Archives for category: A Slice of Life

 

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

One of the hardest parts of losing my dad to suicide is how the trauma has impacted my ability to remember him. I look at pictures or videos, or I simply reflect upon a memory of the past and within moments images & thoughts of how my father died come racing into my mind. My therapist assures me that this is normal, that one day the walls of trauma will recede and allow me to remember my father in life without always having those memories tainted by his death.

I tell my husband that trying to remember my dad, feels like looking through a kaleidoscope. I can see fragments, but no matter how I turn the lens, I can’t access one whole, pure, loving memory. And that feels like another layer of loss.

And yet, the one way that I feel like I can remember my dad, free of the trauma and the pain, is through food. It’s not surprising for those who know me. I am more than an avid foodie, with a passion for cooking. For me, food is the truest & most authentic expression of love. It nurtures, it heals, it awakens the senses, it brings pleasure, it eases sorrow, it is comfort, tradition & family. For me, food is memories. It’s intimately connected to the moments we share with those who matter most to us. It’s the one place I can find my father in a way that feels pure and whole.

It’s ironic of course, that my dad and I had very little in common when it came to food in our adult years. I’m a vegetarian. He was far from it. I cook & eat mostly vegan, and my father, while always a good sport when staying in my home, needed the occasional restaurant fix of meat or chicken to sustain him through the visit. I am all about organic foods, locally, sustainably & ethically sourced wherever and whenever possible. Processed foods don’t get much play in my house and every label of every box and bag has been read. My dad? He just wanted the foods that tasted good, that were familiar to him, the flavors that he knew. It was a source of pride for me each time I fed him a homemade meal and won him over, even getting him to like brussel sprouts at the age of 70. Though he only liked them, the way that I prepared them. That thought still makes me smile.

As a kid, I have certain food memories of my dad. I remember going to the diner and being introduced to one of his favorite desserts, waffles with vanilla ice cream. I remember family outings on summer evenings to get ice cream & thick-shakes at Carvel. I remember how much he loved noshing on pretzels and the holidays when he carved the roast chicken or turkey that my mother had prepared. I remember his love of pastrami, or salami & eggs at Wolfie’s Deli. I remember when he stood up for me and my brother when my mom tried to get us to eat liver, remembering his own unpleasant childhood memories at having been forced to do the same. And who could forget the New York City hotdogs he would buy for me when I would go into Manhattan with him? And there are more….

Then there is the memory of the Entenmann’s NY Style Crumb Cake that would often be in our house when I was a kid. That familiar white box with the blue writing and the many mornings that my father would carve out a piece of cake and have it for breakfast along with his coffee (before cholesterol became a concern). That’s one of the memories that comes to mind most often. I don’t know why, it just does.

Entenmann's

So today, after another hard night touched by the images of my father’s death, and on the heels of a day that seemed to be weighed down by unknowable triggers, I decided to honor that memory the best way that I know how. I turned on the stereo and piped my father’s first cousin and one of his favorite artists, Barbra Streisand, through the house. Setting the music to shuffle, it took my breath away when the very first song that came on was “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark
Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

And in that moment I let myself believe that my dad was talking to me. He chose that song, as has happened before, to remind me that even when it’s hard to find him, he is with me. And seeing my swollen puffy eyes, and my broken spirit, my dad wanted me to know that it won’t always hurt this way, that golden sky will follow the storm. And never, ever, am I alone.

With that, I turned on the oven and took out my best ingredients, setting about to make my own New York Style Crumb Cake, just like that Entenmann’s cake he used to love, only better because mine would be made from scratch. I didn’t go vegan, I wanted to make it the old-fashioned way, though every ingredient reflected the values that I bring to my cooking and baking. And while Barbra played on in the background, with flour, butter, sugar, eggs and spices, I took a memory and brought it to life in my kitchen. And as the cake was baking, a delicious scent filled my house. I couldn’t help but hope that my dad might be able to breathe it in somewhere. And that he remembers those same breakfasts that we shared at the kitchen table and the myriad of other food memories that we shared.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Later on today, I’ll pour myself a cup of instant coffee, because that’s what my dad used to drink. Mine won’t have Splenda or Half-n-Half, but some organic cane sugar and almond milk instead (hope you don’t mind Dad). And with the music continuing to play, I’ll have a slice of crumb cake and I’ll savor the memories that food allows me to find with my father, unspoiled by trauma & pain. And I will let that touch of sweetness nourish my spirit and bring me some comfort. Because food is memories and food is love.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

This one is for you Dad.

