Archives for category: Faith

together-and-apart-kintsugi-pottery-3-638

 

The Japanese have a  500-year-old art form called kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” a method of restoring a broken item with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that practice. This Sunday, 3/20/16, it will be eleven months since my father’s death. Eleven months ago my sense of wholeness was destroyed. My father’s suicide was like a grenade set off in the center of our family. And we who loved him most, were left gathering up the pieces.

Eleven months later, I hold those fragments. There are those pieces of the old me that I can still recognize. And then there are those that are now strange to me, remnants that no longer seem to fit. There is the pain, the sadness, the grief, the anger and the traumatic imprint of all that I have endured and lost. And there too, tenuously I hold newly discovered depths of strength, resilience and courage.

Many days I gather all of these fragments up and I cinch them tightly together. I wear them like armor as I journey through the valley of the shadows. And I tread ever so carefully, lest someone bump into my grief, my sadness, my trauma and cause me to spill those pieces everywhere. Some days I am more successful at maneuvering through the triggers than others. And other days those fragments fall everywhere, and I must stop and face every exposed emotion, every shard, every crack and every fissure. Those are the days that still bring me to my knees and open the wellspring of tears that seem to have no end.

Perhaps grief is not so different from the  art of kintsugi. I read that, the kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history.

I carry the pieces that I have now gathered up. How I will wear them and what that will look like is still unfolding. Some days I feel them slowly falling into place, held ever so tenuously in their new found position.. And other days,  well other days, they come undone simply by a passing breeze that carries me two steps backward, or keeps me stuck in place.

But I’ve grown tired of seeing those days only as setbacks, failures or another barrier to where I want to be. I know that grieving a suicide loss is a long and difficult road. And I know that there is no finish line that I will cross. It is an ongoing journey, it begins in the valley, but I believe in time there will be more peaks. I’m not naive. I know that this traumatic imprint has forever altered the course I must travel. I cannot set it down and leave it behind. Instead I must carry it. But how?

The ancient Israelites carried the broken pieces of the shattered tablets in the tabernacle, right alongside the second set of commandments given to Moses by God. The whole and the broken, remained side by side, in the Ark of the Covenant. The broken fragments were no less holy simply because they were not intact. And so it is for us—that the whole and the broken exist side by side in all of us and we carry them both within on our journeys. Each is holy, because each represents the story that we have lived.

Eleven months after my father’s death, I am like the kintsugi. I felt at one time whole. But loss has left me feeling so very broken. And no matter where the journey takes me, I will carry those cracks, scars and fissures with me. One day my grasp on them will be more certain, and I will find that they have strengthened me. One day I will find that I can look at those broken pieces and know that the best parts of me not only remain, but somehow seem to have more clarity and depth to them. One day the scabs will be more steadfast and I won’t be subject to every trigger opening up my wounds. One day, I will find that I feel less fragile. The winds will blow but I will weather them. I will find that my strength and my beauty lie not in those pieces untouched and unmarred  by life, but in those that have known both love and loss, sadness and joy, anger and forgiveness, pain and healing. I will carry with me and honor the me I was before my father’s suicide, and the me that I am becoming without him in my world.

Today I still feel broken. The pieces have been gathered, and I wake up striving to put them together anew. The golden lacquer has been gently laid. I do not hide the scars. Instead I choose to honor them. They are a symbol of my strength, a roadmap of my story. And in that sacred realization and acceptance I find some healing. Because one day is not always within reach. But where I am today, in this moment, is not a failure. It is enough. There is holiness and beauty in my broken self, just like the kintsugi.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. (Rumi)

 

 

 

homeless kindness

 

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-10

I drove into Boulder yesterday to meet a friend for lunch. As I always do before I leave, I checked to ensure that I had a supply of food donation bags in my car.  While it isn’t quite as often that I give out  these bags here in the suburbs of Superior, I can always be certain that as I drive around Boulder, there will be ample opportunities to offer some sustenance to a person in need.

As I came off of the parkway, two young men stood along the side of the road, cardboard sign in hand. I was at the end of the line of cars, far back from the traffic light, but I rolled down my window and got the attention of one of the men. He came over to the car, and I offered him two bags, telling him each contained a little food and drink for him and his companion. He smiled graciously, gave me a compliment on my “beautiful smile” and offered me blessings for my kindness.

We chatted a bit, and as a result, by the time I reached the stop light, it had once again turned red. The second gentleman, who had remained by the light, apologized to me for the fact that in taking the time to chat with his friend, I now had to wait just a few minutes more to make my turn and get to where I was going.  I told him quickly that he owed me no apology at all. I was glad to be able to slow down, offer the bags of food and share in a moment of kind conversation. He responded by thanking me again for the food. “People don’t always realize that sometimes we don’t eat anything at all for two days or so,” he said.  “I can’t imagine how hard that must be,” I answered. “Truly, I’m simply glad to be able to do my small part to change that, at least for today.” His friend had come back to his side by now, and the chat continued. I went on to share that we made these bags as a family, to help ensure that we would never drive by a person in need and not be able to respond. And then came the answer that remained with me throughout the day. One of the young men said to me, “Sometimes people forget that I’m somebody’s child too. Thank you for seeing that.”

Though hidden by my sunglasses, I welled up at his response.  I answered that we are all God’s children, connected in this human family of ours. And in that family kindness, compassion, love and warmth matter.

The light turned green, they once again offered their thanks and wished me a blessed day. I wished the same to them, turned down the road and continued on my day’s journey. I’m always struck by those words, each time we are given the chance to simply put a little food and drink into the hands of someone who is struggling.  They offer their “blessings” to us, without fail, each and every time. We who are blessed with ample food, drink, warmth and shelter receive the blessings of someone with so little to give. It seems to me it should be the other way around.  We have the ability to bestow blessings of our own making; a kind word, a smile, spare change, food and drink. These aren’t acts that will alter the course of any of the men and women who we encounter on the streets or while volunteering for homeless programs in our area. But, they reflect our belief that we are all created b’tzelem elohim (in God’s image).

If we all carry a spark of the Divine spirit within us, then truly, we are all “somebody’s child.”  We are all God’s children. And we must see one another, really see one another. Each encounter that I have, whether volunteering for the Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow program at Congregation Har HaShem, or just offering an individual who is in need, a little something to eat or drink, allows them to know that they are seen. They are not just a sign, or a person standing in line for bread or soup. They are seen as a human being. And in the end, isn’t that a universal desire that we all share? Don’t we all want to be seen, to be offered a warm smile, an acknowledgement of our struggles, but also of our humanity? Don’t we all want an outstretched hand, and an escape from judgement about where we are in life and how we got there? Can we ever truly believe that we know somebody else’s story, simply because we get a glimpse of one single chapter? I’m somebody’s child. And I have children of my own. And when they look out at the world, I want them to view it with open eyes and open hearts.

Our little bags comprised of fruit cups, nuts, cereal bars, crackers, water and more, cannot change things on any large scale. And our evenings setting up blankets and handing out food for our homeless neighbors in Boulder, are but a small and temporary answer to an issue that is much larger. I know that. I do.

