When we lived in Atlanta, I kept a giant calendar on the side of our refrigerator. Having three kids in three schools, plus after school activities and my husband’s busy rabbi schedule to juggle, that calendar helped me to organize life for myself & my family. Yes, in these days of smart phones and technology, I preferred to have life laid out in black and white, on paper. I still do.
My father died on April 20, 2015. And while so much of life felt like a blur in the aftermath of his suicide, the details of that day are etched into my mind with painful & perfect clarity.
When the end of that month came, I took the April calendar down, but I couldn’t throw it away. That was the last month that my father was alive. It was the last month that I would hear his voice, or tell him that I loved him and hear him say it in return.
And that piece of paper so starkly reflected the truth of my life. Every day leading up to April 20, 2015 was my before. And every day that followed, my after.
That is what it is to lose someone to suicide. You mark your very existence as a survivor in before & after. Because to survive a suicide loss is to be forever altered in ways that at times simply defy words.
The other day I was cleaning out some papers and I came across the calendar once again. My response, almost two years later, was still the same. I can’t throw it away. Some part of me simply can’t give up this piece of paper, filled as it is with the mundane routine of our daily lives as a family.
On the day my father died, my middle daughter was scheduled to have her braces taken off. My friend Karen so graciously picked her up at school and took her to the orthodontist, feigning a story about why I couldn’t get her myself. I recall vividly the picture Karen sent of Leora’s beautiful brace free smile at the end of that appointment. And I remember the pain I felt at knowing that the news of my father’s suicide, would wipe that smile away in an instant. And yet, there it is in black & white, what was supposed to be a far more ordinary afternoon, with an appointment scheduled at 2:00. And written underneath it are notes about carpool and a final class at Religious School. It was supposed to be an ordinary day, that became anything but.
I look at all of the things written on that April calendar that fell after the 20th, and I can’t even remember who took care of what. Who cancelled the appointments before we went to New York for the funeral? The house was due for the final inspection. Who made sure it was tidied up before we left? Who drove carpool? It is all a blur.
There was life before my father’s suicide. And there is life after. And why I can’t throw out that one piece of paper, I don’t know. Except maybe that it is the most concrete reflection of the day my life changed forever.
Time has passed. There has been much heartache, but also a great deal of healing. I try not to dwell in memories of the before. But I hold fast to one torn page from the calendar that reminds me of time I still shared with my father. He lived for 19 days in April 2015. And a single piece of paper is the evidence I cleave to. How could I possibly throw that away?
Time is the longest distance between two places. (Tennessee Williams)