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Dear Dad,

Noa asked me today if I felt that I was any closer to making peace with how you died? Ten months later, I answered her as honestly as I could.

I told her that I didn’t think that I will ever make peace with your suicide. How can someone make peace with something that feels so utterly wrong, violent and senseless? No, peace is too much to ask for. But, I do believe that I am learning simply to live with it. My head understands that it was an illness that took you. Depression and anxiety took hold, and caused you unimaginable pain. They distorted and diminished your sense of self, of value and of hope.  And, like a cancer, they ate away at you, coursing through your blood day and night. My head has come, as best as is possible, to understand that. That is the truest answer to the question of why, and yet it is so very unsatisfying. It doesn’t rest comfortably on my tongue, it doesn’t offer me any solace. But it is the only truth that I know for certain.

But my heart has yet to let go of the unanswerable questions. I am haunted by the why of it all. The what if’s find their way in as well, and the wonder at what we missed, and what we might have done, if only we’d known. But in the immediate days, weeks and months after you died, those questions reverberated daily, seemingly set on the highest volume. Daily they intruded upon my world, rocking the shaky foundation beneath my feet. They woke me up at night, they kept me from falling asleep, they played like a broken record of a song I didn’t want to hear, but couldn’t turn off.

Today, those questions still linger, but they are softer, less palpable day in and day out. They whisper to me quietly. Sometimes they come at the most predictable of moments, and other times they sneak up on me, when least expected. But I have learned to answer them with the only other thing I know to be true; I do not know. I will never know; the final catalyst, the last straw, the reason that you turned to death, when so much love still surrounded you. I will never know how it became so dark and why you didn’t ask for help. I do not know. It is the only answer to the unimaginable, unfathomable question of suicide.It is how I answer my heart, when what my head believes simply offers no comfort.

Why was once a question full of wonder. The favorite word of young children learning to understand the world around them. Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why do cows moo? Why do dogs bark? They asked, and we answered with what we knew. And when we had no answer, we simply answered with because.  Sometimes that satisfied them, and sometimes it didn’t.

And so here I stand, ten months later. I am the child still trying to comprehend the act of a parent. The truest answer to the question, the because, is that you had an illness. That is the answer my head knows, and it is the answer that leaves my heart and my soul unsoothed, unsatisfied and eternally uncomfortable.  But it is all that I will ever know. The only answer that I will ever have.  And all I can truly ask of myself now is to continue to learn to live with that. What my head knows to be true and the answers my heart still seeks now must find a way to live within me, to coexist. And I must continue finding ways to live with them.

Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question.  (Tennessee Williams)

 

 

 

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Dear Strangers,

I remember you. Ten months ago, when my cell phone rang with news of my father’s suicide, you were walking into Whole Foods, prepared to go about your food shop, just as I had done only minutes before.

But I had already abandoned my cart full of groceries and I stood in the entryway of the store. My brother was on the other end of the line. He was telling me my father was dead, that he had taken his own life early that morning and through his own sobs, I remember my brother kept saying, “I’m sorry Deborah,  I’m so sorry.” I can’t imagine how it must have felt for him to make that call.

And as we hung up the phone, I started to cry and scream, as my whole body trembled. This just couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be happening. Only moments before I was filling my cart with groceries, going about my errands on a normal Monday morning. Only moments before my life felt intact. Overwhelmed with emotions, I fell to the floor, my knees buckling under the weight of what I had just learned. And you kind strangers, you were there.