But when I reflect on the interaction that I shared yesterday, I can’t help but think that in those shared moments, each of us is changed for the better. How we see “the stranger in our midst” softens. How we see ourselves in relation to our fellow human beings, is strengthened. And the humanity that fosters within this family of God’s children offers glimmers of hope for the future.

Their signs and faces vary. Some are young, some are old. They are children. They are veterans. They ask for food, for money, for jobs. Some ask on their signs for any act of kindness, even just a smile. They are us. We are them. It is only circumstance that separates us.

“I’m somebody’s child,” the young man said.

Yes, he is.

So am I.

In that respect, we are no different.

So, let us be kind to one another; in word, in deed and in spirit.

A blessed day is sometimes defined by the smallest of moments.

girls food bags

Our daughters with the food bags that we put together.

If you walk down the street and see someone in a box, you have a choice. That person is either the other and you’re fearful of them, or that person is an extension of your family. (Susan Sarandon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I don’t go the extra mile to reflect out loud on the blog–the words & thoughts instead spill out on Facebook. Here are some reflections from 2015…. I don’t really expect you to read them all. I suppose I simply wanted to keep them somewhere safe… evidence of my journey for future reference.

facebook

12/30/15
In this New Year, heal the rifts that you can… the fractured relationships that can be repaired in safety, with love and forgiveness. Be brave and take the first step. It’s scary and hard, it’ll leave you feeling vulnerable. But I was blessed to share almost 3 and 1/2 more years with my father before he died. And he left this world ( I pray) knowing that I loved him and I know he loved me. And in the midst of all of this pain, I cling to that. Forgiveness isn’t always possible. It isn’t always safe or healthy. But where it is, embrace it. Because living with regret, words unspoken, faults & fights unforgiven, relationships unhealed and time not spent loving those who matter to us… Well, that would be the greatest loss of all.

12/29/15
2015–the last year I had a father…. I know, I know–some will say I still have a father, that he is with me always–but I’ll never again say “Happy New Year” to him or hear him say “I love you.” There will never be another hug, another kiss, another laugh–no new memories to be made, shared & treasured. So yeah, 2015–the last year I had a Dad. And it breaks my heart….

12/27/15
Watched “The Way We Were” with Fred and our girls tonight. One of my favorite movies of all time. Couldn’t help but to be struck by the line in the song “Memories”… “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”… If only it were that easy… One day it’ll be “the laughter we will remember” instead of the pain… One day…

12/27/15
In this year to come… My most fervent prayer is that I can help inspire greater and more open dialog about mental illness & suicide. May 2016 be the year we stop whispering about it, relegating to the shadows those living with mental health struggles, those who’ve attempted suicide, those who are contemplating suicide and those of us living with suicide loss. It’s time my friends. May 2016 allow me to be a part of that effort and to make meaning of my father’s death

12/26/15
Some days the words roll off of my tongue and utter disbelief still follows, eight months later. My father killed himself. My father died by suicide. My father took his own life. I have sudden flashes of horrible imagery, I have flashbacks to the moment my life changed forever… and admittedly, for a brief moment I want to convince myself it’s just a bad dream. None of it reconciles with the smiling pictures I look through… 2015 unleashed a tsunami of pain, grief, trauma and loss. I pray 2016 will bring more joy, healing and light… day by precious day. And one day, I hope I’ll think of him and smile, maybe even laugh…even if it’s through tears.

12/20/15
Dear Dad,
Eight months ago today, despair, depression and anxiety took you from us. I still don’t know where to file how you died, the manner, the reason, the self-infliction of it all. I’m trying to learn simply to live with it.
But the missing… After eight months it feels more palpable, not less… more real, more final… And it simply breaks my heart and makes me so very sad. You were loved Dad… I pray you knew that even in the midst of such pain. And for the record, you were wrong… We are not better off without you here…
Eight months later… I hurt, I miss and I love you. I carry you with me. Always…

12/14/15
Today I found myself thinking about a certain moment with my Dad. It was a couple of weeks after Noa was born. We had already learned about her congenital heart defects, and we’d been trying to get her bigger, stronger, more physically ready for the major open heart surgery that would need to be performed. My parents were visiting our house in Connecticut. The phone rang. It was Noa’s cardiologist. We knew that despite our best efforts, Noa was losing weight and he called to tell us that the most recent tests revealed that Noa was in full blown congestive heart failure. The surgery needed to be scheduled as soon as possible. I remember so vividly, hanging up the phone with him and staring out of the picture window in our kitchen, tears just rolling down my cheeks. I was so scared, so worried, and so very heartbroken. My dad came into the kitchen and silently he stood next to me, put his arm around me and stared out of that window with me. Not a word was spoken, but so much was said. It was his presence that gave me comfort in that moment. Maybe I’ve been thinking about that particular moment because we are around the time the phone call would’ve come. The anniversary of the surgery, just nine days from now. And maybe because, in my sadness, it is his presence, his just being here, that I miss the most. And perhaps it’s the intermingling of memories of a precious life we almost lost and the stark reality of the one we did–whatever it is–I close my eyes and remember. And I feel him, if only for a moment–and I miss him….

12/13/15
Another thing I’ve learned, grieving a suicide loss… TV is ripe with casual references and jokes about “killing oneself” or blasé remarks about shooting or hanging oneself etc. it’s on dramas, comedies and reality shows alike… Here’s the thing… It’s not funny at all and it serves not only as a trigger, but an indication of the lack of seriousness we as a nation put towards suicide loss and prevention. Perhaps it was always there, perhaps I’m simply keenly aware of it now, on television, in books or in casual conversations. Whatever it is… we all need to learn to choose our words far more wisely when it comes to this topic. Because it is no laughing or casual matter…

12/13/15
Lessons I’ve learned on being a friend to someone in grief…you need to have a long, long attention span & keep showing up well beyond the initial loss. And if the loss is a traumatic one…buckle up and accompany your friend on the long, arduous journey ahead. Your ongoing presence may be the greatest gift you ever give them…..

12/5/15
I think it’s fair to say that a tsunami of grief snuck up on me and swallowed me whole today… Didn’t see it coming. Just trying to get ready for the holidays.. but I suppose that was all the opening that grief needed. A mug thrown across the kitchen and shattered everywhere, primal screams for my dad and a tearing open of the fragile scab that calmer waters, only days before, had allowed to begin forming, or so I thought. I miss my Dad. I miss the me that I was before his suicide. I miss the mom that I was, the wife that I was, the whole unwounded and strong version of myself. I want to outrun and outwit grief, but I keep ending up on the losing side of that game… My puffy eyes, hoarse voice and battered heart are what’s left today. I try to make the holidays celebratory, to fill them with life and meaning for my family. And then the pain reminds me..that I cannot simply will it away, in the midst of this year of firsts without my father. I want to remember him without so much sadness. I’m tired. It’s been a long hard journey. I want a “Get out of grief” card that lets me skip around the hard stuff and go straight back into the land of the living. He’s not coming back. There will never be another holiday together. I cannot rewrite his tragic ending. I’m learning to live with it. I have to. But some days the painful lessons of learning and of loss, can truly bring me to my knees…

12/1/15
It may seem like a small and minuscule accomplishment to some, but seven and a half months after my father’s suicide, I finally maintained the focus and attention span to read, remember, follow and finish a book. Sure it was a light read, a bit of fluff and predictable…but that’s what I needed. Sometimes it’s the little things…..

