Tag Archives: Grieving

Fire And Rain

Grieving for a friend is rough. Grieving for a suicide adds new layers of harshness. Grieving for a 21-year-old suicide defies words. For a week after the phone call, my emotional range was too elemental for language, a visceral spectrum of fire and rain.

I think of this young man relaxing on the floor of our family room, bantering with my son, and I hope he’s at peace. I think of him curled up in his favorite red blanket, asleep on our couch, and I hope he’s resting in comfort. I think of how he sang and danced with my daughter, strumming a wooden stirring spoon. I don’t know if kitchen utensils are available through eternity, so if he needs one, I hope he finds a way to send a message. I’ll figure out how to launch a wooden spoon into the beyond.

Since he was close to my family, his parents kindly invited me to speak at his memorial. I thought of his helping me learn the unfamiliar inflections of The South, how we laughed over my many miscommunications when I first moved from California. I thought of his vibrant curiosity, his questions, his eagerness to explore — from writing novels to urban development, from bovine medical research to gender equality. I thought of the outstanding meals he cooked with my daughter and son and I smiled, remembering the chocolate and avocado cake he and my son somehow decided they had to bake — and yes, the result was as appalling as my daughter warned them it would be. I cried as I wrote his eulogy. I practiced my speech and broke down every time. I paused, trying to translate my grief into words. But I could only feel fire and rain.

At his memorial service, I expected to deliver the eulogy through tears, but I didn’t. My voice held strangely steady. However, my hands shook so violently that they felt like an alien appendage, detached and overwrought. I looked over the large room filled with his family and friends — bewildered, shattered, alive — and the notion that he was dead, truly dead, felt utterly absurd.

He was a young man of action, so I wish him Godspeed. But I’m not sure what that means. Maybe he’s a powerful current in an ocean’s depth, or the foamy rush in a river’s whitewater. Perhaps he’s a different kind of force — the drive within a poet to write, or the push within a scientist to discover.

I hope he rests in peace. But I don’t know what that means, either. Maybe his spirit quietly enriches the minerals of the soil, or gently guides the first spring tendrils toward the light. Although these thoughts are comforting, I’m painfully aware that I can conceive of his eternity only in the limited terms of my familiar world. Eternity is a place beyond the parameters of my imagination.

So I’ll stick to what I know: fire and rain — rage and cold, heat and water, warmth and sustenance, life and life.


If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255 

The Trevor Project Lifeline  866-488-7386 

You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.


Filed under Grieving, Suicide Prevention, Uncategorized

Tabasco Sauce

When my father died in 2009, I knew what to expect.  I’d been a psychotherapist for decades, and helped countless patients through deaths of loved ones.  I figured my appetite would turn strange, and my sleep would go haywire. I’d be sad and tearful (though always at appropriate moments, since my professional expertise would allow me to plan ahead). I reminded myself of the writings of Kubler-Ross, and was quite familiar with the stages of grief.  I was ready, and I knew what was coming.

I was wrong.

I confounded myself with my grieving process, taking myself by surprise at every turn.  I cried when I knew I’d be fine.  I was calm when I knew I’d break down.  I was exhausted after sleeping, and alert when I should have been wiped out. Suddenly, my favorite activity was laundry; I loved the soothing rhythm of the cycles, sometimes reading quietly on the floor, comfortably nestled against the washing machine. I couldn’t attend Oakland A’s baseball games — an activity my family enjoyed together — because the sounds of the crowd literally made me jump. My appetite wasn’t strange; it was alien. Even water tasted different. As for Kubler-Ross — I was Angry when I should have been in Denial, serene in Acceptance when I should have been Bargaining. Someone had dumped my orderly Stages of Mourning into a blender.

But my biggest problem was Tabasco Sauce.  My three children liked Ketchup.  My  husband and I liked hot mustard. In my favorite neighborhood market, to get from Ketchup to mustard, I needed to walk past Tabasco Sauce.  My father loved Tabasco Sauce, poured it on everything except ice cream. For months after he died, I couldn’t shop for condiments without breaking into tears.

As I stumbled through months of grieving, my husband offered to take over my usual household tasks.  But retaining a semblance of normalcy felt steadying, so I insisted on continuing my routine. It worked well…except for the market.  On that, he stepped in, so I wouldn’t have to look Tabasco Sauce in the eye.

Each morning I’d steel myself to face the day. I’d open my eyes and whisper, “This is my first (…second…thirty-fifth…) day without a father.” Then I’d buck up and get up — my new morning ritual.

When a friend’s father recently died, I thought carefully, searching for words of comfort and wisdom.  But what I ended up telling her was not from a book or an article.  What I said had nothing to do with years of professional experience as a psychotherapist. Instead, I offered the most heartfelt support I knew – from my own muddling through.

I told her that she could plow through every psychiatric treatise written on How-To-Travel-The-Path-Of-Healthy-Mourning — but bottom line: the experience would be spectacularly weird. I advised her to shelve dignity temporarily, because something as ridiculous as Tabasco Sauce might become the core of her grieving process. I said that the one thing she could count on was the unexpected. I explained that no matter how old the parent, no matter what medical conditions were on board, the finality of death would be an absolute shock. I said that whatever her level of eloquence under normal circumstances, the pain would be so searing it would defy language. I prepared her that no matter her age, she’d feel like an orphan.

But I also comforted her with the truth: Although at first she’d feel anything but lucky, in fact she was, as was I – we both lost our fathers well into our adulthood. One morning, for no clear reason, she’d stop counting her days without a father. Even though she’d initially feel broken, somewhere down the road, she’d think of her dad with warmth, not pain.

And she’d know when the deepest healing was in place, because she’d pull a bottle of Tabasco Sauce off the shelf, toss it in her cart and move forward, steady and strong.


Filed under Uncategorized