High Holiday services were brutal for me. Unusual for the wife of the rabbi to say out loud, I know. But there it is. Five months after my father’s suicide, the liturgy of the holidays felt like a vat of salt was being poured into my still open wounds.
We recite Unetanah Tokef….
On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.
As a still very new, and grieving survivor of suicide loss I cannot possibly utter these words. Though I do not believe in an all powerful God, an intervening God, the words, the liturgy of these Holy Days reverberates with that kind of Divine Image. Recited around me, carried to the heavens in the voice of a congregation, I feel angry at God, betrayed, let down. I am unable to pray. I simply stand and cry, and at other times I leave the sanctuary overcome by grief.
Five months ago my father took his own life. There are no words to describe the pain his death, his choice, has left behind. On a cerebral level, I can recognize that it was his illness, the depression & anxiety that had taken hold of his soul, that led him to his death. On an emotional level I feel abandoned, angry, traumatized, profoundly sad and grappling with the many complex layers of this loss.
I want to know if God watched him do it.
I want to know if God, or the angels cried out.
When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God’s Angels cried out to stop him.
Where were they when my father died alone, in the basement of the home I grew up in?
I want to know why my father felt unworthy of inscription in
The Book of Life.
His story was not done.
Surely this could not be God’s
U’fros Aleinu Sukkat Sh’omecha
Spread Over Us Your Shelter of Peace
How many times have I prayed these words?
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habracha l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with refuah sh’leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And how many times did I pray these words, thinking of my father’s struggles and wanting so desperately to help him once again find peace.
And now, the holiest of days in our Jewish calendar. A time of reflection, atonement, renewal. A time to meet God with openness, with honesty, with confession and with grace. And I can’t.
We are in this complex dance right now God and I. As I lash out in anger and bewilderment, I beg for peace and comfort. Like picking the flowers off of the petal.
I need you
I need you not
I forgive you
I forgive you not
I pray to you
I pray to you not
I turn to you
I turn to you not
It would have been easier not to go. It was offered to me. Friends, family, even my beloved husband offered me the out. If it is too hard, if it hurts, if you are suffering, do not come to services this year. It’s okay. God understands. That is what I was told. So much love and concern surrounding me. So many wanting to hold me up. So many wanting to minimize the pain I’m enduring. It would be okay this year to do “Jewish lite.”
But I wanted to be with my family.
I wanted to support my husband on his first High Holy Days here in Colorado.
It made sense, right?
But it wasn’t really what drew me to go.
At least not in full.
I couldn’t name it, this other pull. I then I read an article that a friend had shared with me. In it there was a poem by Aaron Zeitlin.
Praise me, says God, and I will know that you love me.
Curse me, says God, and I will know that you love me.
Praise me or curse me
And I will know that you love me.
Sing out my graces, says God,
Raise your fist against me and revile, says God.
Sing out graces or revile,
Reviling is also a kind of praise,
But if you sit fenced off in your apathy,
If you sit entrenched in: “I don’t give a hang,” says God,
If you look at the stars and yawn,
If you see suffering and don’t cry out,
If you don’t praise and you don’t revile,
Then I created you in vain, says God.
And there it was.
I went to sevices on Rosh Hashanah and on the evening of Yom Kippur to show God that I was still in this relationship. I showed up to offer God the truest and most authentic prayer I had, my tears; and in that regard I prayed without end. I showed up to deliver this message.
I am angry at you God.
Perhaps it is unfair, misguided anger, but I need a place to put it.
My father’s end is unjust, unacceptable.
It feels like an abomination.
And I want to know where you were.
Where was your compassion?
Where was his peace?
And I want to know why my own prayers for comfort do so little to ease my own pain?
I want to know so many things. I want to yell and I want to cry. I want to speak and I want to remain silent. I want to turn away from you and I want to turn towards you.
But I’m here, in your house.
I’ve lived through estrangement before.
I will not do it again.
In “Vayishiah” Jacob wrestles with the angel. His name is changed to Israel
to struggle with God.
I could not do it all. I went to services on erev Rosh Hashanah and on the first day. I could not bear to stand through the liturgy, or run from it another day. And I went to services on Kol Nidre, but I could not return for the remainder of the holiday. But the point of it all is this…
I showed up.
Though my knees threatened to buckle and my feet carried me to and from the sanctuary and back more times than I can count; I showed up.
In my silence and through my tears, tissue after tissue; I reviled and admonished God.
In my pain and in my anguish, in the sobs that felt as if they came from my soul; I forced myself to turn towards God.
To stay home for it all would have been easier.
To turn my back would have been easier.
But God and I have a long journey ahead of us.
And we’ve shared a long journey past.
And I don’t know much right now.
The answers I seek escape me.
But I do know this…
I showed up.
Because I want God in my life.
Faith is my anchor, even when I feel lost at sea.
God’s love is steadfast
Even when I find it hard to receive.
I love God.
And in my anger & my pain;
deep in my soul
I know God loves me.
And I know God loved my father.
My father is with God now.
And my most fervent prayer
is that he is at peace.