 

11/21/15
Today is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. A day I once never knew existed. A day I never thought would include me, my mother, my brother and our families. But it does… According to the CDC it is estimated there is a median of between 6 and 32 survivors directly impacted from a suicide death. Get to know us. Be open to our stories. Don’t claim to know how we feel if you are not a survivor, just give us the room to feel and express it all. Love us, be patient with us, understand that we are forever altered. Be present long after the initial loss, we will need that. I am grateful to my loving village. I’ve never once walked this journey alone. I am a survivor. I am surviving and one day I will again do more than that. Until then, one day, one breath, one minute at a time I face the grief and the trauma. The hardest journey I’ve ever been on…

11/20/15
Dear Dad,
It’s been seven months since you died. And I just want you to know how much I miss you and how much I love you. If love were enough to save you, you’d still be here. But it wasn’t… Still, I hope you knew it. I hope you felt it. Even in those dark final moments of despair.
And I hope and pray every day that you are at peace. That your soul is healed. And that you are held each day in God’s loving embrace.

11/18/15
My therapist said that sometimes it is okay to acknowledge my grief and feelings of trauma, and then to tell them that I’m too weary, too tired or just not up for engaging them at that moment. Instead, at times I must give myself permission to tend to and be kind to myself. To do something that is relaxing, calming or enjoyable just for me. That is how I can sustain myself through this complex, painful and multi-layered grief work. I’ve resisted this before, feeling I must always be ready to engage the grief and feelings of trauma, so I can move through and past them. But almost seven months in, I’m tired, I’m weary and I’m emotionally exhausted. If I’m to keep going through this muck and mud, if I’m to keep picking up the pieces, I must refuel myself along the way. It isn’t ignoring the grief, it isn’t getting stuck, it isn’t lazy… It is tending to my bruised and battered spirit. Allowing it to rest awhile. Allowing nothingness, calmness and quiet to prevail for just a moment in time … And so today, I colored and I read. An easy to follow book, with no trauma, violence or the triggers that are so abundant in the shows I once found easy to watch. I lost myself for a little while. I looked away from grief. I looked away from suicide, from loss, from my father and I gave myself peace and quiet. Being kind to myself isn’t always easy for me. But I’m learning and I’m trying.

11/15/15
Yes, there were the more predictable moments that made me cry today at CU’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. The Sabbath Prayer & Sunrise, Sunset… But the moment that snuck up on me and quietly took my breath away & filled my eyes with tears was when Tevye is saying goodbye to Hodel at the train station. She embraces her father with so much emotion and says, “God only knows when we will see each other again Papa.” And Tevye tearfully replies, “Then we shall leave it in his hands.” I did not get to say goodbye, there was no final embrace. I sometimes worry and wonder if I told my father in that final phone call, that I loved him. I think I did. I hope I did… Yes, the story had moments that made me smile and remember, and moments that have always made me cry… But that moment today seemed somehow more painfully poignant… Because that one touched upon what I miss most..knowing that I’ll see my father again

11/6/15
Since my father’s suicide, I often liken myself to Humpty Dumpty after the fall. I am still in the process of picking up the pieces, fragments of my former self. My daughter reminded me that Humpty Dumpty is really a tragedy, as she is studying in her Lit class. He was never able to be repaired. Not with all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. Me? My army is stronger than the King’s. As I journey through this traumatic loss, as I piece together a new me, I am supported, cared for, loved and nurtured by an incredible family, a community of great compassion, and a village of women that I am blessed, truly blessed, to call my friends. Humpty Dumpty was a tragedy. I know tragedy. I am surviving one, day by day, sometimes minute by minute. But I know, even on my darkest day, that I will never be left in my brokenness. My wounds will never be left untended. If Humpty Dumpty had been as lucky as me in that regard, perhaps his story would have ended differently. So once again, I give thanks for the love, the unconditional and unwavering love that surrounds me. I give thanks for the daily texts and messages that light up my phone from the friends who just want to see how I am doing, to let me know that I am being thought of, that they are present and ready anytime that I need them. To discover friends like that, in the midst of darkness, in a new place, is a blessing. And today and every day, my breath, my strength, my hope… comes from my daughters and my husband. They sustain me, they hold me, they make me smile and they believe in my capacity to heal, even when I don’t. I still feel like Humpty Dumpty after the fall. But one day I won’t. I will gather the broken pieces and create a new mosaic.

11/5/15
Sometimes I wish those who love, know, care for or simply wish to be present for survivors of suicide loss, could be flies on the wall of a support group meeting. Because the shared stories of the things people say and do, in an attempt to convey compassion and caring in the aftermath of a suicide loss, so often miss the mark and hurt more than they heal. Suicide loss is loss plus trauma. It is a uniquely painful loss as our loved ones died at their own hands. I can only hope that as I’ve shared my journey through the aftermath of my father’s suicide, I’ve helped to sensitize people to what that loss looks and feels like and how to be with someone through every step of the complex and traumatic grief we, the survivors, face each and every day. Because in the course of a single moment, each of us in that room last night, had our worlds, hearts and souls shattered. Each acknowledged that we would never be the same. Each acknowledged that our kind of loss scares people and makes them uncomfortable. So many turn away… Making those who stay in it with us for the long haul, who don’t try to fix it with platitudes and encouragement to chin up and move on after some fixed amount of time, who stand in the silence, listen, hold us and tell us we are not alone, who love us in all of our brokenness, those people are a true blessing, gift and source of light in the darkness. Perhaps more than we can ever convey. And I wish every rabbi there today at the URJ biennial had a chance to be trained in mental health first aid and traumatic loss care… My own husband is getting real life training in this every day. And when we need our faith most, our faith leaders should know how to care for us…because every person in that room last night faced or is still facing, a crisis of faith. Who will help us through that?

11/4/15
Another painful first done. Today, another one comes. The first time Fred Greene is going away since my father’s suicide. “When you’ve been traumatically left, all leaving is hard.” The wise and insightful words of a dear friend. Deep breaths Deborah… It’ll be okay.

10/30/15
Sometimes the hardest part of traumatic grief is finding the words to name what you feel. Fred Greene will be going to Biennial next week, the day after my dad’s birthday. And I am struggling with lots of anxiety about it. Vivid disturbing dreams every night. In each I suddenly lose someone I love or am lost to them. My wise friend Barbara Gould helped me to name what I’ve been feeling today. She said, “When you’ve been traumatically left, all leavings are hard. ” I’ve been thinking about that all day. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and a sense of loss when my mom went home from her visit as well. I think it’s so very true. “When you’ve been traumatically left, all leavings are hard. ” Sometimes at least knowing and identifying the feelings allows me to feel that I’m not simply falling apart or coming undone. It helps me understand what is at the core of my struggle. What I do with that? Well, that is what therapy is for…

10/29/15
Confession. Sometimes I add to the burden of my own grief by worrying that people will tire of me, my sadness, my struggles and my stories. Another confession… Sometimes I find myself seeking forgiveness, asking for patience, asking people not to give up on me. One more confession, I wish I could just give myself the permission, trust in the relationships and live out my grief in the ways that most honor myself, my loss, and the life that I am trying to piece together in the aftermath of my father’s suicide. I wonder why doing that is so hard? I hope I can one day convince myself that my burden is heavy enough without the self imposed weight that I so readily add to it.

