Archives for category: Nourishing hope

On December 2nd, I posted the following on my Facebook page:

I am 52 years old and experiencing panic attacks for the first time in my life. I am saying this out loud because I have to work hard not to fall into a shame cycle. I’m struggling with anxiety in a way I never have. Maybe you are too. Maybe we’re not alone.

The comments that I received on this post both publicly and privately served as a tangible and palpable reminder that I am not alone in what I am experiencing. Brene Brown says, We cultivate love, when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. But damn that can be scary! I put that post out there for mostly selfish reasons. I thought, if I say it out loud, if I share it with honesty and grace, I am in some small way telling myself that it really is okay not to be okay. What I received in response to my openness, was not only a revelation, but in many ways it was a gift. So many of us are not okay in this moment, and it’s hard to talk about. It’s even harder when social media convinces us that everybody else seems happier, more together and quite honestly less fucked up than we feel. Intellectually we know this can’t be true, but when we are navigating low places the mind will often distort our perception of things. I put a few words of truth out on my Facebook page, they felt both vulnerable and powerful, like wielding a sword in my battle against shame. And what I got in response to sharing my authentic self was love. My brave honesty, cultivated love at a time when I really needed it.

Recently I had the chance to catch up with a relative of mine. It had been quite some time since we talked and I loved hearing about how she was doing, and having the chance to share a bit about my life. At some point the conversation turned to my writing. She told me what a beautiful and prolific writer I am and how she admired my ability to reflect honestly and deeply about my feelings. BUT, she added, it would be so nice to see me write so deeply about the good things, the happy things, the blessings in my life. I’ll admit that it caught me off guard, and I had to take a few breaths before I could answer. It is true that I have much to be thankful for and I count my blessings every day. My daughters have grown into amazing young women and I have much to be proud of and I feel that pride every day. After 27 years of marriage my husband remains my best friend and I am grateful that we are on this journey together. My circle of friends is comprised of authentic, compassionate, loving and kind women and men that I feel privileged to have in my life. All of this is true. And I see, know and feel it all. But the hard stuff, the messy stuff, the stuff that I am wading through right now and that I have been wading through for some time, that is also my truth. And part of my process of trying to heal those wounds is to write about them.

Ashley C. Ford says, Truth is beautiful. Truth requires courage. You have to be courageous to admit the truth and to find the truth and to hear the truth. And to accept the truth. It all requires courage beyond your body. I cultivate courage when I tell my truth. But I also know that there will always be those people who don’t want to see it, or read it unless it is brimming with roses and fairy dust. And that’s okay. Because what I have learned is that it says far more about them then it does about me. I don’t say that with judgement or malice. It is really hard to sit with someone in the hard spaces, to show up, to really listen and to just accompany them. It is hard to admit to having no easy answers. It is easier to ask the truth teller to write the happy ending, than it is to see the darker plot lines that are unfolding and simply let them narrate their life as they are experiencing it. It takes courage to hold the truth of ourselves and to hold the truth of another.

I sometimes find myself wondering how often my father was asked to look away from the darkness, and focus on all he had to be grateful for. I wonder if each time he heard that, he opted to share less of his truth out loud, rather than listen to another round of platitudes that did not speak to the quicksand he found himself trudging through, sinking deeper and deeper, while holding the full extent of his despair quietly in the pocket of his soul. Even after he died, the platitudes kept coming. But he had so much to live for. As if that should’ve been the obvious antidote to his pain and anguish.

Shame resides deep in my bones. It took hold from a very young age, and it grew with me, strengthening over time, cultivated by experiences and relationships that validated and empowered it. Self-love is something I have had to learn, and it’s still a work in progress. I have noticed that when I feel myself struggling, shame always seems to have the upper hand. It is Goliath, and this still fledgling concept of loving myself as I would love another, wholeheartedly, fully, without condition or judgement, well that is the David armed only with a slingshot and a prayer! It doesn’t really feel like a fair fight. So I arm the self-love with one more weapon, truth. It is raw, unvarnished, sometimes messy, it can be sharp or smooth, bright or dark, overflowing with tears or joy. But it is mine. And it is powerful. Telling my truth helps me to cultivate love for myself. Because when I can name what I am feeling, it holds less power over me. I can look it in the eye, find some understanding in it, learn from it and I hope, heal from it. That is love. Meeting my pain where it is, and tending to it in the messy garden where it resides.

I wear a ring every day, a birthday gift from my family and a reminder to myself. It is inscribed with these words (in Hebrew) There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. In the song, Anthem by Leonard Cohen, the line before this one reads, Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering.

