There were whispers about her through the halls. This usually meant one thing – she had been there for a while.
I kind of figured she had taken up residency at the hospital when I peered into her room. She had her own comforter in popular teenage colors and this bright furry pillow. She was a young girl, maybe thirteen – too old for the children’s floor, but really not ready for the women’s floor.
The nurses and caretakers knew her well. She sought attention. A lot.
But who could blame her?
She never knew her dad and her mother left her at a young age, but not without many memories. She was discarded.
That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Sometimes harsh is necessary, because discarded portrays the feelings more accurately than say left. She was left on her own as a young child, cast to the side.
And this left her feeling discarded.
Unworthy. Lonely. Frightened. Unloved.
And any other adjective that rightly portrays the feeling of being unwanted.
So there she was on day number who knows at this point of being hospitalized when I talked to her. We were standing near the nurses’ station and she nervously swayed back and forth. Victoria, that is her name, waited anxiously for something to calm her stomach.
She’d already been to the nurses’ station many times during the day. I watched her as she asked for something to help with this or that and then asked when it was her time to see the doctor. The nurses didn’t seemed phased by her constant barrage.
We chatted for a bit as I asked her where she came from. A group home in the foster care system was her last stop. I got the impression, it wasn’t a good experience. Which is no surprise, given the cracks and gaping holes of this social system we created.
Victoria ate glass. Yes, you read that correctly. She consumed glass and needed hospitalization to repair the damage and then mental hospitalization to work on the root cause of this action. That’s how she landed in this hospital and that is where our paths crossed.
It was actually a smart move if you think about it -- going from a group home to a hospital where she gets attention when she wants it, twenty four hours a day. On top of that – you get a bed to sleep and food to eat. A hospital, especially a psychiatric one, appears scary to those on the outside. But for many it becomes a home – one where you are cared for and connected to people.
Unfortunately, institutionalization becomes a sanctuary for many. It often beats what is on the outside. After hearing many of their stories, I don’t blame them for hiding as long as they could. I would say don’t ever doubt the intellect of mental health patients. Many are geniuses and many more are really good at acting.
I overheard the nurse fussing at her for eating sugar again. Victoria had diabetes and she didn’t take it seriously. Maybe it was just an age thing. Maybe it was another way to stay hospitalized. She’d grab two desserts in the cafeteria line and stare the caretaker in the face as she ate all of it.
Patients confided in each other. It’s obvious you have some problem or many. After all, you wouldn’t be spending the night on those halls. We were on common ground, all screwed up, so there were no need for filters or fake stuff. I learned to listen more than anything. I couldn’t relate to the causes which led to the effects that put them in the hospital. In my life, I had been spared of these hardships.
I didn’t have much to say to Victoria. I couldn’t fathom what abandonment felt like. I always had my own pillow and a roof over my head. I’ve always felt loved by at least someone throughout my days. So, I said what I always do when I hear stories of heartbreak.
I’m so very sorry. So very sorry that happened to you. You don’t deserve this.
Wishing I had something more to say, I paused with puddled tears in my eyes: At some point you are going to have to take care of yourself.
I’m not very good at this whole disciple thing. I can’t think of the perfect piece of scripture to pull out at the right time or even muster, Jesus loves you. What I’ve come to understand about people who are cloaked in darkness, is there is a lot of resentment towards God. I get it. I mean I really get it.
Sometimes talking about all of the great things our God has done for us or what He can do for them drives a wedge right smack in the middle of the conversation. After all, “where was God when _____?”
I don’t know where He was. Honestly, I don’t. I think I’ve asked the very same question more than once.
Where were you? I’ve also asked why her and not me? Why save me and not him? Why heal me and not her? How could you let such a bad thing happen to such a good person?
I’ll admit, I am not the best gospel bearer. But I know how to love. And I know how to show love with the gentle touch of an arm and give an earnest ear to listen. I know how to bleed compassion and shed a genuine tear. I learned how to sit in the dark with my new friends. And be the only light in the room.
All because He showed me how. He took me to the dark and sat with me. He stayed with me until I was ready to climb my way out.
That’s why I often just sit, listen and usually tell a funny story. Because a person has to decide on their own it’s time to find the way out. When they ask me how I made it out, I’m honest about my faith – but I don’t expound unless they ask. I’m always truthful about the climb. It was anything but easy and pretty.
I certainly hope they find Christ. I pray they follow the light. But ultimately, I just want the person to add the adjective, LOVED, to their dictionary. I call it leaving breadcrumbs, because Lord knows He left plenty for me.
The last night I was at the hospital, Victoria sat with me at dinner. She grabbed a dessert as usual. But halfway through dinner, she slid her cake over to me. She looked at me and I just nodded. And then of course, I don’t turn down cake.
Who can you leave breadcrumbs for?