I adapted this recipe from Fine Cooking to make today’s food memory.

me and dad 2

Forgiveness is the final form of love.
― Reinhold Niebuhr

Dear Dad,

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

dad and yael

colorado

Okay, let’s start–kids are getting ready for camp, two leave next Wednesday, the other a week from Sunday. Movers arrive on the 17th. Change is coming. Change alone is overwhelming, under the best of circumstances, but change in the midst of grief also feels like another layer of loss is being added to the already complex aftermath of my father’s suicide. More goodbyes, my people, friends, community, support systems–just as I begin to get my sea legs back–wobbly & unsteady as they may be, the ground shifts and it feels at times like my knees might buckle. So I try and listen to what my body is telling me-and I honor my needs. I am blessed that my husband, partner and best friend is so willing to shoulder far more than his fair share of this transition, camp preparation and the million and one logistical pieces that need to be put into place… Goodbyes are hard, they feel even harder right now. The future is filled with excitement, yes I am happy and pleased that we’ve chosen this new adventure–but we didn’t know that the journey would be one that happened in the midst of grieving and healing. So I deep breath it, I small picture it, I talk about it, I write about it, I cry about it and I do my best to walk through it, baby step by baby step.

Change is coming. A leap of faith… it’s not easy to jump right now. I simply have to believe that there will be people to catch me on the other end–as I let go of the many hands that have held me up through this grief. Change is coming-it is full of promise… this I know. But it hurts to say goodbye–and as I throw myself into the great unknown, I carry with me the broken pieces… this I also know. But healing can happen anywhere, if we are surrounded by love….

The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.
― C. JoyBell C.

crossroads

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
Alan Watts

Sometimes change is hard. In the coming and in the going, in the known and in the unknown. Sometimes change is just hard.

How is it that some days I awaken so full of excitement and anticipation and others I am overwhelmed, emotional and scared? How does my mind determine in which direction it will carry me that day? Some mornings seem filled with the promise, hope and joy of new adventure, yet others find the heaviness of leaving a little harder to bear. Where is the compass pointing today?

Life is full of hellos and goodbyes. It is full of beginnings and endings. We travel down the path immune to those things most days. The journey, the route so familiar and comfortable to us. But sometimes we arrive at a crossroads that remind us of their existence.

I find myself caught some days in the struggle between roots and wings. An emotional dance I do with myself. Who I am here. The people I love & who love me in return. The life I know, the community of which I am a part. And then I ask who will I be? Who will become a part of that family of friends? What will be my role in my new community, where will I fit and what will I ultimately choose to do with this new chapter of my life?

The minutia that comes with such change can be overwhelming. If it is true that life is indeed in the details, then we are immersed in them. Schools, doctors, housing all a part of the existence of a family. All once new, now so familiar, trusted perhaps and even if they are not, they are who & what we know. Each phone call, email and bit of research touched with the angst of starting over. Building a life there while still living here.

I have shared before one of my favorite quotes. All the art of living is a fine mingling of letting go and holding on (Havelock Ellis). In just a little over four months, we leave this place, our home in Roswell, Georgia. And we begin a new chapter in Boulder, Colorado. Change is hard, it simply is. I’ve come to accept that. It is hard to let go, and it is hard to hold on. So perhaps each day is a little bit of both. Prying a finger loose to reach forward while cherishing the roots from which I get to do that. Looking back at when this place was once the new & unknown. And trusting that the ebb and flow of human emotion can not always be named, understood or explained. Some days we are simply meant to feel what they bring.

So some days this move will fill me with excitement.
Some days it will be steeped in angst.
Some days I’ll cry for the friends I leave.
And others I’ll be joyful for the new relationships that will touch my life.
Some days I’ll get caught up in the details.
Some days I’ll simply relish the beautiful and broad landscape that lies ahead.
Some days I’ll count the days until we go & others I’ll ask the universe to slow down just a bit so I can relish the time we still have here.
Some days I’ll cry, just because I need to.
Some days I’ll smile, just because I want to.

And some days, when I grapple with holding on and letting go. I will simply take a deep breath, close my eyes and allow myself to experience it all and to feel every emotion that comes with this change. Because they are all a part of my story, they are all a part of me. And they all hold within them, on any given day, my truths. And I must always find a way to honor them.

