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Dear Dad,

Yael is graduating High School today. I wish you were here to see it. You missed so much Dad. There were so many celebrations yet to be, so many milestones to mark.

She is wearing your bracelet along with her cap and gown. A piece of you will be with her.

I know your’re looking down with pride. But I wish you could have stayed.

She does too.

But today and every day, we carry you in our hearts.

dad and yael

covered-mirror

I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been working to be as fully present in the here & now as possible. It was a conscious choice to tuck the grief, the loss, the trauma of my dad’s suicide neatly into my back pocket.  I needed to turn away from it, at least for a while.

In Judaism, when you are in the period of shiva, the 7 days following the burial of a loved one, it is customary to cover all of the mirrors in your home.  In the immediate days of grief, we are not supposed to focus on our external selves. Rather, we turn inward, we reflect, we dwell not on the details of our appearance, but on the memories and the life of the one we have lost.

I didn’t observe that tradition while sitting shiva for my father. As a Reform Jew, it didn’t resonate for me. But there was another reason, a deeper one. In the moment that I learned of my father’s suicide, the person that I was shattered into a million pieces. The fragments lay seemingly sprawled in every corner. And how to even begin gathering them up seemed far too overwhelming a task. In the days that followed, I vacillated between feeling totally numb and sobbing uncontrollably. I lashed out in anger one moment, and then sadness swept in and overwhelmed me the next. There was no peace, no comfort, there was only a pain beyond words. I wandered through my home and my days feeling like a stranger in a strange land.

Looking in the mirror was the only way to find some sense of the familiar. Even with swollen eyes, I found tangible evidence that while my inside felt broken beyond repair, some small sense of wholeness still existed. I gazed into the mirror and saw that I was still me… forever altered, but still me.

I will tell you a truth. Almost 23 months later, I still feel broken. Yes, I have gathered up those fragments, and put myself together anew.  But I often feel that if one were to look at me too closely, they would be able to see every fissure & every scar that I must now carry. Sometimes I avoid my own reflection, when it seems to contradict what I am feeling inside. It feels like a cruel mind game, looking whole yet feeling fractured.

I tucked my loss away for a while. I laughed more, I found myself able to be more present for my children, my husband and myself. I read for pleasure, I made jewelry, I spent time with friends, I created in the kitchen and yes, I even needed time to heal from some physical challenges as well.

And I haven’t thought much about my dad. Not because I don’t want to remember him, I do. But reflecting on my dad in life, seems to inevitably bring me to the way he died. That horrible, violent, darkness looms at the end of his story and it permeates each and every other chapter that I try to visit. So, like the mirror in a house of mourning, I draped those reflections off. I averted my gaze with intention. Because that felt a necessary part of my healing.

Today begins the month of March. And looming ever so closely behind is the month of April. My mind has begun to go back to that place, of reliving his final weeks on this earth. I feel my body re-entering that fight or flight mode, the muscle memory of trauma. Creeping back into my psyche are all of the missed signs & the missed opportunities to try and save my father from himself. My rational mind knows there is nothing to be gained by that. But my soul still clamors for a different ending. My eyes still seek the hindsight of a more apparent truth, every fiber of my being yearns for another chance to know then, what I know now.

And so it seems, I must take the covering off of the mirror. Not so I can focus on the external, but so I can reflect. I can’t continuously wall off the pain, there is not a wall strong enough to contain it forever. My soul is crying out to me, to feel the pain, the sorrow, the trauma and the loss & to tend to it with gentle honesty. And my heart, still so full of hurt, wants to make room to sort out the memories of my father’s life; the good & the bad, the laughter & the tears, the loss & the love.

It’s almost two years. I simply can’t believe it. I miss him. I look into the mirror, and once again I feel exposed, vulnerable and wounded. But these days, I also see strength, resilience and courage.  I have survived, I am still surviving. And I am finding ways to thrive.

