Archives for category: Faith

partial-solar-eclipse-clouds

Eclipse fervor has hit. So many are traveling and planning so they might witness this historic event. The sun will be completely blocked by the moon. Darkness… and then it will pass, and once again the light will shine.

BUT WHAT IF IT DIDN’T? What if every day felt as if the sun were blotted out and darkness surrounded you? What if you no longer knew for certain that the light would surely shine again? That is the feeling so many who are struggling with despair feel. That is what the shroud of depression can feel like?

I can’t help but think about my father today. Oh how he loved the sun. On the coldest of winter days, if the sun was shining, he’d bundle himself up and sit outside. He would turn his face toward the sun and embrace all of the warmth that it had to offer. It fed his spirit, it sustained him and it carried him through darker and gloomier days.

His was a mood very much determined by his surroundings. And when the sun would hide itself away, he felt it deep within. Which is why it made sense that retirement and life in the sunshine state would be so very good for him.

It should have been. It was supposed to be.

But depression, much like the moon today, blotted out the light. It created a shroud of darkness from which he could not escape. And though the eclipsing of the sun will pass, my father came to believe that for him, it never would.

Today is a glorious celebration of Mother Nature for so many. A day to stand in awe of our blessed surroundings and be reminded that we are but a small part of the grandeur of the universe. We will momentarily celebrate the darkness, because we know the sun will shine once again.

Light is a gift. It is a powerful force. It can sustain and nurture us. It may flicker and fade but it always returns to us. We trust in that truth on the darkest of days.

But for my father, that trust was eroded. It was distorted by the clouds of depression and anxiety. And the light he once sought out, the warmth that sustained him, felt as if it had disappeared forever.

Perhaps that is why today’s eclipse is so very hard for me. It is the lens through which I see it that makes it harder to savor. The metaphor of my father’s life is deeply palpable for me today. I feel it coursing through me.

I am reminded that for so many like my dad, the darkness will remain long after the eclipse has passed.

Light lives at the end of that dark tunnel. I believe that. But for those who have lost that faith…

Today and every day, I strive to be a candle.

That is how I honor my father.

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. Og Mandino

 

 

backpack

It’s been just over two years since my father’s suicide. Some days it feels as if it was just yesterday that I was standing in Whole Foods and got the call. Still on other days, it feels as if a whole lifetime has passed. I know that I have found healing, just as I know that I will never be healed. I am learning to live with his death, just as I know that I will never be at peace with it. Such is the truth of a suicide loss.

This journey has been the hardest one I have ever traveled. In the beginning, the pain was so great I carried it daily like an enormous backpack on my shoulders. It weighed me down, as I was constantly aware of the burden I was struggling to bear. My knees would buckle, I was winded and wounded.  Every step forward was a struggle. I slipped, I faltered, I begged for the chance to go back to what was. I wanted to go home to before. That backpack felt as if it was full of stones, bricks and boulders. And I often questioned just how long I’d be able to carry it, even if I’d be able to carry it. It is no exaggeration to say that it took every ounce of my strength to keep going day in and day out. It would’ve been easier to stay in bed, wrapped in my sorrow. The terrain over which I had to lug my burden, so unfamiliar and barren, only made every step more uncertain. If there were rocks upon my shoulders, it felt as if my feet were carrying them too. Others did what they could to lighten my load, but in truth, it was and still is mine to bear.

If the backpack was the metaphor then, two years later I can say that there are days I still must carry it. The truth that I rarely speak out loud is that I am in pain every single day. It lives within me and in one form or another, it reminds me daily that it is there. But I am grateful that it isn’t always so large, so heavy, so overwhelming. There are days the backpack can stand empty in the corner, and I can carry the pain in my pocket. Some days it grows a bit larger, and I must hold it in a change purse, a fanny pack or a messenger bag. It is with me on those days, I’m aware of it, but it doesn’t weigh me down in quite the same manner.  My knees don’t buckle, I can stand up straight and my stride is far more steady & strong.

Those days allow me to breathe more easily. I can live more in the present, taking in the joy, the blessings and the love that surrounds me. I can relish even the most mundane of tasks, because it feels somehow more normal to partake in them. It is a new normal yes, but it is evidence that I am surviving and even thriving.

