“I’ve been a Samaritan for so long now I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I had not begun volunteering here over 11 years ago!
Looking back on it I can see that all through my ‘Youth’, as those uncomfortable teenage years are now called, I was searching for a way to be more able to help those who were hurting.
Even as a school child I remember always being drawn to the quiet, reflective, thoughtful people. I wanted to be with those who needed someone to sit quietly with them and listen to their pain, whether there were words to be said or not. Even at this age there were issues of family breakdowns, bullying, eating disorders, domestic violence, being sexually and physical abused. I knew my friends needed help but I didn’t know how to help them except for sitting quietly by. I didn’t know at that time how important silent empathy is when providing emotional support to someone in emotional pain.
A few years later, a boy who lived over the road to my family did take his life. The police knocked on our door late one night and my mum had to go across the road with them to break the news to his mother and brothers. It was a terrible night. Then my parents split when I was 22. My mother’s grief at the time was awful and I could see how close she was to suicide.
There is still such a stigma attached to talking about painful feelings and talking about feeling suicidal in particular. Since I started volunteering at Samaritans it has been brought home to me very clearly how unwilling people still are to admit that their loved one has taken their own life. It is as if in saying s/he killed themselves people are afraid they might be seen as being to blame. That they, the family, are the cause of the suicide even after the fight the family have had to put up to keep their loved one alive and with them for as long as they did. Perhaps there is a feeling of failure. ‘If I’d have loved them enough they would not have done it.’ Those answering from the Samaritans understand these feelings. We run a special support service for those who have lost someone to suicide as we know how particularly horrendous and unique the grief from suicide is. By talking about it honestly and saying how it really feels to lose someone to suicide we are able to banish the pink elephant in the room. By talking about it, we no longer keep the secret.
Volunteering for all these years has been a wonderful experience. Every time I hear “Thank you, I do feel a little better for having been able to talk about it”. I know I am in the right place doing something very valuable.”
“The phone rings, the adrenalin starts to flow. What needs to be said or not said? The caller tells her story. She is in great distress. The circumstances of her life would make your blood boil. Desperation, abuse, thoughts of suicide, feelings of despair, lack of self worth, the desire to be free from her burden, the list goes on. What can I say? I feel the need to get on a white charger and rescue her. Something must be done and done quickly.
But no, that is not the Samaritan way. I cannot judge, I must listen with empathy and not jump to conclusions. She knows herself much better than that. I cannot jump in and fill the silences which come naturally. I can help her express her feelings and allow her to rant. I can tell her that she was being very brave, just picking up the phone and speaking to me.
I ask her if she is planning to kill herself tonight and if she has a plan; I am very relieved when she says she has thought about it but is not planning anything tonight. She says she has confided in me and has told me things that she has never mentioned to anyone else before. The line goes quiet. I ask her how she is feeling. She says she is feeling much better but could I stay on the phone a little while longer. We share the silence, neither of us needing to talk but knowing that there is someone on the other end of the phone. Eventually she says that she is tired and will go to bed. I wish her pleasant dreams.
We always want to tell people about ourselves. Most of us wait until we have the opportunity to put in our two cents worth. As a Samaritan I have learned to listen, really listen.”