You could have kept on walking, ignoring my cries, but you didn’t. You could have simply stopped and stared at my primal display of pain, but you didn’t. No, instead you surrounded me as I yelled through my sobs, “My father killed himself. He killed himself. He’s dead.” And the question that has plagued me since that moment came to my lips in a scream, “Why?” I must have asked it over and over and over again. I remember in that haze of emotions, one of you asked for my phone and asked who you should call. What was my password? You needed my husband’s name as you searched through my contacts. I remember that I could hear your words as you tried to reach my husband for me, leaving an urgent message for him to call me. I recall hearing you discuss among yourselves who would drive me home in my car and who would follow that person to bring them back to the store. You didn’t even know one another, but it didn’t seem to matter. You encountered me, a stranger, in the worst moment of my life & you coalesced around me with common purpose, to help. I remember one of you asking if you could pray for me and for my father. I must have said yes, and I recall now that Christian prayer being offered up to Jesus for my Jewish father and me, and it still both brings tears to my eyes and makes me smile. In my fog, I told you that I had a friend, Pam, who worked at Whole Foods and one of you went in search of her and thankfully, she was there that morning and you brought her to me. I remember the relief I felt at seeing her face, familiar and warm. She took me to the back, comforting and caring for me so lovingly until my husband could get to me. And I even recall as I sat with her, one of you sent back a gift card to Whole Foods; though you didn’t know me, you wanted to offer a little something to let me know that you would be thinking of me and holding me and my family in your thoughts and prayers. That gift card helped to feed my family, when the idea of cooking was so far beyond my emotional reach.

I never saw you after that. But I know this to be true, if it were not for all of you, I might have simply gotten in the car and tried to drive myself home. I wasn’t thinking straight, if I was thinking at all. If it were not for you, I don’t know what I would’ve done in those first raw moments of overwhelming shock, anguish and grief. But I thank God every day that I didn’t have to find out. Your kindness, your compassion, your willingness to help a stranger in need have stayed with me until this day. And no matter how many times my mind takes me back to that horrible life altering moment, it is not all darkness. Because you reached out to help, you offered a ray of light in the bleakest moment I’ve ever endured. You may not remember it. You may not remember me. But I will never, ever forget you. And though you may never know it, I give thanks for your presence and humanity, each & every day.

a-kind-gesture-can-reach-a-wound-that-only-compassion-can-heal-steve-maraboli

 

 

sunflower-closeup-480x294

Dear Dad,
Today was the kind of day you loved. Almost 70 degrees in the middle of February, the sun shining, a warm breeze blowing and the mountain view so very crisp & clear (oh how you would’ve loved the mountains). I closed my eyes today and took a deep breath, my face turned toward the sun, just as you used to do, like a sunflower always searching for the warmth & the light. And as I inhaled, I thought of you and for a brief moment, I felt your essence wash over me and I smiled. It may seem a very small thing–and perhaps it is. But to think of you in life, and to feel you, even if just for an instant, reminds me that you are still with me. And to think of you with a smile that isn’t accompanied by a tear, allows me to feel, to trust, that healing is happening, ever so slowly but ever so surely.
I love you Dad. And I miss you so very much…
D

I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life. (Helen Mirren)

 

Our most difficult task as a friend is to offer understanding when we don’t understand.
―Robert Brault

To grieve is not for pity’s sake. To hurt is not to be blind to life’s blessings. To survive a suicide loss, is to walk through the battlefield… It is not for the faint of heart. To ask for patience, understanding and compassion is not to be selfish. To know one’s limits and lay down boundaries is an act of self preservation. To feel broken is not visible to the naked eye. It requires a willingness to look deeper & harder. To heal is a process, it takes time. To love someone for 46 years and lose them should allow for time to mourn, to face each first, to slowly learn how to live in a world without them. To lose someone to suicide should come with a handbook, to help others understand what we pray they will never know. To be a friend to someone in grief and to accompany them on the road they must travel, is to offer safety, love, light in the storm. To hurt and grieve is human. So is forgiveness. I’m human. I’m doing the best that I can. I still savor the sunrise and sunset over the mountains. I still relish the sound of my children laughing. I still know, feel and give love. I still count my blessings. And I honor the strength and resilience that is evident each day that I get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other. Pity is misplaced on me. I’m a goddamn battle tested warrior. It is not selfish to tend to myself. I am a loving mother and wife. I’m a good friend, fallible and capable of faltering… but good. I did not ask for this loss, this trauma, this grief… but it does not define me. It is a part of me… he was my father, I was his daughter, he ended his own life and I’m contending with it daily. To love me on this journey is a gift you give me… to leave me on this journey… will sometimes happen. It’s not easy. I know. It can be tiring. But to spit on my journey, belittle it or throw spiteful stones of pity and judgement… well, that speaks far more about the ones casting the stones than it does about me! And though they hurt, they will not stop me from looking ahead, striving towards healing and offering gratitude for those who love me in my brokenness and allow me to love them in turn. And even as the stones pierce my skin, they will not harden my heart. I will love and I will grieve with openness & with honesty and I pray, with grace.  Because that is the essence of who I am, in love, in loss & in life.

