Diary of the Ghetto Priest | 'Father, I had thoughts of suicide'
"I am so anxious! I am so fearful! I worry day and night! I want to commit suicide!"
Having heard that I had to make time to see him.
Stephen* is a retired policeman. He is now 70 years old. He is quite slender and dignified. It was a very busy time for me, but he had called twice in two days. It was Sunday morning, and I had Mass at 8:30 a.m.
"See me at 10:30 a.m., right outside our chapel." He came to Mass and introduced himself right after mass.
Quietly and gently he began to talk in the garden.
"I live in Kingston, my wife, Eleanor*, lives with me. I have two grandchildren living with us. Both are seven years old. I have paid for our house, which is old and leaking. I can't repair it. I have a little pension. My wife Eleanor, has always been a housewife, and we have a little kitchen garden which is very helpful. But these days, the rain is coming down and the zinc is rotten and the wood of the roof is old and rotting. I am the head man. I always took care of my family and my three children who used to help me. I can't pay for electricity. I can't pay for water. They are going to cut it off. The children won't be able to do homework; we won't be able to get water."
I asked Stephen: "Where are your three children? Aren't they helping you?"
"I have a son. He is living in New York. He has done well. He is now buying a house of his own. He has three children and a wife, Susan. He has really done well. I am proud of him. I once suggested to Paul, if you have any little thing, you can send it down to fix the house. But if you can't, you can't. Paul said on the telephone 'It will draw me down Papa. And all that you taught me to stand on my own two feet won't happen. But maybe someday.' Then I asked him 'What about your daughter, Pauline, in London?' Stephen replied that Pauline is a nurse and the money is not that great.
She and her new husband are both working. They have two children, 'Everything is great, Papa. I miss Jamaica. But I have bad memories. That's why I had to leave our little girl, Clarice* with you. We can't manage her. She too fidgety and troublesome.
"We send school fees and whatever you have so you can take care of her for us, since you and Mama are independent and don't have anything to do.
"We really can't manage to send you anything more right now. But better days might come, and we will see what we can do.' "
'How is an old man like me going to manage?'
I admired Stephen for his dignity, his refusal to press his son and daughter, his selflessness.
"But how, I Stephen, an old man is going to manage, Father? How I going take care of the wife and the two grandchildren?"
"Tell me, Stephen, what about your third child?"
Stephen's eyes began to water. "That third one, Desmond, he is a footballer and he just left four years ago to work as a coach in Grand Cayman. He got married two years ago. I don't know what happened to him. I hardly hear from him.
He left his boy son with us. I don't know if he is in trouble. I don't know if he will get deported. Some friends say he is involved with drugs. I fear, I fear. He sends a little money now and then but don't answer my phone calls or write."
At this point Stephen broke down and cried.
"At times I think of suicide. I am no longer a man. I am no longer a father. I can't take care of my wife and grandchildren."
The anxiety, the fear, the sleepless nights, the thoughts that he might end up being a beggar in the streets, that rain or hot sunlight would pour into his old house, that the two children would end up being wild ghetto kids, that if, his wife and himself got sick. There is no way of paying medical bills.
On and on, tossing and turning, he could not sleep at nights. "I really think of suicide." He straightened up himself "I am not here to beg. I only came here to seek advice." I replied to him, "Suicide is forbidden by God and the Church!"
Your children must do their part!
"Your children must help you! You must ask. You must demand. You and your wife have taken care of them all your lives. They must take care of you in your old age. It is their obligation. In fact, it is their responsibility under God to help you. You must tell them your situation."
"You must put aside self-pity and a false sense of being a man. You have done your part. Your children must now do their part. They must take care of you, your wife, and their own children.
"You as a father are spoiling them. They will be selfish and self-concerned and you will be at fault. You must stop it now. By the way, Stephen, do you go to church? Do you know these lessons are all in the Bible? The difference is good or evil, love of God and love of others, or, love of self above all and making yourself into God."
"Thank you, Father."
Then he got up, squared his shoulders, and went back to the chapel to pray.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the persons.