Forgiveness is the final form of love.
― Reinhold Niebuhr
Soon it’ll be eight months since we lost you. Eight months since I heard your voice. Eight months since I heard you say, “I love you.”
I miss you Dad.
Grieving your loss, your suicide, has been hard. It’s a complicated journey, not at all linear like those stages of grief would have you believe. Leora gave a great analogy of the grieving process. It’s like the game Chutes and Ladders. Every day, you get up out of bed, you roll the dice and you move along the game board. Square by square, step by step you move ever so slowly ahead. Sometimes you land on a ladder and you get to advance even faster, headed towards the finish line. But just as easily, you can land on a chute, and find yourself sliding backward, and starting all over again. And so it is with grief. One step forward, two steps back. The times when the ladder allows you to move days, even weeks, through the loss with pain that is less palpable and ever present. Those are the days that remind you that joy, happiness, even a sense of peace, are possible. They tell you healing is happening. And then there are the days when triggers abound; holidays, remembrances, a television show, a book, something that opens the gate and allows the sadness, the pain, the loss, the missing… to find it’s way back onto center stage. Yes, I do believe that Leora got it right. Chutes and Ladders is the perfect analogy to the grieving process.
Dad, I’ve been angry at you for a while. It didn’t happen right away. Those early days, weeks and months were simply filled with shock, sadness, guilt and a tragic sense of disbelief. But somewhere along the way, I got angry. Suicide, if I’m being honest, feels like a choice sometimes. No, I wouldn’t dare allow someone who is not a survivor of suicide loss to say such a thing. But, as the survivors, the ones left behind, it feels like abandonment. We can say it, because we are living it. I’m the daughter, and you’re the dad. And dads aren’t supposed to just leave their children.
I’ve railed at you, yelled and screamed at the top of my lungs, until my voice was gone. I’ve pounded on and hit things until my knuckles were bloody and my fingers were swollen. I’ve thrown and shattered things. None of these are constructive acts, but sometimes anger simply wants, needs, to get out. And always, when I’m done, there is some relief, there is exhaustion and there is sadness.
But I don’t want to be angry at you anymore Dad. You must have been in such unimaginable pain to do what you did. Mom said something that truly resonated with me. When she stands at your grave, even if she is angry, she realizes that of all of us, no matter how hard our journey, it was you who got the worst end of this deal. Because we will find healing, we will laugh again, celebrate again and make new memories. But you, you will never again get to be a part of that. That is the ultimate consequence and cost of suicide isn’t it?
So Daddy, I forgive you. You would never have done this if you had the slightest sense of clarity in that moment. And I know you would never have wanted to cause us so much pain. I close my eyes and I hear you tell me you are sorry. Maybe it’s my mind playing tricks on me; wishful thinking. Or maybe, in the still and quiet moments, you are with me. I hope that you are.
I miss you Dad. It’s Chanukah. Tonight, we will light the sixth light on the Hannukiyah. Remember our first Chanukah, after we reconciled? I do. We lit the candles together via Skype. You had used flashlights and tape to turn yourself into a human menorah. And on another night, you created an alter ego, dressed in full rap attire, you became Jew-Z-Big.
You had that silly and playful side in you. You had joy within you, and joyful moments that made up your life’s story. But you had your fair share of demons too. You were not a resilient man, and change was never easy for you. Optimism didn’t come readily to you, nor did faith in the unknown. You were a pragmatist, and a worrier. And when depression and anxiety came this time around, I do believe they played on these parts of you, and they grew far too powerful for you to bear. Through the cracks in your armor, they got inside and poisoned your sense of self, until all you were left with was a vision of being a burden, of being worthless, of somehow failing us. The pain that took hold in that dark room, on that dark night must’ve simply been unbearable. And all that you wanted, was for the pain and suffering to end. You didn’t choose to leave us. You could no longer see us, our love for you was obscured, clouded by suffering. And that will always break my heart.
So when I light the candles tonight Daddy, through my tears, I will devote tonight’s candle to you.
For the light of forgiveness that I offer to you
And for the light of forgiveness we found when we reconciled four years ago
For the light of memories that mark happier days
For the light I hope to shine on that which took you from us; mental illness & suicide
For the light that will guide me through the Chutes and Ladders of grief
For the light, the Divine Spark that you carried within, even though you couldn’t always feel it and struggled to trust in it
For the ember of you, that I carry within me and pass on to my children
For the light of love that we were blessed to know, in all of it’s complicated, messy and awesome glory
And in the warm glow of the candles, and in the stars up above, I will look for you… always. And the light of my love, I pray, will reach you.
I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.
― Og Mandino