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I was invited by my husband, Rabbi Fred Greene, to share this message with our congregation, Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder, Colorado. It was incredibly hard to deliver this “sermon” but I am grateful that it was met with much grace, compassion, and support. I’d like to share it here as well.

Survivors of Suicide Loss Shabbat Message 11/19/2021

Shabbat Shalom. In his book, The Body Keeps Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk writes, It is enormously difficult to organize one’s traumatic experiences into a coherent account-a narrative with a beginning, a middle and an end. I have found that to be true. But I know that I’d like to begin by telling you a little bit about my father in life. His name was Lowell Herman. He was born and raised in Brooklyn where he met and married my mother, Sandra. They were married for fifty years. He was a beloved father to my brother Aaron and me, and he was a grandfather of six. He was successful in his professional life, financially secure, well-traveled and he had many friends. He loved to dance. He was a master at Paint by Numbers, and he took his Scrabble game and NY Times crossword puzzles very seriously. And on April 20, 2015, at the age of 72, my father died by suicide.

He had been struggling with anxiety and depression for many months. In truth, I can look back and say that he grappled with both of these throughout my life, though he never had a formal diagnosis back then. In the months before his death, I spent many hours on the phone with my father offering my presence, all of the unconditional love that I could muster and the reassurance that I believed with the right help, things could and would get better for him. I met him in all of his brokenness and vulnerability, and told him that he was enough, that he was loved and that we would accompany him for however long it took to find his way to a better and more balanced place. But it wasn’t enough to save him.

Tomorrow will be the sixth International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day that I will observe as a member of the “survivors” club. It is a club that none of us wanted to join, but one that offers comfort, solace, and a sense of knowing that intimately connects us even as strangers. I have turned to the members of this club often, especially in the early years after my father’s death.

I didn’t know anyone like me in my day-to-day life. There was nobody I could turn to who understood the depths of trauma and deeply complicated grief that I was living through. The father that I loved, had taken the life of the father that I loved. And it was only among my fellow survivors that I could speak my full truth, enveloped in all its pain, with no restraint in my tears, my screams, and my seemingly unending sorrow. I could share my guilt, my questions, every Why? and every What did I miss? without being met with platitudes, shame, silence, or victim blaming.

In her book, It’s OK That You’re Not Ok, Megan Devine writes,

Here’s what I most want you to know: this really is as bad as you think. No matter what anyone else says, this sucks. What has happened cannot be made right. What is lost cannot be restored. There is no beauty here, inside this central fact. Acknowledgement is everything. You’re in pain. It can’t be made better. The reality of grief is far different from what others see from the outside. There is pain in this world that you can’t be cheered out of. You don’t need solutions. You don’t need to move on from your grief. You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life. Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

We live in a society that is uncomfortable with grief. Add to that the unfathomable layers that come with a traumatic loss, and we who are standing in that gaping hole can find ourselves feeling isolated and fending off words and attitudes that do little to help us find healing, and only deepen our hurt.

So, what is it that I want to tell you tonight? What are the lessons that I have learned that might allow you to better meet someone in the pain of suicide loss and to accompany them on their journey?

In the early days of my loss, I endured so many hard questions. Were there signs? How did he do it? Had he tried this before? Repeatedly I encountered variations of these probing questions. And each time that I attempted to answer them, my guilt grew stronger, my anger deepened, and my sense of otherness took root. You see, when we lose someone to a physical illness, the autopsy is left to the medical professionals. When we lose a loved one to suicide, it is we, the survivors of that loss, who get engulfed in the psychological autopsy. Our eyes become fixated on the rearview mirror. We search for every missed sign, we see everything we didn’t do, and it is unbearable enough. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. Probing questions, whether rooted in morbid curiosity or good intentions, do not help us. They ask us to return again and again to a wound that is raw and festering. So, I would implore you not to ask them. Let us tell our stories in our own time and in a manner that allows us to honor our loss and our loved one. The details of their final moments are no less sacred, even if they might be fraught with violence, darkness, and despair.

Do not assign blame. Survivors of suicide loss struggle with guilt already. It is a heavy burden to bear. I have strived to reframe my guilt as regret over the years. One can learn to live with regret, however hard, but guilt has the power to consume us. Those questions I referenced just a few moments ago, the signs that may have been missed, those only solidify our feeling that we somehow failed our loved ones when they needed us most. And that feeling is made even more difficult when well-intentioned people lay judgment on the person we are mourning. We hear words like selfish, cowardly, cruel, and more aimed at them. But they were none of those things. They were sick. Their illness might not have been a physical one, but it was no less real or painful. So, hold your tongue if you feel ready to pass judgement on them. I lost my father to mental illness. And his memory is deserving of respect and compassion, his memory is and always will be an enduring and abiding blessing.

Show up. In his book, Living a Life That Matters, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, At some of the darkest moments of my life, some people I thought of as friends deserted me. Some because they cared about me and it hurt them to see me in pain, others because I reminded them of their own vulnerability, and that was more than they could handle. But real friends overcame their discomfort (and in the case of suicide, I’d add their own fear) and came to sit with me. If they had not words to make me feel better, they sat in silence (much better than saying “You’ll get over it.” Or “It’s not so bad, others have it worse.” And I loved them for it.

