Editor's note: The names of the people in this article have been changed to protect their confidentiality.
One summer, I decided to do an early morning walk at the beach in Tumon. While doing my exercise, I spotted an elderly man staring at the ocean. On my third lap, I noticed the same elderly man focused on the same stare. I became concerned. I got my cooler with water and juice in my car and headed toward the elderly man.
I sat about a foot away from him. He looked at me as though wondering why I sat beside him. I gave him a respectful nod and said, “Good morning, how are you this morning?”
He kept mum for a moment and gave me a doubtful look. After three seconds, he said, “Who are you and why do you care?”
I introduced myself, “I am Marie and I am a registered nurse. I observed you were intensely gazing at the ocean. I wanted to know if you are alright.”
He responded: “I am Felipe. Today would have been my 50th wedding anniversary but sadly my wife died last year with brain cancer. I miss her very much.”
Then he wept.
I listened but didn’t interrupt. Felipe sobbed and started to share his story about his wife, children and grandchildren. In a soft voice, he expressed, “Today is the day that I plan to end it all and join my wife. I cannot live another day without her. She was a terrific woman, she nags me at times but laughs a lot and I yearn those days.”
He affirmed that he is definitely thinking of ending his life. I asked how he was planning to do this and when. He articulated by drowning in the ocean and soon. This is how he wants to end it all.
I understood the seriousness of the situation and continued talking to him with compassion and empathy. I asked him tenderly about his children and grandchildren, how will they feel if he follows through with his plan.
Felipe replied, “They have their own lives, they never call or even check on how I am doing. Besides they all live in the states.”
I asked if he has relatives on Guam. He answered, he has one sister married and her husband dislikes him. I queried, “Her husband dislikes you?”
“He always talks to me in a shouting manner, and I feel he hates me,” Felipe responded.
Finally, I told him I am very worried about his safety and asked permission to call his sister and tell her what is going on with him or call 911. He gave me his sister’s phone number and agreed for me to call her.
I phoned her and explained how Felipe’s state of distress.
His sister, Carmela, shared that she and her husband offered for him to stay with them after the wife passed away, but Felipe adamantly refused and would rather live alone in his house. I voiced Felipe’s statement on how her husband talks to him with a raised voice.
Carmela started to laugh. It turns out her husband has a hearing deficiency. "He speaks loudly like he is mad all the time," she said. She said they would talk to Felipe.
I felt relieved and reassured. I explained to Felipe what transpired. He smiled and said, “Oh my God all these years I thought he hated me!”
What a significant moment when Carmela arrived with her husband. They hugged each other and talked about cherished times with the family. I talked about a care plan for Felipe especially addressing his bereavement process and lack of communication with his children and grandchildren.
Giving your time to listen with compassion and kindness can save a life and make someone fill their day with happiness.
Marie Virata Halloran is a registered nurse and executive director for Rainbows for All Children Guam/LifeWorks Guam.