10/28/15
A little PSA from a suicide loss survivor… Please don’t use the term “political suicide” because no matter what happens in a campaign, if a candidate can wake up the next morning, draw in a breath, hug their loved ones, get dressed and start again… It’s not a suicide. Suicide ends a life. Aspirations and goals?! No. Those can be reborn and redefined. It’s that simple.

10/25/15
It’s been six months since I felt pure, unadulterated joy. But this weekend I felt and experienced it in full. I was reminded that it is still in me. I was reminded that a piece of my former self, is still there. I was reminded that healing is happening. I was reminded that to smile, laugh and be fully present in the moment feels more precious and meaningful because of where I’ve been and what I’ve been through. And I am grateful beyond words for that gift. It is truly the icing on the cake of a very sweet and celebratory weekend.

10/23/15
Sometimes the clouds of grief part for a while and allow a ray of sunshine to come in. And so it is today, the rains have stopped & the sun is shining. And I choose to believe that my father is looking down very proudly on his son-in-law as the installation Shabbat weekend gets ready to begin. He was so overjoyed that Fred got this position and that our family was moving to a place filled with such beauty and splendor. So even in the midst of my struggles, I will believe that he is with us in spirit, a proud father & father-in-law.

10/21/15
Okay Grief, you weren’t quite ready to step aside today. My heart remained heavy, the tears readily fell, the ache in my soul was palpable all day long. I didn’t smile much, I didn’t say much, maybe I didn’t even accomplish much. I got up, I exercised, I took a shower, I shopped for nutritious foods for my family, I snuggled with my doggies, talked & cried with my mommy and listened to my daughters tell me about their days. Dinner was at a restaurant, but it was a chance to grab some time with my husband. I wrote and now, I head to the couch to lose myself in the land of television shows. Maybe yesterday took me 15 steps back, maybe today I was stuck in place, maybe tomorrow I’ll inch forward again. I gave today all I had. I tried to simply be with you Grief, to feel you, acknowledge you and coexist peacefully. Goodnight Grief. Tomorrow, well, tomorrow I try again. I’m hopeful there will be some baby steps in me come the morning…

10/20/15
Dear Grief,
On this six month anniversary of my father’s death, I think it’s fair to say you kicked my ass. The gentle scab that had barely begun to form was torn away, the wound exposed and vulnerable, the pain, sadness and anguish seemed like a tsunami. And the anger, oh the horrible anger… But at day’s end, there is mostly the missing, the constant disbelief and the lonely feeling that comes with carrying this kind of loss. Suicide loss. Grief, today you win. The white flag is up, and I fully surrendered to it. But just so you know, battered & bruised, and with the wound fully open once again–I will get up, put one foot in front of the other and journey forward through your mucky, muddy & sucky path. I am strong… when I cry, when I laugh, when I hurt, when I heal, when I fall and when I get up… I am strong. It might not feel that way today. But tomorrow is another day…
Sincerely,
Me

10/26/15
A daughter with autism, a daughter with life threatening congenital heart defects, family estrangement… It’s not been a world or life without profound challenges. But grieving, surviving and learning to live with my father’s suicide is the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do… So perhaps it’s time I give myself some credit for the strength I’ve shown every day that I get up, get dressed and put one foot in front of the other. And perhaps it’s time to be kinder to myself on this long, hard and profoundly painful journey.

10/4/15
My fingers lay on the keyboard, not sure in which direction to go. My eyes stare at the screen, searching for what to say. I have no poetic words, no eloquence to share. The strength it took to get through yesterday’s walk, has taken leave. And in it’s place, a profound and primal sadness has set in. I want my Daddy. I miss him so much.

10/5/15
I’m writing through tears. Such an emotional day. Our first Out of the Darkness walk, in loving memory of a precious father and grandfather lost to suicide. His picture placed on the Memory Tree, amidst leaf after leaf of beautiful smiling faces, all of whom took their own lives. Smiles stolen by pain, suffering and anguish. We could not have gotten through today, were it not for the friends who walked alongside of us. Thank you to our team, our friends… Lauren Edelstein Park Laurie Weiss Bernstein Barbara Gould Daniel Packman Rachel Pred Gehr Joy Pulitzer and Shari Blake Schnee I’ve been crying for a good half hour now, I cried much of the morning, and I held my girls through their tears. But we did it. Step by heartbroken step. We walked surrounded by love. Thank you.

10/2/15

Dear Dad,
We did it. Yael Greene Leora Greene and I met our goals for the Out of the Darkness Walk. Our team total, $7,718 will go towards programs that support suicide prevention awareness, advocacy and research. Tomorrow, on the Jewish Sabbath, we pray with our feet, hand in hand with friends & members of our new community. Before the walk begins, your granddaughters and I have been invited to go up on the stage and release butterflies, along with some of our fellow survivors. I’ll think of you in this picture, an image of better & brighter days, and though I’m certain the tears will be flowing, with each butterfly I will be sending you my love. And on their wings, I hope that my love will reach you. I am devoted Dad. I have decided it is my mission now, to fight for a world without suicide. I want to take all that I have learned, and all I have yet to learn, to make meaning of your death. I want to spare another family the pain ours now carries. Tomorrow we walk Dad. We walk for you. We miss you so very much. We hope that we have made you proud. And we are beyond grateful to each and every person who has given along the way. Suicide can be prevented. I only wish, we could have prevented yours.

9/25/15
If ever you want to know why I write, why I share my journey so openly & honestly, why I will not stop writing about suicide loss and mental health-here is a response someone offered on my blog yesterday.
“I want you to know that you are helping me heal my grieving soul. My mother took her own life (also very violent). Its been over 10 years and I still think of her everyday and I still weep often. Your writings mirror my brokenness, but at the same time, I think it is helping me heal. Will it get better for you? I can only hope it will be less acute as time moves on. Thank you also for helping to bring mental illness out from the silence.”

9/22/15
It is Yom Kippur. A time to confess our sins….
40,000 Americans die by suicide each year.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds.
An estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors
Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for adults ages 18-65.
There is one death by suicide in the US every 13 minutes.
Colorado has the 7th highest suicide rate in the country.
Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment.
For the sin of complacency….
We dare not ask God for forgiveness….
Instead, we look within, we look around, we open our eyes and in this New Year, we dedicate ourselves to helping those struggling & lost in the darkness. When they believe they have no place in the Book of Life, we stand with them, we get them help, we offer our unconditional love & presence and we help them hold the pen, to inscribe themselves in that book. Because their story does not have to and should not end….. And asking for God’s forgiveness, as his children die, simply is not enough.