The mirror beckons, asking that I find a way to let these two truths co-exist. My father died by suicide. And I must live with that. But our story deserves to stand in the light; all of it… because without that, I lose him all over again. How do I find a way to let the reflection hold both of these pieces?

I look in the mirror now. I see a daughter who loved  her father. I see how much she misses him. Perhaps, if I close my eyes, and let the wall come down, I’ll be able to find my father gazing back at me. And through our tears, we can smile and for a moment, be together.

una-taneh-tokef

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

So begins the poem Unetaneh Tokef which is recited on Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. I have always struggled with this poem, reading the very literal translation speaks to an intervening God, one who is ready to stand in judgement and hand down harsh punishment to his/her children. That is not the God I believe in.

Who shall live and who shall die,

Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,

Over the years I tried to look at the poem metaphorically, searching for a deeper meaning and one that reflected the compassionate and loving God that I believe in. Turning the lens, I searched the words and found a message of the uncertainty of our days. None of us knows when our time on this earth will pass, nor do we get to choose the manner of our death. So, what will we make of the time that we have been given?

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree

When we stand in front of God and are asked to reflect upon our lives will we be able to answer that we tried to do right by those we cared for? Will we be able to say that when we “sinned” or missed the mark, we sought to learn from our mistakes and to make amends to those we hurt along the way? How will we be able to speak to God about the relationship we held with our faith and our community? Will we be able to say that our deeds, more often than not, were imbued with compassion, kindness, peace and the notion of tzedakah (charity)?  These questions call upon us to do some real soul-searching on these holiest of days.

So why is it that I can no longer utter the words of this prayer? Why will I choose not to stay in the room at all when it is spoken? Why does the metaphorical lens no longer work for me?

Allow me to say it in the simplest of terms. It is a trigger for me. The violent manner in which my father died by suicide is specifically laid out in the words of this poem. I won’t reference them here, lest my words serve as a trigger to someone else. To hear those words uttered around me, or to even consider allowing them to come from my lips makes me physically ill. There is nothing metaphorical about it, there is no way for me to turn the lens and try to reinterpret the nature of how my father died in the basement of my childhood home.

And then there is this line:

Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented

Tormented.

Mental illness had tormented my father for months. Depression and anxiety tag teamed him in such a cruel manner, pulling him deeper and deeper into a place of darkness, and we who loved him most did not see how far he was sinking.

Tormented.

My father died alone. He died believing that we would be better off without him. He died cloaked in shame and sorrow. He had lost all hope that things could get better. He died in a state of torment and when he died, and I pray found some peace, the torment was then passed on to the survivors of his suicide. The torment has become a part of the fabric of my own being, the being of my mother, my brother and all who loved and cared for my dad. And we strive daily to navigate through it, to find a place for it, seeking peace for wounds so deep that at times, they threaten to tear us apart.

I understand the metaphorical value that some see in this poem. But as a trauma survivor I have become personally and painfully acquainted with triggers. And when I look at the words of this poem, I am struck not only by my triggers, but the potential for those who have been tragically touched by things like fire, flood or violent assaults.

Perhaps in addition to asking congregants to try to dig deeper, and to take the words beyond their very literal interpretation, it is also time for those who lead us in prayer to acknowledge that for some, the words alone, have the power to trigger traumatic thoughts and memories. Do not ask us to try and push through that, rather give us an opportunity to leave the room, should we choose. What an authentic recognition of Acute Stress Disorder & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that would be. And what a valuable lesson that offers to those around us as well, demonstrating that sometimes all it takes is a word, or the imagery those words can evoke, to re-open our wounds. And surely on the holiest of days, what God wants of us is not only to look within and search our souls, but to tend to them, nurture them & protect them as well.

That is what I will be doing when I leave the sanctuary in advance of this prayer. And I believe with all of my heart that God will fully understand.

