Homelessness And The Loss of Roots


homelessnessVolunteering at a St. Martin’s Hospitality Center which is a day shelter for homeless people has given me a new perspective on rootedness.  No matter what happens to me I always know I can go home and how much this contibutes to my sense of who I am. If I had no place to go I think I would feel less a person.  Somehow my sense of myself is partly rooted in where I live.  The people who are homeless have lost this piece of their identity.  I think that a large part of our mission at St. Martin’s is to help them hang on to the whatever part of their identity they still retain

The shower station is my spot when I volunteer.  I help people sign up for a shower giving them towels and soap and shampoo.  When a shower is free I page them and they get to take a shower using the small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo and conditioner which kind people carefully save for us when they travel and then donate to us.  They can use a hair dryer or a straightening iron if they want.  Most of all they seem to want scent to put on after their showers.  Especially the men.  I breathe a sigh of relief if when I arrive to volunteer if there is at least one bottle of fairly decent men’s cologne.  Often I buy some if I can find it on sale since I hate saying  sorry I don’t have any scent today.  The people are always kind about it but I can see the the disappointment on their faces.   Right now I can’t find any scent on sale because it is the Chistmas season.  I am planning on hitting Walmart before I go to the shelter early Monday morning and buying something decent even if I can’t find it on sale.  After all it will be Christmas Eve and a bottle of Ralph Lauren will bring big smiles to their faces.

As to rootedness,  homeless people have lost most of their  roots.  The Shelter tries to help.  It provides long term storage where with just an ID, someone can store one box with whatever is precious to them for whatever period they need.  Our clients can also receive mail at the shelter and people can leave phone messages which they can return on phones provided to them.  Since they can’t wash their clothes we give them up to 3 outfits of donated clothes a week.  I think that the hope is that these services provide a sense of belonging to people who are struggling to get from one day to the next without a disaster.

Many years ago in Los Angeles I volunteered at The Downtown Women’s Shelter on Skid Row.  It was a day shelter as well.  My job was to make lunch for the 30 or 40 women who came in each day.  There was one woman called Lydia who was obviously paranoid.  Probably schizophrenic.  She came in each day for lunch.  She took showers and got clothes.  After several month we pieced together the fact that she was sleeping in the parking lot at the Methodist Church.  Finally I talked with her one day and she told me that she was over 65 and had worked for many years before she became too mentally ill to work any longer.  She said when she went to the Social Security office they wouldn’t let her apply for social security 

The next day I came to the shelter wearing my best business suit.  Lydia and I walked to the Social Security Office and we were able to get her though the application process and within a few weeks she was receiving a check.  She didn’t want to leave Skid Row.  But we talked her into getting a room in one of the hotels there.  I will never forget the look on her face when she walked into the small dirty little room with a bed and a sink and a chair.  She felt rooted I am sure.

Lydia’s brother who had been trying to find her for over 10 years called us at the shelter.  Apparently the Social Security Office notified him as her next of kin.  He came to see her from Ohio.  He came to the shelter from the airport and Lydia would not speak to him.  We were able to tell him about her being off the streets and having enough money for a room and life’s necessities.  While he was saddened that she wouldn’t talk with him he was relieved to know where she was and that she had a base.  I think this was the most we could hope for for Lydia.  But she was satisfied in her own way.  This was probably all the rootedness she could handle.

God bless you all and I hope you have a Merry Chistmas.   Give a prayer for those on the streets on Chistmas that they too will find whatever rootedness they can handle.

Why I Am Not Suicidal Now (I’m Not Saying I Won’t Ever Be Again)


Right now I am not having suicidal ideation. Well hardly any. It is a great gift from God and I believe it is a result of some changes that he led me to make in my life. I know that many people who are dealing with suicidal ideation feel as I did that nothing less than a miracle would help. When my PTSD and the accompanying thoughts of suicide started to ramp up at the beginning of this year I couldn’t understand why since it was over a year since the precipitating cause of the PTSD, my husband’s suicide, had occurred.