There is something about suicide loss that keeps people away. It has the power to stop a conversation in its tracks and makes people deeply uncomfortable. Perhaps it goes back to the adage, there but for the grace of God go I. After all, if it could happen to my family then it could happen in anyone’s family. I cannot speak to the reasons people stay away, nor do I want to. What I can say is that I noticed. I noticed who came to sit with me in my pain, and who did not. Who was made uncomfortable by my grief and the way my father died, and who never gave me a hint of that feeling. I remember those who told me they did not know what to say or do, so they saw giving me space as some kind of noble deed. Show up and keep showing up. And when you show up know that we would rather have you sit in loving silence with us and acknowledge that you don’t know what to say, than to have platitudes imparted to us that cannot possibly speak to the enormity of our trauma and grief. I recall the friends who came over and ensured that I ate something, or who offered to stay with me while I tried to get some sleep. And when I moved to Boulder feeling so messy and broken only two months after my father’s death, I recall with such gratitude the new friends who allowed me to share my grief with them, and who gave me space to simply be in it. They did not ask me to contain it, to clean it up or make it more palatable. As Megan Devine writes, The more we are allowed to open up to our pain, the more we can just be with it, the more we can give ourselves the tenderness and care we need to survive this. There isn’t anything we need to do with our pain. There is nothing we need to do about our pain. It simply is. So, accompany us as we give it our attention and care. As we find ways to let it stretch out and exist, sit with us. As we tend to ourselves from the inside of it, be with us. That is so different from trying to get us out of it.

Ask us about our loved ones in life. The thing about suicide loss is that so much of who they were to us becomes encapsulated in the ending of their story. It is as if every chapter that existed prior to that dark day stops mattering. It took me years to be able to touch upon memories of my father in life without the trauma of his death engulfing those tender moments. But when someone would ask me about who he was to me or asked that I share a memory of him that made me smile, for a moment, however brief, I was reminded that even if they were buried beneath layers of traumatic grief, those memories, and the joyful, warm feelings they evoked, remained alive and accessible somewhere inside of me. And that fueled my hope that in time, they would become more attainable. And six years later, I can think of my father on the dance floor or dressed up like a human menorah on Chanukah and I can smile.

Finally, I’d ask you to consider that words matter. I have spent the last six years dodging so many triggers. Plot lines in television shows, movies or books, posts about celebrity suicides can still catch me by off guard and return me to a deeply vulnerable state. But the most frequent and difficult trigger remains the language that trivializes suicide loss. I am certain that I was guilty of this before losing my father. In moments of frustration, I can say without a doubt that I said things like

 I’d kill myself if… or

That makes me want to put a hole in my head

 I won’t go on here, as I am sure you get the idea, and it is difficult for me to even reference these phrases. But they are hurtful, and I can assure you that in a time when we are growing ever more aware of inclusive language, phrases like these and worse get tossed around regularly. From our television screens to movie scripts and in conversations that surround us, suicide loss survivors hear these phrases with stunning frequency. And most of the time we hear little else of what follows. We all know that there is no truth in that old rhyme that

Sticks and stones may break our bones

But words will never hurt us.

Words or gestures that make light of suicide and self-injurious behavior do hurt.

We can never know who within earshot has been touched by suicide loss unless they choose to divulge that to us. So, guard the words that come out in moments of frustration, do not share jokes or punchlines that trivialize the very real pain we the survivors of suicide loss must carry. And please, when the cause of death is suicide, make the effort to use trauma-informed language. To say that my father “committed” suicide is to reinforce the notion that his death

was a criminal or sinful act. Using neutral language like “died by suicide” helps to chip away at the shame and blame that surrounds the death of our loved ones. It is a small change that can have a big impact. Remember that our language reflects our attitudes and can influence the attitudes of others. The conversation around suicide loss has a long way to go. But we can be a part of changing the dialogue.

Friends, there is so much more that I could share. Bessel Van Der Kolk says, “It takes enormous trust and courage to allow yourself to remember.” Remembering is hard. Writing this was hard. And speaking tonight in front of all of you, some of whom I know and others that I do not, required a great deal of courage. It is all hard. I am a trauma survivor. The trauma I carry is that I lost my father to suicide. I can name the moment my life became divided into the before and after of that loss. I went food shopping on a Monday morning, standing in the produce aisle of Whole Foods I answered the phone and heard the words that altered my world forever. I will never again be the same. I picked up the broken pieces of my life and I continue to work to put them together anew. Some pieces no longer fit, others feel sharper and more defined, still others have taken on new and different dimensions. I carry scars that cannot be seen, but they are ever-present. My brain and body have spent far too much time engaged in fight or flight, imprinted with and altered by the way I lost my father. My faith has been fractured. My relationship with God has found some healing, but my relationship to our liturgy has not. I do not come to services because the prayers are often painful for me, these words that speak of an intervening God do not bring me comfort. And though six years have passed, some moments and milestones can bring me right back to those early days of suffering. What I want most is to be seen in my entirety, fissures, cracks, and all. I will never get over this loss. I have learned to carry it with me, to incorporate it into my very being. Some days the weight of it is barely noticeable and still on other days it has the power to bring me to my knees. I am surviving this loss every day. I will be surviving this loss for a long time to come. But I am finding ways to thrive as well. The pain ebbs and flows, as does my progress through the valley of the shadows. Grief is not linear. The traumatic grief of suicide loss is made even harder to navigate, stacked with stigma, guilt, isolation, the unanswerable question of why, anger at our loved ones, anger at ourselves and the shame of a nation that remains uncomfortable dealing openly and honestly with issues of mental illness.