An edited version of this piece also ran in The Jewish Daily Forward

shofar woman

Yesterday began the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that precedes the Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur. September, which began only two days before, is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. So, what do these two months, one in the English calendar, the other in the Hebrew calendar, have in common?

Elul is a month in which we are encouraged to take time daily for personal reflection. As we embark on an honest accounting of the year that has passed, we must ask ourselves some hard questions.

What kind of person have I been in this past year?

When have I missed the mark, hurting others or even myself through word or deed?

Have I opened my mouth in the face of injustice or have I stood quietly by saying nothing at all?

Have I  been a steadfast partner to God, engaging in acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world)?

Have I treated myself and others with kavod (respect), chesed (kindness) and ahavah (love)?

We look inward and we look around us and we open ourselves up to the honest and sometimes hard work of owning our shortcomings and our mistakes. And in doing so, we strive to learn from them and enter into the holiest of days ready to be better, to do better, to live better.

But it is not enough. As we take stock in our individual selves, so too must we take stock in our communities, our synagogues, our Jewish places of learning, gathering and prayer.

There is a tradition during the month of Elul to blow the shofar each morning until the start of Rosh Hashanah. The sound is meant to stir our spirits, to awaken us, it is a call to action meant to rouse our souls from slumber. Apathy, indifference, a numbing to the suffering in our midst happens to us all. The blast of the shofar reminds us that there is no place for these attributes. We wear them like a shield, sometimes unknowingly, sometimes with purpose, insulating ourselves from the harsh & uncomfortable truths that permeate our world. But these truths cannot be answered if we are so willing to simply turn away. This month of reflection demands that we open our eyes, strengthen our stance, and look  at these truths head on.

And so it is with the very idea of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Let us confess honestly that suicide is a word still fraught with stigma and shame. It makes us uncomfortable,  and so we speak of it most often in hushed tones & quiet spaces. We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, that we often choose to say nothing at all. In our own Jewish history, there was a time when those who died at their own hand, were not even allowed to be buried inside the gates of the cemetery. And while we have thankfully moved past that custom, we have not come far enough in educating ourselves about suicide loss & prevention, nor have we used our collective voices to lift the cloak of darkness that surrounds this topic. And our silence must end.

According to the CDC suicide in the United States has risen to the highest levels in nearly 30 years. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in our nation claiming an average of 117 lives each day. From 1999-2014 the percent increase in suicide rates of females was greatest for children ages 10-14. And for men, the increase was largest for those ages 45-64. More than 60 percent of people in this country who die from guns die by suicide, a fact not often included in our national dialogue. And suicides have become the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. The facts go on and on, each more sobering. And what is perhaps most startling of all is that suicide is preventable. We have the power to help stop it.

We read in this month of Elul Psalm 27.

Adonai — Sh’ma/hear my voice when I call!
Have mercy on me and respond!

You seek my heart,
My heart seeks You —
I seek Your Presence.

Do not hide Your Face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger!
You have always been my Help
so do not abandon me, do not forsake me,
my God, my Saving One.

We are more than Adonai’s children, partners in creation. It is not only God who hears the cries of those suffering from pain & despair. We hear them too. We know there are those in our communities who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. We know that there are those who engage in self-injurious behavior, who grapple with suicidal ideation, who have lost a loved one to suicide, putting them at greater risk themselves.We know there are those who are more vulnerable, isolated and left to stand on the periphery. We hear their cries, like the sound of the shofar, and God wants us to answer. But how?

Overall, studies show that connectedness is an important protective factor for suicide. The CDC defines connectedness as: The degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated or shares resources with other persons or groups. It goes on to elaborate that  positive attachments to community organizations like schools and faith-based organizations can increase an individual’s sense of belonging.

So we must cultivate that sense of connectedness for those who feel stigmatized or ashamed because they grapple with illnesses of the mind. We must let them know that our congregations and Jewish communities are safe havens.We must tear down the walls of shame by speaking the words mental illness & suicide out loud, until we normalize the conversations.