Earlier this year while praying it occurred to me that I hated to go to my church. I felt that I had worn out my welcome, that people couldn’t understand why I didn’t just get over my husband’s suicide. Richard and I had originally started going to the Baptist Church several years earlier because a neighbor recommended the woman who was teaching the Sunday school class. Having stopped attending an Orthodox Church several years earlier and having become functional agnostics I knew we needed to return to our faith. I also knew that I needed to immerse myself in the Bible. This seemed more important than liturgy or the sacraments so we began to attend.

When Rich took his life the Baptist Church really helped me through the ordeal of the first few weeks. They helped me with the funeral and the practical issues following Rich’s death. God bless them, they were there for me. But my not getting over Rich’s death just became too much for them and as I prayed I felt that God was prompting me to leave so I am attending an Othodox Church. I am still going to a Bible study taught by Pat the Sunday school teacher from the Baptist church but it is being given at a retirement home and because they know nothing of my situation it is non-threatening.

Another change I made was to begin to seriously study the Bible on my own. I am spending at least an hour and often two studying and praying over the Bible with good commentaries. I returned to prayer with more discipline and while I can’t say that I always see great benefit I know that it does help over the long-term.

Finally, after no longer being able to work as a hospice caregiver because I injured my back I felt I was able to volunteer again. I had several unpleasant volunteer experiences early on after Richard’s death and was afraid that I wasn’t capable of doing it. But after I had a very positive experience as a hospice caregiver I decided to begin volunteering at a Christian homeless shelter and I feel God’s presence there. The clients are people who are at the bottom and every little thing we can do for them helps. None of the workers or volunteers is interested in me, we are simply focused on the people who so desperately need the basics of life. Food, a shower, clean clothes and a place to get mail. Some of them are able to get counseling and are transitioning out of homelessness but most are either too mentally ill or are too dependent on drugs and alcohol to find those services of benefit. But we treat each of them with kindness and respect. Volunteering there has helped me feel that my life makes a difference in other people’s lives and that is something that I badly needed.

God has blessed me. I think that the prayers of many good people have made me able to move on and make changes that have improved my life. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner but I think that it is all in God’s time. The PTSD remains. I expect to have relapses but I hope that I will remember how kindly God has dealt with me and know that he will do so again.

The subject of suicide and Christianity is very close to my heart so I will probably continue blogging about these issues. So many people visit the site seeking help with their own suicidal impulses or the loss to suicide of a loved one. If they can get any comfort from this site that would be a great blessing to me. Thank you all who follow this blog and write to encourage me. Please continue your prayers for me as I so desperately need them.

Learning How To Live From The Dying: Part I


A few months ago I learned that my dog Billy has skin cancer.  To pay for the cost of his care I decided to go back to work.  Since I had long experience as a hospice volunteer in several states I decided take a job as an in-home hospice caregiver. 

My first assignment was to give care to and 89-year-old woman who I will call her Molly.  Her regular caregiver was on vacation for a couple of weeks so I was filling in.  She has  a rare form of  Parkinson’s disease that has attacked her  throat and her ability to speak.  Her husband Harry who is 82 is her primary caregiver.  He is a difficult man who is very critical but is attentive to his wife’s care.  Molly also has a daughter who lives in a distant state.  She is very angry at and suspicious of Harry and the two of them can’t get along. Neither the husband nor the daughter are able to express much affection to Molly.

Each day when I arrived Harry would have already given Molly her breakfast and I would try to get her up for the day.  She didn’t have much to look forward to since she would spend most of the day in front of the television watching reruns of Bonanza and Matlock.  So I looked for things that would make her the day more interesting.  First, after getting her dressed I would take her for a walk in the streets outside her home.  We would stop and look at flowers or an interesting bird or even a new car.  While I pushed her wheelchair I would recount tales of my life especially foreign travels and tell her about the people and funny or unusual experiences.  Sometimes she would try to talk with me but she could only manage a hissing sound.  At first I found it difficult to talk about myself but I realized that it was comforting for her to hear these stories and it built a connection between us.

