Archives for category: Nourishing hope

Today marks 20 months since my father’s suicide. I suppose it is time to begin counting not by months, but rather “year.” One year and a half, one year and 8 months… That word… “year” is hard for me. It makes the time since his death loom larger than I am ready for.

I remain fundamentally and forever altered. I’ve set down the advocacy work for now. Though it imbued my father’s death with some sense of meaning, it had begun to take a toll on me. Dwelling in the world of suicide loss and prevention came at a cost. It felt worth it, until it didn’t. And hard as it was to admit, I needed to step away. Harder to admit was that I wanted to.

I need to figure out who I am, outside of being the survivor of suicide loss. Yes I know I remain a devoted mother, wife and friend. But where these newly altered pieces of me fit and how to fulfill and strengthen myself remains undefined. I began building a jewelry business. A business I once found successful & fulfilling. A business my father was so proud of. Ever so slowly it has allowed me to begin to see and slowly embrace a creative purpose, an identity… artist, designer, entrepreneur. These are titles, names that are not a part of the horrific loss I’ve endured. And there is so much symbolism in this endeavor. The beads are the pieces, stringing them together one by one, is like picking up the pieces of my life. They come together to create something new, something beautiful, quite different than before. My journey is deeply reflected in such work. Fragments and pieces coming together in this new self that is unfolding. 

Today marks 20 months. I will never ever be at peace with losing my father to suicide. Every day I strive to learn how to live with it. And I strive for a balance between giving his death purpose, and imbuing my life with the same. I deserve that. Don’t I? Guilt tells me no. But I cannot let guilt define where I go from here. I don’t let many people in these days. I’m guarded, feeling vulnerable and fragile in many ways. But this is my truth. It’s still hard, every single day. But I journey on determined to find happiness, fulfillment and joy. My dad would want that.

20 months… I miss him. I can’t undo his final act. But I’ve discovered that I can’t get lost in it either. The journey is long and hard. I’m tired. But I know there is a resilience within. He lost sight of his. I must continually tap into mine, even when I lose faith in it’s existence. He lost hope. I cleave to it, the notion that it won’t always hurt like this, that it will get better in time. His death has forever altered me. But I cannot let it define me. I still want to bring meaning to such a senseless loss, but I want more than that. I need to find that balance.

So onward I walk, I step, I falter, I stumble, but I get up and keep going. So perhaps I’ve already discovered that this altered self, is strong, courageous and braver than I’ve ever given her credit for. And healing is a continual process… even 20 months later.

And still, I miss him. That will never change.

faith

 

Dear God,

I have been angry at you for a long time now. Even as I have moved forward on this grief journey, my faith & willingness to trust in you has remained stagnant. I forgave my father for leaving me, for leaving our family, the way that he did. I came to accept that it was the illnesses of depression & anxiety that metastasized into his soul and his spirit, blinding him to anything but his distorted sense of self and the pain that he carried. His soul withered under the constant barrage of falsehoods that depression shouted at him, a daily mantra that grew so loud, it drowned out the voices of love that surrounded him. His inner light flickered, growing smaller & dimmer, until it was extinguished by the anxiety that consumed him. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t really his choice. He wanted only to stop the pain.

But you see God, the soul that I speak of, the spirit and the light within him, those are the very things I wanted to believe that you would tend to. So many of the prayers that I uttered to you in the course of a lifetime reflected that belief, that sense of faith that though you did not control the world with a divine hand, you could, when called upon, lift up the fallen and tend to the weary. The soul was within your purview. And reconciling that belief with the way in which I lost my father has felt next to impossible.

And, let’s be real, it has been no secret to you that I have maintained the need to place blame for this senseless tragedy on someone, somewhere, to lay it squarely on the shoulders of an entity that could carry it.  And you simply fit that bill. I don’t know that it was a conscious choice in my part, perhaps it grew out of the conflicting feelings of the God that I was called upon to exalt and praise in prayer, and the God that I could not find or feel in my deepest moments of trauma. I couldn’t reconcile those two things and it made me angry to have to work so hard at trying to. So it became easier not to try.

Perhaps I laid blame on you because I knew that you could take it. You could carry my rage, my outbursts, my railing against you and you wouldn’t leave. You would bear it. You would wait for me. Somewhere deep inside, maybe I believed that. So why not saddle you with the blame?  But the blame became too high an obstacle.

