Archives for category: Reflections

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

 

 

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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.

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

 

 

girls-team-tikvah-2016

Dear Dad,

Yesterday, the girls and I participated in our second Out of the Darkness Walk in Denver. It was a little bit easier than last year’s walk. We had a beautiful day, the air was crisp and the sun was shining. It was certainly better than the gray, cold and dismal weather that we encountered on our first walk. It seems only fair that a walk to prevent suicide, a walk to shed light on a topic so often cloaked in darkness, should be met with warm sunshine and the gentle touch of Mother Nature.

Team Tikvah (Hebrew for Hope) raised over $6,000.00 this year. And since we lost you, including last year’s walk, we have raised over $11,000.00 for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Yes dad, we’ve taken our sorrow as well as our story, and tried to build for you a legacy of hope and of life.

I must admit that it is always the Memory Tree area that tears away at every scab I’ve managed to build up in these last 17 months. Trees are such an enduring symbol of life. They encapsulate the very things that root us, that strengthen us, that allow us to branch out & grow. They endure the harshest of winters, only to once again blossom in the springtime.

But this tree is different. The branches are filled with pictures of all of the precious lives lost to despair & hopelessness. The leaves hold beautiful smiling faces, comprised of all age groups, races and cultures. And on the back of each leaf there is a name, a story, a message of love, a remembrance. It feels both sad and sacred to stand there, to bear witness to the human cost of suicide. And each time that I place your smiling face on that tree, the sorrow that I have learned to live with, rises up like a tsunami and breaks my heart all over again.

But the beauty of the walk is that I cannot stand and remain in that place for too long. None of us can. Slowly, I step away with tear filled eyes and I join in this family of strangers, survivors of suicide loss or suicide attempts, and I am reminded that I am not alone on this journey. The tears that are shed, the stories that are told, resonate for all of us. And because ours is a loss that is often pushed to the periphery lest it make others uncomfortable, we garner strength in the chance to stand front and center with our pain & our purpose. I look around me at the Out of the Darkness Walk and I know that my own efforts to stop suicide are part of something much bigger and more powerful. And that gives me the strength and resolve to keep on fighting.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Standing on the podium yesterday and gazing out, I was reminded of that truth.

Yes, our stories and loved ones fill that memory tree and it is easy to simply get lost in the despair. But instead, we dig down to our very roots, and like the trunk of a tree we straighten our backs and strengthen our stance. And with every step we take on that walk, each lap around the stadium, we reach out our hands like branches, we take hold of one another, of our losses, and we carry them beyond ourselves. We carry them into our communities, our houses of worship, our government and our schools. And we imbue our memories and our mourning with a deeper mission. We, the survivors, are like the tree that has faced winter’s cruelest storm, but we will not simply wither away.

Dad, I hate to put your picture on that memory tree. That picture, my favorite one of you, draws such a stark contrast between your greatest moments of joy and the darkness that ultimately consumed you. The memory tree is full of those contrasts, beautiful smiling faces whose lives ended in pain & despair. And I suppose that same contrast is present for those of us there to walk in loving memory of each smiling face. We remember and we smile. We remember and we cry. We learn to live with unimaginable pain and we find a way to engage with life again. Tears stream down our face until a smile emerges once again. We feel alone in our loss, but we look around and we are reminded of the community that carries us forward. Our steps are sometimes heavy with the weight of what suicide has taken from us and they are strengthened with the determination to make it matter. That memory tree area symbolizes loss, love and life. And for me, so does the walk itself. I face your loss, I remember & reflect upon the love and with each step that I take, I try to build for you and for me, a legacy that blossoms with life and hope.

dad-memory-tree-2016He who plants a tree, plants hope. (Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree)

 

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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.

Dear Dad,

Tomorrow will mark eleven months since you left us. And soon, it will be a year.  How can that possibly be? Some days it feels as if I’ve lived a lifetime without you, and others it is as if it just happened yesterday.

Eleven months ago, if I knew then, what I know now, there is so much that I would say to you Dad. And there are things I would say and do differently.

I would ask you to stay. In fact, I would beg you.  I am not above saying that.

I would not offer you platitudes or promise it would all get better. I never did. But I would remind you as often as I could that in all of your brokenness, just as you were, you were loved. Never again would I say that perhaps you could “fake it until you feel it.” Because I know now that faking it took far too much strength and energy. I would tell you that loving you through the hard times was not a burden. That none of us would feel better off without you.