One day I decided to take her out to a local restaurant that offers a free slice of pie on Wednesdays.  It was a difficult a project to get Molly into my car with her wheelchair but she was happy to get out of the house. Molly had a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream and a cup of coffee.  It took over an hour for her to eat it and she ate every bite. When she had finished and I started to get her ready to go to the car she looked at me and smiled and said the only word she ever spoke to me, she said “good.” 

An unfortunate incident occurred  her husband put her in her wheelchair in the yard to get some sun.  Somehow she fell over into a cactus plant. She went to the emergency room for treatment as she had reacted to the poison in the plant.  A few days later I was filling in for her regular care giver and took her to a new doctor to look at her throat.  While we were in the waiting room I asked her how she was and if the cactus wounds were painful.  She shook her head and held out her arm to show me the large bumps that were a reaction to the cactus.  Impulsively I kissed the spot and told her that it would make it well.  She laughed!  Never before had I seen her laugh or have any instinct to mirth so we laughed together.

What I learned while caring for Molly is how important it is to find moments of joy in the life of those who have lost so much.  Neither her husband nor her daughter were capable of giving her much affection so I would lavish hugs and kisses on her, telling her she looked pretty after I had combed her hair and she had put on lipstick.  How much she needed the affirmation and how good it felt to give it to her.

The funny thing is that being able to help her helped my soul heal.  Being old and without family means that I rarely find moments in the normal course of my life when I am able to help someone.  What a joy it is to do so.

Because Molly and Harry aren’t believers the most important thing I could do was to pray for them and I still do.  I ask you to pray for them as well.

Living In A World In Which I Am Invisible


In my fifties I started to notice that I was becoming invisible to most people.  What I mean is that most people no longer met my eye when we passed in the street or had an accidental coming together in a public place.  I first noticed it with men and young people.  Even if they had to go to great lengths to not see me they would do so.  Then as I aged and lost the status of a profession this general non-recognition spread to most people. 

You may know what I mean.  If you go to someones house and they have teenagers, they don’t see you if you are an adult.  The parents may force them into some recognition of you but they usually make it quite clear that they don’t want to recognize your existence.

As an older woman it seems to terrify any man I meet to acknowledge my existence.  I have a feeling that men feel that if they acknowledge me I will then think they find me attractive  Having blessedly reached a point in my life where I agree with Gloria Steinem’s dictum that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle I would still like the recognition of my humanity.

It amuses me that when I am going into a store or walking down the street the one person who will meet my eye is an older women.  We acknowledge each other with a wry smile that allows us to affirm our existence to one another in spite of the world’s judgement.  I treasure these moments. 

So what is the point of this reverie?  It has made me more sensitive to others that don’t exist.  Who are they? People who are unattractive or handicapped or have mental problems or are of low status or like me simply old.  I have learned to try to acknowledge these fellow non-beings when we encounter one another.  Often times they are so used to being ignored that they don’t even realize I am trying to meet their eye.  Sometimes the destitute when recognized ask me for money which is a grace from God if I can help them.  What I give them isn’t enough to really make a difference and may even be used for drugs or alcohol.  None-the-less I hope they felt recognized in a simple friendly human glance and a smile.

One of the benefits of being invisible is that it can result in humility.  After my husband died my invisibility made me feel desperate to prove that yes I exist.  When I wasn’t acknowledged by others I despaired of ever being significant to anyone.  This contributed to my suicidal desire.  I wonder if Job felt that way?  Especially since he was the richest and most important man in the land.  I wonder if the most difficult thing for him wasn’t the loss of health, property or even his children but simply the loss of his identity?   He no longer was who he had been.  He was a man sitting in a garbage dump scraping his skin as it peeled from his body.  He couldn’t give lavish gifts to his children even if they still existed.  He had nothing.  Maybe he thought his children wouldn’t have wanted to know him if they still lived since he had sunk so low. 