“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” 

― C. JoyBell C

homeless kindness

 

If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-10

I drove into Boulder yesterday to meet a friend for lunch. As I always do before I leave, I checked to ensure that I had a supply of food donation bags in my car.  While it isn’t quite as often that I give out  these bags here in the suburbs of Superior, I can always be certain that as I drive around Boulder, there will be ample opportunities to offer some sustenance to a person in need.

As I came off of the parkway, two young men stood along the side of the road, cardboard sign in hand. I was at the end of the line of cars, far back from the traffic light, but I rolled down my window and got the attention of one of the men. He came over to the car, and I offered him two bags, telling him each contained a little food and drink for him and his companion. He smiled graciously, gave me a compliment on my “beautiful smile” and offered me blessings for my kindness.

We chatted a bit, and as a result, by the time I reached the stop light, it had once again turned red. The second gentleman, who had remained by the light, apologized to me for the fact that in taking the time to chat with his friend, I now had to wait just a few minutes more to make my turn and get to where I was going.  I told him quickly that he owed me no apology at all. I was glad to be able to slow down, offer the bags of food and share in a moment of kind conversation. He responded by thanking me again for the food. “People don’t always realize that sometimes we don’t eat anything at all for two days or so,” he said.  “I can’t imagine how hard that must be,” I answered. “Truly, I’m simply glad to be able to do my small part to change that, at least for today.” His friend had come back to his side by now, and the chat continued. I went on to share that we made these bags as a family, to help ensure that we would never drive by a person in need and not be able to respond. And then came the answer that remained with me throughout the day. One of the young men said to me, “Sometimes people forget that I’m somebody’s child too. Thank you for seeing that.”

Though hidden by my sunglasses, I welled up at his response.  I answered that we are all God’s children, connected in this human family of ours. And in that family kindness, compassion, love and warmth matter.

The light turned green, they once again offered their thanks and wished me a blessed day. I wished the same to them, turned down the road and continued on my day’s journey. I’m always struck by those words, each time we are given the chance to simply put a little food and drink into the hands of someone who is struggling.  They offer their “blessings” to us, without fail, each and every time. We who are blessed with ample food, drink, warmth and shelter receive the blessings of someone with so little to give. It seems to me it should be the other way around.  We have the ability to bestow blessings of our own making; a kind word, a smile, spare change, food and drink. These aren’t acts that will alter the course of any of the men and women who we encounter on the streets or while volunteering for homeless programs in our area. But, they reflect our belief that we are all created b’tzelem elohim (in God’s image).

If we all carry a spark of the Divine spirit within us, then truly, we are all “somebody’s child.”  We are all God’s children. And we must see one another, really see one another. Each encounter that I have, whether volunteering for the Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow program at Congregation Har HaShem, or just offering an individual who is in need, a little something to eat or drink, allows them to know that they are seen. They are not just a sign, or a person standing in line for bread or soup. They are seen as a human being. And in the end, isn’t that a universal desire that we all share? Don’t we all want to be seen, to be offered a warm smile, an acknowledgement of our struggles, but also of our humanity? Don’t we all want an outstretched hand, and an escape from judgement about where we are in life and how we got there? Can we ever truly believe that we know somebody else’s story, simply because we get a glimpse of one single chapter? I’m somebody’s child. And I have children of my own. And when they look out at the world, I want them to view it with open eyes and open hearts.

