Let my cries and sighs heal me and restore me and bring me to joy. Let me never again succumb to bitterness or depressing thoughts, God, show me life’s meaning. (Rebbe Nachman of Breslow)
This coming Friday will mark the anniversary of my father’s suicide, gone now for seventeen years. The calendar this year is the same as it was that year, with Easter coming the week before he died. I am so grateful for the space of time between his death and now. The first year after he died, I was caught—every day— in the rawness of grief, and in the post-traumatic-stress of losing him to suicide. The second and third years the grief washed in and out like the tide. I suffered with periodic depressions all through the year. Now it’s mostly around Easter and his death date.
Things still remind me of his suicide. I’ve worked at desensitizing my tender feelings as much as possible, but every year around this time, I feel irritable and emotional. Movies, books, family, friends, and Easter are big reminders. Some little thing like my husband not listening to me will tie me in knots for days.
A minister where I used to go to church did that suicide-mimicking thing from the pulpit. I finally drummed up enough courage to let him know the way he joked up there during his sermons bothered me. He reacted insensitively, and said I needed to get over my dad’s suicide. I stared at him, pushing back the desire to jump up and leave. I stared at him, thinking of every cuss word in my large profane vocabulary. I think I stared at him for a long, long time. It might have only been a minute. But my knees were weak and my mouth was speechless. Finally, we started talking, beyond my anger at his quick remark and his callousness, beyond his reaction that I was criticizing his sermons. He apologized. He said, still, he was trying to tell me I needed to live in joy and not let things hurt so.
I wish I could say that his insensitivity is the reason I left his church. It’s so much easier to blame someone than to look deep within, and I did kinda do that for a while. But things always go deeper. Every year, I want to not do this holiday. I want to push past Easter. I want to push past the anniversary of Daddy’s suicide. I hear how people say they are so grateful for Jesus dying on the cross for their salvation. His dying breaks my heart, and guilt pours out of me nearly as much as the year Daddy died. I can’t say I am grateful for anyone dying for me. Mostly, my feelings just hurt.
I feel defensive that I don’t want to celebrate Easter. It seems to announce, in my mind anyway, I’m not a Christian and that I don’t love Jesus. My epiphany today: If I didn’t love Jesus (or my dad), I wouldn’t have this grief swirling around in my brain.
God listens, loves, and heals a grieving heart.