The turning point for me was that moment when I knew that I exist even though the world may not care.  I exist because I was created by God who loves me and sustains me.  At that point my prayer became like those wry smiles I exchange with other older women, God and I share the recognition that I exist because he loves me and that is simply reason enough.

Isolating: First Symptom of Depression and Suicidal Ideation


What the mental health professionals call isolating is withdrawing from contact with other people. This is often the first symptom of depression. Whenever my depression deepens I begin isolating from others. It becomes increasingly difficult to make contact with people just when I need that contact the most. There are several reasons for my withdrawal.

First, many of my friends are uncomfortable with any discussion of suicide or depression  Most of them know that my husband killed himself two years ago  but generally they find reference to it conversationally difficult.  If I admit to my depression people change the subject.  Naturally I don’t want  to cause them distress so I no longer bring it up.  I understand their feelings because most of them are older woman whose lives have been much more settled than mine.   As a result only one friend knows about this site.  I find it easier to blog than talk in person with the people I know.  From  what I have learned from other people who have depression and suicidal ideation this feeling of rejection is common problem whether real or perceived.

Second, one of my primary symptoms of depression is confusion.  I can’t explain myself coherently.  When I try to express what is going on my mind becomes mush.  Recently  the one friend that wants to help me in by discussing my condition with me and who knows of this site tried to offer some suggestions and discuss my mood.  I became so confused trying to explain myself that I fled her house.  That happened last week.  This week I apologized and explained about the confusion and we agreed that we wouldn’t try to talk about my depression in-depth when I am in the throes of confusion.  I really appreciate her understanding and sympathy.

Third,  some of my friends believe that since I am a Christian I shouldn’t be depressed.  Certainly most Christians with some life experience don’t believe this but enough do so that I am constantly on the lookout for this particular land mine.  I am not particularly cogent when depressed so instead of speaking coherently about what I am experiencing I often just become defensive which is counter productive.  The belief that a believing Christian is a happy person at every level is a common misconception.  Certainly my faith gives me happiness and joy but that is often at the deepest levels of my being when my brain goes into a depressive episode.

So what does a depressed and suicidal person need?  I can speak for myself by acknowledging that what I need most is for someone to express that they care and that they do not judge me or my faith by what is occurring during my depression.   My first priority is to keep in mind that this is a passing event.  That it is a trial by God, deserved or not.  Next,  I need to do the things which I know will help me come out of the mental fugue as quickly as possible.  So I need to pray, exercise and do my best to keep in touch with others.  That I may express doubts that I am not normally afflicted with is just part of the package.  Certainly Job questioned why God allowed him to go through his trial.

All Alone With Our God


God is the cornerstone of life for the lonely. We must reach out to God in our aloneness for no one is near to comfort us. Loneliness gives us reason to pray, to draw closer to God. Being old and finding oneself alone is intimidating at first but finally it is known as a gift. It makes us put God at the center of our lives.
I came late to God. An atheist childhood put God out of reach. God is for the weak; they told me, for those who can’t face their contingency and final aloneness in a vast universe that is indifferent to man. Each man’s life is all there is and he can make his own rules since man is his own God. A cold comfort to a child longing for real meaning that can only come from something greater than the self.
In childhood survival and gaining the needed skills to survive occupy us. Even if we are not loved we are busy preparing for the everydayness of adult life. Survival of abusive parents suffices as a reason to exist. Puzzling out the whys of the daily indignities can occupy our minds in the quiet moments if we haven’t yet met our Savior.
Then comes early adulthood and career and perhaps a marriage or two for which we finally realize we are ill-equipped. Being raised without love leave raw burns on our soul and doesn’t give us a basis to understand the other in our lives. Finally we realize it is best to have no children for we fear that having been bitten by the vampire of cruelty in childhood that we might now be vampires ourselves. The one thing we vowed was to never hurt a child.
Finally in middle age, the unimaginable happens. For me, the glorious music of chant told me what I needed to know. That the God for whom I longed, longed for me. I had always been told that God didn’t exist, that he was the crutch of the weak. Finally I find myself weak and there he is. How right my self-sufficient parents had been, only in our sorrow and weakness did I allow my God come to me.
Now I am old. My beloved husband is gone. Friends are scattered across the land and they spend their time in the business of their own lives. Yet God is there for me. He fills my days with his voice in his Word. My prayers are my constant companion. He brings people into my life who need my help for a time and then they get on with their lives.
When I was a hospice volunteer, I found it odd that people would die when I left the room. After hours of sitting with the dying, praying for them, holding their hands I would be forced to leave the room for a brief time. It was then when they were finally alone, they chose to die. Now I understand.
Finally we are all alone with our God.