I wish I could plan the level of pain each day will bring, or my ability to shape how it impacts me. I try to set my intentions for the day through meditation. I use breathing techniques to center myself. I sit in stillness, and I listen to what I am feeling. Some days I get only static. Other days offer me clarity. Some days looking inward is so painful I must open my eyes, and still other days I find it soothing & comforting.

No, I never know what the day ahead will bring. The morning may allow me to slip my sorrow into my pocket, but the afternoon brings with it a storm that forces me to pick up that backpack again. And still by evening, perhaps the pain has eased and I can  hold it in the palm of my hand, look at it and lay it to rest.

The point is this…

I am carrying it.  I am living with it. I have not allowed it to hold me in one space or place. No matter how heavy it gets, I have moved along this path, one that is so far from linear. And as I look back at how far I have come, it gives me the faith that I can continue onward.

The pain of my father’s suicide will always be with me. But I have discovered that I have the strength to hold it, to bear it and even to let it go. And for that, I am grateful.

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

hands heart

“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow–this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert

Today would’ve been my parents 52nd wedding anniversary. Just a couple of months before their 50th anniversary my father took his own life. My mother went to bed not knowing that in the morning, she would wake up a widow.

They met as teenagers in Brooklyn. Theirs was not a perfect love story, those exist only in fairytales. Instead, it was one of substance, friendship, mutual respect and admiration. They loved one another through the best of times and the worst of times. They accepted one another’s flaws, shortcomings and imperfections. They nurtured one another’s strengths, dreams and spirits. They laughed and they cried. They celebrated and they fought. They let each other down, then picked each other up. Life is messy, so is love, but through it all they held fast to one another.

This much I always knew growing up in my house, my parents loved one another. Not everybody gets that in this life.

They built a family on the foundation of their love. Their children and grandchildren are their enduring legacy. And today, as I think about my parents, my heart aches that love was not enough to save my father. But death cannot diminish the love that they shared and the life that they fostered. That is where my father’s spirit lives on. That is the flame that can never be extinguished.

And on a day where my mother is missing her husband & best friend, I pray that flame will warm her soul and help to heal her broken heart. We all miss you Dad. You were surrounded by the deepest of love. It is my fervent wish that you knew that, even when the darkness consumed you. And though you are now gone… your love story is without end.  

dad mom sweet 16

My father and my mother at her Sweet 16. His enduring words to her. 

 

 

Dearest Yael,

It is hard to find the words to express all that we are feeling today. Proud doesn’t seem quite enough, nor does grateful, although surely we are both of those things.

The journey you have been on these past 18 years hasn’t always been easy. And yet somehow, in a world that often overwhelmed you and placed numerous obstacles in your path, you dug down deep and found a fortitude and resilience that kept you moving forward. And as much as we would like to take credit for our part in getting you to where you are today, the truth is, it was that strength of spirit, that tenacity, that grit and that courage that played the greatest role in all that you have achieved.

Today marks the end of one chapter, but also the start of a new one. The pages are blank, the plot yours to create. We have no doubt you will fill it with the warmest of characters, the most beautiful of songs, stories of meaning, messages of hope and that each word will be imbued with love and faith. And even when the pages have moments of hardship, which is sure to happen, we know you will dig down deep and tap into those very same reserves that have helped you before and in the end, you will persevere and emerge even stronger for the challenges.

We believe in you. We always have. We believe in your heart and your dreams. We believe in your hopes and desires. We believe in your abilities, your potential and all of the promise that resides within. And no matter how old you get, we will always be your greatest cheerleaders and most devoted fans. We will always be here for whatever you need, even as we let go and give you the space to begin carving out a life on your own. Know that your safety net remains strong, ready and ever-present if ever you need it.

Perhaps the words proud and grateful aren’t quite enough to encompass the emotions of the day. But we will use them anyway. We are so very proud not only of your achievements, but of the fine human being that you have become. Your soul is pure, beautiful, generous and kind. It illuminates so much goodness into a world often tinged by darkness. What a gift that is sweet Yael. And we are grateful. We are grateful that God blessed us with the opportunity to raise you, to accompany and love you on this journey. We are proud to be your parents Yael Greene.

May you go forward from strength to strength. May you gain a deeper sense of self and purpose. May you continue to bring joy to all of those blessed to know you. May you never lose your enthusiasm for life, music and your Jewish faith. May you hold fast to your dreams.

