Archives for category: family

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. 

 

 

Dear Dad,

Yael is graduating High School today. I wish you were here to see it. You missed so much Dad. There were so many celebrations yet to be, so many milestones to mark.

She is wearing your bracelet along with her cap and gown. A piece of you will be with her.

I know your’re looking down with pride. But I wish you could have stayed.

She does too.

But today and every day, we carry you in our hearts.

dad and yael

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.

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When we lived in Atlanta, I kept a giant calendar on the side of our refrigerator. Having three kids in three schools, plus after school activities and my husband’s busy rabbi schedule to juggle, that calendar  helped me to organize life for myself & my family. Yes, in these days of smart phones and technology, I preferred to have life laid out in black and white, on paper. I still do.

My father died on April 20, 2015. And while so much of life felt like a blur in the aftermath of his suicide, the details of that day are etched into my mind with painful & perfect clarity.

When the end of that month came, I took the April calendar down, but I couldn’t throw it away.  That was the last month that my father was alive. It was the last month that I would hear his voice, or tell him that I loved him and hear him say it in return.

And that piece of paper so starkly reflected the truth of my life. Every day leading up to April 20, 2015 was my before. And every day that followed, my after.

That is what it is to lose someone to suicide. You mark your very existence as a survivor in before & after. Because to survive a suicide loss is to be forever altered in ways that at times simply defy words.

The other day I was cleaning out some papers and I came across the calendar once again. My response, almost two years later, was still the same. I can’t throw it away. Some part of me simply can’t give up this piece of paper, filled as it is with the mundane routine of our daily lives as a family.

On the day my father died, my middle daughter was scheduled to have her braces taken off. My friend Karen so graciously picked her up at school and took her to the orthodontist, feigning a story about why I couldn’t get her myself. I recall vividly the picture Karen sent of Leora’s beautiful brace free smile at the end of that appointment. And I remember the pain I felt at knowing that the news of my father’s suicide, would wipe that smile away in an instant. And yet, there it is in black & white, what was supposed to be a far more ordinary afternoon, with an appointment scheduled at 2:00. And written underneath it are notes about carpool and a final class at Religious School. It was supposed to be an ordinary day, that became anything but.

I look at all of the things written on that April calendar that fell after the 20th, and I can’t even remember who took care of what. Who cancelled the appointments before we went to New York for the funeral? The house was due for the final inspection. Who made sure it was tidied up before we left? Who drove carpool? It is all a blur.

There was life before my father’s suicide. And there is life after. And why I can’t throw out that one piece of paper, I don’t know. Except maybe that it is the most concrete reflection of the day my life changed forever.

Time has passed. There has been much heartache, but also a great deal of healing. I try not to dwell in memories of the before. But I hold fast to one torn page from the calendar that reminds me of time I still shared with my father. He lived for 19 days in April 2015. And a single piece of paper is the evidence I cleave to. How could I possibly throw that away?

Time is the longest distance between two places. (Tennessee Williams)

 

dancing with dad at my bat mitzvah

Dancing with my dad at my Bat Mitzvah party

“Tell me something about your dad”, my heart whispered this morning. “Tell me something about his life, a sweet memory, and let it not be tainted by his suicide.”

And my mind answered,”But those moments are hard to find. It seems whenever I try to revisit those memories, his suicide, the way his life ended, inevitably comes crashing in.”

“Try anyway”, my heart answered back. “Do not let his death be all that defines him.”

Eyes closed

A deep breath.

Clearing away the pain.

Making room for something sweeter.

He loved to dance!

I mean, my father LOVED to dance. When I was younger, he and my mom would get dressed up in their disco gear and hit the dance floor on Saturday nights. I remember thinking that I had such cool parents. My mom in her spandex top & leather pants and my dad, looking so suave with his shirt unbuttoned, heading out to Uncle Sam’s disco. Date night was dance night for them.

mom and dad club night

My parents ready to hit the dance floor

But my dad didn’t have to wait for a club or an event to get his groove on. Our living room had a full wall of mirrors. And as part of my dad’s exercise routine, he would pop in an 8 track tape, put on his castanets and shirtless, with just his shorts on, he would dance. I can remember Peaches & Herb blaring through the stereo speakers singing, “Shake your groove thing, shake your groove thing yeah yeah. Show ’em how we do it y’all.” And without a partner, but with total & complete abandon, my father would just dance until he was dripping in sweat.

dad disco days

This is how I remember my dad dancing around the living room.

I don’t know if my father was ever more free, than when he was dancing. He didn’t hold back. The music enveloped him and he just radiated joy. For him, it was clear that dancing was a celebration of life, and on the dance floor, he gave it everything he had.

And he was happy. I can remember him happy. I can remember him free.

And my mind whispered to me, “Hold that memory today. Grasp it tight and don’t let go.”

And my heart whispered to me, “There is room for both the sorrow & the joy. Cleave to the joy today.”

My father loved to dance.

He knew joy. He knew celebration. He could and he did dance like no one was watching.

Today, with everything I’ve got, I hold fast to that memory of my dad.

My father loved to dance. And remembering that, makes me smile.

Let show the world we can dance
Bad enough to strut our stuff
The music gives us a chance
We do more out on the floor

Groovin’ loose or heart to heart
We put in motion every single part
Funky sounds wall to wall
We’re bumpin’ booties, havin’ us a ball, y’all

(Peaches & Herb Shake Your Groove Thing)

 

baby-deb-and-dad

Dear Dad,

Tomorrow would have been your 74th birthday.  I still felt the impulse to buy you a card, then I passed the display and instead, began to weep. I thought this second birthday without you would be easier, I was wrong.