We must ensure that our clergy, staff and lay leaders are fully trained in Mental Health First Aid. Every year, one in four Americans will suffer from a mental illness or addiction. Training in Mental Health First Aid allows our Jewish institutions to be places that are ready to respond to anyone in a behavioral health crisis. We can learn to recognize the warning signs that someone might be at risk for suicide. Too often our fear causes us to turn away from those who need us most, but empowered with the right training we can respond on the frontlines of a crisis and help our friends, family members, congregants and students to stay safe, and help guide them to the proper help.

And I say this final piece as one with the lived experience of suicide loss. It is time to reach out to the survivors of suicide loss in a sustained and supportive way. According to Edwin Shneidman, PhD, American Association of Suicidology Founding President, “Survivors of suicide represent the largest mental health casualties related to suicide.” Postvention is critical and is defined as an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to accomplish any one or more of the following:

  • To facilitate the healing of individuals from the grief and distress of suicide loss
  • To mitigate other negative effects of exposure to suicide
  • To prevent suicide among people who are at high risk after exposure to suicide

Clergy members should seek out resources & training to help them better respond to the layers of grief & trauma that survivors have to endure. Congregants should be given guidelines to help them when they come to a house of mourning, when a suicide is involved. Far too often we are inundated with probing questions about the details of our loved ones death, or the signs that we missed, or worse yet people do not come to pay their respects at all because our loss makes them so deeply uncomfortable. Every survivor I have ever spoken with will tell you that in the moment that we find our loved ones, or learn of their suicide, we are forever altered and many of us suffer from PTSD for years to come. We need our faith & our Jewish communities to accompany us for as long as it takes to pick up the shattered pieces of our lives and find our way to a new normal.

Friends the month of Elul is upon us. The sound of the shofar is crying out to us. This silent epidemic cannot be left unanswered. The voices of darkness and pain must be met with faith & hope. Our fear of mental illness must be replaced with a new resolve to educate ourselves and those around us. The cries of the shofar echo the cries of those left in the depths of sorrow, feeling alone, believing that those who love them most would be better off without them.

“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
have mercy on me, answer me.” (Ps. 27.7)

We can be God’s voice. We can reach out a hand. We can bring mercy. We can answer. As we take stock during this month of Elul, let us not only look inward, but let us look beyond ourselves to those who are suffering. With “integrity and uprightness” may we watch over them. If “The Lord is [their] light and [their] help” (Ps. 27.1) let us be a lantern  and a loving hand. Let every Jewish institution, from houses of worship, to schools & community centers, resolve to be safe spaces and places. On the holiest of ground, may we provide the protection of a communal tent.

Kein Yehi Ratzon

deb dad bat mitzvah pic

My Beloved Father Lowell Jay Herman, z”l, who died by suicide April 20, 2015

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

An edited version of this piece also ran on ReformJudaism.org

 

 

 

 

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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.

be the voice

 

And so it begins, my second Suicide Prevention Awareness Month as a survivor of suicide loss. Sometimes I try to think back to the days before losing my dad to suicide and I wonder if I had any awareness that such a month existed. And if I was aware of it, whether through social media, or something I read in a passing article, what did I think? How much attention did I pay to the statistics, the stories, the human cost behind the headlines? I wonder if there were any headlines at all?

The truth is, I don’t remember. I’ve long been someone who stood in support of greater mental health awareness. My own daughter struggled terribly with anxiety for years and years, and through therapy and medication found her way to a better place. There was never shame. I know others in my circle who’ve dealt with a variety of mental illnesses, and I’ve never seen it as something to be ashamed of. But suicide? I’m sure I looked at it with a heart full of sympathy, but I am also fairly certain that I never, ever thought that it would touch my world or someone I love. I was wrong. I was dead wrong.

