord for a single day, lest we cause harm and miss great opportunities to heal and bless those around us who may be faltering.
Given the passage of time and other changes, I feel I can safely share one of my experiences without loss of anonymity for the person involved. To me, this experience is one of many “small miracles” that I have experienced in the Church that show the Lord’s great love for those who suffer.
The phone call came at about 6 PM on a pleasant summer evening. The woman calling me had just one request: “Tell my family I love them.” I was puzzled, but from her voice it was clear that something was wrong. I walked upstairs with the cordless phone for more privacy, and asked what she meant. She explained that she was about to commit suicide, but wanted her family to know that she still really loved them. In training for leadership in the Church and in discussions with experienced LDS peers, I had been told to take suicide threats very seriously, and in some cases to gauge the seriousness of the threat by matter-of-factly asking the person what plans they had made. If they had the details of the suicide worked out, they were truly on the brink, but if they weren’t sure about how, when, and where, the threat was not as imminent. She had the details worked out and was ready to carry out her suicide within a matter of minutes after she hung up the phone.
My only hope at this moment was God. This woman was a precious daughter of God with an eternity of potential and a many great things yet to do in this life. She was a mother who was desperately needed. She had no idea of how much irreparable grief she would cause to others and to herself by quitting early, though her pain at the moment was great. I knew that there were only moments left, and that the responsibility was mine to seek the Lord’s help for this woman. My heart began praying for the Lord’s miraculous intervention while my mouth kept talking, trying to buy time and look for some way to help her. She seemed determined and I was terrified.
Within seconds, though, I knew what to do. The cell phone! At this time we had only one cell phone, and it had been broken for about a month. We didn’t depend on it then as much as we do today, and getting it repaired had not been a priority. We were just too busy to take the cell phone in and get it replaced, and thus a month went by without that resource. Fortunately, only a few hours before the suicidal woman called me, my wife had taken the cell phone in and brought home a replacement. It had just been recharged and was ready to go, and she had pointed it out to me shortly before this call came in. The cell phone was my hope.
I walked downstairs, still talking, and retrieved the cell phone. I dialed 911, going back upstairs for privacy, and held the cell phone in one hand next to my mouth while holding the cordless phone in the other. My conversation then went something like this: “So, let me get this right. There you are, calling me from the pay phone at the gas station on [I gave the location], a mother about X years old, where you are about to get into your [I gave a brief vehicle description] and commit suicide by ….” The alert 911 employee recognized what I was doing and encouraged me to keep it up (I may have made a quick comment to the cell phone only to clarify), and said that they would get officers to that location immediately. They told me to keep her on the phone as long as possible. I started asking her to think about her family, getting somewhat loquacious in the process. Suddenly she was mad: “Hey, did you call the police?!” The officers were on the scene in time!
I was truly impressed with the local police. They sent a couple of officers, including a kindly woman officer who spent quite a while talking with the suicidal woman. I joined them quickly, and after a while they determined that the woman had calmed down and could return home. I spoke with her afterwards, and we made some plans for dealing with the problems the woman faced.
I know of other suicide attempts where people were seriously facing suicide, but simple intervention – an affirmation that they were loved, an opportunity to discuss alternatives, or even a brief encounter with good police officers – was enough to help the person stay on course and move ahead.
The woman who called me did move ahead in her life, and has achieved some remarkable things, in my opinion. I am so grateful to the Lord for what to me was a small but terribly important miracle of timing (an issue I raise in a related post). The cell phone had just barely become available in time for me to have a needed resource when someone else desperately needed help. In a moment of dread, my plea was answered with one of the “small means” that the Lord so often uses.
Not all prayers bring the miracles we seek, and not all efforts to help the suicidal will prevail. When that tragedy strikes, we must continue to love and trust the Lord and seek his mercy and forgiveness and not cripple ourselves with blame, but may we all seek His help and guidance to do whatever is possible to help those who walk in the shadow of death. And when the Lord does see fit to intervene and provide small but real miracles to aid us in our ministry to others, may we recognize the hand of the Lord in all things and receive His help with gratitude.