Yes, 24 hours ago my phone rang. I had come home from work a few hours before. Margaret and I drove our foster dog to a small town between Wake Forest and Henderson to meet his new family. The family loved him, and they decided to adopt him. Margaret and I drove back home and had a quick dinner.
I was tired. Very tired. Then the phone rang.
It was Mrs. Peggy. She lives in “The Neighborhood” where my family has spent time during the last 18 months getting to know the residents and serving them in different ways. When my friend Cathy first introduced me to her just over a year ago, Mrs. Peggy was getting ready to have surgery on her ear because she had cancer. She was a “member” of a local church, but she said she rarely heard from them. As a church and as her friends, we were able to pray for her, take her to doctor’s appointments, get her a special pillow that would be less painful, rake her leaves, and sing Christmas carols to her.
But, when she called me last night, I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was thinking that I was tired. She wasn’t thinking about any of that either. She was thinking exactly what she said to me: “Jerry left home, and we don’t know where he is. I’m afraid that he wants to hurt himself.” Jerry is Mrs. Peggy’s 39 year old nephew and neighbor. We first heard about Jerry when Mrs. Peggy asked us to pray for him and a legal situation with his family. Later, she asked if I would drop in and introduce myself to Jerry because he was lonely.
I’ve talked with Jerry several times. He struggled with depression; he knew it, and he would talk to me and Mrs. Peggy about it. When she called me, she told me that he had tried to overdose on anti-depressant medication a few weeks ago. Some family members found him, and they were able to get him to the hospital. But, now, Jerry had left home, and they were afraid that he was going to try to hurt himself again.
I wish I could say that I rushed over to spend time with Mrs. Peggy. I didn’t. All I could think about was how tired I was. I told her that I would come by and see her the next day.
A couple of hours later, I left the house to pick up my son Jeremy at the local ice rink where he went skating with some friends. On the way to pick him up, I passed close to Mrs. Peggy’s house. I thought about her waiting there alone, hoping and praying that Jerry would return safe. When I picked up Jeremy, I was supposed to take him to a friend’s house to spend the night. I told him about the phone call from Mrs. Peggy and asked if we could stop by her house first (if she was still awake). He said, “Yes.” (I’m glad my son is more caring than I was.)
When we drove by her house, I could see her sitting in her recliner through the front window, so we stopped. While we were there, she told us about Jerry and about her childhood and about how worried she was. Jeremy and I both hugged her and prayed with her before we left.
The next morning (this morning), I went to Mrs. Peggy’s house again. Her daughter was with her this time. They had still not heard from Jerry. The police and other family members were looking for him. They were hoping and praying that they would find him in a homeless shelter and that he would come back home soon. I helped her get something to eat, and washed her dishes. Before I left, I asked them to call me if they heard anything from Jerry, and I told Mrs. Peggy that I would check on her soon.
I left Mrs. Peggy’s and went to the nursing home to visit Mrs. Jenny. We had not seen her in a long time because of sickness and travel. While I was talking with Mrs. Jenny, my phone rang, but I let it go to voice mail.
When I left the nursing home, I checked my voice mail. It was Mrs. Peggy’s daughter. They had found Jerry’s body. I could hear Mrs. Peggy crying loudly in the background.
When I got back to Mrs. Peggy’s house, there were alot of people there: relatives, police, firemen… I knelt in front of her and hugged her, and she just cried into my shoulder for a long time. I told her I loved her, and that God loved her. I wanted to do so much more… to say so much more… but there was nothing else that I could do, and it wasn’t the time to say anything else.
This is the second time within a year that someone I met in that neighborhood had decided to take their own life. On the one hand, it makes me want to stop spending time in the neighborhood. Dealing with things like this is heartbreaking, oppressive, discouraging…
But, on the other hand, I think the most important thing that I’ve done in the last year… perhaps longer… is to kneel down in front of Mrs. Peggy, let her cry in my shoulder, and tell her that I loved her and that God loved her. In that sorrowful, painful, heartbroken moment… God was present.