The Midrash, in Kohelet Rabba, teaches us that

A person has three names:

one that she is called by her father and mother;

one that people know her by,

and one that she acquires for herself.

From this day forward, you will imbue your name with an even deeper meaning. You will continue to ascend with grace and mercy.  And you will show the world that the very best of who you are is yet to be.

Mazal tov Yael Channah Greene

We love you always.

Mom & Dad

yael graduation

Our beautiful girl. Diagnosed with autism at age 3. How far she has come and how very proud we are.

covered-mirror

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been working to be as fully present in the here & now as possible. It was a conscious choice to tuck the grief, the loss, the trauma of my dad’s suicide neatly into my back pocket.  I needed to turn away from it, at least for a while.

In Judaism, when you are in the period of shiva, the 7 days following the burial of a loved one, it is customary to cover all of the mirrors in your home.  In the immediate days of grief, we are not supposed to focus on our external selves. Rather, we turn inward, we reflect, we dwell not on the details of our appearance, but on the memories and the life of the one we have lost.

I didn’t observe that tradition while sitting shiva for my father. As a Reform Jew, it didn’t resonate for me. But there was another reason, a deeper one. In the moment that I learned of my father’s suicide, the person that I was shattered into a million pieces. The fragments lay seemingly sprawled in every corner. And how to even begin gathering them up seemed far too overwhelming a task. In the days that followed, I vacillated between feeling totally numb and sobbing uncontrollably. I lashed out in anger one moment, and then sadness swept in and overwhelmed me the next. There was no peace, no comfort, there was only a pain beyond words. I wandered through my home and my days feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

Looking in the mirror was the only way to find some sense of the familiar. Even with swollen eyes, I found tangible evidence that while my inside felt broken beyond repair, some small sense of wholeness still existed. I gazed into the mirror and saw that I was still me… forever altered, but still me.

I will tell you a truth. Almost 23 months later, I still feel broken. Yes, I have gathered up those fragments, and put myself together anew.  But I often feel that if one were to look at me too closely, they would be able to see every fissure & every scar that I must now carry. Sometimes I avoid my own reflection, when it seems to contradict what I am feeling inside. It feels like a cruel mind game, looking whole yet feeling fractured.

I tucked my loss away for a while. I laughed more, I found myself able to be more present for my children, my husband and myself. I read for pleasure, I made jewelry, I spent time with friends, I created in the kitchen and yes, I even needed time to heal from some physical challenges as well.

And I haven’t thought much about my dad. Not because I don’t want to remember him, I do. But reflecting on my dad in life, seems to inevitably bring me to the way he died. That horrible, violent, darkness looms at the end of his story and it permeates each and every other chapter that I try to visit. So, like the mirror in a house of mourning, I draped those reflections off. I averted my gaze with intention. Because that felt a necessary part of my healing.

Today begins the month of March. And looming ever so closely behind is the month of April. My mind has begun to go back to that place, of reliving his final weeks on this earth. I feel my body re-entering that fight or flight mode, the muscle memory of trauma. Creeping back into my psyche are all of the missed signs & the missed opportunities to try and save my father from himself. My rational mind knows there is nothing to be gained by that. But my soul still clamors for a different ending. My eyes still seek the hindsight of a more apparent truth, every fiber of my being yearns for another chance to know then, what I know now.

And so it seems, I must take the covering off of the mirror. Not so I can focus on the external, but so I can reflect. I can’t continuously wall off the pain, there is not a wall strong enough to contain it forever. My soul is crying out to me, to feel the pain, the sorrow, the trauma and the loss & to tend to it with gentle honesty. And my heart, still so full of hurt, wants to make room to sort out the memories of my father’s life; the good & the bad, the laughter & the tears, the loss & the love.

It’s almost two years. I simply can’t believe it. I miss him. I look into the mirror, and once again I feel exposed, vulnerable and wounded. But these days, I also see strength, resilience and courage.  I have survived, I am still surviving. And I am finding ways to thrive.

The mirror beckons, asking that I find a way to let these two truths co-exist. My father died by suicide. And I must live with that. But our story deserves to stand in the light; all of it… because without that, I lose him all over again. How do I find a way to let the reflection hold both of these pieces?

I look in the mirror now. I see a daughter who loved  her father. I see how much she misses him. Perhaps, if I close my eyes, and let the wall come down, I’ll be able to find my father gazing back at me. And through our tears, we can smile and for a moment, be together.