Our little bags comprised of fruit cups, nuts, cereal bars, crackers, water and more, cannot change things on any large scale. And our evenings setting up blankets and handing out food for our homeless neighbors in Boulder, are but a small and temporary answer to an issue that is much larger. I know that. I do.

But when I reflect on the interaction that I shared yesterday, I can’t help but think that in those shared moments, each of us is changed for the better. How we see “the stranger in our midst” softens. How we see ourselves in relation to our fellow human beings, is strengthened. And the humanity that fosters within this family of God’s children offers glimmers of hope for the future.

Their signs and faces vary. Some are young, some are old. They are children. They are veterans. They ask for food, for money, for jobs. Some ask on their signs for any act of kindness, even just a smile. They are us. We are them. It is only circumstance that separates us.

“I’m somebody’s child,” the young man said.

Yes, he is.

So am I.

In that respect, we are no different.

So, let us be kind to one another; in word, in deed and in spirit.

A blessed day is sometimes defined by the smallest of moments.

girls food bags

Our daughters with the food bags that we put together.

If you walk down the street and see someone in a box, you have a choice. That person is either the other and you’re fearful of them, or that person is an extension of your family. (Susan Sarandon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m told it won’t always feel like this. And I do have more good days than bad. But when the bad ones hit, the waves of sorrow, grief, trauma and missing, seem to set me ten steps back. It’s the dance of grief, forward momentum carries you toward healing, hope, and life. Then, a turn, a twist…and suddenly you’re standing in the epicenter of loss once again. It won’t always be like this. It will get easier. The wounds will heal. These are the mantras I say to myself. And some days, like today, I lean into the grief. I let grief lead me. Because I just need to be with my sorrow. There is some peace in acknowledging that. I loved my father and I lost him. And I miss him. I thought of how much he hated the cold and the snow. And I thought of him buried beneath two feet of it. A strange thought I know, but it impacted me. Triggers abound. Some we can two step around, and some just trip us up. One step forward, then two then three.. And then a slide back. It won’t always be like this… It’ll get better. Today I’ll lean into the sadness. Tomorrow the sun will rise and the dance continues.

The journey through grief

So vast, dark and uncertain

Where is my compass

 

God, are you with me

I search, eyes closed, heart open

Oh Source of comfort

 

I cry out in tears

A primal ache in my soul

Help me to find you

 

Prayer is hard for me

How do I speak to you God

Tears flow down my cheeks

 

They carry in them

All the words I cannot say

Hear them God, hear them…

 

I ask, Ayekah?

In the still quiet moments

The wind whispers back

 

I listen closely

Hineni, the wind calls out

Here I am, with you

 

The journey is long

The gentle breeze carries me

Forward with God’s grace

 

A traditional Japanese haiku is a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count.

 

deb and dad prego

Nurturing that first little life within me, getting ready to bring Yael into this world. The first granddaughter.

April 20, 2015. That is the day that I lost my Dad. Nine months ago, a phone call came that he was gone & my journey through the wilderness of grief began.

Nine months seems to weigh heavily on me. The number of months I so strongly associate with life, is today intermingled with death & loss. For nine months, I nurtured life within me. My beautiful daughters, hearts dependent upon mine, sustained by my body, growing within my womb.

For nine months I watched my belly grow bigger, and waited with eager anticipation for the chance to meet that little human being growing inside of me. The birth of a child, a time filled with so much hope & so many dreams.

But today, nine months feels very different. It is laden with sorrow & disbelief still.

