I’ve written many Facebook Posts since Losing my father, Lowell Jay Herman, on April 20, 2015.
Here I share them once again, reflecting on each one as I live our loss out loud.
My Father’s Death (written 4/20/15)
Early this morning, my father lost his battle with mental illness. My heart is broken. May his memory be for an eternal & abiding blessing… and may he know how grateful I was for the gifts of reconciliation & healing–I got these last few years with my father, and that is a gift I will forever be grateful for. I will miss him more than words can say… I only wish I could tell him how much he meant to me, one last time. To hear his voice, to say I love you–and if only I had another chance to remind him-that it would get better, to hang on to hope even if only by his fingertips–but instead, I travel with my family to New York, to say goodbye to a beloved father, father-in-law, grandfather, friend, brother and husband–and to return his soul to God. I love you daddy!
He is Gone (4/20/15)
My beloved father Lowell Jay Herman. I want just one more moment–one more hug-one more I love you–I want to wake up from this horrific nightmare and know that you are still here–that the despair you were feeling, the depression–did not truly take you from us–but I will not get that. My heart and soul ache with a sadness I can not even put into words–Depression robbed our family of so many years–so many joyous moments yet to be, so many more opportunities to say I love you–and I feel as if I am stuck in quicksand–barely able to breathe, to think, to process. My father, my friend–how can it be that you are gone? I will cherish and miss this smile for the rest of my days. I only wish your last moments on this earth were not filled with so much pain–I love you daddy–always! I hope your soul is finally at peace..
The Funeral (4/23/15)
Today I lay my father to rest. My heart is broken. Beloved husband, father, grandfather, family man and friend. And as we grapple to come to terms with how he died, today we honor how he lived, what he meant to us and the legacy he leaves behind. I don’t know how to travel through this grief, but today, surrounded by family, supported by friends and enveloped in prayer, I will say goodbye to my dad one final time. And then I face a world without him.
Each morning I wake, there are those few moments when it doesn’t seem real. I sit in the house I grew up in, the house where my mother and father lived, but my father isn’t here. Yes, he is here in spirit, still very much a presence, but his physical being is no longer going to walk through those doors, sit at this table or bask in the sun out on the front porch. I keep thinking I missed something, a sign that perhaps, had I seen it, could’ve helped to save him. We who are left behind, grapple with the questions, trying desperately to understand this tragic loss. How do you explain the unexplainable? The answers we seek will never come, but perhaps it is simply in the talking, the sharing of our truth, that we can help to lift the shroud of shame and secrecy that surround mental illness and encourage a dialogue that might one day, save the life of another person struggling with depression. The Talmud says, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” I couldn’t save my father, but in his memory, and in his honor and in sharing his story, perhaps I can, in some small way, help to save another.
Leaving New York (4/26/15)
So very hard to leave my family in NY. Who else knew and loved my father in the same way and carries the same grief. Grateful for the time we had to hold one another and simply be together. And, despite the void we feel, to laugh and smile as we reminisced of happier times. And as the resilient spirits of our children lifted our spirits, basking in their laughter. And now, I return home to sit shiva amongst our community in Atlanta, and then to slowly make the journey back to life once again. I am profoundly grateful to the friends of old who gave of their presence while we were here, those who remember my dad as a young man full of life and spirit, and who share memories with me no one else ever will. And it comforts me to know my mother, my brother and his family are surrounded by so much love and support. Now it is to our community we return, secure in the knowledge that loving arms and hearts full of compassion and sympathy await.
Suicide & Mental Health-Sharing Painful Lessons (4/27)
One week ago, I received the devastating and heartbreaking phone call from my brother. My father had taken his own life. And as we stumble through this enormous and overwhelming pain, we will not hide from that truth. Suicide is not an act of cowardice, it is an act of pain. But to save a life, we must be open and honest about mental illness. We must not let shame relegate those who suffer, and their loved ones, to the shadows. Today, I learned that in 2013, someone died every 12.8 seconds by suicide. My precious father was not and is not a statistic, but sadly in some way, I must include him among these numbers. But it will not end there, through my tears, and my anguish, I will share his loss, and his life, openly and honestly. I will share his joy and his pain, his hope and his fears and the battle with the disease, yes, the illness, that took him from us far too soon. Because that is the only way I know to make sense of the senseless, and to honor my beloved father. One week ago, I received the devastating phone call. Perhaps if we are honest and open, another family might be spared that pain.