The following are the reflections that I shared on the morning of Erev Yom Kippur and the day after Yom Kippur on my Facebook page… On fractured faith & forgiveness….

10/11/16 (The morning of Erev Yom Kippur)

Admittedly I find Yom Kippur difficult. The liturgy of these holy days feels almost unbearable to me and leaves me feeling vulnerable and deeply emotional. I have forgiven my father for the way that he left us and I’ve forgiven God for the violent and heartbreaking final words in my father’s Book of Life. But the language of prayer, how to talk to God, remains a major stumbling block. It’s as if there is a deep chasm that stands between Me, God and Faith, and I am still searching for the words that will build a bridge that connects us once more.
But I understand the deep power of forgiveness. And I understand too the importance of believing as well that my father has forgiven me for not fully recognizing the depths of his pain, hard as I tried. And how I must forgive myself for the same.
I also know that I got 3 1/2 more years with my father, because our family did not allow our estrangement to be the final footnote in our story. Six years were lost, but we did not dwell there forever. We journeyed forward into something deeper, stronger, more accepting and loving than before.
And while I struggle with regret that I could not save my father, I never have to wonder if he knew that I loved him. And I know he loved me. We said it, we lived it, we held that love tightly.
Forgiveness is a gift.
I have lived it. And for that I am surely grateful. I am a deeply flawed person. So was my father. So are we all. It is what makes us human. And I’d give anything to have that imperfect man back in my life.
May we all seek and find forgiveness in this New Year. May we be accepting of one another’s flaws & take ownership of our wrongdoings. May we choose forgiveness over punishment, anger and resentment. May we remember that our time on this earth is short, and not miss the opportunities to share our love, compassion and kindness. May we forgive ourselves for those places in which we feel so very broken. Because those are the places that allow the light in.
May your fast be meaningful. I cannot believe it is God who inscribes us in the Book of Life, so instead I say, may we choose to fill the blank pages of tomorrow with humanity, hope, peace, love and forgiveness. Let our stories be full of meaning, mitzvot and mercy.
And may God accompany us through every chapter and verse, an enduring source of comfort, love and strength.

10/13/16 (The day after Yom Kippur)

Dear God,
I couldn’t pull myself together for Kol Nidre. I came to services on Yom Kippur morning. I cried throughout, I left the sanctuary often and I couldn’t utter a word of the liturgy. But I showed up. It would’ve been easier and kinder to myself to stay home. My journey to heal my sense of faith stumbled many steps back. The liturgy pierced my soul with a tirade of triggers. And my knees barely held me upright. But this trauma survivor showed up and stood in your presence. I wanted to show you that I’m still in this fractured and fragile relationship with you God. So I showed up and offered silent prayers of the heart, and tears that held all of the words I couldn’t utter. And that is all I could do God. This Yom Kippur no easier than the last, no less painful, leaving me feeling no less vulnerable, is done. And I’m grateful to simply have gotten through it God. I showed up, in sacred space on the holiest of days to say simply, “Hineni” here I am, here I stand. I’m still in this with you God. Whatever “this” is… I’m not giving up.

yom-kippur

una-taneh-tokef

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

So begins the poem Unetaneh Tokef which is recited on Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. I have always struggled with this poem, reading the very literal translation speaks to an intervening God, one who is ready to stand in judgement and hand down harsh punishment to his/her children. That is not the God I believe in.

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Over the years I tried to look at the poem metaphorically, searching for a deeper meaning and one that reflected the compassionate and loving God that I believe in. Turning the lens, I searched the words and found a message of the uncertainty of our days. None of us knows when our time on this earth will pass, nor do we get to choose the manner of our death. So, what will we make of the time that we have been given?

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree

When we stand in front of God and are asked to reflect upon our lives will we be able to answer that we tried to do right by those we cared for? Will we be able to say that when we “sinned” or missed the mark, we sought to learn from our mistakes and to make amends to those we hurt along the way? How will we be able to speak to God about the relationship we held with our faith and our community? Will we be able to say that our deeds, more often than not, were imbued with compassion, kindness, peace and the notion of tzedakah (charity)?  These questions call upon us to do some real soul-searching on these holiest of days.

So why is it that I can no longer utter the words of this prayer? Why will I choose not to stay in the room at all when it is spoken? Why does the metaphorical lens no longer work for me?

