Deborah Greene tells of rekindling her relationship with her father, only to lose him to suicide.
My family and I were estranged for six years. The reasons are complex, as are most families. But thankfully, the family ties that bind, though frayed & tattered, were never broken. It was Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) when our healing began. It was Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement & Forgiveness) when we spoke for the first time. And it was Thanksgiving, when we were reunited for the first time.
I remember so well as my husband, the girls and I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home; my father came around to my side of the car. I stepped out of the car and we embraced. He cried, I cried, and we held one another so tightly. And, in that year, as I sat around the dinner table with my own beautiful family, my brother and his family, and my parents. I got to live out in full the truest meaning of Thanksgiving. Yes, we lost six years. We will never get those back. But our story did not end there. It was not the final footnote. And from our pain, our hurt, our anger and our journey through forgiveness, we grew stronger, better. We loved more fully, more honestly, more openly. We became strongest in the very places that had been broken.
Soon, it will be one year since my father’s suicide. It is a painful day for me and my family to contemplate. I feel as if I’ve lived a lifetime without him, and as though he left us only yesterday. Yes, I count my blessings daily and I have found laughter once again. Yes, I am present for my family and my friends, and I turn towards life each day. But the loss has forever altered me and I am still putting the pieces together. But I am so profoundly grateful that I got three and a half more years with my father. I am grateful for every memory that we made, every laugh that we shared, and for every time we said, “I love you.” And I am grateful that I found the courage to reach out in that first letter, that letter that opened the door to a future together, and allowed us to leave behind the hurt, the anger and the sadness that had touched our past.
Life can change on a dime. Mine did when I got the call that my father had taken his own life. I guess my message is, where you can, if you can, and however you can, find forgiveness. My father left this world knowing that I loved him. And I know that he loved me. That might not have happened. And I cannot even begin to imagine what that would have felt like.
Families will hurt us, disappoint us, frustrate us & wound us. Some of those things I know are truly unforgivable. But, if they are not, if they can be overcome, looked past or let go of, do it. I regret many things, and I regret deeply that I could not save my father from himself, from his pain, from the depression and anxiety that plagued him. But I do not have to live with the regret of words left unspoken, forgiveness left unoffered and love left unshared. And for that, for the 3 & 1/2 years I got with him, that my children got with him, and for the love that we shared, I am profoundly and wholly grateful. Forgiveness is a gift. Offer it to yourself. It may be one of the most precious and meaningful things you ever do.
Deborah writes at reflectingoutloud.