Shiva Ends (4/29/15)
Tonight, the torn black ribbon comes off, no longer to serve as a daily reminder of loss & mourning. The period of shiva ends, and slowly we must all begin to find our way back to life, to joy & to fond remembrance. But we do so with a void, and we do so continuing to grapple with the aftermath of the way in which my father’s life ended. The questions do not adhere to a timeline, the search for missed signs, or the things we would’ve, could’ve or should’ve done, must play themselves out. I think it’s only natural, at least that is what I’ve come to understand as I read about suicide, a topic I never thought I’d need or have to become knowledgeable about. I pray in time, with healing, and with understanding, and with a gentle loving of ourselves, those questions will no longer be the soundtrack that plays when we think of my dad, that the smiles and happy memories will find their way to the forefront, though in truth, they will always be accompanied in some way by his loss. In time, the tears won’t flow so freely, and the pain of picking up the phone to say hello to my dad, only to realize that I can’t, that I never will again, won’t hurt quite as much. Today, shiva ends, the ribbon comes off, my heart is still broken, so perhaps simply putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in the promise of each new day and being kind to myself & allowing myself to feel what I need to feel-is all I can really ask right now…
Sitting on the Front Porch Swing (5/3/15)
As I sit out here, on our front porch swing, my fathers favorite place to sit when he came to visit, I’m looking at the sign that sits on our front lawn. “Sale Pending” it says. The day we went under contract I called my parents to share the good news. It was the last time I would speak to my father, and the last piece of good news I will ever get to share with him. My dad sent me a text on Sunday morning. It read, “Great to hear it all went so well. Love you.” That was Sunday, and on Monday he was gone. So as I sit out here swinging, smiling as I think of him, tears fill my eyes. Time is so very precious and it is fleeting. For 6 years my family and I were estranged. When I wrote to my parents, to try and heal the rift, I told Fred Greene, I simply could not bear the thought of my parents leaving this earth without knowing, I loved them, I forgave them, I was sorry for the ways that I had hurt them and that should they be open to it, I stood ready and willing to heal, to love and to bring wholeness back into our lives. My father said that when they received that first letter, on Rosh Hashanah, he told my mother that “it was truly a blessed day.” Reconciliation is a gift. My father did not leave this earth without knowing I loved him. And my family and I shared 3 more precious years together. We loved each other for the flawed and imperfect beings we are. That is the most authentic love there is. And so, swinging on this porch, gazing at this sign, tears rolling gently down my face, smiling through the tears, my message is simple, love honestly, forgive, heal where you can, and shed the burden of anger and hurt. I got to share one final piece of good news with my dad, a final I love you… Time is fleeting and oh so precious and forgiveness is a gift.
Grief is a process, a journey. We cannot rush through it, nor can we flip a switch and simply turn it off. Two weeks ago I lost my father to suicide. Yes, I know there will come a day when I can more readily think about the life he lived, rather than the way he died. There will come a day when the pain of his death does not feel like a weight upon my heart, but rather a dull ache that lives alongside of his memory. A day when I will smile, more than I cry when I think of him. But to grieve is to feel, to grapple and to hurt. Tomorrow I am going to a support group for Survivors of Suicide. Yes we, the loved ones left behind, have a name, an identity, membership in a club no one would ever choose to belong to. And yet, the loss we grieve has initiated us. Grief is a process, we all travel through it in our own way, but I believe that to travel it openly and honestly, honoring our emotions, our struggles and our feelings, is how we ultimately return ourselves to a place of healing and wholeness. Two weeks ago, just two, I lost my father to suicide, and I am profoundly sad, I grapple for answers that will never come, I struggle daily with how he died. I put one foot in front of the other, I breathe, I share & I talk. I busy myself with life, I seek strength and comfort in the company of family and friends. I eat the meals cooked and delivered so lovingly by others… and yes, I grieve, I hurt, I cry and I miss my dad.
Painful Realities (5/6/15)
A visit to the doctor today. We need to review your history the nurse says. Medicine list comes first, then medical history. On we move to family history. You have 3 children at home? Yes. Daughters? Yes. You have one brother? Yes. And you still have your mother and your father? The tears fill my eyes, before I can stop them. No, my father just passed away 2 weeks ago. What was the cause? With a heart full of pain, I take a deep breath, then answer…suicide. She offers heartfelt condolences & I can see she is sincere. And then she returns to the computer and the change is entered into my records. I watch her use the mouse and where once the box was checked yes next to father, it is no longer. Instead, the check finds a new permanent position filling up the box which says no. And a notation is made about cause of death. The records now reflect the painful truth, my father is no longer with me. He took his own life. A routine visit to the doctor, a review of medical & personal history. An already raw & open wound now fills with waves of pain. It was a routine visit to the doctor, but I left feeling as if I’d been punched in the gut. And wishing there was medicine for the ache in my soul.
Thank you (5/9/15)
What do you say to a man who loves you through such a tragic and horrific loss? Who honors your grief, your need to mourn, your profound sense of sadness and your pain at losing a father to suicide? Who gives your father one final gift and honors your mother, by eulogizing and burying your dad with such love, respect and dignity? Who shares from the pulpit our need to end the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and suicide, even as he does so with a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes? Who silently holds your hand, wipes your tears and offers his presence not platitudes? And who seeks daily to lighten your burden of tasks and chores so you can focus on taking care of yourself? Thank you seems too small a word. It can’t possibly encompass your gratitude? Surely there must be something more grandiose to say, but I’ve not yet found it. My father would likely know, grabbing his scrabble dictionary and offering up some obscure word that I might use. And I know that from his place with God, he’d let me know if he could, because I know he too is grateful to have been laid to rest by such loving hands. So I’ll rely on these two little words for my husband Fred Greene thank you my love…. My kind, sweet and compassionate husband and friend. I don’t think I could navigate this dark and difficult path without you by my side. “I would thank you from the bottom of my heart, but my heart has no bottom” (author unknown)