The year after college I worked at a hospital on a psych and drug rehab unit for 13- to 18-year-olds. I had seen Amanda when I left the night before. That morning, things were in disarray.
People were freaked out and on edge, and Amanda was sitting alone in front of the nurse’s station, arms crossed. When I said “hi” she just kind of looked at me and didn’t say anything. I went into the nurse’s station, read the charts and found out that the night before…she had attempted suicide.
As the story goes, a few minutes after I had left the unit, she had gone into her bedroom, taken her bed and wedged it up against the door. She then got the second bed and wedged it in between the first bed and the wall, so that when somebody would try to open the door it wouldn’t budge.
After a few minutes, some of the counselors and nurses noticed that Amanda wasn’t coming out. They began knocking on the door, and when she didn’t respond, they realized they had an emergency situation on their hands.
Amanda’s room was on the fifth floor, so there was no way to get in except for the door. Desperate, one of the counselors grabbed a sledgehammer and smashed a hole. He looked inside and saw Amanda laying on the bed, turning blue. She was using her shoelaces to suffocate herself. He told everyone to stand back, and pounded hole after hole into the door until it eventually broke in half. He then grabbed a nurse, threw her into the room, jumped in himself and they started working on Amanda’s neck. They were able to cut the laces off and resuscitate her.
Fast forward to the next morning – there I am at the nurse’s station with Amanda. I sat down next to her and just felt like I was staring death in the face.
“Amanda, what happened last night?”
She wouldn’t tell me. I tried to help her think about some things worth living for.
“What about your boyfriend?”
“He doesn’t care about me. He just wants to use me for my body.”
“Well, what about having children some day?”
“I probably won’t be able to have any children.”
The tough thing for me was that in this Catholic hospital the pastoral staff could talk about God, but I couldn’t bring God into the conversation at all. I tried to use other natural means to talk her out of committing suicide.
“What about hiking outside? What about the beauty of nature?”
“I don’t care about those things.”
“What about ice cream?”
I talked to her for about 15-20 minutes. Nothing worked.
“Well Amanda, I’ll welcome any conversation that you’re open to have,” I said, and then I walked away. I felt deflated.
Over the next couple of weeks Amanda started to get better, and then at some point she was actually cheerful. I pulled her aside and said “Amanda, it’s so great you’re doing pretty well!”
“Yeah, Mike, I am.”
“Can you give me some insight? What could I have said two weeks ago to help you?”
“There was nothing that you could have done to talk me out of it. However, I will never forget that you tried. You cared.”
As a father, I think that lesson is really key. Sometimes there’s nothing you’re going to be able to say that’s going to solve the situation. The only thing that’s going to matter is that you tried. That you were persevering. That you came back and you tried to love the best you could through your actions. That you were present.
Because the bottom line is that effort counts. Effort is love.