Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Passover's Four Children: The One Who Does Not Know How to Ask
Passover is a powerful holiday in Jewish tradition, memorable for its foods, customs, and story of oppression and liberation that speaks to many forms of suffering, both individual and communal. In an article in Tablet Magazine, I trace how I repurposed Passover ritual and symbols to help me both express and move through grief after suicide. I expand on these themes in “Healing the Broken Jewish Soul After a Child’s Suicide,” an illustrated book talk open to the public on Friday, April 27, 2018, at 7pm (following services at 6:30pm) at Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, CA, as part of Jewish Wisdom and Wellness: A Festival of Learning (you can see a short video preview here).
A fellow survivor blogger named Deborah reminds us that the Haggadah, or guide for the Passover Seder, speaks of four types of children, including “one who does not know how to ask.” This was my son, Noah, who didn’t know how to ask for help when he most needed it. In another way, I, too, am that child. I didn’t know how to ask if Noah was feeling suicidal—or rather, I didn’t know what to do after I asked. I panicked. I didn’t know the importance of staying calm and listening because sometimes just having the chance to vent scary thoughts is enough for people who are struggling. I didn’t know to ask—or didn’t have the guts to ask--whether he had a plan, which might indicate a higher level of risk.
Deborah lost her father to suicide around Passover a few years ago and, like me, has been haunted by the symbols of the holiday. She writes: “This Passover, let us pledge to no longer be ‘one who does not know how to ask’… The plague of darkness can touch anyone. None of us is immune. So let our words be a source of light, life and hope. Know when to ask, know what to ask.” In a reinvention of the Haggadah’s Four Questions, she urges us to find the courage to ask the following when someone we know is struggling: “Have you had thoughts about suicide? Have you thought about a plan to take your own life? Have you attempted suicide before? Do you have access to a gun or other means you could use?”
You can get basic information to prepare yourself for this difficult conversation here (Know the Signs, Find the Words, Reach Out), with more detailed advice from psychotherapist Dr. Stacey Freedenthal available here and here.
To my fellow survivors who celebrate Passover: Do you have a plan for how you'll take care of yourself this holiday? I hope that with each year, you can recover a bit more of the joy and meaning of the season.