It’s been weeks since I’ve attended services. It’s not that I don’t want to. I want to say Kaddish for my father. I want to be with my family. I want to be a part of our new community. But here is my truth. Grieving a suicide loss is a very isolating experience. I don’t know people “like me.” Statistics tell me I should, and I’m certain they are there, but I don’t know them. My father did not just die. He died by suicide. He took his own life. His end feels violent. He was the victim and the perpetrator of his own homicide. To try and put the pain of that kind of loss into words is just not possible. I won’t even try.
My soul and my heart have been ripped open, everything that seemed to make sense no longer does, faith is hard. It hurts to pray. It hurts not to pray. I’m mad at God. I need God. I’m mad at my father. I miss him and ache for his presence on earth each and every day. “Why” has become my least favorite question. Yet I ask it daily.
I am new to this community, our new synagogue community of Congregation Har HaShem. I don’t know a lot of people, but they know me. I can not have the anonymity of another griever. And when I pray, or when I stand in shul and can’t pray, I weep. Sometimes it is a quiet weeping. Other times it is all I can do to hold myself together, I bite the insides of my cheeks, I can’t speak, every single fiber of my heart and my soul cries out in pain, but I make no sound. I feel exposed, stripped away of all defenses, laid bare in front of my God. It is a vulnerable feeling.
It is hard to have that feeling in front of strangers. It is hard to feel such overwhelming grief is on display, the new rabbi’s wife is falling apart. Do they know why? Do they wonder what is wrong? Do they think I’m simply losing it? Who are they? Some I know. Some I’ve built relationships with already… trust, honesty, realness… the good, the bad & the ugly. Friends. And some, many in fact, are new to me.
I don’t know how to be this version of myself in front of them. I’m not the version of me that came to visit during Fred’s interview. I’ll never be that same person again. But isn’t that the me they are expecting to meet? And what if I simply can’t meet them, not properly anyway? What will they think if the rabbi’s wife just comes to services, weeps openly, says kaddish and leaves before they even have a chance to say hello? And how do I answer the questions. How are you? How’s it going? Do you like Colorado? Are you settling in? On good days, better days, I have the answers. Other days I know I can’t really speak my truth. I can’t answer, “How are you?” honestly.
So I stay home. It feels easier. At least there, when I utter the words of Kaddish, when I cry because my dad ended his own life, in the home that I grew up in, in a way that feels so utterly and profoundly wrong on each & every level and in a manner that was intended to be lethal, nobody is watching me. This final act by my father was not a cry for help. This was his way out of the pain, darkness and despair that took root in his soul. No final goodbye, no reflecting on memories past, no holding hands. He was alone, he was all alone when he died. I don’t just mourn for his loss, I mourn for what became of his life, for the sadness and shame that he carried, the sense that he was not worthy, that somehow we all might be better off if he were gone.
I stand at services, prayers for healing hurt, prayers for peace hurt, prayers for comfort hurt, prayers for mourning hurt. Why? Because no matter how hard we tried, we could not give him peace, we could not give him enduring comfort, we could not shelter him. We loved him, with all that we had, but it wasn’t enough.
How do I pray for all of that? My prayers are mostly in my tears. And it is hard to contain them when I stop, try and take a breath and reach out to God. And it is hard to let them go in front of so many new faces. It is just hard to be that vulnerable.
But I want to go to synagogue. I want to let my new community know my pain, though it makes me feel so very exposed. Because, right now, four months after my father’s suicide, this is who I am. My therapist tells me the road to healing after a suicide loss, traumatic loss, is a hard one, a long one and one riddled with roadblocks, obstacles and triggers. And I have to walk it, every day. I move forward, I move back, I walk it without knowing others like me, so it feels at times like I walk it alone, though I know I don’t.
I hope that I can feel less vulnerable in time. As new faces become familiar, strangers become friends, and those that surround me in the sanctuary become my community, my kehillah. There, in that holy and sacred place, my wounds are laid bare. There, in that holy and sacred place, I hope Ill find the courage and faith to let them show.
Let me come in — I would be very still
Beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears can bring relief.
(To One in Sorrow by Grace Noll Crowell)