Moving on, is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard.
Dave Mustaine

…here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”
― E.E. Cummings

me and noa pacemaker

Today marks two years since Noa received her pacemaker. And this week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. So, I thought to mark this day, and to honor the intentions of this week, I would share a post that I wrote on Facebook following our last visit to the pacemaker clinic.

Today I took our sweet (and sassy) baby girl (yes, she’s still my baby) Noa to visit the Pacemaker clinic. It remains surreal to me, a little over a year & a half after that grand mal seizure, that our daughter has this little device in her body at 11 & 1/2 years old–that little heart of hers, survived major open heart surgery as an infant–and then endured another trauma that alerted us to the fact that on it’s own–it simply can not function as it is supposed to. The doctor told me today that she is now 100 % dependent on the pacemaker–each time we have visited that number has gone up–until it can go no further–100% dependent. When they test the pacemaker, part of what they do is to stop it and watch her heart’s own rhythm–immediately Noa began missing beats. It is not an easy thing to have your child sit, fully present and aware, through conversations about how much she needs & depends on the pacemaker. How, without it, her heart does not work properly–those are moments that are hard for adults to process, let alone a child. My kid has a tough exterior, but when those moments come during the visit–the anxiety that raises her blood pressure, the tears that quietly stream down the side of her face–that exterior melts away and I see her fear. What more can I do than to reassure her, to hold her & to love her. The tests get completed, the conversations end, the wires come off–and slowly I help her shed the morning reminders of a broken heart–because hers is a heart so full of love, compassion, strength, joy, faith and so much resilience. Her heart bears scars-as does her body–but as we walk out the door of the hospital and return to the promise of the day that lies ahead–I tell her once again that we are strongest in the broken places-the places of healing…. and I know that we are profoundly grateful that, as hard as this journey has been at times, we live in a time where modern technology can save the life of our child–where doctors & nurses can fix & heal a broken heart. And so we journey forward–maybe with a little more sadness today for innocence lost–for what Noa has had to endure–but also with the knowledge that above all else–she has survived, she has thrived, she is here–and today, as every day with her is–today, is a gift!

Noa and Fred in hosp 13

God is closest to those with broken hearts.
– Jewish Proverb

DSCN0664

There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is. (William P. Merrill)

Once, we didn’t know if she would ever utter a complete & coherent sentence.
Once, we couldn’t bring her into a room full of people & stimuli-knowing it would overwhelm her senses.
Once we didn’t know if she would be able to make & sustain friendships.
Once we didn’t know if she would ever reach or achieve the milestone of becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
Once we were afraid to hope too much, ask for too much, pray for too much.
Once it seemed there wasn’t room for her in our faith. She would exist on the periphary, never being able to believe it truly belonged to her.
Once we didn’t know that we could teach her to cut with a scissor, let alone make beautiful music on an instrument.
Once, the simple act of drinking from a straw seemed too much to ask of her lips, her mouth. The only songs we might hear were those she mimicked, memorized from her favorite TV shows. Rote melodies and words….
Once, we heard the word autism and for a brief moment, our world came to a stand still.
But, we loved her too much to remain in a place of helplessness. We owed her so much more than that.
So once, we fought for her. And she fought alongside of us. We immersed her in therapies, and she displayed a fortitude & a perseverance that, in the company of that support, brought her forward, tiny step by tiny step.
Once, the world overwhelmed her. A clown, a bright gathering of balloons, the sounds of a crowded space. But we did not retreat. She allowed us to slowly expand her world, safely, with trust… inch by inch.
Once, she carved out an entry way into her faith, embracing it as her own, determined that she would have a place, amongst her peers.
Once, we began letting go, allowing her to try, to stumble, to feel her way through, so she would know autism did not own her, it simply inhabited her.
Once…. once we didn’t see her standing on the bimah, guitar in hand, surrounded by her peers, leading a congregation in prayer & song.
Once we didn’t see that smile, full of pride… her smile, our smiles.
Once, our hearts broke–sometimes they still do.
Autism has changed her journey. Not simply once, but forever.
Once we didn’t know where that journey would take her. Today, we still don’t.
So we take in the moments… always.
And last night, as we watched a very special song leader, our hearts filled with pride. We kvelled and turned to each other, my husband and I.
“Remember when we never thought this would be possible?”
Once the word never occupied a space too painful to bear. We tucked it away, choosing instead to focus on maybe, perhaps, one day
And on this Sabbath eve, we quietly revisited the word never.
Never underestimate her.
Never give up on her.
Never forget the quiet courage she displays each & every day.
Never be too afraid to hope, to dream.
Never stop giving her the tools, the chances, the opportunities.
And never forget the moments, when we get to witness the incredible blessing of watching her do, what once we thought could never be done.
In prayer, and in song… and in watching her, her love of music, her love of faith, her love of Jewish community, she shared with us a gift. It’s her gift.
And that we will never give up on.

