Friday, October 10, 2014

Missing Atonement/At-one-ment

This second Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement since Noah’s death was intense but easier than last year, when we sobbed together in synagogue under my husband’s prayer shawl. This year, our grief was more silent and contained, more numb than raw. I still cried and shook during the memorial service, especially when invited to imagine being in a room with our loved one and seeing him walk toward us. I wept at the innocent sung promise to pass on the tradition “from generation to generation,” as we have one less stake now in that future. It was still jarring to move between what my husband calls “the hole in our hearts” and cheerful new year’s greetings to family and friends. 
I missed out on the full experience of atonement and renewal that I used to cherish in the Jewish High Holidays. I did not immerse myself in life review, repentance, and tshuvah (turning, returning to one’s better self), either on that day or in the weeks prior. Having struggled with so much guilt, remorse, and anger around Noah’s suicide over the past year, I held back from rehashing it or going deeper. Instead, I prayed for compassion and tried to focus my atonement on one moment: the last words I said to Noah on the last night of his life. 

He had just miraculously run a marathon the day before, despite his debilitating depression. I started by saying how proud we were, what an accomplishment it was, and how it showed he could set a goal and meet it even in the hardest of times. But then I nudged him to set more small goals for himself and start taking steps toward them, like finding a psychiatrist and getting a part-time job. I know now how insensitive this was. I saw his despair, but I didn’t grasp how he was by then incapable of even picking up the phone. I’m sad and appalled that this was Noah’s last impression of me—unless he registered the kiss I blew him later.

Some new verses for my ongoing lament for a lost child :

            How I wish that I had listened
            To the fear behind your eyes--
             All the pain inside your silence
            I didn’t fully realize.

            I want to take back what I said to you
            On that last night of your life
            Words I only meant to encourage
            Must have struck you like a knife*

Without forgiveness of myself, there will be no forgiveness of my child. Without atonement, there will be no at-one-ment with Noah’s spirit.

*Note: All poetry on this blog is original work-in-progress unless attributed to others.


  1. On re-reading this post I am struck by how hard you have been on yourself Susan. I see the last words you spoke to Noah as those of a loving and concerned mother, and without knowing or even having met Noah, I feel convinced that he would have known that that was exactly what they were. We have a habit of taking our words to our children out of the context of all the love and care we have shown to them all their lives. Yes, there were moments of irritation, frustration, even anger, but all those things come ultimately from love. We loved our children beyond measure, and they knew that as surely as the air they breathed.

    When my mother died I expressed my sorrow for having been angry with her about something to my youngest son, Stefan. He immediately reminded me that he had been angry with me many times, and I with him, but that could never detract from the love we both felt for one another. He told me he would never doubt my love for him and he has repeated that since Anton died - Anton knew without doubt that he was loved passionately and unconditionally, despite any times when I may have been less than perfect as a mother - perhaps even because of those times, which nevertheless showed in their own way how much I cared.

  2. Hi Ligia, thank you for these wise and encouraging words. I can feel the passionate mother love that animates them. It sounds like both our lost boys knew how much we loved them. And how fortunate that your living son Stefan understands and expresses the love between you!