Archives for category: Nourishing Self

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entenmann's

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

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

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

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

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

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This one is for you Dad.

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

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I don’t know how to talk to God since my father’s suicide.

Faith asks of me that I trust in the untouchable, the unknowable.

But I have lived through the unimaginable, the unbearable, and the unforeseeable.

Perhaps it is life itself that I do not trust.

God is the scapegoat

Because I still need a place to lay the blame;

Undeserved as it may be.

I close my eyes and imagine standing in front of God.

Laying out all of the shattered pieces that I have gathered up

I ask, “What now?”

And God answers me, “Entrust me with one fragment at a time.”

“Where do I begin?” I ask.

“Give to me a piece of your pain, that I may carry it and make your burden lighter.”

I don’t know how to talk to God.

But the tears flow.

I allow God to gather them as they do.

A piece of my pain is now in God’s keeping.

I’ll learn to trust again one broken piece at a time.

Dear Self,

I know that you are hurting. The date on the calendar is looming and soon you will mark the one year anniversary of your father’s suicide. The mere thought of it feels like a ton of bricks have been laid upon your chest. It is hard to breathe, and even harder to fathom that 365 days will have passed since your world was changed forever.

I know that you are tired.  It’s okay. You have been a full time student of traumatic grief. You have sat in support groups and therapy, facing the hardships head on. It is called grief work for a reason. The stages of grief have been anything but linear and navigating through them is depleting.  Some days all you want to do is lie in bed, and pull the covers over your head. It would be easier to hide from all of the emotions, the firsts, the triggers and the loss. But you don’t.

Every day you get up and out of bed. You put one foot in front of the other and you live your life. You take care of your precious family. You make room for love and laughter.  You are present for those you care about. You turn to the things that bring you joy; taking a hike, reading a book, listening to music and the creative joy of cooking.  It is time that you give yourself credit for all of that.

You have not hidden from the truth of your loss, not once. You told all who would listen that your father died by suicide. You were honest about his struggles with depression and anxiety.  Right from the start you were determined not to allow his death to be a source of shame or stigma. And you wrote the story of your grief, sharing it with loved ones and strangers alike.  You have turned pain into purpose, even when you have done it through an abundance of tears.

I know that one year later you look in the mirror and you feel as if your father’s death has aged you. And I know that you are wondering why you are not further along in your healing. Sometimes you allow a perception of weakness to sneak in and take hold. You think to yourself:

If I was stronger, it wouldn’t still hurt this much

If I was stronger, I’d have found a better balance by now.

If I was stronger, my grief would be a thing of the past and I would once again feel whole.

But deep down you know that is not true.

You lost your father in a traumatic way and it has left a painful imprint on your soul. The news of his suicide forever altered you and you were shattered. One year later, I want you to see the strength it has taken to simply gather up the pieces. You are slowly putting them in new places, even if they are held there on little more than spit & a prayer. I want you to honor the emotional healing that you have worked so hard to attain, and that allows you to turn towards life & hope.  Anyone can go to therapy, but you do the homework. The session begins and you allow your feelings to come spilling out. I want you to forget about that imaginary finish line on the road of grief and instead look back and see all of the things you could not do or feel in those early days of loss, that now you can. Those are victories & milestones to be savored.

I want you to think about that letter you wrote to the women who cared for you when you got that devastating phone call in Whole Foods that morning; and how it has traveled across social media, around the country and across the ocean.  You helped to humanize the face of suicide loss and got people to talk about a subject that most never want to look at, lest it happen to them.  Writing is healing for you, but you must see that your writing has helped to bring some healing to others. You have heard from survivors of suicide loss, survivors of suicide attempts and those living with mental illness and something you said allowed them to feel less alone. And in turn their words reminded you of how many accompany you on this journey, strangers in every other way, but connected in this struggle.

You are a survivor of suicide loss. And survival takes strength, tenacity, courage and resilience.  To survive is to carry the hardship that life has dealt you and to persevere, to strive to move forward. Survival is the opposite of defeat. So please don’t be defeated.

One day, one moment, one breath at a time you are carrying this loss. And you continue to move through the valley of the shadow, striving towards life’s peaks. Some days your stride is certain & quick. Some days your legs feel weak and you inch along ever so slowly. And some days you take ten steps back and surrender to the sadness. But every day you get up and you keep going.

April 20, 2016 is coming. You will have endured a whole year of firsts without your father.  You have honored his memory. You have learned to honor the grief & the loss. But you must also take the time to honor yourself and all of the growth that you have shown.  Honor the brave survivor that you are.  Let your scars be a testament to your strength & spirit. And keep on striving towards healing, one baby step at a time. You will get there. Look how far you’ve already come.

greene party1516

Dancing with my father… the last dance we would ever share.