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart. Something about the start of this month triggered me and I couldn’t quite explain why. I wave the flag of suicide prevention & awareness almost every day. Sometimes it’s through my own words, other times through lobbying, raising money or simply sharing insightful & important articles with my peers and on social media. I tell my story often and with great openness. I’m not ashamed of how my father died, but I am determined to bring meaning to his loss. And yet today felt heavier for some reason. I know those days come and sixteen months later, I know they will also pass.

Still, I had errands to run, so I put on my Be The Voice #StopSuicide T-shirt from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and I went out to the stores. The shirt has at times led to some meaningful conversations. Recently I wore it into Pet Smart and the woman behind the counter read it, and asked me to tell her what it meant & what group it helped to support. I told her about my own loss and the work of AFSP & she told me that suicide had touched the lives of people she cared about as well. She thanked me for having the courage to share my story and for my efforts to raise awareness about this deeply personal tragedy. “You’re making a difference” she told me. I thanked her, paid for my items then got into my car, where the tears quickly followed. It’s not easy to be so vulnerable when standing face to face with a stranger. It’s far easier to open up from behind a computer screen.

Today brought me to Costco. It was pretty quiet there, I did my shop, paid and stood waiting to have the gentleman at the door check the receipt against the items in my cart. He looked at my shirt and read it out loud. “Be the voice. Stop Suicide.” And then he followed it with, “You know that it’s the voices that lead people to suicide.” Nobody was behind me, there was no rush out the door, and vulnerable as I felt today, I took a deep breath and answered him. “Actually sir, its mental illness that leads to suicide. The voices that tell people that there is no hope left, that their loved ones would be better off without them and that death is truly the only way to end their pain, those voices are lies that depression, anxiety and other illnesses of the mind trick them into believing.” He looked at me, looked behind me and saw that there was still nobody else waiting. “You’re right young lady. Do you mind my asking why you wear that shirt?” Another deep breath, another gulping back of tears and I answered, “Because 16 months ago my father died by suicide. I am his voice now. And I want his death to have meaning. I want to try to save lives in his memory. And sometimes that starts with a simple conversation that helps build awareness. Conversations like the one that you and I are having.”

By now there was a line. He looked me in the eye and expressed condolences for my loss. I thanked him, barely holding back the tears that seemed to determined to flow today. I started to head out when he said “I’m sure you make your daddy proud young lady.” Unable to speak any further, I nodded my appreciation, hid behind my sunglasses and walked as quickly as I could to my car. And then, when I was safely hidden away from that public space, I cried.

No, it’s not always easy to wave the flag of suicide prevention and awareness. Sometimes I need to turn away from it to tend to my own healing & spirit. And some days I take a more passive approach. I put on a shirt, I walk out the door and I open myself up to stares, to questions and sometimes to conversations like the one I had today. And one human being at a time, I hope that I am making a difference. I hope that I am honoring my father’s story and that his voice can be heard each time that I share it.

Confession:
I threw myself into cooking today. It was partly because we have a guest coming to share Shabbat with us. But that wasn’t the whole reason.
Yesterday and today I’ve found myself really missing my dad a lot. I miss his voice, I miss knowing that I can call and talk to him, I miss the way he called me “D.” I just miss him, his presence in my life and here on this earth. And the missing is always compounded by the painful notion that the way he died, the way his life of 72 years ended, was so tragic, so violent and just so wrong on every level.
It’s not just that I want to call him so I can say “I love you” or hear him say it in return, it’s that I want a chance to dispel every notion he carried to the grave with him: 
That he was worthless
That we were be better off without him
That his depression & anxiety were something to be ashamed of
That he was weak
That there was no hope that things would/could get better
I’m going to services tonight. And in truth, I’m reluctant. Faith is still a struggle for me, even though I have forgiven God. The language of prayer still trips me up at times and when I am feeling vulnerable, it can open up the floodgates. And tonight, I feel vulnerable.
Yes, I spent the day in the kitchen today preparing a Sabbath meal. I did it for our guest and I did it for me. Because cooking is meditative for me. And I found myself feeling very weepy  throughout.
I know that sixteen months in I have longer stretches of days where I don’t cry, and where the joy is far more front and center than the pain. Still, the pain of his death at his own hands is ever present, like a dull quiet ache. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of how my dad died.
Yesterday and today, that quiet ache got a little stronger and louder. The missing so palpable and the inclination to call him was at times overwhelming. I don’t know what the triggers were, we’ve passed the 20th, it’s not a holiday or a special day of remembrance. It’s just me, a daughter missing her daddy. It’s just me trying to remember him in life and be able to smile, even through tears. It’s just me wishing that his end, if he had to go, could have been peaceful, surrounded by those who loved him most, free of pain & suffering. He deserved at least that. So did we.
I miss my dad, so much that it hurts.