Allow me to say it in the simplest of terms. It is a trigger for me. The violent manner in which my father died by suicide is specifically laid out in the words of this poem. I won’t reference them here, lest my words serve as a trigger to someone else. To hear those words uttered around me, or to even consider allowing them to come from my lips makes me physically ill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, there is no way for me to turn the lens and try to reinterpret the nature of how my father died in the basement of my childhood home.

And then there is this line:

Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented

Tormented.

Mental illness had tormented my father for months. Depression and anxiety tag teamed him in such a cruel manner, pulling him deeper and deeper into a place of darkness, and we who loved him most did not see how far he was sinking.

Tormented.

My father died alone. He died believing that we would be better off without him. He died cloaked in shame and sorrow. He had lost all hope that things could get better. He died in a state of torment and when he died, and I pray found some peace, the torment was then passed on to the survivors of his suicide. The torment has become a part of the fabric of my own being, the being of my mother, my brother and all who loved and cared for my dad. And we strive daily to navigate through it, to find a place for it, seeking peace for wounds so deep that at times, they threaten to tear us apart.

I understand the metaphorical value that some see in this poem. But as a trauma survivor I have become personally and painfully acquainted with triggers. And when I look at the words of this poem, I am struck not only by my triggers, but the potential for those who have been tragically touched by things like fire, flood or violent assaults.

Perhaps in addition to asking congregants to try to dig deeper, and to take the words beyond their very literal interpretation, it is also time for those who lead us in prayer to acknowledge that for some, the words alone, have the power to trigger traumatic thoughts and memories. Do not ask us to try and push through that, rather give us an opportunity to leave the room, should we choose. What an authentic recognition of Acute Stress Disorder & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that would be. And what a valuable lesson that offers to those around us as well, demonstrating that sometimes all it takes is a word, or the imagery those words can evoke, to re-open our wounds. And surely on the holiest of days, what God wants of us is not only to look within and search our souls, but to tend to them, nurture them & protect them as well.

That is what I will be doing when I leave the sanctuary in advance of this prayer. And I believe with all of my heart that God will fully understand.

An edited version of this piece also ran in The Jewish Daily Forward

shofar woman

Yesterday began the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that precedes the Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. September, which began only two days before, is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. So, what do these two months, one in the English calendar, the other in the Hebrew calendar, have in common?

Elul is a month in which we are encouraged to take time daily for personal reflection. As we embark on an honest accounting of the year that has passed, we must ask ourselves some hard questions.

What kind of person have I been in this past year?

When have I missed the mark, hurting others or even myself through word or deed?

Have I opened my mouth in the face of injustice or have I stood quietly by saying nothing at all?

Have I  been a steadfast partner to God, engaging in acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world)?

Have I treated myself and others with kavod (respect), chesed (kindness) and ahavah (love)?

We look inward and we look around us and we open ourselves up to the honest and sometimes hard work of owning our shortcomings and our mistakes. And in doing so, we strive to learn from them and enter into the holiest of days ready to be better, to do better, to live better.

But it is not enough. As we take stock in our individual selves, so too must we take stock in our communities, our synagogues, our Jewish places of learning, gathering and prayer.

There is a tradition during the month of Elul to blow the shofar each morning until the start of Rosh Hashanah. The sound is meant to stir our spirits, to awaken us, it is a call to action meant to rouse our souls from slumber. Apathy, indifference, a numbing to the suffering in our midst happens to us all. The blast of the shofar reminds us that there is no place for these attributes. We wear them like a shield, sometimes unknowingly, sometimes with purpose, insulating ourselves from the harsh & uncomfortable truths that permeate our world. But these truths cannot be answered if we are so willing to simply turn away. This month of reflection demands that we open our eyes, strengthen our stance, and look  at these truths head on.

And so it is with the very idea of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Let us confess honestly that suicide is a word still fraught with stigma and shame. It makes us uncomfortable,  and so we speak of it most often in hushed tones & quiet spaces. We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, that we often choose to say nothing at all. In our own Jewish history, there was a time when those who died at their own hand, were not even allowed to be buried inside the gates of the cemetery. And while we have thankfully moved past that custom, we have not come far enough in educating ourselves about suicide loss & prevention, nor have we used our collective voices to lift the cloak of darkness that surrounds this topic. And our silence must end.