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.

nertamid

Dear God,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah

shabbat

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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We all at certain times in our lives find ourselves broken. True strength is found in picking up the pieces. ~Jill Hanna

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I look in the mirror each day. It looks like the old me, the me I was before. Perhaps with more wrinkles, and a touch more silver, but still I don’t seem so different. I look somehow whole, put together, in tact.

But I am not. Below the surface I resemble Humpty Dumpty after the fall. My father’s suicide has left me fragmented, fractured, broken. Pieces, so many pieces…

The me that I was before that devastating phone call, I will never be again. The me that will emerge through the healing process, and the complex & painful layers of grief, I do not yet know. So I am simply in a state of becoming. Becoming feels somehow fragile. Some days I feel held together by super glue, other days by scotch tape and still, on many days, simply by spit & a prayer.

To lose someone to suicide, I have read, is to have a grenade, loaded with shrapnel, tossed into the center of a family. The damage inflicted is far reaching, devastating and destructive. Only the doctors cannot stitch the wounds back together. All the kings horses & all the kings men….

I look in the mirror. I see a facade. I am not whole. Look beneath the surface and you will see, the cracks, the fissures, the brokenness that I carry within.

I pray for shalom, for wholeness, to return. I know that I will always carry the scars, but the wounds won’t be so raw, so painful. I pray, and I strive. I journey through the grief, step by step.

I pick up the pieces of a shattered heart. I search to hold on to fragments of the old me. And as I journey through the grief, I recognize that never again will I look the same beneath the surface.

And when I find healing, what new pieces will I carry within? How will they fit into the changing canvas of my soul? An abstract collection of before, during and after. A new mosaic will emerge. I will look for her, I will search for her and I will tend to her. I pray that she will be stronger in the broken places.

I will carry within all the pieces of me. Those that were shattered, and those yet to be. They will remind me of what I have lost & what I have gained. They will shape me, though they will not define me. Outwardly I will look the same. Inwardly I will not.

But one day, it will not take such great effort to hold those pieces of me together. One day they will simply find their place, alongside of one another. There they will settle, there they will be rooted and there, they will lay a foundation of strength… A new mosaic.

So for now, I hold tight. And when I need to, I simply let go–falling to pieces. Crying, raging, talking, grieving, grappling and struggling. Then I begin again-grasping, holding, healing…. All the pieces of me.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
― Rumi

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deb and dad

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. – Rabbi Earl Grollman

How are you? Three little words. Sometimes we ask them in passing, not even waiting for an answer. At other times we ask in a more perfunctory way. And then there are the times we ask in a way that says, “Tell me your truth. I really want to know.”

In recent months, each time I would speak to my dad, I would ask him, “How are you dad?” But I always followed those three words with this, “Dad, I’m asking because I really want to know, so answer me honestly. How are you?” My father would often sigh, take a deep breath and answer, “I’m not doing so good.” And then we would talk. Sometimes we talked for a very long time, other times the conversations were shorter. But each time, I would offer my dad my presence, I would listen, and I would share with him. I did not offer him platitudes, there was no purpose in them. He was in real pain, and he needed to have that pain acknowledged, to share his burden and to feel safe that his struggles would be met with care, with respect and with love. I’d like to believe that I was able to do that for him. That he carried with him the knowledge that I did not take lightly the darkness he felt surrounded him and the fears & worries that kept him up at night and clouded his days.

And now, here I am. It is just a little over two weeks since my father committed suicide. I am profoundly sad, and I am struggling with the very real & painful aftermath of how my father died.

People ask me, “How are you?” Some ask in passing, the obligatory words to the mourner. Some don’t bother asking at all. Their silence is deafening. Some ask & then, with the best of intentions, offer platitudes. “Don’t think about how your father died. Think only about the life he lived & the good times.” “You have to know that your father’s suicide had nothing at all to do with your family.” “You have to be strong for your mother, for your children.” And others ask, with hearts ready to receive my grief, my hurt and my sadness.

Here is the thing I’ve learned. So many people are uncomfortable with grief. They want to pretty it up, make you feel better and offer you a better and more hopeful way to look at your loss. It comes from a good place, at least most of the time. People who care about you, want to see you happy, smiling, embracing life. But, grief is a journey, it is a process. And the grief around suicide adds a painful, complex and heart-wrenching layer that, if you’ve not lived it (and I hope you never do) is truly beyond the realm of understanding.

I get up every day. I put one foot in front of the other. I busy myself with life, errands, things around the house. I take care of my children, go to appointments, prepare for our upcoming move. I eat, I go for a walk. And I grieve. And I grapple. And I miss my father. And I regret that I couldn’t do more to help him, that I didn’t see just how deep his pain went. I cry, I talk, I reflect. I reach out to support systems so that I can be around people who understand this particular kind of loss. And I simply allow myself to feel.