9/20/15
Some days I wish I could capture in a picture, in a word, in a story; what it looks like, feels like, hurts like to lose someone you love to suicide. Some days I wish the wounds were visible… Five months ago today my father took his own life. His pain wasn’t terminal, but he believed it was. His suffering wasn’t inevitable, but he believed it was. His storm was not without end, but he believed it was. His life was not without worth, but he believed it was. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Some days I wish I could capture the sadness in a poster, the guilt in a hashtag, the regret in a song. What would my billboard look like if I could make you see? Would I convince you that no one is immune? Would I convince you to start the conversations in your homes, your schools, your houses of worship. Would my rallying call be enough to shake you, to wake you, to implore you, to beg you to take away the shame..to demand better access to care, to not give up on someone who is suffering? To ask the hard questions, to not pretend you have the simple answers… If I could show you, would my struggle make more sense? A self-murderous act took my father from me. I can’t show you what that feels like. He died at his own hand. The wounds are only visible in my tears. The heaviness a palpable background to each and every day! I can’t show you… I can only tell you. I hope my words impart my truth. I hope my words enlighten, teach, touch and inspire. I hope you can receive them, honor them and hear them. I hope the words I speak, type, pray and share make a difference… Because I never thought it would happen to us. Never! But it did. And the wounds that can’t be seen, do not hurt any less.

9/14/15
Cried my way through services. Today will bring the same. The liturgy of these holy days so very hard. What do I do with my father’s suicide. He did not feel strong enough, worthy enough, brave enough, to inscribe himself in the Book of Life. Who shall live and who shall die? The words only wound me further… I am grateful though, profoundly grateful, for the friends who do not leave me alone in my pain and my tears… These holy days, these painful firsts, the imagery of his death alongside the imagery of the text, cause my knees to buckle and my soul to hurt… There are no words to encompass what I feel… The tears say what I can’t.

9/13/15
Dear Dad,
There is now a stone in the ground that bears your name; your birth and your death. Four years ago on Rosh Hashanah Day, after a six year estrangement, you and mom received my letter. You told mom it was going to be “a blessed day.” The first steps in healing our broken family. How grateful I am that we reconciled that we had almost four years together to make new memories, share in simchas, and be present for one another in life. And how it breaks my heart and wounds my soul that you’re gone. Suicide. How can it be? I ask myself daily. I cried myself to sleep last night dad; thinking of our first embrace upon seeing each other after the letters, the phone calls, the reconciliation. We both wept as we held each other. I’d give anything to hug you again. I’d give anything to have you here with us, welcoming in a new year, watching you journey towards your own healing, renewing your sense of faith and hope. I don’t know how to pray to God on this holiday. You should’ve been inscribed in the book of life. It wasn’t “your time.” But you’re gone, a stone in the ground now bears your name. And we who loved you must continue to journey through the wilderness of this complicated and painful grief. We must continue to choose life through our pain. I cried myself to sleep last night, remembering that embrace, and my tears may be my greatest prayer on these High Holy days. The liturgy is hard to contemplate or to find comfort in. But I believe God will hear the silent prayers of my heart, my soul and my tears. I hope you will to. I cried myself to sleep. I want you here. It would’ve gotten better. I miss your voice. I miss you. I will love you always….

9/3/15
After a night of vivid nightmares and a day of crying… This morning, as we sat at the breakfast table, there was this sliver of a rainbow in the sky..amidst the morning clouds. And then I got in the car, turned it on and the words that came across the radio were, “ooh ooh child, things are gonna get easier…ooh ooh child things will get brighter.” Thank you Daddy. I think today these were your gifts to me. At least that’s what they felt like…

8/29/15
Dear Dad,
What breaks my heart most
What wakes me at night
What brings tears to my eyes
Are your final moments on earth
Your final act
The ending of your own life
It fills my mind with violent images
I see your tears
I know you suffered
Though I pray it ended quickly
I wish I knew the what the last straw was
The final burden you could no longer bear
The nail that drove you to the coffin
What happened?
What happened?
No answers come with the images
which only sharpens the pain
I miss you dad
Your death haunts me
I journey forward through the valley
I wade through the grief
And still I ask each and every day
Why did you go?
And why can’t I find the you I loved in my dreams
Why are the only images the you that I lost

8/28/15
Praying for the peaceful sleep that has eluded me. God, let not violent images of my father’s final moments enter my dreams. Grant me rest on this Sabbath eve. As we savor the sweetness of Shabbat, I am grateful for every smile my daughters came home with at the end of another school day. So much change, met with so much courage… And I am grateful for the man who stands steadfast by my side. The man who daily helps me pick up the pieces of my fractured soul. The man who carries every extra burden, so that my knees won’t buckle on this journey of grief. My love, my best friend, my heart… Fred Greene. May tonight be a sleep where my blessings quiet and quell my pain and fill my dreams with peace and quiet. This is my Sabbath prayer as I watch this beautiful sunset in this beautiful place… Amen.

8/20/15
4 months ago today. I stood in Whole Foods on a Monday morning. My cell rang. It was my brother. He was crying “Daddy’s dead. He killed himself.” I made him repeat it. It couldn’t be. He kept saying, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” How horrible it must have been to make that call. I asked, “When? How?” I fell to the floor…primal screams, crying… strangers gathered. One prayed for me, others called my husband, I remember these kind strangers discussing how they would get me home. I shouldn’t, I couldn’t drive… still others went in search of a friend who I said might be working at Whole Foods. She came and got me, she took me to the back and waited with me until Fred could come….four months ago today, a normal Monday morning became a nightmare. And, of the many, many challenges our family has faced, surviving my father’s suicide and working through the horrible, painful and complex layers of grief…has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do….

8/14/15
Dear Dad,
Everyone has left. The house is quiet. I am alone. It is Shabbat. And the permanance of your absence, your loss, is setting in. God I miss you. I miss your voice. So tonight, on this Sabbath eve-alone, I am going to watch some videos of you. Videos of happier days, family memories. I wanted to be alone with you. So I can weep out loud. I’m afraid to do it. I don’t know if I’m ready. But I need to see you in life… not simply think of you in death. I don’t know if I”m ready daddy–will the remembering make it hurt more? Will it ease some of the pain, even if only for a little? I haven’t even begun and the tears are flowing. I want so much for you to come back….but you can’t. So tonight, for the first time since your suicide, I’m going to visit with you. And I’m going to pray for some smiles & laughter, through my tears. Remembering is hard, not remembering feels harder…

8/6/15
Dad,
Today I am knee deep in a mad, angry, pissed off state of grief. No eloquent reflections to write–it would just be filled with expletives and written in all caps– like screaming, ranting & yelling at the top of my lungs–but on paper, which just won’t offer the same release as doing it for real. But doing it for real might just scare the shit out of my neighbors–so I don’t really know what the hell to do with it–it’s just simmering and I’m trying not to let it boil over–so Dad-that’s where you, me & the endless reverberations of your suicide, stand today! Oh, by the way, nightmarish dreams for me-that’s one thing. For my children, your grandchildren-well, that’s a whole other f*cking story. I mean–are you kidding me? I have nothing more to say today! At least nothing rational anyway. But then again, I’m writing you letters on Facebook because I can’t say any of this to you. Because you left. You f*cking left–so how rational am I to begin with?! So, yeah-mad! That’s all I’ve got today–because you left a mess behind here Dad. And you don’t have to do anything to help clean it up… and some days, that is so damn wrong & unfair!
Your daughter,
Deborah

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love. (E.A. Bucchianeri)

tear

Dear Grief,

As 2016 approaches, it is hard not to reflect upon this eight months we have spent together. You, my constant companion since my father’s suicide. Some days you lay dormant, content to give me room to breathe, to laugh, to celebrate and to be reminded of my capacity to live, truly live. Other days, you are feisty and disruptive, unwilling to be ignored or pushed aside. You demand that I tend to you, turn to you, pay attention to you and feel you in all of your fury, in all of your sadness. If I were to choose, surely I would choose the former version of you, but it seems that you are the narrator of our story, it is you who often sets the scene, the tone of our days.