That is self-love. Let the light flow through every crack and fissure. Let go of the image and idea of perfection. Share your light by sharing your truth. Be the light that stands in the truth of another. Ring your bells with your most authentic offering, you! Answer the bells of another with your full presence. I’m still learning. But this much I know, I can hold my gifts and my sorrow in the same sacred place. My words are the mirror, a reflection of my journey both in good times and bad. They are no less sacred when they impart sorrow or fear, anxiety or panic, sadness or anger. Those expressions of truth do not dim all of the goodness and blessings in my life. My view of the world is not that myopic. I write from where I am in any given moment of time. Right now, I feel lost without a compass, trying to navigate my own mental health struggles and some very hard family truths. Shit is just downright difficult right now. That is the simple and undeniable truth. My life is not a work of fiction where I can change the plot line because I don’t like where it is going.

You know those signs that help you navigate a hiking path? They always indicate you are here with a bold arrow! Well, I am here. The path is steep and slippery. But I am putting one foot in front of the other. So I am going to write from where I am. Courageous truth telling it is! Self-love gets to win this time.

If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. Brene Brown

Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpful vigil to our pain. Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior

I had my first panic attack a few days ago. It was an absolutely terrifying feeling, being locked into that fight, flight, or freeze mode for the entirety of the day beginning at 4 AM. I did all of the things that I know to do in order to bring my body back to a more balanced state. I meditated, I did my breathwork, I distracted myself with a puzzle and other activities, but none of it worked. And the more I struggled to wriggle free of that space, the more frightened I became. It’s a vicious cycle and one I had never fully understood until this past week.

I have been struggling a lot with anxiety of late. There are many things going on at home that have played into that feeling. I’ve been dealing with some chronic nerve pain, I am empty nesting and there are other challenges that are not yet ready for public consumption but that feel like the weight of the world has descended onto our household. I think, if I am honest with myself, anxiety really began to unpack its bags and make itself at home, over the course of this pandemic. The collective fear, worry, and angst that engulfed every decision, the social isolation, and the consternation and apprehension that wrapped itself around me like armor when I had to leave my home all became familiar feelings day-to-day. As a trauma survivor, however, those feelings also served as a trigger, activating the muscle memory that engulfed me for years after my father’s suicide. If part of the coping mechanism that had helped me move out of that state of being was to remind myself that the terrible thing had already happened, that I had survived it, and that I was now safe, living through a pandemic and the collective trauma outside of my front door turned that thinking on its head, making it harder to convince myself and trust in that knowing. As the days went on, right up until the present moment, I simply acclimated to living with a daily sense of unease. Some days it was a little ripple, other days it was a wave, and still, on the hardest days, it was a tsunami. Each new dawn could bring with it the receding of the tide or the threat of a storm surge. That is the rhythm I became accustomed to living with.

I made the decision over the summer to try going on medication. I was having a particularly hard time when I would start to rouse at about 4:00-5:00 AM and my mind would immediately perk right up and start its day, the wheels would begin turning and I could not quiet them enough to get the rest that I so desperately needed. I had seen the benefit of medication in my own family and hoped to find the same result for myself. Unfortunately, my first foray into the world of anti-anxiety medications gave me insomnia, which only fed my anxiety and strengthened it, all while making me fearful of trying something else that might bring me some real relief. So I continued simply trying my best to manage. And some days I did a damn good job. But never underestimate the power of the mind to make its needs known, and never underestimate the power of life to disrupt and dismantle the solid ground we are striving to stand upon. That is what happened to me the other day. The chronic nerve pain and the worry that creates, particularly when there are no easy answers, a bad reaction to a medication, fear over other family health concerns, all came together for a perfect storm and all I wanted to do was to navigate myself into the eye of that storm, that place of calm in the chaos, so I could catch my breath, slow my heart rate, find my center and convince my body that I was not in any danger, that we could move from fight, flight or freeze into a steadier space. But I could not will myself out of the panic and it scared me.

