Friday, October 21, 2016

Forgiveness Update

The fourth Jewish Day of Atonement has just passed since Noah’s suicide. I still can’t fully embrace the work of forgiveness and repentance that I used to do in preparation for the holiday. After suicide, there’s no making amends with the person who so grievously hurt us. I take comfort from Rabbi Jill Zimmerman, who says it’s OK if we don’t feel ready to forgive: “Sometimes the timetable of the High Holy Days doesn’t match the rhythm of your heart. . . . Love yourself enough to trust your own timing. Forgive yourself for not being yet ready.”

Sometimes forgiveness still feels like alien territory I can barely see over the mountain of remorse I’m still climbing. Sometimes it looms like an impossibly high hurdle; I run up to it only to retreat in tears and confusion. There’s no leap that will get me to the other side.

I’m trying to see forgiveness as a bridge—not a one-way entry to a green valley but a path that Rabbi Karyn Kedar says must be traversed over and over: “With every crossing, you discover that there is more. More darkness. More to forgive. More to learn. More light than we thought possible, just waiting to be released.” I keep approaching it with baby steps, like a toddler stumbling up one of those steep, red footbridges in a Japanese garden.

My Orthodox cousin is surprised that I struggle with forgiving Noah for leaving us, for rejecting the life that we gave him and the love we shared. In her version of Judaism, there’s nothing to forgive. “It’s a sickness,” she says. “What Noah did is between him and God, and God understands.” 

Plenty of secular folks agree that if someone is mentally ill, they can’t be blamed for taking their life so there’s nothing to forgive. Some of my fellow suicide survivors also take the “no fault” position; they’re either more understanding than me, more years out from the loss, or both. 

With time, the bitterness of the blame and anger I feel toward Noah is slowly leeching away.  Whether he was mentally ill or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was not himself, he was in unbearable pain, and he didn’t know how to fix it. 

The blame that remains—the most formidable hurdle—is self-blame. I was not all seeing, all knowing, all loving, or all powerful enough to save my child. Of course I wasn’t omni anything—who is? The bridge to self-forgiveness is longer, more tortuous. Veteran survivors say it’s about turning anger and blame into regret. I’m not magician enough to make that happen reliably, but I’m practicing. 

Several days after the Day of Atonement, I arrived at this private prayer: 

Open my eyes.
Open my heart.
Bring me ever closer to the bridge of forgiveness.
Teach me to walk its span, again and again,

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