And I’ll confess God, I don’t even know if my father called out to you. He was a pragmatic man, not deeply spiritual, and it is possible that he never once turned to you in prayer as the darkness descended upon him. But what does that mean? It doesn’t make it easier to let go of the anger, because surely you could see his pain. Must we ask before your loving presence comes to us? These are questions with which I have struggled. These are the questions that bring static into my fractured sense of faith. They are the impediment, the stumbling block when I have tried to find my way back to you. They are questions without answers.

I wrote recently of that very thing, finding my way back to you. The broken pieces I have carried with me, were laid down in front of you and you implored me to entrust some of my pain to you. And I did. The tenuous first steps of our reconciliation had begun, with a single baby step; trusting a piece of me to you.

I still do not trust the universe God. I don’t know that I will ever trust in it again. Life as I knew it was shattered with one phone call. And I do not trust in the ground beneath my feet, for fear that it will shift once again. But I have found the strength to push through that sense of distrust, to not allow it to define me or narrow my experiences in the world. I may inch forward with trepidation, but my feet still carry me toward life. And somewhere along the way, in this past week, I found myself ready to forgive you.

I don’t want to blame you anymore God. You loved him. He is with you now and I want to believe, no I choose to believe, that you have tended to his wounded soul and brought him peace. He is held in your loving embrace. He is not alone. And when he weeps at the devastation his suicide caused to those he loved the most, you wipe his tears.

I still do not know how to talk to you God. I do not know if prayer will ever be the same for me. But I suppose it will take time to figure out our new relationship with one another. The language of reconciliation is sometimes difficult to decipher. So I continue to entrust you with my pain, bit by bit and piece by piece. And I open myself up to the blessings that you have instilled within me; strength, resilience, hope, courage and an abiding love of life. You have surrounded me with a family and circle of friends that embody your divine spirit. They are all the reminder that I need that never once, have you turned away from me.

Forgiveness is about letting go, and I no longer want to carry with me anger toward you. It’s too hard and it hurts too much. I need you in my life God. My father died of an illness. It will never make sense and I will never make peace with his suicide. But I can learn to live with it, ever so slowly. And you and I can find our new normal one breath, one prayer, one letter at a time. Our covenant is weathered, cracked and touched by the most painful elements of life. But I see now, that it is not broken.

For too long I have felt shattered. I tenuously set the fractured pieces in place. I tend to them so they may heal. I strive toward sh’lemut (wholeness) and shalom (peace). And neither is possible without you in my life. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where God enters you.” So I open myself up anew to receiving your divine light and love.

Adonai is close to the brokenhearted, And helps those crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:19

Writing is the painting of the voice. (Voltaire)

It is Friday night, and the whirlwind of these last days have died down for now.

I don’t know what I said in that letter Dad to have been the recipient of this outpouring of compassion. I don’t know what I said that took this letter on such a journey out into the world of social media. But it has in fact gone viral.

Here is the truth as I know it Dad. Those beautiful strangers who stood with me on that horrible morning, they are the true authors of this story. They wrote it in deed, I simply gave it wings and words.

Here is the other truth I know. I would have given anything in the world never to have had reason to write that letter in the first place.

I miss you so much Dad. It has been hard revisiting that moment that I learned you were gone, over & over again these last few days. I’ve faced a lot of hard moments, but none like that one.

Dad, I only hope that given this opportunity to share this letter, that I have helped to humanize the issue of suicide loss. I hope that every time people look at that beautiful smile of yours, that they understand that you had a life full of much joy. I hope they see their own family photo in that precious moment we shared on the dance floor three years ago. It is my favorite picture of us. I hope that helps them to understand that we were just a normal family. We loved, we laughed, we fought, we made up, we celebrated, we mourned and we cherished one another. And even with all of that, we lost you to suicide.

I think I’m probably babbling by now Dad. But here is the thing, I just want to pick up the phone and tell you all about what has been happening, all of the good that I am trying to do, the compassionate words that have been shared, the brave truths of my fellow survivors. I want to tell you all of it, because it was you who loved my writing most. But you are not here and that void feels so very palpable tonight.