The psychiatric nurse that I have been working with asked me recently if I thought I was depressed. I told her that I didn’t think I was depressed but that I was sad. I’ve been struggling with my empty nest and grieving the daily presence of my daughters, the only bright spot to come from this pandemic was having them all at home with us. They are where they need to be and I am grateful that to whatever degree possible, they’ve been able to resume their lives safely. But the fact that they all left at once and we did not ease into this life transition one child at a time made their absence more palpable for me. The ongoing realities of covid still make social connectivity a challenge, especially as our state and county remain at very high rates of transmission. Some days I am really hurting physically and those “not yet for public consumption” truths that our family is grappling with linger in the background like an ominous cloud just waiting to release its full fury. So I told her that I feel sadness, that I cry very easily, and that I feel my bandwidth has been stretched to capacity. It’s harder for me to muster the energy for things that might’ve come more readily before. I feel tired. But no, I didn’t see that as depression. I suppose the fact that I get up out of bed every day, that self-care remains a priority, that I find ways to connect with others and engage with the world, that I still laugh and find reasons to be joyful, allowed me to make this distinction without much thought. However, in the days since my panic attack, I’ve been trying to contemplate the full truth of where I find myself. And I think perhaps that when anxiety stepped into the back door and moved itself in, depression might’ve been hiding in its suitcase. And because depression chose to lay rather low in the background, I simply didn’t recognize that it too had become my companion. Every time I voiced to my husband that I simply wanted to feel more like myself again, I think I may have been offering a tacit acknowledgment of that fact. I don’t know. But I’m opening myself up to that possibility.

What I do know is that writing has always helped me to process what I am feeling and the response I get when I share hard truths usually serves to remind me that I am not alone. The comfort of that knowledge can never be overstated. I had stopped writing for a long time. Partly I wanted to step away from the piece of my life that revolved around surviving my father’s suicide. Partly I stopped making time to sit down at the computer. And as I’ve written today, I also ran out of bandwidth. I wasn’t sure I could craft the words, or share an insight of meaning or value. But I know that other people are struggling, especially right now. And I also know that some of the baggage and fears I carry around my father’s suicide and how they cause me to perceive my own mental health struggles are not unrelatable to those who have endured this kind of loss. It’s a big T trauma that permeates so many aspects of our lives. So of course it touches this piece as well. It impacts decisions about the types of medications we can consider, it creates worry about genetics and I know that as I sat in the midst of that panic attack the other day feeling so out of control of my own body, I kept wondering if this was part of what my father was feeling in the days, weeks and months before his death. I did not wonder because I have thoughts of hurting myself, which I don’t. I wondered because there will always be a part of me that is searching for where his spiral, his descent into the darkness began and because I want to protect everyone I love, including myself, from ever reaching that place. And I wondered because for the first time I could empathize, not just sympathize, with the feeling of palpable physical fear that he must’ve held all day every day. I was exhausted after one day of that feeling. I cannot imagine the level of emotional exhaustion he must’ve reached.

I started another medication two nights ago and so far I seem to be tolerating it. It has a sedative effect which is helping me to sleep, as I take it at night. I have moved my therapy sessions from bi-weekly to weekly, and I am grateful that my neurologist, therapist, and psychiatric nurse are all working together so that I can make decisions about my emotional and physical well-being with the most holistic approach. Today the nerve pain isn’t too bad, and I always hold abundant gratitude for those days. And it is a sunny, cool autumn day that allowed me to get outside and walk which is good for my spirit. I’m working to take this journey one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. But I am doing the work because I do want to feel better and more like myself again. And I found the bandwidth to write today. And you know what? It helped me to process my feelings and it helped me to get some of what lives tucked away deep inside of me, out into the light. Somehow that makes it easier. Talking about our mental health struggles can feel scary and vulnerable, so too often we don’t. And that only allows shame to take hold. I never wanted that for my father though I know he felt it, or for those, I know and love who struggle with mental illness. So in putting this out there, I am refusing to allow that for myself. In case you are struggling too, let this serve as a gentle reminder that you are not alone. You are worthy of care, compassion, and healing. So am I. We do not have to hold our struggles in some kind of sacred silence. We can name them out loud. And we can honor our truth, even when it feels so damn messy and hard!

Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it, just as we have learned to live with the storms. Paulo Coelho

Dear Dad,


It’s hard to believe that today marks 6 years since you died. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime has passed, and in other ways, it feels like it was just yesterday. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about you. How I remember you varies from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment. It has gotten easier to think about you in life, to hold some of the more joyful moments that we shared. It took so many years of wading through layers of trauma to reach that place. And if I am being honest, each day is still touched by the way in which you died. It can be a fleeting thought that comes on its own, or it can be a trigger that brings about a tsunami of remembrance and pain. I have learned that triggers about suicide loss lie in wait around every corner and navigating them can be exhausting. Some days when I am stronger they are like a painful jab, and when my wounds are open, they can take hold and bring me to my knees. The good news is, I have learned that I have the resilience to pick myself up again each time. But I have also done the very hard work through therapy and I know it is not resiliency alone that has carried me forward. There has been a lot of grit and determination involved on my part. Grief work is hard dad. It’s really fucking hard. Trauma work makes it even harder. But I have not given up, though there are times when I’ve really wanted to.