That is my truth, and it feels so vulnerable to share it with you tonight. But I hope that in doing so, I have imbued my journey and yours with some meaning, so that we may walk it together with a greater sense of knowing and understanding. I’d like to close with an excerpt of a prayer that I wrote and shared on my own blog, Reflecting Out Loud:

Our world, our lives, our souls, our hearts, our family is left with fragments; like the tablets Moses threw upon the ground…
the broken pieces are now a part of us
the aftermath of a suicide we must carry within us
and we will never again be the people we were before.

Help us to honor the fragments; holding them in the tabernacle of our hearts, just as the Hebrew people carried the shattered tablets with them on their journey toward the Promised Land.
They are a part of our story now. A sacred and sad reminder of what was & what will never be.

Adonai our God, like a mosaic comprised of broken glass, help us to rebuild ourselves, our souls
bit by bit, shard by shard, broken piece by broken piece.
Be with us.
Accompany & carry us through the valley of grief.
Stay with us.
Help us to find a new wholeness.
Help us to find peace.
Help us to tell our story.
Because it is in the telling, that we honor their life, their loss and all that they were to us.

Photo by Frank Cone on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Dad,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Love,

Deborah

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

 

 

backpack

It’s been just over two years since my father’s suicide. Some days it feels as if it was just yesterday that I was standing in Whole Foods and got the call. Still on other days, it feels as if a whole lifetime has passed. I know that I have found healing, just as I know that I will never be healed. I am learning to live with his death, just as I know that I will never be at peace with it. Such is the truth of a suicide loss.

This journey has been the hardest one I have ever traveled. In the beginning, the pain was so great I carried it daily like an enormous backpack on my shoulders. It weighed me down, as I was constantly aware of the burden I was struggling to bear. My knees would buckle, I was winded and wounded.  Every step forward was a struggle. I slipped, I faltered, I begged for the chance to go back to what was. I wanted to go home to before. That backpack felt as if it was full of stones, bricks and boulders. And I often questioned just how long I’d be able to carry it, even if I’d be able to carry it. It is no exaggeration to say that it took every ounce of my strength to keep going day in and day out. It would’ve been easier to stay in bed, wrapped in my sorrow. The terrain over which I had to lug my burden, so unfamiliar and barren, only made every step more uncertain. If there were rocks upon my shoulders, it felt as if my feet were carrying them too. Others did what they could to lighten my load, but in truth, it was and still is mine to bear.

If the backpack was the metaphor then, two years later I can say that there are days I still must carry it. The truth that I rarely speak out loud is that I am in pain every single day. It lives within me and in one form or another, it reminds me daily that it is there. But I am grateful that it isn’t always so large, so heavy, so overwhelming. There are days the backpack can stand empty in the corner, and I can carry the pain in my pocket. Some days it grows a bit larger, and I must hold it in a change purse, a fanny pack or a messenger bag. It is with me on those days, I’m aware of it, but it doesn’t weigh me down in quite the same manner.  My knees don’t buckle, I can stand up straight and my stride is far more steady & strong.

Those days allow me to breathe more easily. I can live more in the present, taking in the joy, the blessings and the love that surrounds me. I can relish even the most mundane of tasks, because it feels somehow more normal to partake in them. It is a new normal yes, but it is evidence that I am surviving and even thriving.

I wish I could plan the level of pain each day will bring, or my ability to shape how it impacts me. I try to set my intentions for the day through meditation. I use breathing techniques to center myself. I sit in stillness, and I listen to what I am feeling. Some days I get only static. Other days offer me clarity. Some days looking inward is so painful I must open my eyes, and still other days I find it soothing & comforting.

No, I never know what the day ahead will bring. The morning may allow me to slip my sorrow into my pocket, but the afternoon brings with it a storm that forces me to pick up that backpack again. And still by evening, perhaps the pain has eased and I can  hold it in the palm of my hand, look at it and lay it to rest.

The point is this…

I am carrying it.  I am living with it. I have not allowed it to hold me in one space or place. No matter how heavy it gets, I have moved along this path, one that is so far from linear. And as I look back at how far I have come, it gives me the faith that I can continue onward.

The pain of my father’s suicide will always be with me. But I have discovered that I have the strength to hold it, to bear it and even to let it go. And for that, I am grateful.

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

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.