I remember when we reconciled, I learned to cherish & never take for granted the simple act of picking up the phone on a holiday or a birthday, to share in good wishes and special sentiments of love & joy. After all, we had endured six years of special days coming and going, marked only by our absence from one another and the silence that filled the void. Yes, it truly felt like we were embarking on a brand new chapter in our relationship, full of promise, forgiveness, rebuilding and a love that felt deeper, stronger and even more authentic because of what we had endured. But that chapter came to a violent and abrupt end 18 months ago. Now our story can only be told in the looking back. And the thought of all that could have been, the pages left unwritten, break my heart.

Eighteen months; I know it’s been a year & a half, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to count it in that way. I’m not ready to put the word year in that space. Isn’t that silly? It is, I know. I wake up almost every day at 3:00 in the morning Dad. We never did get a time of death for you, another missing piece to the puzzle of your suicide. My mind is still trying to make sense of it all. But how do you make sense out of something so very senseless. And yet, my eyes open at 3:00 in the morning and I wonder, is that when you died? Are you trying to give me something to cleave to? Are you trying to answer one of the myriad of questions that occupies my mind at some point each & every day? I’m beginning to believe it.

Oh Dad, I thought getting through all of the firsts would make these seconds without you easier to bear. But I’m told that the second year can be even harder than the first. That darn grief does not follow a linear path, that much I have learned. It’s a constant dance of forward, back and side to side. Right now I feel like I’m just spinning, dizzy, unable to find my center. Tomorrow is just another day I feel like I have to get through. Then some balance might return.

I wish I could have helped you more. I wish that I knew then what I know now. I wish that all that I have learned and all that I have done in the aftermath of your suicide, could help you. I wish it could bring you back. I wish, I wish, for so much I wish.

Why did you go Dad? What happened? What was that final straw that took you from us? Why didn’t you tell us that you were feeling suicidal? Why? I hate that word. Because I will never have the answer. I know the truest answer lies in the illness that consumed your mind. But why didn’t you feel like you could keep fighting on? What made that morning different from all of the others that you had pushed through?

Listen to me; it’s the eve before your birthday and I’m rambling on about me & what I feel. But what about you? Are you at peace? I hope so. Do you know, do you see how much you are missed? I hope so. Do you know how much you were loved. I pray you did.

Tomorrow is your birthday. I wish I could say that I’ll celebrate you, but I just want to get past it. Your suicide has made it deeply complicated to remember you in life, to touch upon the good memories and reminisce.  Maybe one day that will come. I’m told it will. It would be nice to savor a shared moment of joy without having trauma barging in on every darn memory I try to access.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t help you more Dad. I tried my best. I believe that you know that. But you didn’t tell me your whole truth. You kept a mask on and allowed me only to see a portion of your pain. Were you trying to protect me? You didn’t. You know that now Dad, right?

But I love you. I’ll always love you. And most days I forgive you. Other days I feel like you abandoned me. I can’t lie. You were not always easy, and goodness knows you could be a deeply complicated man. Ours was not a relationship without perils and pitfalls & for a long while we walked on separate paths. But we stood at a fork in the road and found one another again. I am eternally grateful for that. And even in your last months and weeks on this earth, stripped down to your most vulnerable self, you allowed me to know you on a deeper level. I felt like I understood you better, and I came to see that just like me, you were shaped by your own upbringing and all of the dysfunction that you endured. In short, I knew that you did as a father, the very best that you could with what you knew. Not every child gets to see that in their parent no matter how old they get. I thank you for that. I thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your own very human journey. I only wish I could have seen more.

Tomorrow is your birthday. So I’m going to try to end this note with a birthday wish for you…

I wish for you that the peace that eluded you in life, is now yours. May your soul be at rest. And may you always carry with you the knowledge that you were loved, even in your most broken state. Even when darkness blinded you to it, You were loved. And even when you felt most alone, you were loved. I wish you were still here. I wish that I could pick up the phone and call you. I wish I could give you a hug.

And it is my fervent wish that the love we shared can transcend

time & space

pain & sorrow

life and death

So that all that I’ve written can find its way to you with God’s grace.

D

deb-and-dad-childhood

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entenmann's

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

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

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

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

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

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This one is for you Dad.

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

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.

The home should be the treasure chest of living. Le Corbusier

Leaving my childhood home today for the very last time, I have so many mixed emotions. I am grateful for the love that lived there. I am grateful for the childhood that began in that place after our move from Brooklyn, when I was in the first grade. That house that saw family celebrations, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and more. That house that knew anger, sadness, loss and pain just as intimately. That house where I found friendship, first crushes, first romance and even first heartbreak. If those walls could speak, they would tell so much of my story.

And I am grateful for the reconciliation that it was witness to. After six years had passed, in the driveway of my childhood home, I shared a first emotional embrace with my father and my mother, and healing took hold. Yes, I am grateful for the joy and even the hardship that shaped me into who I am, so much of it in that place that I once called home.

But I am also grateful to let go of the place where my father ended his life, and the palpable pain & grief that brings each time I enter the space, where he drew his final breath. The house haunts me only with sorrow now, it is filled with what was and what should have been. I look for him in every corner, out on the porch basking in the sun, sitting in his recliner in the family room or his favorite spot in the living room. I can’t even bring myself to sit in his chairs. I hear his voice on the answering machine and he still sounds so very alive. He recites the phone number I’ve committed to memory and he says that “we” can’t get to the phone right now, but “we” will get back to you as soon as “we” can. But my mother is a widow now, and we will never hear his voice in life again.

So fare thee well house. I’ll hold the good you gave me close and in leaving you, I hope to leave behind some of the pain. Be good to the next family that calls you home. A new chapter begins for my mom and for us. Another door closes, and somewhere else a window opens…

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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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