I hope you see it all Dad. I hope you know what I am trying to do in your memory. I miss your voice. I miss being able to pick up the phone and talk to you. I miss you just being on this earth with me.

Thank you for every kind angel you have placed in my path these past few days. I’d like to believe it is your love reflected back to me in their words.

I can’t type anymore.The tears won’t stop. So I am going to go miss you and cry, like I sometimes need to do. Like I need to do now.

D

essay-writing

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

birthday candles

Dear 46,
It’s our last day together. I think it’s fair to say that you truly kicked my ass. I do feel older, silver strands fill my head, my wrinkles are more evident and I’m tired. Yes, you’ll go down as the year that most challenged me, wounded me and fractured my spirit. No, you didn’t introduce those things to me, but surely you made them larger than life.

But you didn’t break me. No! Every day I journey on, through loss, trauma and grief. One step, one minute, one breath at a time. You’ve revealed the depths of my own strength and resilience to me. I can’t always access it but I know it’s there. You’ve continued to bring love and friendship into my world so I never walked through the valley of shadows alone. You’ve heightened my sense of goodness, compassion and empathy. And though you clouded my sense of hope & joy with a thick coating of dust, dulled & tarnished, they still manage to find moments to shine through.

Yes, 46… on this, our last day together I can honestly say you dropped me to my knees, sucker punched me and brought me to depths of despair I’d never known. But, you didn’t break me. I’ll cherish the good you gave me, and there was good… and I’ll bear the scars you’ve left me…and tomorrow, when 47 arrives, I’ll miss the sound of my father’s voice wishing me a happy birthday. But I will celebrate, even through tears, with the bitter and the sweet. Because I am here, because I’m surviving and because I choose to turn towards life day by precious day. You battered and bruised me, but 46… you didn’t beat me.

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

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Hippocrates

whisk

Last Monday, as I sat in my therapist’s office, I was feeling impatient. Five months after my father’s suicide, I don’t feel better. It is like trudging through quicksand, day by day, this journey through grief. Don’t get me wrong, I laugh, I smile, I spend my days in the land of the living. But my heart, my soul, what lies beneath the surface, is still riddled with pain.

I try to follow the loving advice I am given. I do.
“Be kind to yourself.”
“Be patient with yourself.’
Not easy, since anyone who knows me, knows that patience is often not a virtue I possess in great quantity. Still, I do try.

It’s hard, I tell my therapist. I don’t feel like me. At least I don’t feel like the me I was before.
Before the call.
Before the words.
Before my father’s suicide.
I do know that I will never be that person again. When trauma storms into your life and leaves behind an epic and chaotic aftermath of pain, shock, overwhelming grief, destruction and despair, you can’t emerge from it unscathed, unchanged, unaltered. Like the images of wreckage we see on our television screens, when Mother Nature unleashes her fury, so to it is with suicide.

It is hard, uncomfortable, challenging, when who we are in the world is not who we want to be. It’s like wearing clothes that are two sizes too big, or shoes that are too small. It doesn’t fit.

What I want is to feel better, to not hurt anymore, to not feel like there is a brick that lays upon my heart each and every day. I want to fast forward to the part where healing takes place. Where I can emerge as a me that doesn’t hurt on a daily basis. I want to sprint ahead to the finish line, even though I know no such line even exists. There is no endpoint to this process. The journey will change, the ebb and flow of the tide will, I pray, dull the edges of the pain. But, as my very wise therapist said to me, you never make peace with this kind of loss. You will never accept it. You will never be okay with it. How could you? She’s right. No, one day, she tells me, you simply learn how to live with it.

It gives me comfort too when she puts my loss into a perspective that I can better understand. She calls it, turning the crystal. Traumatic loss is like oil and water, she explains to me. The water, the under layer, is the sense of sadness, loss and grief that you would feel no matter the circumstances. If my father had lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, I would still miss him, cry for him, yearn for his presence on earth, mourn his absence and struggle with the finality of his being gone. But suicide loss, puts a top layer of trauma, oil over the grief. That is the layer that demands your attention in the aftermath. That is the layer that keeps you up at night, pulls and pushes at you, taking all of your energy, weighing you down with the unanswerable questions, the regret, the inability to make sense out of something so utterly senseless. Five months in, she tells me, I am still dealing with that top layer. That is a long and hard journey. We’ve not even begun to get deep into it after five months. No, we are still skimming the surface, and we’ve surely not even begun to permeate the grief that I must grapple with as well.