I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am that I got to visit you at the cemetery just weeks before this pandemic really took hold. There was so much I needed to say to you, so much I needed to release and forgive in those moments I spent at your grave. I cannot imagine carrying those burdens along with me this past year. I am not sure I could’ve held myself upright amidst the collective grief, trauma, loss, and anxiety that surrounded and at times enveloped me. I’m not mad at you anymore dad. I was so mad for so long. I was angry at the wreckage your suicide had left behind. I was angry that you left. I was angry that it was so hard for me to pick up the shattered remnants of the person I was before. I was angry at God and I was angry at myself for all that I did not see, and for not saving you from yourself. I let all of that go when I wept at your graveside last year. I released it. There was no more room for it in my heart. It took up the space I wanted for more fond and joyful remembrance. Remembering you as you lived, in all of your complexity, not just as you died. That’s been a gift I gave myself.


I miss you Dad. And you missed so much. You would be so proud of the girls. Yes, you would be proud of their achievements and aspirations. They are going to accomplish amazing things in the world. But more than that, you would be so proud of the very fine human beings they are. They are filled with compassion and empathy, they believe deeply in justice and working for change. They are a force for good in a world so often longing for that. They are brave and bold, not afraid of trying new things and stepping into new and uncomfortable spaces. I know you would have admired that kind of courage. I dare say you would’ve envied it as well.


It’s been hard not having a place to remember you here. If I lived in New York I could visit your grave. When I go to Florida, I stand on the beach and feel you in the sounds of the ocean. And of course, if we were still in Atlanta, I’d sit on the porch swing you loved so much and stare at the magnolia tree to feel your presence. But here in Colorado, I have struggled to create a place and space that I can go to and be with my memories. After all, you were never here. My life here is all firmly rooted in the chapter that came after your death. I think I finally figured it out though dad. This year, I’ve asked for a front porch swing and it is being built as I write this.


You see, the hardest part of your suicide is thinking about all of the pain and turmoil you carried into your last moments on this earth. It haunts me that at the end of your life, the voices in your head drowned out all of the beauty of the life and legacy that surrounded you. But when I think of you on that front porch swing at our home in Atlanta, I have a vision of you at peace, content, finding joy in the quietest and simplest of things. And that is what I want to cleave to. I want to sit on my swing, stare at the trees we are planting this spring, and think of you at peace. And won’t it be lovely when mom comes to visit and she can sit beside me? We’ll swing and reminisce together.


Dad, I’ll always be sad and sorry that you felt so alone at the end of your life. I will always regret not seeing how deep your wounds were. I saw only what you let me see. If you had revealed it all to me, I would’ve helped you. I loved you as you were. I love you still. I hold deep within me all of the good and happy times we shared. And I hold the harder truths of our relationship, the times of deep pain, conflict, and hurt. But I hold those parts with greater compassion and understanding for us both. And I am grateful that in the end, love gave us a few more years together and forgiveness brought us closer. We were stronger at the broken places Dad. And in the world I have navigated in the aftermath of your suicide, I have come to embody that as well. I am wounded. I have scars that will never heal. But a new hero of mine, Dr. Edith Eger says, “healing isn’t about recovery; it’s about discovery. Discovering hope in hopelessness, discovering an answer where there doesn’t seem to be one, discovering that it’s not what happens that matters-it’s what you do with it.” I have discovered that I can do more than survive your suicide, though I will always be a survivor of suicide loss. I have discovered that I can thrive. I have discovered that posttraumatic growth is real. As Victor Frankl put it, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” I couldn’t save you. But I could save myself from living in a sea of guilt, despair, and pain. And I have. You’d be proud of me dad. I’m proud of me.


I miss you and I love you always. I pray that you are at peace and that there is a porch swing in heaven from which you can look out and see us all. I hope that makes you smile dad. Your beautiful living legacy continues to grow and thrive and you will always be a part of us.

Love,

Deborah

We are living through chaotic and frightening times right now. Each of us is trying to navigate through fact vs. fear and make choices rooted in science. The experts all concur that social distancing is a key factor in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Schools are closing, people are working from home and we are altering our daily lives and rituals. For some, these changes are rooted in the shared values of self-care and caring for others. We may be healthy and young enough to weather the virus, but we must consider how our actions may impact the most vulnerable among us. Who might we put at risk, if we choose to disregard the experts? And still, it isn’t always easy to put the stranger in our midst before ourselves. So, I’d like to share a story with you that might make that easier.