I would ask you to give the therapist & the medication time. And just as I did then, I would temper your expectation that one day you would simply wake up and feel all better. You were so desperate not to hurt anymore and you gave that tiny pill far too much power. And when it failed to act as quickly as you had hoped, you slipped further away from us. Only we didn’t know it.

I would ask you to be honest with us. You showed us pieces of your pain. But you did not show us all of it. Maybe you yourself didn’t recognize the depths of your suffering. Maybe you felt further weakened and embarrassed, ashamed of the notion that you might consider ending your own life. So you pushed those thoughts down into that dark hole that had opened up inside of you.  Oh how I wish you had said it Dad.  Remember how I told you that to make therapy work, you would have to be willing to peel back all of the layers? It would be hard, it could be painful, but it could bring you to a place of understanding yourself and your pain. And from that place of understanding, healing would be possible. But instead you compartmentalized, you rationalized and you masked the truth. Why didn’t you tell someone, anyone that death was beckoning to you, promising you an end to the suffering? Why did you only drop hints that we were unprepared to recognize then? If you had just spoken the words, you might still be here with us now.

Dad, I would tell you that we needed you. And I would remind you of all the goodness, the joy, the celebrations that were yet to come. I’d ask you to look into the faces of your grandchildren and see all of the beautiful possibilities that lie ahead. Imagine their graduations, bat mitzvahs, and weddings. Imagine sitting with mom, dancing in joy and relishing the growing beauty of the family that you created together. Then I would ask you to see the void that would be present if you were not there. I would ask you to look at the tears, the palpable sense of missing that we would all feel with your absence.

family bat mitzvah

The family that love built

If I had a clue that you were considering suicide, I would have been on the first flight and as a family; we would have gotten you even more help. We would have come up with a plan that met you in crisis and carried you through. Why didn’t you give us that chance Dad?

If I had a chance to say anything to you Dad, I would tell you over and over again that I loved you, that I needed you in my life, that you leaving would be devastating.

I don’t know if any of it would have made a difference Dad. But I am left with so many words unspoken. There was no final goodbye. I didn’t get to hold your hand, embrace you and kiss you one last time.  I would tell you that not getting to do that would forever hurt and haunt me. It feels like you simply disappeared.

Dad, I know that you were suffering. But if you were here now, I would acknowledge it with an even greater understanding. Hindsight offers me an insight that I didn’t fully have a year ago. Your pain was so very real. You hurt all over. I would tell you that it’s okay to let all of that pain show. I would ask you to shed the layers of stigma, the shame, the fear that you would be perceived as weak, frail & somehow less of a man. Those layers only weighed you down, causing you to sink even further. And when you asked if you would ever return to your old self, I would say instead that the goal of each day should be to meet the pain, to share it, to work through it and to strive instead toward healing bit by bit. Because returning to your old self, that may have been far too lofty a goal. Perhaps you didn’t have the strength to reach toward a finish line that was so far off. But small markers, milestones that were within reach, maybe that would have been possible.

I wish I could go back. I wish you were here. I wish I could say all of these things to you Dad. I wish I knew then, what I know now. Eleven months ago you took your life. And all that I want to share with you now; I must sit at your graveside to say. But I say it anyway. I love you. I miss you. I wish you could have stayed. We are not better off without you.  We wanted you here.

dad's headstone

My father’s footstone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This reflection was also featured on The Mighty. To read more posts like this, click on The Mighty’s Stories about Suicide

Writing is the painting of the voice. (Voltaire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D

essay-writing

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.

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love. (E.A. Bucchianeri)

tear

Dear Grief,

As 2016 approaches, it is hard not to reflect upon this eight months we have spent together. You, my constant companion since my father’s suicide. Some days you lay dormant, content to give me room to breathe, to laugh, to celebrate and to be reminded of my capacity to live, truly live. Other days, you are feisty and disruptive, unwilling to be ignored or pushed aside. You demand that I tend to you, turn to you, pay attention to you and feel you in all of your fury, in all of your sadness. If I were to choose, surely I would choose the former version of you, but it seems that you are the narrator of our story, it is you who often sets the scene, the tone of our days.

Grief, at times I am reminded of what you have cost me. The person that I was before you came crashing into my world, I don’t recognize her anymore. Yes eight months later, I get periodic glimpses of my former self, reminders that the best parts of me still remain, hidden among the wreckage. I still have the ability to love fully and wholly. I still remain a person of compassion & kindness. In truth Grief, those parts of me are perhaps even more heightened than they were before. I know suffering. I know hurt. I know sadness. I know helplessness. I know you Grief. And through my knowing, I feel a kinship to those around me who have come to know all of these things too. Perhaps that is the light that seeps through the broken parts of me, shining through the cracks, warming my wounded soul. Perhaps that is what you have given me.