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts


Most people have had thoughts of ending their life.  When you are grieving the loss of someone you love, or when you are lonely or afraid, it is common to think of it.  But it is one thing to think about suicide and quite another to feel a compulsion to kill yourself.

Since my husband killed himself nearly two years ago, thoughts of suicide have been my frequent companion.  Several times these thoughts have resulted in my going to the hospital for evaluation.  Sometimes, but not always, I am also depressed when I feel this terrible compulsion to kill myself.  I call these compulsive thoughts of suicide the Whisperer because it feels like someone is urging me to kill myself.

I have worked out a strategy to handle suicidal impulses.   It isn’t a sure-fire solution but it does help.

First, I pray.  I can find comfort and assurance in prayer.  Reading the Bible and reading authors whose work I can trust also fall under this dictum of prayer.  I  find especially helpful a couple of books by Patrick Reardon, The Trial of Job and The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ.  Understanding that Jesus  was really human, that when he underwent temptation he felt tempted.  When Satan took Jesus into the desert at the beginning of his ministry and told him to throw himself off the mountain because God would save him, we know that Jesus was genuinely tested.  He wasn’t walking through it like playing a part in a film.  He felt the temptation.   This makes him a savior I can relate to.  If you search back through my other posts you will find that Job’s trials helped me to understand the impulse to kill myself as a trial by God.  God isn’t standing aside being repulsed by my urge to kill myself, he is loving me and giving me the spiritual strength to endure.

What if I can’t pray?  Then I ask the Holy Spirit to pray for me as described in Romans 8:26.  I also ask friends and fellow Christians to pray for me that God will comfort me and strengthen me.  Send me a comment asking for prayer and I and others who read this site will pray or you.  Not just once but every day.

Second, I do the things I love even though I don’t want to do them.  This takes tremendous will.  I love to hike and since I  live in New Mexico near the Sandia Mountains I am able to hike when I want.  It always helps.  I come back restored to who I really am.  Sometimes I go every day.  Just knowing that I can go hiking the next morning gets me through those terrible nights with the Whisperer.   I also take photographs when I hike and sometimes I  go out in the city to take photographs in the evenings when the Whisperer afflicts me.   Seeing through a camera lens changes my perspective and cleanses me of my own preoccupations with age, loneliness and fear.  In the evening  I go to places where people are shopping or eating in restaurants and take photos of faces and grouping that catch my eye.  Amazing how purifying that is.

Third,  I seek out people.  Since I don’t have many friends, I usually go to a restaurant where I know the servers and talk with them.  We just talk stuff.  None of them know my problem.  They tell me about their kids and problems with jobs and sick parents.  Somehow caring about another person helps me to forget myself.   It always takes an effort to get beyond myself but when I do I find it liberating.

Fourth,  Send me an email at msscholz@aol.com and I will respond as soon as I get it.  Let me know your telephone number if you want me to call you.  Maybe we can pray and talk and that will help.  If you don’t want to email me then call the national suicide hotline and they will connect you with local help.  The number is 1-800-273-8255.

Just remember, Friend, that if you can make it until the morning or for a couple of hours you will see things differently.   Whether you are lonely or afraid, abused or old.  Whatever the problem, it won’t go away but it can get better.  There are people who care.

I care and want  to help you.  I will pray with you, listen to you and give you a shoulder to cry on.  Just don’t take that final step.  You will be glad you didn’t and so will I and a lot of other people who read this blog.