According to the CDC suicide in the United States has risen to the highest levels in nearly 30 years. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in our nation claiming an average of 117 lives each day. From 1999-2014 the percent increase in suicide rates of females was greatest for children ages 10-14. And for men, the increase was largest for those ages 45-64. More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide, a fact not often included in our national dialogue. And suicides have become the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. The facts go on and on, each more sobering. And what is perhaps most startling of all is that suicide is preventable. We have the power to help stop it.

We read in this month of Elul Psalm 27.

Adonai — Sh’ma/hear my voice when I call!
Have mercy on me and respond!

You seek my heart,
My heart seeks You —
I seek Your Presence.

Do not hide Your Face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger!
You have always been my Help
so do not abandon me, do not forsake me,
my God, my Saving One.

We are more than Adonai’s children, partners in creation. It is not only God who hears the cries of those suffering from pain & despair. We hear them too. We know there are those in our communities who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. We know that there are those who engage in self-injurious behavior, who grapple with suicidal ideation, who have lost a loved one to suicide, putting them at greater risk themselves.We know there are those who are more vulnerable, isolated and left to stand on the periphery. We hear their cries, like the sound of the shofar, and God wants us to answer. But how?

Overall, studies show that connectedness is an important protective factor for suicide. The CDC defines connectedness as: The degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated or shares resources with other persons or groups. It goes on to elaborate that  positive attachments to community organizations like schools and faith-based organizations can increase an individual’s sense of belonging.

So we must cultivate that sense of connectedness for those who feel stigmatized or ashamed because they grapple with illnesses of the mind. We must let them know that our congregations and Jewish communities are safe havens.We must tear down the walls of shame by speaking the words mental illness & suicide out loud, until we normalize the conversations.

We must ensure that our clergy, staff and lay leaders are fully trained in Mental Health First Aid. Every year, one in four Americans will suffer from a mental illness or addiction. Training in Mental Health First Aid allows our Jewish institutions to be places that are ready to respond to anyone in a behavioral health crisis. We can learn to recognize the warning signs that someone might be at risk for suicide. Too often our fear causes us to turn away from those who need us most, but empowered with the right training we can respond on the frontlines of a crisis and help our friends, family members, congregants and students to stay safe, and help guide them to the proper help.

And I say this final piece as one with the lived experience of suicide loss. It is time to reach out to the survivors of suicide loss in a sustained and supportive way. According to Edwin Shneidman, PhD, American Association of Suicidology Founding President, “Survivors of suicide represent the largest mental health casualties related to suicide.” Postvention is critical and is defined as an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to accomplish any one or more of the following:

  • To facilitate the healing of individuals from the grief and distress of suicide loss
  • To mitigate other negative effects of exposure to suicide
  • To prevent suicide among people who are at high risk after exposure to suicide

Clergy members should seek out resources & training to help them better respond to the layers of grief & trauma that survivors have to endure. Congregants should be given guidelines to help them when they come to a house of mourning, when a suicide is involved. Far too often we are inundated with probing questions about the details of our loved ones death, or the signs that we missed, or worse yet people do not come to pay their respects at all because our loss makes them so deeply uncomfortable. Every survivor I have ever spoken with will tell you that in the moment that we find our loved ones, or learn of their suicide, we are forever altered and many of us suffer from PTSD for years to come. We need our faith & our Jewish communities to accompany us for as long as it takes to pick up the shattered pieces of our lives and find our way to a new normal.

Friends the month of Elul is upon us. The sound of the shofar is crying out to us. This silent epidemic cannot be left unanswered. The voices of darkness and pain must be met with faith & hope. Our fear of mental illness must be replaced with a new resolve to educate ourselves and those around us. The cries of the shofar echo the cries of those left in the depths of sorrow, feeling alone, believing that those who love them most would be better off without them.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
have mercy on me, answer me.” (Ps. 27.7)

We can be God’s voice. We can reach out a hand. We can bring mercy. We can answer. As we take stock during this month of Elul, let us not only look inward, but let us look beyond ourselves to those who are suffering. With “integrity and uprightness” may we watch over them. If “The Lord is [their] light and [their] help” (Ps. 27.1) let us be a lantern  and a loving hand. Let every Jewish institution, from houses of worship, to schools & community centers, resolve to be safe spaces and places. On the holiest of ground, may we provide the protection of a communal tent.

