The Healing Powers of Communication

The Healing Powers of Communication

This week I’m happy to introduce a guest blogger who holds a very special place in my heart—my brother! My brother, Rabbi Dr. Baruch HaLevi, has practiced as a synagogue rabbi for the past 15 years. Moreover, he has a special gift for guiding people through life’s traumas, tragedies and struggles of all kinds, particularly after the death of a loved one. This gift that he uses every day in his work, is why Baruch is a valuable member of my Spiritual Ground Crew. Many of you have heard the story of my family’s tragic loss of my father and grandmother, and how these events helped to shape the work I’ve dedicated my life to. In this blog, Baruch shares his side of the story, and how in the face of loss, tragedy and grief, he decided to choose—and share—love rather than fear.

I was born in an idyllic setting with a doting family, wonderful parents, in a nurturing and close-knit community. In so many ways it was a place, as well as an era, of innocence. However, that innocence came to an abrupt end when I was 15. Our innocence ended, and my family’s life was shattered, on the day our paternal grandmother, Grandma Babe, killed herself. The truth was that our suffering only began in that moment. My grandmother’s suffering, I found out later, had been going on for years. My grandmother spent the better part of her life battling depression in a world that didn’t understand what she was fighting. She endured every treatment offered at the time, and electroconvulsive therapy—as it was administered in those days—left her a shadow of her former self. As destructive as her depression was, the silence surrounding it visited the greatest suffering on her and our family. No one would talk about her depression. It was a different era to be sure, but particularly in our family, we simply didn’t talk about the “dark” emotions, struggles or issues of life.

Even while she was alive, I remember asking my grandfather and my father questions about her illness and being rebuked. I was reminded that it wasn’t something we talked about and wasn’t to be brought up again. In many ways, this unwillingness to confront her and my family’s darkness was not only responsible for her demise but the destruction which our family would experience over the next twenty years. Each of us, in our own way, lost our way within the darkness, but none more than our dad. Slowly, in silence, our father, Shelly, began to unravel, throwing away his business, his marriage, his friendships and his community. And then, roughly two decades after his mother committed suicide, on an ordinary fall morning in 2006, our dad killed himself. 

Of course we were shocked, horrified and devastated. However, when I was told about my dad’s suicide the first words out of my mouth were cries of, “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it,” because, truth be told, I knew my dad would follow his mother’s example. Believe me, I tried in a million different ways to head him off at the pass and keep him from doing this. However, nothing I said or did mattered. It seemed to be his destiny and now it was bound to be his legacy.

Having thought about it deeply over this past decade I have come to understand why he and my grandmother ended up taking their lives. Yes, I do believe they were chemically imbalanced and needed to be on medication, which my father was not. Yes, the moment they killed themselves was a moment of temporary insanity, and although my grandmother was too far gone due to the electroshock treatments, I know that if my dad was in his right mind he would have never chosen to leave this world as he did. However, as valid as those reasons are, they were not at the heart of why he, or my grandmother, did what they did. 

The real reason they killed themselves is because for years, decades, nearly a quarter century, they covered over their inner-demons, they buried their internal-monsters, they tried to silence the darkness. However, darkness denied is only darkness delayed. Sooner or later, it comes out with even greater force. The darkness my father spent his life avoiding washed over him like a tidal wave. The monsters swallowed him alive. No matter how much, how hard, or how intent he was on avoiding his darkness, his avoidance was just that—a-void-dance—an attempt to dance around the void. But, as my dad found out you can’t dance around the void and nothing you throw at the void makes it go away save this—words, speech, communication.

Dealing with the Dark Void

There’s only one way to deal with the dark void in your life and that is to admit it with words, face it with speech and move through it with communication. Talking about it with your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your family, your friends, your pastor, priest, rabbi or guru: that is how darkness is dispelled. The key is to talk, to share, to express, to open up your mouth and let it out and open up your heart as. As you open up, you are simultaneously inviting others in. That is what my father and grandmother failed to do. They lived in darkness, suffered alone in darkness and, in the end, died in darkness. And that is why, I believe, I am here doing this work.

I have built my life and profession upon the one and only authentic response to life’s dark void, and that is communication. I truly believe that challenges can be transformed into opportunities, tragedies into blessings, and darkness into light, because I have seen it firsthand in myself and my family, and the many people I have since worked with.

I now believe my purpose is to help people communicate truthfully to themselves, to others, and to God. To open their eyes and see what is in front of them, open their ears and listen to what is being whispered to their soul. And perhaps more importantly to realize that the dead, the living and the Divine are always trying to communicate with us—if we are looking, if we are listening, if we are living a life not with our head but with our heart.