Grief, at times I am reminded of what you have cost me. The person that I was before you came crashing into my world, I don’t recognize her anymore. Yes eight months later, I get periodic glimpses of my former self, reminders that the best parts of me still remain, hidden among the wreckage. I still have the ability to love fully and wholly. I still remain a person of compassion & kindness. In truth Grief, those parts of me are perhaps even more heightened than they were before. I know suffering. I know hurt. I know sadness. I know helplessness. I know you Grief. And through my knowing, I feel a kinship to those around me who have come to know all of these things too. Perhaps that is the light that seeps through the broken parts of me, shining through the cracks, warming my wounded soul. Perhaps that is what you have given me.

And then there are the friends, not all to be sure, but some. Those who have quietly drifted away. I understand it, I do. Traveling through each day with you is hard enough for me. So it makes sense that for some, sharing in this journey, day in and day out, would simply prove to be too much. How strange it must be to look at me, looking the same on the outside as I did before; and yet to continuously meet this whole other person. It is almost like watching a friend become a stranger. At least that is what I imagine it is like. It makes sense to push for the old me to return, to move on, to simply get over this traumatic loss. If I could snap my fingers and make it so, I would. But I can’t. Life goes on; shiva ends, shloshim ends, and slowly but surely, the texts, the check ins, the words of support lessen and so begins the divide. Not simply with the me I was before, but the friend I was.. the friends I had. I’m not angry. It’s no one’s fault. But it does make me sad. Because loss seems at times to unwittingly open the door for more loss, goodbyes of one kind, lead to goodbyes of another. That is what you do at times Grief. It is the cost of knowing you so intimately.

And yet as the ground shifted beneath my feet, the tsunami of my father’s death so closely followed by a move across the country, something deeply beautiful happened. In this new place, in this new home, in this community of strangers, I found acceptance. I encountered new friends willing to step into the muck & mud, the messiness that you Grief brought into my life. With open arms and hearts full of compassion, they embraced me in all of my brokenness and have accompanied me on this long, arduous, complex journey of loss and healing. They met me where I was at, when you brought me to my knees, and they have loved me, nurtured me and allowed me to trust in them. And even more, there are those who once were on the periphery of my world, perhaps living in the same place, but traveling in different circles, or strangers whom I had never met at all. And through this place we call social media, our lives began to intersect in a more intimate and personal way. Friendships were forged across computer screens, strengthened by common experiences, loss and struggles. My pain, honesty and compassion touching them. Their pain, honesty and compassion touching me in return. That is a lesson you have taught me Grief, to use my suffering, my pain, as a bridge. And I am grateful to the friends of old who have walked across it, and the new friends who bravely stepped onto it.

Oh Grief. If I could wake up tomorrow and outrun you, I think that I would. But I know that instead, I will have to walk with you for some time to come. In truth, I believe that you will always be a part of me, etched into my heart, imprinted upon my soul. But in time I know you will fade into the background, that each step that I take will not share a footprint with you. In time it will happen.

You have made me a different person Grief. I am a different wife, a different mother, a different daughter & a different friend. There are many days that I lament that fact. I don’t want my children to look back and say that their grandpa died and took the best of their mother with him. But I do hope that they have gained a better understanding of what it is to love and to lose. I hope Grief that I’ve taught them not to fear you or run from you, but instead to feel you, to honor you and to journey with you towards healing and wholeness. I hope that my husband won’t tire of carrying me when you leave me feeling weak, or picking me up, when you cause me to crumble. I hope he’ll keep reaching for my hand, pulling me ever upward, walking every step forward and backward with me. I hope that in the end, who we are as a couple will be strengthened by the time that we shared in your presence.

Grief, you took so much from me. Soon the ball will drop and the year of 2015 will draw to an end. The very last year that I shared with my father in life will be a thing of the past. Yes part of me wants to wish that year away and never look back at all that you cost me, all that I’ve lost. But to do that would be to lose sight of the gifts that you have given me as well.

And so I approach this New Year with ambivalence. The bitter and the sweet converge. I do not have resolutions to offer, only prayers. Ironic since it seems that you Grief have made even that hard to grasp on to, at a time when I need it the most. And yet…

In this new year, I pray for continued healing so that I can look backward with fondness and forward with hope. I pray that some of the pain will be left behind, making more room for joy and laughter. I pray that the love that I lost will remind me to savor & cherish the love that still remains and the new love that I have found. I pray that I will come to remember my father in life and images of his death will no longer haunt me. I pray for his peace, as well as my own. And I pray that I can learn from the time that I have spent with you Grief. You have taught me some of the hardest and most painful lessons a human being can learn. I didn’t ask for them. I didn’t want them. But you offered them nonetheless. I pray that I can carry them with me, in this new version of self that I must now create. Grief you have both shattered and shaped me. You have weakened and empowered me. You change, as I change. We are bound together not only by death and loss, but a greater and deeper appreciation for life. You giveth and you taketh away. You are the reminder & the price that I pay for having loved & been loved. How can I possibly wish all of that away?

nertamid

Dear God,

It’s almost eight months since my father’s suicide. Eight long months of stumbling through the grief, every agonizing stage of it. And I’m tired, the kind of tired you feel deep in your bones. Perhaps weary is the better word. I don’t know. Does it matter?

It’s Shabbat. But you already know that don’t you? My husband is leading services, our daughters are with him at schul. Me? I’m home, again. Eight months later God, I don’t know how to talk to you. And it feels like the anger that I feel has put such a barrier between us.

I know that you couldn’t have stopped him. Well, part of me knows that. You are not the all powerful and intervening God that is reflected in the liturgy. And yet, why not a bolt of thunder that would have shaken him out of that dark and awful place that he was in? A loud crash that would have opened his eyes to all he had left to live for. I know, it’s not what you do. But it doesn’t stop me from being angry. It doesn’t stop me from wishing it were so. But it’s futile.

God, don’t get me wrong. I still believe in you. I still want to feel and know you. But talking to you was once so easy. And now… it’s not. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said a million times before. I stand in synagogue and still, eight months later, I cry when I pray the Shema, I cry as I sing Mi Shebeirach, and oh how the tears still flow when I recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. And then there’s the rest of it.. all of that liturgy that speaks to you as the intervening God, I can’t believe in. I try to tune it out, because I can’t recite such words. How can I affirm something that would feed into the notion that you could have acted to save my father, but you didn’t. But even as I turn inward, the words reverberate as they are recited around me. Words carried on the prayers of my community, voices in unison speaking to you. Communal prayer used to bring me comfort. It made me feel a part of something, something bigger than myself. It connected me to my people, my traditions, the very roots of my faith. But now, now I feel like an outsider looking in. Words I cannot utter surround me. And nothing that I feel or face is reflected in them.

And when I turn inward, what do I ask for? Strength, comfort, a renewed sense of faith, of belief, of wholeness. I pray for healing. And I work so damn hard to achieve all of it. I am putting all that I have into facing this loss head on. But I long to feel you accompanying me on this path, this arduous, difficult, long and winding road called grief. Why can’t I feel you? Why do I feel so alone in your presence? And how do I find my way back to you?

