Peter's story

by Peter Grace

About 25 years ago I was struggling with emotional and spiritual issues, and one of my helps was a charismatic Christian prayer group I attended for one or two years in the late 1970s.

I owned a car, unlike some of my single friends and acquaintances, so often gave a lift to one or more of them for this weekly prayer meeting. One of those people was Margaret. Unlike me, Margaret had been married, but she told me her husband had left her for another woman.

I remember Margaret as being about my age or perhaps a little older, which would have put her in her late 20s or early 30s. She seemed unfailingly withdrawn.

I met her because, after her marriage fell apart, she left Upper Hutt to come into Wellington.

I no longer remember in detail those regular prayer meetings in Ngaio. But I still remember the feeling that so often was part of them -- of warmth and belonging. Even though they were held in a private home, there could be more than 100 people present -- mostly on the floor somewhere in the very large living room.

I remember several incidents concerning Margaret. I cannot say in what order the first two happened, but the incidents were:
1.) I was giving Margaret a lift home to her flat. I thought she seemed depressed and, after wondering what I could say, said she looked "down". She denied it, saying she was all right.
2.) On another occasion Margaret gave me two queen-size double blankets. I think I suggested she keep them, but she insisted she no longer needed them.
3.) I seem to recall having little contact with Margaret for a couple of months when a police officer phoned me, saying Margaret had given my name as a referee (but she had not told me she was going to do this) to get a gun licence. She had told the police she wanted to go rabbit shooting on a friend's farm. I suppose the question was, "Was she a fit person to own a firearm"?

A little later (perhaps within a month) I learned that Margaret had taken her own life by shooting herself.

I felt guilty. I also felt angry with the police. As I recall, in affirming her fitness, I hesitated as I invariably do when I am thinking something out on the spot. The policeman merely heard the affirmation and hung up.

I could have phoned back and talked through my hesitation, but did not.

There were a number of signs which, on their own, might not have been of major significance. She was withdrawn. She gave away some of her belongings. She made arrangements to get an instrument used for killing.

When those items are put together (as I can easily do now she is dead!), a picture appears which I think should have led me to do more. I was in a good place to put that picture together, but did not. I think I failed Margaret in love.

Peter Grace is a journalist for NZ Catholic newspaper.