I had never prepared myself for anyone telling me they wanted to take their life. I don’t think anything can prepare you for that, so when a homeless man told me he was going to end his own suffering, I have to admit I felt helpless.
I’d never met Martin before. He was just another man sleeping rough in Dublin city and I was just another person who could have walked by and ignored him.
I didn’t that evening though and I got chatting to him, learnt a little about his life and how he’d ended up on the streets.
Martin was ill too. He told me he was suffering a great deal with his health, with loneliness, the cold, and of being without a home, sleeping each night on our capital city’s streets.
I gave him my number. I said I’d talk again to him, check in on him. Martin was likeable. Why shouldn’t he be. He is human, after all, just like you and me. He isn’t a dog or an animal or any description, yet he and many others live in worse conditions than many of our domestic pets. This is the crime, the shame of our nation, of our world.
Days later I’d forgotten about Martin, I have to admit. Life is fast and I was busy with family, food shopping, fighting a flu and rushing about as usual.
I stopped off for a take-out for the family and as I stood at the counter to order on a Friday night, my phone rang.
It was a number I didn’t recognise but I picked it up regardless. “Hello” the male voice said at the end of the other line.
“It’s me, Martin.” It took me seconds to remember and then it hit me. This was the homeless man, who’d been so lost in the days after Christmas as we awaited a new year, one most reason will bring hope.
Almost immediately and without warning, Martin announced “I can’t do this anymore.” The woman behind the counter signalled to me my food was almost ready and suddenly eating was the last thing on my mind.
The restaurant faded away. I could see people, hear them a little but they had faded into the background. All that I could hear loud and clear was that I had to do something or someone I didn’t even know could die.
I can’t describe quite how I felt apart from that my heart pounded and I wanted to cry. But for some reason I didn’t panic and I instead knew someone had to talk to this man, to try to be there for him and that someone had to be me because I was the one he’d phoned.
Martin told me he’d been on the streets for years and he had saved up by begging. That he hoped he’d finally be able to start rebuilding his life but he’d been robbed that night.
“I can’t take it anymore, I just can’t,” he kept saying over and over. He told me how he planned to take his life that night and that he had no doubt that it was the right thing to do.
“I can’t take living like this anymore, out in the cold, every night.” Martin explained he’d tried hostels in Dublin but he just couldn’t sleep in them. He claimed they were full of “drug addicts, alcoholics and violent people.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim from a homeless person. Some take their chances with the streets rather than with the hostels despite how loudly the Government and Dublin City Council, claims it’s providing for rough sleepers.
Really, when you think about it, would you or I wish to sleep in an open dorm full of strangers? And hey, you may not always be guaranteed a bed throughout the year and sometimes you may only get a sleeping bag to take back to the streets you’re trying to escape.
While also, you know you’ll spend all day roaming the streets because hostels aren’t a home and you’re not allowed to stay in your home during the day. This is merely a ramshackle sleeping arrangement for someone who just doesn’t fit in to this fast-moving, overpriced society of ours.
His voice shook. His words were resolute. I begged. This was a stranger to me but I begged.
Martin told me not to feel guilty, to go on and enjoy the final days of the holidays, to go home to my family but how could I? I told him, if he took his life, I’d never forgive myself. I meant it. How could I? He needed someone. He needed someone to give a shit. He needed to believe someone cared. Anyone. And I did. I did care.
I spent around half-an-hour speaking to Martin. I asked could I pass his number to a helpline. He refused. I didn’t want to stress him out but I managed to get assistance with the situation.
I checked on Martin a few times later in the night and I told him I cared, that I may not know him, but if he’d done anything that I knew he would regret, I wouldn’t be able to get over it, that I’d forever be sad for this loss.
I told him he meant the world to me as a human being and that I just knew tomorrow and the next day would be better. I knew that while he had hope, life, that he could recover, that he could rebuild, that he could get over this.
I felt closer to Martin in that short amount of time than I have with many people in my life. I suppose the old saying does ring true to some extent…A friend in need…
Martin was the most important human being to me that night in all the world. I know if he’d died my heart would have broken. I’d have felt responsible for letting him down even though, in reality, I know it wouldn’t have been my fault.
I told him I cared. I told him he was now my friend. I told him others cared too, I just knew they did and that one day he would be able to look back on this as his turning moment.
I don’t know if I said anything that mattered, that counted, that worked because guess what, nothing does prepare you in any way to deal with such a situation.
All I know is I was able to help Martin. I got him advice and I offered an ear to someone in a very low moment.
Something must have worked because a text came through the next day that I’ll never forget. Martin told me he was fine. He thanked me for my “kindness.” For being a “friend.” And by good fortune, he said his money had been returned to him.
I hope I never have to face that situation again – I wouldn’t wish it on anyone either – but I do know I’d be a friend to anyone who felt suicidal and I’ll always care for those less fortunate because tomorrow it could be you or I.
If you are struggling like Martin was, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123 freephone 24 hours a day.