When our youngest daughter Noa was born, she was diagnosed with three congenital heart defects. Within the first week of her life, she was already on a diuretic to help her kidneys function with less strain on her heart. She was also on blood pressure medication, and doctors were monitoring her closely, as we tried to fatten her up and strengthen her frail little body ahead of the open heart surgery she would need to have. We learned the symptoms to watch for that would indicate she was going into congestive heart failure, and we attempted to wake her every two hours to try and cajole her into eating. At 3.5 weeks old, weighing only 4lbs. 11 ounces, she underwent a 7.5-hour surgery to save her life.

As a December baby, our daughter was especially susceptible to RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a virus that could surely kill her should she contract it. She was put on a series of monthly shots called Palivizumab to help protect her from the virus. And, we were told to follow very similar protocols to the ones being asked of us today. We stayed at home in the weeks before her surgery, as it was safer than the hospital. We went out only to doctor’s visits. We washed our hands constantly. We strictly limited visitors, and nobody could hold our little girl or enter our home if they had any indicators of illness or cold. We cleaned constantly, disinfecting every surface in the house. When your child’s life is on the line, there isn’t a direction you won’t follow to keep them safe.

We also had two other young children at home, one 3 the other 4. They attended separate preschools and were especially susceptible to illness exposure as a result. We could have pulled them out of school, but one of our daughters was newly diagnosed on the autism spectrum and relied on the services, routine, structure and social-skill building that her preschool provided. We had to weigh her needs very thoughtfully into our decisions. And we had to figure out how to balance the need for normalcy in the lives of both girls, against this frightening scenario that was our new reality.

So, I contacted the nurse and director at each school and explained our situation. I asked that they send a note out to the wider community and share our story, imploring families to help us keep some routine and normalcy in the lives of our young daughters while taking communal responsibility to help prevent them from bringing home an illness to their sister. The schools rose to the occasion without hesitation. They asked that nobody send their children to school sick, or under the weather. They strengthened protocols for regular hand washing and sanitizing at school. They did not hesitate to send a sick child home. Each of the schools, and the families that were part of those communities, did their part to help us keep our daughter alive. It may have cost someone a day’s salary at work. It may have disrupted an important meeting or travel plans. But the strangers in our midst took our situation to heart and responded with humanity and compassion.

We spent an entire winter this way, both prior to and after our Noa’s open-heart surgery. She and we only emerged out into the world in the spring, when she was stronger and safe.  It was a long and difficult winter. People cooked for us and left meals. Others helped with carpooling and schlepping our girls around. They too adapted, learning the routine of washing their hands immediately upon coming into the house, changing out of their school clothes and only being allowed to kiss the (covered) feet of their baby sister.

I share all of this to say, that we are a family that had to rely on the herd mentality to save the life of our child. While anyone of us would likely have weathered illness that winter, Noa would not have been so lucky. She may not have survived it. The communal response, the care of others for this child they did not know, was a gift. The meals left on the doorstep, the love of friends and family, allowed us to focus our attention where it needed to be.  And when her first cold came, a few months after her surgery, Noa was able to endure it with the same level of fuss and discomfort any healthy baby would experience.

So, yes, this is a hard adjustment for all of us. We have to adjust our mindsets and learn to live out the ideal and value of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. That is what it means to live in a community, in connection with our fellow man and woman. Our destinies are tied together more often than we think, but it is during trying times that we find the most visceral reminders of that truth.

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. Herman Melville

Dear Why,

You have traveled this journey with me as an ever-present companion. We have traversed through this terrain, so unfamiliar and unsteady.

But like a Dear John letter, I write to say that we have reached the fork in the road. I want to travel on without you.

The hardest and simplest truth is this:

For my father, living hurt too much. He chose to end his life.

I must live with that for the rest of my days. But the key words there are

I

Must

Live

I must live with the never knowing.

Live with the loss.

Live with no answers that will ever fully mend that which has been so irrevocably wounded.

But I must also live with purpose, intention, love, joy, and forgiveness. Your grip pulls me away from those things. You yank me back as if I were a child lurching into the street.

I forgive my father.

I forgive myself.

Perhaps one day, I will even forgive God. I believe you stand in the way of that. I still want accountability, an entity to blame. God has shouldered most of that, as I answer you with a finger pointed in the direction of The Divine.

If I continue to hold you, I am bound by the shackles of his suffering.

If I continue to hold you, I dwell in the darkness that consumed him.

If I continue to hold you, my compass will forever point me only backward.

Holding on to you holds me back.

You have nothing left to offer me. I have learned every lesson that you have to teach. I have shared those hard truths in the hopes of helping others whose lives may hang in the balance. You have given me at least that much. Looking back with you has helped me empower others to look ahead for the subtle signals that indicate Danger Ahead. For that I am grateful.