Grief isn’t easy. It isn’t pretty. It can’t be wished away. And no matter how hard we may try to bury it, it will find a way in. Grief is a journey, we simply must walk through it. The grief surrounding suicide does not come with a compass, there is no road map, and it can feel so very isolating and confusing. So each step forward feels more uncertain, unsure and at times, unsettling. But I walk, I breathe & I cry. I may stop and sit, perhaps to reflect, or perhaps because I feel so very tired. Sadness will leave you feeling that way.

But I believe in my heart that the only way to healing, is to journey through the grief. I do not do it on a timetable. I can’t. I won’t. I loved my father. I lost my father. My father committed suicide. And I am grieving.

So, if you ask me those three words, “How are you?” Ask with the intention of knowing, of listening, of simply being present. Ask knowing you have no answers, and that is okay. Ask with a willingness to simply sit in silence with me, or allow me to cry in your company. Ask in a way that honors my grief. And in that way, you help me to honor my father. Ask with the intention of truly knowing, or please… simply don’t ask at all.

How are you? Three little words. It is in the asking, that you can make all the difference to someone who is learning to live with such a deep & profound loss.

We can endure much more than we think we can; all human experience testifies to that. All we need to do is learn not to be afraid of pain. Grit your teeth and let it hurt. Don’t deny it, don’t be overwhelmed by it. It will not last forever. One day, the pain will be gone and you will still be there. – Rabbi Harold Kushner

YogaPoses-Childs

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. (Raymond Lindquist)

Confession, I am not the most confident person in the world. There, I said it. I often find myself battling a sense of inhibition & self-doubt when I embark on something new. Like many, stepping outside of my comfort zone is never easy. But, at 46 years old, I am learning to be more cognizant of those feelings. I am learning that when those voices, the ones that stick little pin pricks into my confidence level, begin to speak, I need not let them have the final word. I listen to them, and then I force myself to begin to answer them. What am I afraid of? What is the worst that could happen? Is it possible I will miss out on something fun, exciting, rewarding or meaningful because I didn’t want to look silly, or perhaps fail? Do I feel like all eyes will be on me if I mess up, falter or struggle? The answers and the questions vary at times. But the important part, is challenging myself not to succumb to the doubts or inhibitions. I promised myself in this new year, I would do more of that.

And so today brought me to yoga class. I’ve taken yoga before. It was at a local studio and while I absolutely enjoyed doing it, I will confess to always feeling a little bit uneasy. I didn’t like being the new student in the class. I felt silly & even a little embarrassed when I struggled with a position that seemed to come so easily to those who had been practicing for years. I felt unsure about my movements & rather than feeling relaxed, I found myself caught up in trying to get the moves “right.” Am I positioned properly? Is the right leg up in the air? Why can’t I seem to contort my body in the ways that others can? And so, after a few months, I just fell away from the practice.

When meditation became a part of my personal journey, I began to think about returning to the practice of yoga, but off went those little voices in my head, coming up with a myriad of excuses and reasons not to try. So I ran on the treadmill, I took the doggies for walks, I lifted weights and I periodically thought to myself, boy I’d really like to try yoga again. Then…. I didn’t.

But today, I gave those voices in my head a gentle time out. I attended a yoga class, at our local Whole Foods, instructed by my friend & yoga instructor Pam. I told her that I was planning on coming, wrote it on my calendar so my family would hold me to it, and even asked my friend to give me a gentle reminder the day before. This way, I left myself little room for backing out.

So I showed up today and immediately felt welcome and safe within the walls of the community room, transformed into a yoga studio. My fears about looking foolish, or doing it wrong, quietly subsided and I threw myself into the practice.

Here is what I learned today. I learned, as I looked around the room, that other people shook or stumbled as they stretched to achieve a pose. I learned that even if you loose your footing, or feel off balance, you can re-position yourself and once again find your center, even if it takes you several tries. I learned that stepping outside of my comfort zone, both literally & figuratively, can be hard, it may even hurt as I awaken new muscles, or use them in a new way. But with continued stretching & practice, the body will adapt, it will strengthen and it will move you to places you once thought impossible.

It’s a metaphor for life really. Isn’t it? It is only in the stretching, the reaching, the stepping far outside of what we know & feel comfortable with, that we grow. Sometimes our legs may shake, perhaps our arms feel unable to reach any higher, or any further. But if we keep up with the practice we will soon feel more certain of our footing, we will find our balance, we will learn that we are capable of reaching great heights and we will find our center.

As children, we are free of so many inhibitions. It’s a beautiful thing to watch & behold. Some of us are blessed never to lose that. And some, like me, are trying to find their way back to that place. Today, I felt a little bit closer.

Yoga is called a “practice.” It is a process of learning, growing, strengthening and flexibility. It involves setting an intention, whether it be for the studio time, the day ahead or perhaps even for the longer term. And so, next week, I’ll be back at Whole Foods, learning, stretching & even fumbling my way through once again. And as I move into child’s pose, I’ll be reminded that answering the voices of self-doubt and being open to new experiences, is a gift we must continue to give ourselves, well into adulthood. Namaste.