My father is gone. And his death by suicide shattered me. The work of gathering up the pieces is done. And now comes the task of creating myself anew. The life I now nurture and tend to, is my own. What parts of me remain and what parts of me are newly shaped and formed by the trauma and loss that I’ve experienced? And where do they all fit?

I reflect back upon those ultrasounds with each of my children, watching them grow, cell by cell, muscle by muscle and limb by limb. The miracle of it all took my breath away. Every stage of their budding lives & selves, captured in black & white.

Is that what is happening to me?  It feels as if it is.  And yet, it doesn’t feel miraculous. It is hard, it is strange and it hurts. If I were to capture the images on film, would I even recognize parts of the me I was before? Or would they be too muddled, lost in a fuzzy haze of gray?

And what about the life that I lost? The father that is no longer with me. How do I hold onto him? Over these nine months I have struggled to let go of the trauma, the pain & the questions that ruminate. I do not want to carry them inside me. I do not want them to grow & fester. And as I try to let go of all of that, I fight to hold on to the essence of who my father was to me.

Nine months later, I look to find him in life, not by looking forward. Now, I can only find him in the looking back. That is a strange and painful contrast. There will be no more firsts, no more milestones, no more pictures or memories made. There is only what was. So in my heart, I nurture that. With each photo, each remembrance, each story or recollection, I breathe oxygen into the embers and I sustain within me, the life that I shared with my father. The love that we shared is and will always be a part of me, though it must now be in different form. It is only in spirit that I can touch him now.

The man who helped to bring me into this world, is no longer here. The person that I was before he left, will never be the same. But nine months later, a new me is taking form. I carry within me the best of who I was, and the hard & painful lessons of loss. Scars are still so fragile, a little nick, a tiny scratch, a gentle bumping into… and the wounds reopen. But I know it won’t always be so. I will create a new mosaic, a reflection of self that will be at once familiar and different.  Grief will not define me, but it will, it must, redefine parts of me. Like the formation of a new cell, like blood coursing through my veins, it is now a part of me. And so too is the resilience that strengthens me and restores the very fiber of my being.

Nine months. Today it signifies life and loss. It is a reminder of all that was and what can no longer be. It holds both pain and promise. He is gone, but I am here. I am still his daughter, he is still my father. I must learn to live with his final footnote. But our story will not end. It is in me. It is in my children. It is in my mother, my brother and every sacred memory I cleave to.  A life sustained, tucked deeply in my soul for safekeeping. And a life, my life, recreated, built from the wreckage and held together by love, by memories and the ties that will forever bind us.

Once I heard the sound of my children’s heartbeat, beating within me. Perhaps, if I listen closely now, I’ll be able to hear my father’s as well.

Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
Made stage by stage… To life everlasting. (Rabbi Alvin I. Fine)

 

baby deborah and dad

 