It was an illness of the mind that drove my father to suicide. It was a darkening of the soul, a final act that comes from a depth of suffering I hope never to know.

And it wasn’t my fault.

You must let me go, or perhaps I must let go first. I must surrender to the senselessness of it all. No clue, no warning, no greater understanding will ever give it the meaning I seek.  I know that is why I have tightened my grip. I wanted more than that. Like that childhood game Red Rover, anytime that painful certainty threatened to penetrate, I grasped you with full force lest it break through.

I am deserving of this unburdening.

It has taken me a long time to believe those words.

I loved him. I choose to believe that he knew that. Because that was not enough to save him does not mean that I was not enough.

I will lay you down, knowing full well that at times, our paths will cross again. You will find my shadow and on the cloudiest of days, you’ll visit for a while. You’ll arrive unannounced, uninvited, as is your way.

But I will answer you with this, as it is the only truth that I know.

If he had asked for help, I would have given it.

If he had removed the mask, I might have seen more.

He lost any hope that life would get better.

I will not.

Yes, we’ve traveled hand in hand, you and I for far too long.

Finger by finger, with bare knuckles, I am prying you loose. I will free my grasp to reach toward remembrances of my father in life. That is how I will carry him forward on this voyage with me. Let those memories and reflections be my travel companion. Let them accompany me where once you did. You have asked enough of me. I have told you all that I will ever know. You take up too much space on this path. You cast a shadow that distorts my view.

Absolve me, as I absolve myself.

Exempt me, as I exempt myself.

Release me, as I release myself.

Liberate me, as I liberate myself.

Let go of me, as I let go of you.

I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering up its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.
~ Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

deb dad company picnic

 

 

 

deb and dad prego

Belly to belly, my dad and I just before his first granddaughter was born.

 

Dear Dad,
April 20th is coming. I hear it, like a soft drumbeat in the distance, inching ever closer. Soon it will be three years since you died. I blink, and it feels as if time has just flown by. I draw a deep breath and it feels like only yesterday. How can it be that the passage of time exists with such duality?
This year, the blanket of trauma that once enveloped me, has slipped from my shoulders. I still carry it, but it does not bear the same weight it once did. It did not happen magically, rather I have done the hard work of grief, peeling it off inch by inch, layer by layer, stitch by stitch. They do not call it grief work for nothing, this unscripted test of endurance, courage, resilience, strength and fortitude. I have discovered that I carry within me an abundance of these traits, a wellspring so deep and seemingly without end.
Yes, time and process have been like a salve on my many wounds. Some have begun to heal, others are now covered by a thin scab, yet even three years later, some remain open.
Grieving your death has been far from simple. I pass from stage to stage, and back again. It’s as if I exist in a play, a story I never could have imagined. Each act reflects my journey through the valley of the shadow.
Act One
The ground beneath me shifted, and there I stood amid a psychological autopsy, searching for the reasons why you ended your life. My days were spent in hindsight, searching for the missed signs, the things I did not see, the questions without answer. Was there a prelude to your tragic end? Foreshadowing? Guilt and regret consumed me, as the questions played on a never-ending loop in my head. The rearview mirror was like an appendage, a prop that accompanied me every moment of the day.
Act Two
Swept under by the tsunami of trauma, I tried desperately to reach the surface. Wave after wave of anger and abandonment swept over me, and there was a pain so deep I could feel it pulse through my veins. I spent my days fighting the undertow, flailing about, feeling vulnerable all the time. It was a victory if I could simply tread water and stay afloat.
Act Three
On my knees, I began to pick up the pieces of my shattered self. Gently I gathered them together and held them to me, cleaving to the remnants of what was, mourning for what would never be again. Laying them all out, I sifted through each piece one by one, searching for what still fit, what was now unrecognizable, unsalvageable and what might be different but still had a place in this new mosaic of self. It felt awkward, uncomfortable, unfamiliar to carry those fragments, taped together, separated by every fissure and crack that was now a part of me. I wondered if it was even possible to feel whole. Would I always be a stranger to myself?