This journey, where I stand now in the acute stages of traumatic loss, is the hardest one I’ve ever had to take. And I feel like I follow a frustrating rhythm…
One step forward
Two steps back
I feel like I am stuck, despite my best efforts to keep on moving.

And so my therapist asked me a simple question. What is one thing you were not able to do when your father died, that you are now able to do again? I thought for a moment, and the answer came; cooking.

Prior to my father’s death, my Facebook page was often filled with the healthy, delicious, culinary adventures of my time in the kitchen. I loved to cook. I did it with great passion, allowing my creativity to flow, deeply immersed in the meditative process that cooking is to me. Serving up healthy, wholesome and tasty food to those that I love most in this world, filled me up.

But when my father died, that changed. I walked through most days in a fog. I ate what people put in front of me, but I didn’t really taste anything. I ate, because I knew that I needed to; no more and no less. The meals prepared by others were a godsend to my family. And when they stopped, I stood in the kitchen and looked at my folders full of recipes, the books that lined my shelf, the pantry full of ingredients and I felt overwhelmed. I cried. I couldn’t do it. It felt too hard.

After a few weeks had passed, I began to try again. Before I could produce a four course meal with ease, but now I aimed simply to complete one recipe. One recipe that would allow me to feed my precious family. But I felt no joy in it. I cooked from necessity, and because I needed to. I took no photos, shared no recipes, took no pride in what I put on the plate. Cooking, something once so full of passion for me, became simply a means to an end.

So, as I contemplated that question, I thought about arriving in Colorado. Once again, so blessed to be fed by others in our new community. I was now doubly overwhelmed, dealing in the midst of such profound trauma & grief, with a move across the country. But a few weeks later, when my children arrived in Colorado; the dishes all unpacked, the meals no longer being delivered, the cooking once again resumed.

It still felt robotic. The utensils felt heavy in my hand, the recipes felt strange to me. The confidence I once had in my ability to tweak, change or adapt a recipe was gone. If I could not follow it line by line, I did not cook it. On top of that, I had new elements to contend with; the altitude and the electric oven only furthered my reluctance.

But here’s the thing….

Now, five months after my father’s suicide, I have rekindled my passion for food & cooking. My Facebook page is filled with photos of what I’ve created, recipes I’ve tweaked and healthy, wholesome tips that I offer to my friends. I’ve mastered the electric oven, adapted for altitude, and I have rediscovered the, “Joy of Cooking.” I don’t know exactly when it happened. I don’t know the turning point. I guess I simply didn’t notice the shift when it took place.

That was her very point, my very wise therapist. Sometimes we don’t notice the small healing moments that take place. Perhaps we don’t even feel them when they happen. But, she helped me to see, they are happening.

The bigger elements of healing, simply put, those are going to take a lot longer. Trudging through the quicksand of suicide loss is not going to get easier anytime soon. And, as with any recipe, you can’t skip steps or omit the important and necessary ingredients. The recipe for healing is no different. Though I wish there were a shortcut.

But in the meantime, I left knowing that some part of me had returned in these past five months. Who I will be when I emerge from this, I do not know. I pray I will be stronger, that I will find purpose & meaning in the scars I now bear. I hope the best parts of me will remain, and perhaps even be heightened by my loss. I hope one day I won’t carry so much heaviness, that I will make be able to stop asking the unanswerable questions. I hope I’ll be able to forgive God, my father, myself. I hope I’ll be able to think about my father and smile.

But for now, I’ll take some solace in the creativity of the spirit, the culinary meditation that I find in my kitchen. And I’ll be grateful for the flavor, color and ability to savor a sweet bite, that it brings to my days. Sometimes I cook with joy, sometimes I cook with tears, sometimes with wild abandon & others with controlled precision. Sometimes I cook to lose myself, sometimes I cook to find myself. Sometimes I taste the salt in my tears, sometimes I forget the bitterness. I whisk, I fold, I mix, I knead and in it, I find some healing… even if I don’t know it.

All sorrows are less with bread. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
challah

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

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

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