It once was so easy for me to talk to you God. But standing in your house, your sacred space, the sanctuary where that eternal flame is meant to remind me of your ongoing presence and light, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. And it’s lonely. It leaves me sad and lonely. So it feels easier to stay at home, to not be reminded of how estranged I feel from you. Is that a cop out? I don’t know. Perhaps.

It seems that no matter the gender neutral language we have adapted over the years, somehow that childhood image of you, God, as a comforting, fatherly, paternal presence remains somewhere within me. Only, it doesn’t bring me comfort right now. I lived through a long and painful estrangement with my own father. And now, I feel it again, with you. Loss upon loss, layer after layer it all seems to collide. And my soul is simply overwhelmed.

God, I really do pray that, just as I did with my father, I will find room to forgive you. I don’t know, maybe right now I just need to hold some entity accountable for such a senseless & meaningless loss. And you God, have unwittingly assumed that role. It might be unfair. But isn’t this whole damn mess?

For right now God, I don’t have the strength and wherewithal to figure out how to stand in that sanctuary, surrounded by community and not feel alone. How to pray from the heart without feeling the liturgy piercing me with some false sense of your all mighty power. I’m too worn down to be reminded in such a stark way, of what once came to me so easily, but is now so very hard. My faith is shaken and there is an abyss that divides us. I want to cross it God, I want to reach you again. But I’m just too angry right now, too hurt, too devastated by the chaos that was left behind when my father left us and came to you. I’m sorry.

I hope you won’t give up on me. I know you won’t. And I won’t give up on you. But I need to find some more healing. And sometimes it is simply kinder to myself not to have to grapple with faith, after I’ve grappled all week with the work that grief, traumatic grief, entails. For right now that is the sense of shalom, of peace, that I need on the Sabbath. My own quiet way of marking another week, another day, another first, another step forward or back. I just want to sit in peace, rest my eyes and try to let go of all of it, for just a little while.

So, the candles will be lit. The blessings will be said. The Sabbath table will still be a place where we honor you as a family. Where I honor you, in my home, in my way… for now. And when I’m ready, I trust the door will always be open, in your sacred space. And we will find a new normal, you and me. Until then, take care of my Dad. His soul is in your care now. And I suppose, in some manner of speaking God, so is mine. Handle it with compassion, nurture it. It is the compass that will help me turn toward you once again.So we can begin anew…

Deborah

shabbat

shamash

In a place where there are no humans One must strive to be human (Hillel the Elder)

It is the holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. It has been our family tradition these past few years, to perform eight mitzvot (moral deeds) over the course of the holiday, one for each light & night of Hanukkah. Our hope is that with each deed, each act of kindness that we perform, we can help to bring light and warmth into the world; at least our own little corner of it.

Last night, homemade cookies in hand, we headed to our synagogue, Congregation Har Hashem in Boulder, Colorado. On a cold and windy Tuesday night, we were housing and feeding members of our homeless community in partnership with BOHO ( Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow). We laid out the blankets that our guests would sleep on for the night. One blanket that served as their bed on the hardwood floors. We greeted them, served them food and rotated around the room offering desserts. We had the opportunity to talk to some of our guests, others were tired, cold and hungry and simply wanted to eat and close their eyes for some rest.

As we drove home, our daughters, ages 17, 16 and 13, reflected on the evening. The experience granted them perspective on their own lives, but more than that it allowed them to challenge the stereotypes so many of us have about the homeless. They reflected on the warmth, the gratitude, the eloquence and even the sense of hope that they encountered with so many of the people they served. They noted the smiles that met their own & reflected on the diversity of our guests. They were young, they were old. They were disabled and able-bodied. They were quiet and they were outgoing. They were single and they were couples.

It isn’t the first time we’ve given our daughters the chance to participate in a volunteer project that serves the needs of others. We’ve done it many times. It’s an important value for us. But yesterday evening, I believe, gave them the greatest opportunity to see, really see, the human beings who are without homes, not simply “the homeless.” They were moved by the people that they met.And each of them agreed that they very much wanted to participate in BOHO again.

This weekend, at the culmination of Hanukkah, we will head into Boulder with bags that we put together on the second night of the holiday; bags full of water, hand warmers, snacks and notes of kindness. We will personally hand them out to our homeless neighbors, those we so regularly encounter on the streets of this college town. We will keep the rest on hand in our cars, to ensure that whenever we pass another human being who is hungry and in need, we can give them a little something to quench their thirst, fill their bellies and show them that we care, that we see them and that they matter. We will also volunteer some of our time with Community Food Share. We won’t avert our eyes to the strangers in our midst. We can, in whatever capacity that we are able, reach out and act with compassion, faith and humanity. That is what we want to teach our daughters. That is the ultimate lesson we hope that they will carry through life.

So, what does all of this have to do with Donald Trump? I’ll tell you. It’s quite simple you see. Donald Trump offers sweeping, hateful, fear filled generalizations of people. He labels, he demonizes and he feeds on the worst notions that we have of the stranger. It’s hard to out shout him and we certainly can’t out spend him or find for ourselves the same type of bully pulpit from which he espouses his views.

But here is what we can do. We can give our children and ourselves the opportunity to have encounters with those who are different. We can engage in dialog with those whose socioeconomic, race, religious or even political views, are outside of the daily realm of our own lives. We can look them in the eye. We can introduce ourselves and we can talk to them. We can offer a smile or a kind gesture. We can, in short, begin to recognize the humanity behind the label or the circumstance. This is what happened for our daughters last night. This is what we hope will continue to happen each time we act upon the teachings of our Jewish faith.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the task [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” Pirkei Avot

I know, our food bags and our time serving others isn’t a global movement, nor does it address the overwhelming and very real challenges we face as a nation and as a people. But it does teach our children, our three precious daughters, to open their eyes wider. It teaches them to meet the stranger with compassion and to refrain from easy judgments and stereotypes. It teaches them humanity and compassion for others. It teaches them to answer hate with love, bigotry with acceptance, apathy with action and cruelty with kindness. And, we hope, it helps to protect them from getting swept up in demagoguery that categorizes anybody else as simply an “other” or an entire group of people as evil or villainous. It is our own family’s answer to the dehumanization of another human being based on race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic standing or other differences. Answer with humanity. Answer strongly and with your whole self. Answer wherever & whenever you can. And where there is darkness, seek always to be a source of light.