Act Four
This is where I stand today. Having navigated through layer after layer of trauma, a long, arduous and painful excavation, I have finally revealed the grief. What I feel most now is the sorrow of missing you, not because of how you left, but simply because you are gone. The never of it all breaks my heart.
Never will I …
Hear your voice
Dance with you
Tell you that I love you
Feel the comfort of your embrace
Never will you…
Call me by my nickname
Tell me you love me
Bear witness to the life that I have built
Celebrate the milestones of my daughters
Laugh with me
Cry with me
Reveal your stories to me
Allow me to better know you
Grow into my friend
Answer the question of why you left
The list of nevers goes on.
Three years have gone by. So much between us was left unsaid. Like a silent interlude, there was no goodbye. The conversations we shared ended abruptly, never to be resumed, revisited; there will be no picking up where we left off.
The acts will go on, and time will not stand still. It is unfathomable to me that your story will never have another chapter.
I miss having a father in this world. I miss the certainty of your presence. I miss the belief that we would always have tomorrow. I long to pick up the phone and hear your voice. I still want another chance to save you from yourself. I miss all that was before your final, tragic bow.
My grief has no intermission.
April 20th is coming. The drumbeat grows louder with each passing day. I am healing. The journey is getting a bit easier.
The eternal truth is this Dad, I miss you very much. We were both flawed characters. I loved you the best that I could, and I know you did the same. I forgive you for the way that you left me. I will carry the sorrow of your loss every day. But I am learning to carry the joy and sweetness as well. Thank you for being my father and for the complex, imperfect, at times tempestuous, wounded, but ultimately resilient, enduring, deeply held love that we shared. That is the truth that remains, the encore that follows every act, the final curtain call of our story.
I miss you so very much Dad.
I love you always.
D

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. (Rumi)

Last night, we hosted our first seder in three years. These are the words that I shared at the start of our gathering. This morning, I feel proud of myself. I have put my whole heart into the task of grief work, so aptly named for the effort it requires. And though I know that journey is not over, I have marked a powerful milestone in the healing process. And today, my heart is full.

Bruchim Habaim (Welcome Guests)

This is the first Seder that we have hosted in three years. When we lived in Atlanta, our home had become the gathering place for fun, festive and lively Seders. We squeezed friends into every corner of our tiny dining room as we told the story of Pesach, sang songs, shared traditions and created beautiful and lasting memories.
But on April 20, 2015, my father took his own life and my world was forever altered.
This time of year is hard for me. When we moved to Colorado just two months after my dad’s suicide, I could barely get through any of the holidays, but Passover was one of the most difficult for me.
The symbolism & the story were riddled with triggers. I felt as if my father had died in his own personal Egypt. I was left wandering the desert of trauma, grief, guilt and a heartbreak that made it hard to breathe. If my father’s final moments on this earth left him feeling shackled, trapped in a pain that he feared would never end, a pain that left him feeling as if death were his only escape, then how could I simply leave him behind? How could I seek a promised land without abandoning him?
These were some of the questions that I grappled with. That first Passover we opened the Haggadah, and within minutes I asked that we close it. I couldn’t do it. We had a Passover dinner, but there was no Seder. The second year, I managed to get through the Haggadah, but it held no real meaning for me. I was just trying to reclaim some part of my connection to God, faith, and tradition.
These past few weeks have been full of preparations for the holiday. It is the spring cleaning of our people, the clearing out of chametz (leavened foods) from every corner of the kitchen & pantry. There is a beautiful symbolism to the process, even for those of us who hate to clean. That symbolism felt somehow more tangible for me this year, particularly as I reflected on my own journey & the grief work that has been so much a part of my life.
As I delved into the work of readying the house for Passover, the metaphors held a far greater meaning for me. I have had to dig deep, emptying off the shelves of pain, sorrow, loss, regret, and questions that will never find answers. I have sorted through the emotions, trying to figure out what I can let go of and what I can hold on to. I have stared at the empty spaces contemplating how I can fill them up, knowing that some far corners will remain forever empty. I have de-cluttered every broken piece of myself, laying them out, discovering what still fits, what never will again, and what is forever altered but still a part of me. And I have found some healing.
I have discovered that moving forward in my life, and seeking out a place of promise, is not abandoning my father. Just as Moses carried Joseph’s bones out of Egypt, I carry my father with me. I look at the salt water and the bitter herbs on the Seder plate, and I know that I will always carry sorrow, but I don’t have to carry his. I savor the sweet taste of charoset, and I remember that my father’s story, and the story that we shared together, had moments of great joy, love, and celebration as well. And I am finally able to reflect on those moments. I think of Miriam dancing when the Israelites had finally crossed the Red Sea. And I close my eyes and see my father dancing with abandon, the way he did in life and it makes me smile to remember that.
I know my journey through the valley of the shadow is not over. I know that in just a few weeks there is another painful milestone that I must get through. And I know the path is far from linear. There is no finish line, but I do not travel alone, and I have not stood still. I am not wandering without direction. One foot in front of the other, like the Israelites, I am walking toward my own Promised Land.
And so, I finally feel ready to rediscover the joy of this holiday. I feel ready to gather with friends old and new, to create memories and celebrate all that this holiday teaches us. I am grateful to all of you not only for sharing in this Seder with our family but for marking this milestone of healing with me.
Finally, I know that we all find ourselves dwelling in Egypt from time to time. We feel imprisoned by our own demons, held captive to the challenges in life that we must endure. It is easy to feel trapped, shackled, immersed in the darker moments; we lose sight of our own strength, resilience and, the wellspring of courage & fortitude that lies within. I pray that going forward we can each hold on to the hope of better days, believing even in the worst of times that, gam zeh ya’avor, this too shall pass. And with that belief in our hearts, may we each journey forward toward hope, wholeness, healing, and happiness.
Bruchim Haba’im welcome friends, we feel blessed & grateful to have you here.