Kein Yehi Ratzon

deb dad bat mitzvah pic

My Beloved Father Lowell Jay Herman, z”l, who died by suicide April 20, 2015

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

An edited version of this piece also ran on ReformJudaism.org

 

 

 

Confession:
I threw myself into cooking today. It was partly because we have a guest coming to share Shabbat with us. But that wasn’t the whole reason.
Yesterday and today I’ve found myself really missing my dad a lot. I miss his voice, I miss knowing that I can call and talk to him, I miss the way he called me “D.” I just miss him, his presence in my life and here on this earth. And the missing is always compounded by the painful notion that the way he died, the way his life of 72 years ended, was so tragic, so violent and just so wrong on every level.
It’s not just that I want to call him so I can say “I love you” or hear him say it in return, it’s that I want a chance to dispel every notion he carried to the grave with him: 
That he was worthless
That we were be better off without him
That his depression & anxiety were something to be ashamed of
That he was weak
That there was no hope that things would/could get better
I’m going to services tonight. And in truth, I’m reluctant. Faith is still a struggle for me, even though I have forgiven God. The language of prayer still trips me up at times and when I am feeling vulnerable, it can open up the floodgates. And tonight, I feel vulnerable.
Yes, I spent the day in the kitchen today preparing a Sabbath meal. I did it for our guest and I did it for me. Because cooking is meditative for me. And I found myself feeling very weepy  throughout.
I know that sixteen months in I have longer stretches of days where I don’t cry, and where the joy is far more front and center than the pain. Still, the pain of his death at his own hands is ever present, like a dull quiet ache. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of how my dad died.
Yesterday and today, that quiet ache got a little stronger and louder. The missing so palpable and the inclination to call him was at times overwhelming. I don’t know what the triggers were, we’ve passed the 20th, it’s not a holiday or a special day of remembrance. It’s just me, a daughter missing her daddy. It’s just me trying to remember him in life and be able to smile, even through tears. It’s just me wishing that his end, if he had to go, could have been peaceful, surrounded by those who loved him most, free of pain & suffering. He deserved at least that. So did we.
I miss my dad, so much that it hurts.

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To live a life of meaning is to know that nothing is ever set in stone. Possibilities dwell on each new horizon and even the setting sun is touched by the promise of tomorrow.

And yet today, 14 months after your suicide we dedicate a stone that stands in stark contrast to that notion of hope and promise. This stone feels so very final, noted with a beginning and an end. The words speak of who you were to us in life; a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother and friend. But there is no space or place to honor who or what you might have become. The finality is undeniable and in truth, still unfathomable.

And then there are those fourteen words, meant to share what mattered most to you, and how you will be remembered. What did you value in your time on this earth?

To bask in the loving warmth of family and friends was his greatest blessing.

Stones…

They can be used to build bridges or be a source of destruction

They can trip us up, placing obstacles in our path, or be the foundation of a new beginning

They can be collected as remembrances of new places we visit and memories we make

They can be polished, smooth, turned into ornaments

They can be rough and jagged, worn down by the elements

They can weigh us down if we try to carry too many of them on our own, a truth we know all too well

And …

They can mark a final resting place

An eloquent monument for a loved one we’ve lost, whose death didn’t have to be.

 

Dad, today I lay on your footstone a piece of my home

Stones, shaped like hearts from the flatirons of Colorado

Lovingly gathered for me by friends that you will never get to meet

From the mountains so beautiful, that you will never get to see.

 

Mother Theresa said:

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

We who loved you are the ripples

The continuing legacy to that stone your life cast

And it is in those ripples that we must find you and carry you forward

This stone we dedicate today will stand for eternity

It is heavy like grief

Yet strong like the human spirit

It will not wither

Neither is it left untouched by passing storms

It is not where we find you, but where we instead honor you

It is where we come to remember, to cry, to talk and to feel as if we are with you.

 

And as we strive to move forward in a world without you

One where so many others know the same pain that you felt

Suffering in silence and feeling alone

I offer you one last promise

It won’t be for nothing nor be without meaning.

No stone will be left unturned

No matter how deeply rooted they are in shame or stigma

If even one life can be saved from telling our story

Then the ripples of your legacy, your life

And even your loss

Will be without end.

July 5, 2016

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