yahrzeit

It’s been weeks since I’ve attended services. It’s not that I don’t want to. I want to say Kaddish for my father. I want to be with my family. I want to be a part of our new community. But here is my truth. Grieving a suicide loss is a very isolating experience. I don’t know people “like me.” Statistics tell me I should, and I’m certain they are there, but I don’t know them. My father did not just die. He died by suicide. He took his own life. His end feels violent. He was the victim and the perpetrator of his own homicide. To try and put the pain of that kind of loss into words is just not possible. I won’t even try.
My soul and my heart have been ripped open, everything that seemed to make sense no longer does, faith is hard. It hurts to pray. It hurts not to pray. I’m mad at God. I need God. I’m mad at my father. I miss him and ache for his presence on earth each and every day. “Why” has become my least favorite question. Yet I ask it daily.
I am new to this community, our new synagogue community of Congregation Har HaShem. I don’t know a lot of people, but they know me. I can not have the anonymity of another griever. And when I pray, or when I stand in shul and can’t pray, I weep. Sometimes it is a quiet weeping. Other times it is all I can do to hold myself together, I bite the insides of my cheeks, I can’t speak, every single fiber of my heart and my soul cries out in pain, but I make no sound. I feel exposed, stripped away of all defenses, laid bare in front of my God. It is a vulnerable feeling.
It is hard to have that feeling in front of strangers. It is hard to feel such overwhelming grief is on display, the new rabbi’s wife is falling apart. Do they know why? Do they wonder what is wrong? Do they think I’m simply losing it? Who are they? Some I know. Some I’ve built relationships with already… trust, honesty, realness… the good, the bad & the ugly. Friends. And some, many in fact, are new to me.
I don’t know how to be this version of myself in front of them. I’m not the version of me that came to visit during Fred’s interview. I’ll never be that same person again. But isn’t that the me they are expecting to meet? And what if I simply can’t meet them, not properly anyway? What will they think if the rabbi’s wife just comes to services, weeps openly, says kaddish and leaves before they even have a chance to say hello? And how do I answer the questions. How are you? How’s it going? Do you like Colorado? Are you settling in? On good days, better days, I have the answers. Other days I know I can’t really speak my truth. I can’t answer, “How are you?” honestly.
So I stay home. It feels easier. At least there, when I utter the words of Kaddish, when I cry because my dad ended his own life, in the home that I grew up in, in a way that feels so utterly and profoundly wrong on each & every level and in a manner that was intended to be lethal, nobody is watching me. This final act by my father was not a cry for help. This was his way out of the pain, darkness and despair that took root in his soul. No final goodbye, no reflecting on memories past, no holding hands. He was alone, he was all alone when he died. I don’t just mourn for his loss, I mourn for what became of his life, for the sadness and shame that he carried, the sense that he was not worthy, that somehow we all might be better off if he were gone.
I stand at services, prayers for healing hurt, prayers for peace hurt, prayers for comfort hurt, prayers for mourning hurt. Why? Because no matter how hard we tried, we could not give him peace, we could not give him enduring comfort, we could not shelter him. We loved him, with all that we had, but it wasn’t enough.
How do I pray for all of that? My prayers are mostly in my tears. And it is hard to contain them when I stop, try and take a breath and reach out to God. And it is hard to let them go in front of so many new faces. It is just hard to be that vulnerable.
But I want to go to synagogue. I want to let my new community know my pain, though it makes me feel so very exposed. Because, right now, four months after my father’s suicide, this is who I am. My therapist tells me the road to healing after a suicide loss, traumatic loss, is a hard one, a long one and one riddled with roadblocks, obstacles and triggers. And I have to walk it, every day. I move forward, I move back, I walk it without knowing others like me, so it feels at times like I walk it alone, though I know I don’t.
I hope that I can feel less vulnerable in time. As new faces become familiar, strangers become friends, and those that surround me in the sanctuary become my community, my kehillah. There, in that holy and sacred place, my wounds are laid bare. There, in that holy and sacred place, I hope Ill find the courage and faith to let them show.

Let me come in — I would be very still
Beside you in your grief;
I would not bid you cease your weeping, friend,
Tears can bring relief.

(To One in Sorrow by Grace Noll Crowell)

Dear Dad,

Everyone has left. The house is quiet. I am alone. It is Shabbat. And the permanance of your absence, your loss, is setting in. God I miss you. I miss your voice. So tonight, on this Sabbath eve-alone, I am going to watch some videos of you. Videos of happier days, family memories. I wanted to be alone with you. So I can weep out loud. I’m afraid to do it. I don’t know if I’m ready. But I need to see you in life… not simply think of you in death. I don’t know if I“m ready daddy–will the remembering make it hurt more? Will it ease some of the pain, even if only for a little? I haven’t even begun and the tears are flowing. I want so much for you to come back….but you can’t. So tonight, for the first time since your suicide, I’m going to visit with you. And I’m going to pray for some smiles & laughter, through my tears. Remembering is hard, not remembering feels harder…