The other day, while in Target I overheard two young women in the bathing suit department. One held up a bathing suit and jokingly showed it to the other, asking “How about this one?” The other girl responded “I’d kill myself if I had to wear that.”

The following day I was in Kohl’s camp shopping for my daughters. A frazzled mother was talking aloud to herself as she passed me, her toddler in tow. “Did I get a gift receipt? I can’t remember if I did. Damn it!! I’d like to just shoot myself today.”

Both moments felt like a sucker punch and momentarily took my breath away. We are so flippant in our language. I am certain I was once guilty of it too. It’s so easy to make light of suicide-until it touches your life or the life of someone you love. And then, you quickly discover, there’s not a single funny thing about suicide.

Survivors of suicide loss spend much of our days dodging triggers. We sit down to watch a television show only to have a joke made about suicide. We deal with the drug commercials that lump suicidal thoughts & actions right next to hives and rashes, when discussing possible side effects; as if they are even close to being on par with one another. We try to tune into election coverage only to hear words like “political suicide” tossed about. 

Yeah, here’s the thing–if you can wake up in the morning, kiss your loved ones, walk outdoors and breathe in the fresh air, then there is no “suicide” in the demise of your political career.

We survivors are everywhere. And there is nothing funny about the loss we are learning to live with. 

So how about we stop treating it like a punch line or a reasonable response to a moment of frustration. How about we treat it like the serious and painful issue that it is; an issue that claims another life every 12.8 minutes in this country and shatters the world of those left behind.

The triggers are abundant, we dodge them all day long. But that places the burden on us. And quite frankly, our shoulders can only take so much before our knees buckle.  So please, take ownership of your words. Because I’m fairly certain a missing receipt or an ill fitting bathing suit is not something you would seriously end your life over. And if they were, I promise you, it would be no laughing matter.

This piece also appeared in The Mighty & Upworthy

 

 

When I first lost my father to suicide I felt like an open wound. The words to a song could be a source of comfort or deepen my sense of pain. If the song, “Fix You” by Coldplay came on the radio, it would unleash sadness so profound it was hard to breathe….

Read the full reflection on The Mighty

I didn’t get to say goodbye to my father before he died. That breaks my heart each and every day. So instead, one year ago today, I spoke these words as I stood next to his casket. I miss him so very much.

Reflecting Out Loud

Lowell BM pic

I did not get to say goodbye to my father before he took his own life on Monday, April 20, 2015. The following are the words I shared at his funeral on Thursday, April 23, 2015. A daughter’s farewell to her dad, Lowell Jay Herman. May his memory be for an eternal & abiding blessing.

greene party1517

Many years ago my father used to love to do paint by numbers. He would look at that canvas, plain, white, devoid of color & life and slowly he would fill in those blank spaces. As he did more paintings, he grew comfortable adding his own personal touches, changing the hues, the shades envisioning in his own mind what he wanted to create.

In recent months, my father began to see things in darkened & muddled shades of gray. Searching for the clarity he would need to lift the clouds, to find the sun and…

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