And then there are the friends, not all to be sure, but some. Those who have quietly drifted away. I understand it, I do. Traveling through each day with you is hard enough for me. So it makes sense that for some, sharing in this journey, day in and day out, would simply prove to be too much. How strange it must be to look at me, looking the same on the outside as I did before; and yet to continuously meet this whole other person. It is almost like watching a friend become a stranger. At least that is what I imagine it is like. It makes sense to push for the old me to return, to move on, to simply get over this traumatic loss. If I could snap my fingers and make it so, I would. But I can’t. Life goes on; shiva ends, shloshim ends, and slowly but surely, the texts, the check ins, the words of support lessen and so begins the divide. Not simply with the me I was before, but the friend I was.. the friends I had. I’m not angry. It’s no one’s fault. But it does make me sad. Because loss seems at times to unwittingly open the door for more loss, goodbyes of one kind, lead to goodbyes of another. That is what you do at times Grief. It is the cost of knowing you so intimately.

And yet as the ground shifted beneath my feet, the tsunami of my father’s death so closely followed by a move across the country, something deeply beautiful happened. In this new place, in this new home, in this community of strangers, I found acceptance. I encountered new friends willing to step into the muck & mud, the messiness that you Grief brought into my life. With open arms and hearts full of compassion, they embraced me in all of my brokenness and have accompanied me on this long, arduous, complex journey of loss and healing. They met me where I was at, when you brought me to my knees, and they have loved me, nurtured me and allowed me to trust in them. And even more, there are those who once were on the periphery of my world, perhaps living in the same place, but traveling in different circles, or strangers whom I had never met at all. And through this place we call social media, our lives began to intersect in a more intimate and personal way. Friendships were forged across computer screens, strengthened by common experiences, loss and struggles. My pain, honesty and compassion touching them. Their pain, honesty and compassion touching me in return. That is a lesson you have taught me Grief, to use my suffering, my pain, as a bridge. And I am grateful to the friends of old who have walked across it, and the new friends who bravely stepped onto it.

Oh Grief. If I could wake up tomorrow and outrun you, I think that I would. But I know that instead, I will have to walk with you for some time to come. In truth, I believe that you will always be a part of me, etched into my heart, imprinted upon my soul. But in time I know you will fade into the background, that each step that I take will not share a footprint with you. In time it will happen.

You have made me a different person Grief. I am a different wife, a different mother, a different daughter & a different friend. There are many days that I lament that fact. I don’t want my children to look back and say that their grandpa died and took the best of their mother with him. But I do hope that they have gained a better understanding of what it is to love and to lose. I hope Grief that I’ve taught them not to fear you or run from you, but instead to feel you, to honor you and to journey with you towards healing and wholeness. I hope that my husband won’t tire of carrying me when you leave me feeling weak, or picking me up, when you cause me to crumble. I hope he’ll keep reaching for my hand, pulling me ever upward, walking every step forward and backward with me. I hope that in the end, who we are as a couple will be strengthened by the time that we shared in your presence.

Grief, you took so much from me. Soon the ball will drop and the year of 2015 will draw to an end. The very last year that I shared with my father in life will be a thing of the past. Yes part of me wants to wish that year away and never look back at all that you cost me, all that I’ve lost. But to do that would be to lose sight of the gifts that you have given me as well.

And so I approach this New Year with ambivalence. The bitter and the sweet converge. I do not have resolutions to offer, only prayers. Ironic since it seems that you Grief have made even that hard to grasp on to, at a time when I need it the most. And yet…

In this new year, I pray for continued healing so that I can look backward with fondness and forward with hope. I pray that some of the pain will be left behind, making more room for joy and laughter. I pray that the love that I lost will remind me to savor & cherish the love that still remains and the new love that I have found. I pray that I will come to remember my father in life and images of his death will no longer haunt me. I pray for his peace, as well as my own. And I pray that I can learn from the time that I have spent with you Grief. You have taught me some of the hardest and most painful lessons a human being can learn. I didn’t ask for them. I didn’t want them. But you offered them nonetheless. I pray that I can carry them with me, in this new version of self that I must now create. Grief you have both shattered and shaped me. You have weakened and empowered me. You change, as I change. We are bound together not only by death and loss, but a greater and deeper appreciation for life. You giveth and you taketh away. You are the reminder & the price that I pay for having loved & been loved. How can I possibly wish all of that away?