On Friday we are hosting our first Seder since my father’s suicide. Sometimes there are tangible milestones that allow me to know I am healing.

Year one I could not bear to even read the Haggadah, we simply ate a Passover dinner. Year two I managed the telling of the story, but gone was the joy I once found in the holiday. Those years it was simply the five of us, as I did not want witnesses to my pain & struggle.

But I finally feel ready to open our home and fill that space with friends, music and a lively, boisterous & celebratory Seder. I know that I will never be healed from the trauma & loss of my father’s suicide. There will always be a hole in my heart, and a wound in my soul. But I am healing. I have lived in my own personal Egypt for almost three years now. I have wandered the desert of the valley of the shadow, picking up the pieces and learning to live a new normal. There is no Promised Land that will ever allow me to go back to the person I was before my father took his own life. And grief has no Promised Land that marks a finish line. It’s a lifelong process, this much I know.

The waters of pain & sorrow, guilt & trauma did not magically part. I have had to wade through them, trusting that I would not be pulled under, trusting the lifeboats of love that surrounded me, trusting my own endurance & strength. But in doing so, I have found a different kind of promise … the promise of renewed joy, the promise of letting go, the promise of hope, the promise of forgiveness & the promise of resilience. That is the sweetness that I will celebrate this year. And for that, I am profoundly grateful.

I woke up this morning and sat in the quiet spaces of my home and my heart. And I started to weep. What do I want most in this New Year? What is my resolution?

I want to find a way to let go of the guilt and the anger I carry about my father’s death. I want to find a way to accept that I will never, ever get an answer to the question of “why” he left. I want my mind to stop searching for some way to have it all make sense. It never will. It will never amount to anything more than a senseless, terrible tragedy. If I can surrender to knowing only that it was an illness of the mind, perhaps my quest can end. Perhaps that will be the beginning of healing this rift I have with God and my faith. I still want to hold someone, some entity accountable. And so where do I go? I didn’t stop him. God did not stop him. He did not stop himself. To carry that everyday hurts. I am in pain every single day. I’ve learned to compartmentalize it. But it is palpable to me, even if I hide it from others. I know I’ll always hurt. I know I’m not the same person I was before his suicide. I will never be the same.

But I’ve had moments of healing. I’ve known measurable and tangible moments of joy, happiness and peace. And as time passes, and I do the continued work of therapy, I’ve found a better balance. I’ve laughed more than I’ve cried. The wounds are still there, some fragile scars have formed around them, they’re less raw than they were. It has taken great strength for me to reach this place. I don’t often give myself the credit for that. But I have walked, crawled, trudged and inched my way through the valley of shadows with every fiber of courage, resilience and strength that I possess. And so I have to believe that my wishes for the new year are possible.

I cannot simply make a resolution and have it be so. If only it were that easy. But I can keep putting in the effort, it is called grief “work” for a reason. And I can cleave to the vision of how far I have come, and let that fuel me for the road still ahead.

May this be the year I surrender to the unknowable and unanswerable and find a way to live in some peace with that. May this be the year I let go of the need to punish someone, some entity or thing, for my father’s suicide, especially myself. May this be the year my daily pain, becomes less palpable. May I find a way to give it a nod, acknowledge it and lovingly be able to put it aside. It will always reside within me. But perhaps it can occupy a smaller space and place in my heart, opening up more room for healing, hope, happiness and an exploration of this newer version of myself. May this be the year that I nurture those other parts of me, the goals, the desires, the strengths, the aspirations, The me that is defined not by trauma or loss, but by creativity, compassion & courage. The woman who deserves not to be punished, not to merely survive, but to thrive!

Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God. (Ram Dass)

partial-solar-eclipse-clouds

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do  (lyrics One More Light by Linkin Park)

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

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

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

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

It should have been. It was supposed to be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is how I honor my father.

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