My telephone rings. I am departing for a meeting and almost don’t answer. Thankfully, conscience and courtesy step in and I do. The caller is Nell*, a friend of many years who lives in a town some kilometres away. Her opening words shake me:
“I’ve had enough. I’ve got to end it tonight.”
I know intrinsically she is talking suicide. I know, too, what I must now do. As a member of a suicide intervention group, Nell becomes my immediate priority.
But first, to put this into perspective: Nell is divorced, has lived apart from her husband for more than 20 years. She is estranged from her son, who lives interstate, as does her daughter. They haven’t spoken, other than in spiteful terms, for 15 years.
Nell has no effective income and is reliant on the management of a small rural property for absentee owners for somewhere to live and to eke out her existence. Other than some limited security of tenure and a roof over her head, it offers her nothing. She is lonely and wants out but has nowhere else to go.
I ask, “Where are you?” At home. “Is anyone with you?” No. She is alone. “Where in the house are you?” In the kitchen. She has cooked a meal but can’t face it. “How long since you had a cuppa?” Two or three hours. “What did you have then?” Tea. “Right, that’s good. Look, we are both probably a bit dehydrated. I feel like a cuppa at the moment; why don’t you make one at your end as I make one here? Then we can share a cuppa together!” She agrees and we go about the preparations, even discussing whether we’ll have black tea or green (we both settle on green).
It’s essential to keep Nell engaged in conversation. As we talk, I wonder about picking up my mobile and ringing her on her mobile, explaining it’s my call coming into her and she should take it. I may be able to convince her it’s more comfortable sitting talking on the mobile than it is the house phone or something along those lines. My thinking is, if I can get her to do that, I may be able to go out to the car, set the link through Bluetooth, then drive to her while maintaining the conversation. Problem is, there are too many null areas in the dips and gullies between the towns in our rural area and I might well lose her – including in the worst possible way – if that happens.
I think of a mutual friend, Anne*, who lives just two streets into the town, probably little more than 500 metres away from Nell. I ask Nell if she’d like Anne to call in for a chat and am pleased to get a reply in the positive. Rather than break the connection to Nell, I keep chatting with the house phone on speaker, and dial Anne on the mobile.
There is a risk I have to take. I will be unable to address Anne direct but hope she will pick up on my conversation with Nell and know just what I want. Anne is aware of Nell’s situation, so it’s a not unreasonable bet, and nor will it contravene confidentiality. Then again, even if it did…
With the house phone on the breakfast bar on speakerphone, I dial and hold the mobile to my ear. Thankfully, Anne answers. I hear her voice but continue talking with Nell, speak about Anne visiting her. Anne twigs within moments and says, “Do you want me to slip around to Nell’s place?” I speak the only word I need, “Yes.” Anne hangs up.
It takes about ten minutes until I hear Anne’s voice in the background. She comes on line and says, “Thanks, mate. If you don’t hear from me, all’s well.”
I hang up and have another relaxing cuppa, meeting long forgotten.
It’s 8:23 pm.
* For the sake of confidentiality, I have changed the names of the two women.
Unfortunately, this is not a work of fiction, every day in countries, cities and towns everywhere, someone reaches the end of their tether. Many don’t seek help, but some do and that is when a trained friendly voice at the other end of the phone makes a huge difference in the outcome. Thank you to the person who shared this story with us; your work is invaluable to the community.