Yael 3
Never give up, for that is just the place and time, that the tide will turn. (Harriet Beecher Stowe)

YogaPoses-Childs

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. (Raymond Lindquist)

Confession, I am not the most confident person in the world. There, I said it. I often find myself battling a sense of inhibition & self-doubt when I embark on something new. Like many, stepping outside of my comfort zone is never easy. But, at 46 years old, I am learning to be more cognizant of those feelings. I am learning that when those voices, the ones that stick little pin pricks into my confidence level, begin to speak, I need not let them have the final word. I listen to them, and then I force myself to begin to answer them. What am I afraid of? What is the worst that could happen? Is it possible I will miss out on something fun, exciting, rewarding or meaningful because I didn’t want to look silly, or perhaps fail? Do I feel like all eyes will be on me if I mess up, falter or struggle? The answers and the questions vary at times. But the important part, is challenging myself not to succumb to the doubts or inhibitions. I promised myself in this new year, I would do more of that.

And so today brought me to yoga class. I’ve taken yoga before. It was at a local studio and while I absolutely enjoyed doing it, I will confess to always feeling a little bit uneasy. I didn’t like being the new student in the class. I felt silly & even a little embarrassed when I struggled with a position that seemed to come so easily to those who had been practicing for years. I felt unsure about my movements & rather than feeling relaxed, I found myself caught up in trying to get the moves “right.” Am I positioned properly? Is the right leg up in the air? Why can’t I seem to contort my body in the ways that others can? And so, after a few months, I just fell away from the practice.

When meditation became a part of my personal journey, I began to think about returning to the practice of yoga, but off went those little voices in my head, coming up with a myriad of excuses and reasons not to try. So I ran on the treadmill, I took the doggies for walks, I lifted weights and I periodically thought to myself, boy I’d really like to try yoga again. Then…. I didn’t.

But today, I gave those voices in my head a gentle time out. I attended a yoga class, at our local Whole Foods, instructed by my friend & yoga instructor Pam. I told her that I was planning on coming, wrote it on my calendar so my family would hold me to it, and even asked my friend to give me a gentle reminder the day before. This way, I left myself little room for backing out.

So I showed up today and immediately felt welcome and safe within the walls of the community room, transformed into a yoga studio. My fears about looking foolish, or doing it wrong, quietly subsided and I threw myself into the practice.

Here is what I learned today. I learned, as I looked around the room, that other people shook or stumbled as they stretched to achieve a pose. I learned that even if you loose your footing, or feel off balance, you can re-position yourself and once again find your center, even if it takes you several tries. I learned that stepping outside of my comfort zone, both literally & figuratively, can be hard, it may even hurt as I awaken new muscles, or use them in a new way. But with continued stretching & practice, the body will adapt, it will strengthen and it will move you to places you once thought impossible.

It’s a metaphor for life really. Isn’t it? It is only in the stretching, the reaching, the stepping far outside of what we know & feel comfortable with, that we grow. Sometimes our legs may shake, perhaps our arms feel unable to reach any higher, or any further. But if we keep up with the practice we will soon feel more certain of our footing, we will find our balance, we will learn that we are capable of reaching great heights and we will find our center.

As children, we are free of so many inhibitions. It’s a beautiful thing to watch & behold. Some of us are blessed never to lose that. And some, like me, are trying to find their way back to that place. Today, I felt a little bit closer.

Yoga is called a “practice.” It is a process of learning, growing, strengthening and flexibility. It involves setting an intention, whether it be for the studio time, the day ahead or perhaps even for the longer term. And so, next week, I’ll be back at Whole Foods, learning, stretching & even fumbling my way through once again. And as I move into child’s pose, I’ll be reminded that answering the voices of self-doubt and being open to new experiences, is a gift we must continue to give ourselves, well into adulthood. Namaste.