This is a hard post to read and contains discussion of suicide. Please use your discretion.
His dark curly hair looked greasy and unkempt, and a scar marked his face. He walked with a limp I couldn’t figure out. Maybe a leg that bowed in the wrong place? His face did not reflect pain, but his gait was slow. Awkward.
The first time I saw Pete* was in the waiting. Waiting for someone to tell me they could take care of me. Waiting for a bed to keep me safe. He was waiting too. Pacing.
With exhaustion beyond what I could bear, tears spilling over, I sat in a chair next to the nurse’s station and waited again. I was closer to a bed and medication to help me sleep, but there were details to cover. Blood pressure that needed to be taken. More questions that needed to be asked.
There was Pete. He limped to the nurse from the other direction. He had a room and a bed, but he was looking for his medication. ‘What if I have a seizure?’ he asks. He was quiet but persistent. His face looked beaten down, weary. So very tired.
I was led to my room and finally fell into sleep I was desperate for.
With a new day, I sat reading a book in a room that had light and windows and quiet. Pete came in to use the phone. I asked if he wanted me to leave, but he said it didn’t matter. He called someone he was tender with, someone who brought out the child in him. He told her how he had tried everything, and the only option left was electroshock therapy. There was one hospital in town who could provide the right anesthesia and treatment.
He had gone. He had done everything he knew how to do. He was giving his all trying to stay alive. And they wouldn’t take him.
They told him they only took patients who had been Baker Acted. In our state, that means a person who has been deemed a danger to themself or others. So he told the hospital—the only hope he had for treatment—that he was suicidal.
They did Baker Act him. But instead of treating him, they sent him to a different hospital.
The next day we sat in a group. Pete sitting right next to me. He shared another glimpse of his story. He was giving up. After trying so hard to get help, he was going to kill himself when he left. Living with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression, he had no friends left.
No one who knew his story. No one who could drive him to a hospital or sit with him while his brain was shocked back to health. No one who cared whether he lived or died. I sat in horror as he shared his neighbor had offered to sell him a gun so he could take his life.
Pete had been in this crisis-treatment hospital several times before. The last time, he was there for 21 days. Crisis after crisis, hope remained elusive.
A few hours later, it was time for me to leave. The right medication had worked. My husband picked me up, and I went home to kids who love me and need me. I went home with hope.
Pete stayed, and I don’t know the rest of his story. I don’t know how long he stayed or if anyone picked him up. I don’t know if he found the strength to keep fighting for the help he needed. I don’t know how the story ends.
But I do know Pete will stay with me for years to come. His face, his hopelessness, his story. I wish I had the chance now, when I have the ability to think again, to tell him that I care. I care about his pain. I care that he was created by the God of the universe and is beloved. He has worth and value, and his life matters. I want to hear his whole story. I want to speak over him his right to hope and help.
I am a working mom doing this crazy thing called grad school because my heart grieves for Pete. It grieves that he feels so very alone. It grieves that he is trying hard to stay alive, and a broken system does not help him. It grieves that Pete is only one face of many stories.
Every life matters. Every life deserves love and hope. I do not want to turn my head away from Pete’s reality. I want to love him like Jesus would. I want to love him as if he were Jesus.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.Matthew 25:35-36
Please think of Pete tonight. Pray for him when he comes to your mind. Pray for his life and for hope to come to him.