The Shamash is the candle that lights the others. Be a Shamash (Rabbi David Wolpe)

menorah-DSC_73491

Oh Holy One
Tonight, as we kindle the lights of Hanukkah
We think of those who are immersed in darkness
They live cloaked in shame, secrecy and stigma
And in this dark place, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, fear and despair whisper to them
taking root in their soul

Oh God
Tonight, as we kindle the lights of Hanukkah
Strengthen within us the resolve to reach out a helping hand
Instill in us the wisdom to know how to be present
How to sit with our friends in silence
How to comfort the cries of our loved ones
How to listen without judgement
How to speak without platitudes
Help us not to belittle their struggles

Adonai
As we strike the match to kindle the flames of the Hanukiah
Help us to talk openly about mental illness
To begin the dialog
To foster understanding
To create an atmosphere of acceptance
Help us to treat the struggles of the mind, with the same compassion we would the struggles of the body.
Help us to lift the shroud of secrecy that adds to the burden of those we love

Oh Source of Light
Tonight, as we celebrate this Festival of Lights
We will also think of those we lost to the darkness
We will think of those we lost to the despair
We will think of those precious lights extinguished by suicide
We carry within us the embers of their love
And the warmth that they brought to our days
Help us to keep their flame alive, their Divine Spark
Help us to honor them and to make meaning of their loss

We can be the light for another human being
We can be the ember, that grows into a flame
That lights the way
That casts out the shadow
That brings warmth and comfort
That guides another
Out of the darkness
May we have the will to do so…

אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame
Hannah Senesh

girls chanukah 2014

A reflection for International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day (Saturday, 11/21/15)

Yael  and her grandpa

Yael and her grandpa

Oh God, I search for you.
Amidst the fragments, the shattered pieces, the mess that was left behind.
This journey through the valley of the shadows feels so dark, so long, so unfamiliar.
I wonder.
Are you with me God?
I search and I yearn, but I do not feel you.
I long to be enveloped in your loving arms.
I long to know that my father is in your care.
I long to know that he is at peace.
I long to know that one day I will be too.
Adonai, I am tired & I am weary.
I feel weak. I do not feel like me anymore.
One moment in time.
One impulsive act to end his pain.
His suicide, has forever altered my world.
I pray to you God for the strength to keep moving through the myriad of complex and painful layers that come with suicide loss.
I pray for the ability to forgive my father for leaving me.
I will never understand.
The question of why, will never be fully answered.
I will never know if we could have stopped him.
Allow me to learn to surrender to the nevers, to learn to live with them, though I will never make peace with them.
Adonai, be my compass.
Help me to reach towards life, towards hope, towards renewal.
Help me to begin again.
Hear my cries.
Comfort me oh God.
Comfort me as a parent, for I am a child in pain.
Help me to see you, to feel you, to know your presence.
Day by day I collect and gather the pieces of the me that was.
Day by day I strive to put them together.
A mosaic, comprised of what was, what is & what will be.
Help me to believe that the Divine Spirit, the light that dwelled within me has not left.
To know that the embers still glow, and with each piece that I put together, the flame will grow stronger, brighter and even more resilient.
Help me to see the cracks, the scars that remain as symbols of strength, of courage and of fortitude.

Tell him I love him God.
Tell him that I miss him.
And one day I pray, that I will think of him and smile. Perhaps still with a tear, but without so much pain.

Be with me God on this journey.
Carry me, comfort me, strengthen me and love me through it.
Because surviving his suicide is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“Yea, through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.”

Leora & her grandpa

Leora & her grandpa

To learn more about International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, please click on this link.
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Our sukkah is up. This holiday, the Jewish festival of Sukkot, was one of my favorite Jewish holidays. Decorating the sukkah, welcoming the autumn leaves, sitting with my family sharing meals as we looked up at the sky. Sukkot, so colorful & festive, the only Jewish holiday where we are commanded to rejoice.

commanded to rejoice

The sukkah is up, and I can’t bring myself to sit in it.

As I scrolled through Facebook this morning, I came across Rabbi David Wolpe’s status. “A sukkah is a metaphor for life: fragile and fleeting, but one must be able to see the stars.”

Three days prior, in an article that he wrote, Rabbi Wolpe shared that, “The sukkah is a symbol of impermanence. If a sukkah is built so that it is too sturdy it is not a kosher sukkah. We must sit in something that is fragile, fleeting, sure to disappear tomorrow, for that is our fate as well.”

Here is the thing. Five months after my father’s suicide, I need no metaphors for the fragile and fleeting nature of life. I am living with that notion each and every day. It is palpable, it is raw, it lies just beneath the surface. I wear it, like a layer of clothing that no one can see, and only I can feel. I don’t want to sit in a structure that further reminds me of what I know all too well.

And then there is the word, “disappear.” It’s quite something how loaded and burdensome language can become in the aftermath of suicide loss. You see, on a Sunday I had a father. He was struggling, he was lost, he was not the man he wanted to be. But he was fighting. He was here. We thought he still had hope. On a Monday morning, everything changed, and he was gone. He was just gone. There was no note, there was no goodbye. And so much of the time it feels like he just… disappeared. The structure & the symbolism of the sukkah, are physical reminders of what is no more. He was here, then he was not. Life, fragile and fleeting, the end that awaits all of us, fated to disappear… I simply can’t enter it. It is like having those words wrap themselves around me, anchoring me to a pain that I seek respite from. Come in and dwell, the structure beckons, be both commanded to rejoice and reminded of what is at the very heart of your grief & your pain.

The sukkah, if it is to be kosher, cannot have a closed roof. We must be able to see the stars, they are the reminder of God’s eternal presence.

But as I shared on my post about the High Holy Days, I am struggling with God. I am grappling with my own anger, but it is more than that. I am struggling with the idea of where my father is now. Where is his soul? I want to be able to envision him somewhere. I want to close my eyes and see him somewhere he is whole, smiling, feeling safe and loved. I know he is with God. But I don’t know what I think that looks like. I am struggling to piece together what I believe. I envy those faiths that have such vivid imagery about what heaven is like. I want that. I want to envision God’s loving embrace surrounding and holding my father close. I hope I will find that image, that notion, that comforting idea in time. But for now, I can’t.

I can picture him only in his final minutes of despair and hopelessness, in his coffin and in a grave. My mind, clouded by trauma, cannot access the happier memories, the sound of his laughter, the comfort of his embrace, even the struggles that we endured along the way. I can’t access the essence of my father, the complex man that I loved. The man with whom I shared great joys and abundant sorrows. The man with whom I traveled a road that was not always easy, far from it at times. We had incredible highs and heartbreaking lows, we hurt one another, and we healed. We lost one another and then found each other again. He was my father. I was his daughter. In time, we grew to be friends. When he left, we were closer than we had ever been. I loved him. He loved me. And yet, I cannot access any of it. I look at the stars and search for something that will give me peace. I haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep searching. I have to.

But in the meantime, the sukkah stands decorated and open. And this year, I will not step inside of it. I hope that next year, and in the years to come, I will once again find the joy I have felt for this holiday. That I will not need to be commanded to rejoice, it will simply be a reflection of what I truly feel.

But right now, in this place, at this time… it is not. So I stand on the outside of the sukkah looking in.

I looked up the word fragile.
When describing an object, it means easily broken or damaged.
When describing a person, it means not strong or sturdy; delicate and vulnerable.
The sukkah is the object.
The person is my father.
One I can’t bring myself to step into.
The other I’d give anything to bring back.

Sukkot 2014

Sukkot 2014

A sukkah is a booth in which Jews are commanded to dwell during the festival of Tabernacles [Sukkot], as stated in the book of Leviticus (23:42‑5): “You shall live in booths [sukkot] seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.” (My Jewish Learning)

shofar two

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
decree.

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,
says God.

But if you sit fenced off in your apathy,
says God,
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
which means
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.
I struggled.

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.
unetanah_tokef_083013_820