Sunday, January 19, 2014
What Prepared You for This?
I read about a religious man in Israel who, upon hearing that his son had been killed in combat, immediately thanked God for the 19 wonderful years he had with his son. Rabbi Sharon Brous commented that the father’s years of religious observance had made him more ready to deal with this tragedy—not to remove his pain but to have the strength to see a way forward (from Comins, M. 2010. Making prayer real. Jewish Lights Publishing).
I am in awe of this father’s ready response of gratitude. Even now, 10 months after Noah’s suicide, I am too hurt and angry to feel grateful for the 21 years we had with him. And I resist the idea that people are only given as much sorrow as we can bear, as if Noah had somehow calculated, “My mom is strong. She’s been through this before. She’ll be OK.”
The Israeli father’s story makes me think about what prepared me for this journey--or rather, since none of it was planned, what fortified me to be able to walk the mourner’s path without completely collapsing or withdrawing from the world. The answer: nothing and everything.
Nothing prepared me for the shock and sorrow that still feels like a dagger in the gut. If I don’t move or think about it too much, I can almost forget it’s there; then I move a different way, have a stray thought or a triggered memory, and the pain sears.
We call on everything and everyone we have after a loved one’s suicide. What I call on comes especially from 37 years of mourning and from attempts in recent years to nurture a spiritual practice. I lost my parents when I was 19 and 26; my father died by suicide hours before I was due home to visit. Had I not already spent much of my life in the mourning grove that most people dread to enter--even had I not studied Greek lament traditions in my 20s--how much more lost I would have been upon losing my child. At least some of the terrain was familiar.
A few years ago, I went through a tumultuous time as I reached the age my father had been when he took his life. I re-grieved my parents and reviewed their lives and my own; I turned to writing and therapy to rearrange the pieces of myself that lay in disarray on the floor.
As part of remaking my life, I sought out Jewish tradition for comfort, guidance, and the gift of Shabbat. I began to cultivate gratitude and compassion and to pray for my suffering son, which I had never done before. That start at a spiritual practice and my membership in a supportive community give me a wellspring to draw from today when the pain is overwhelming. I am grateful for that foundation, even as I still feel abandoned by God.
To my fellow survivors: What in your experience has allowed you to withstand this shock, move through this grief?