Today marks eight years since I lost my father to suicide. I thought I was doing okay, but yesterday a wave of heaviness set in and it has accompanied me into this day. It’s not unexpected. What I know is that grief is a never-ending journey, and I will travel it for the rest of my days. I miss my father. The passage of time has brought me a lot of healing, though it would be wrong to simply credit the hours and the days. I did the hard work of navigating and working through the arduous journey of traumatic grief.

I was reminded today of that moment, just after my father’s suicide, as I sat on the edge of our bed holding my husband’s hand, gasping between sobs, and asking him if I would ever feel better than I did at that moment. Would the pain that pulsed through my soul ever subside? Would I ever know grace, joy, and peace again? He lovingly held my hand and promised that I would. I asked him how he could possibly know that to be true? Because I have seen it, he answered. And indeed, in all of his years as a rabbi, he had seen people endure pain, loss, and grief, only to hold all of that with them, and journey forward toward healing and some semblance of wholeness. I wanted to believe him, though I am not sure that I did at the time. All I could see, all that I knew, was a life blown wide open by agony, and a million little pieces laying all around me in the wreckage.

But I can sit here today, even in my sadness, and see with great clarity how far I have traveled through this wilderness of traumatic loss. I’ve been on this journey for eight years now. When I began, the weight of all that I carried, left me barely able to stand. But slowly, and sometimes without my even noticing, the load began to lighten. Somewhere along the way, I was able to let go of the guilt and the unanswerable question of why. Further, along the path, I learned to forgive my father and relinquish my anger at him, I unpacked all of the signs, until I knew his emotional autopsy by heart. Only after that, I was able to forgive myself for being unable to see all that my father hid from me. And as I stood at my father’s grave, just before Covid brought the world to a halt, I even forgave God, though until now, I don’t think I understood what that meant.

In my mind, even in forgiveness, I still held a certain image of my relationship with God. The two of us sat across a great chasm from one another, neither of us saying anything, neither of us attempting to bridge that divide, and both of us left without a language to communicate. Liturgy and prayer now felt too painful for me, though my earlier connection with it had been tenuous at best. If I dared to speak to an intervening or almighty God, I’d never be able to forgive them for not intervening to help my father. In the earliest years of my grief, I knew the language of railing at God, hurling all of my pain and anger at them, wailing in tears, placing all of my suffering on their shoulders not necessarily because they were deserving of it, but because I needed someplace to put it. But after forgiving God, that no longer seemed a tenable or meaningful mode of communication. So what was I left with?

As this standoff image remained in my mind, God and I across the chasm, unable to rely on texts and song, and without the raw, spewing language of grief, how were we to be engaged in this relationship? We just sat. It appeared stagnant. Maybe irrevocably broken. Neither of us said anything, yet neither of us moved away or turned our back. That same question came to mind again, the one I had asked my husband sitting at our bedside in those first days of grief, would it ever feel better than it did at that moment? Would I ever learn to have faith and trust in God, as my loving and constant companion? Or would I only know God as a figment, unreachable, unknowable to me, always just too far out of my reach?

It is only now, that I have finally come to see that my relationship with God and my faith was never about the liturgy or the songs. Those are things that tie me to my people, to my heritage, but I do not find comfort in them anymore because they do not reflect the God that sits across from me. If they did, God would’ve constructed a bridge across the chasm. God would’ve carried me across the valley of the shadows with a deep sense of knowing that I wasn’t alone. God would’ve sent me a sign that my father was okay and at peace. God would’ve woken me with a crash of thunder and a deep sense of foreboding that might’ve allowed me to intervene in my father’s plans for death. But that is not the God that sits across from me. That is not the God that I ever believed in, even when the liturgy said differently.

Me and God, sitting across this great chasm, facing one another and not speaking a word, this is exactly what it means to be in a relationship with one another.

This is the very essence of faith. God has stayed with me, patiently waiting, facing me with a willingness to hold whatever I hurled across the way. God has never once turned and walked away, or offered me their back, and neither have I. We have stayed engaged simply by continually occupying that space. This whole time, God and I have stayed in a relationship with one another. My prayers came in soft utterances and guttural cries. They came in angry torrents, cuss words, and silent treatments. And God listened to them all, while we remained across the divide. But the point is, that we both remained.

I know now that the chasm is not insurmountable, in need of an object, a moment, a shift in the universe to bring us together. The chasm is the seeking. It is the space in which to hurl the ideas and ideals that get in the way. Toss into it the notion that God could’ve saved my father with an outstretched hand, and instead find the belief that God was with him in his final moments to ease his suffering and tend to his wounds. Stand at the edge and surrender to the unknowable and uncontrollable, and open yourself instead to the belief that whatever comes, you won’t go through it alone. God will surround you with love. Into the abyss, let go of the childhood stories of the God that rescued, and therefore must’ve also abandoned, their children and instead search for God in the tiny miracles and moments of grace. The chasm, the space between, isn’t a fault line or a sinkhole. The chasm doesn’t mean that my faith is broken. The chasm is the journey. Whether we leap across it or expand our reach. Whether we circle around it or simply sit with it. So long as we keep showing up, we are with God. God never left me, nor did they leave my father. I’d like to believe God has helped to tend to and heal my father’s wounds.

My faith is not broken. This journey has not broken me. I carry my wounds in this relationship, as I do with others. They are a part of my story, a personal liturgy. I find God in the open spaces and the quiet moments. I find God in the whisper of the wind, and the cries I still offer for my father. God and I remain engaged across the chasm. And I am learning to trust that no matter the journey, I can cleave to the belief that we will not abandon one another. We never have. It’s taken me a while to figure that out. But perhaps that too is part of the process of healing.

Open my eyes, God. Help me to perceive what I have ignored, to uncover what I have forgotten, to find what I have been searching for. Remind me that I don’t have to journey far to discover something new, for miracles surround me, blessings and holiness abound. And You are near. (Rabbi Naomi Levy)