I am always filled with a sense of renewal and excitement during the Days of Awe*. Granted, the High Holy Days* usually occur in early fall, when the temperatures are dropping, the rains are returning, and the leaves are beginning their transition. Considering Fall is my favorite season here in the Pacific Northwest, when it’s combined with the High Holy Days, it brings an unbeatable combination of rejuvenation, hope, and purpose into my life.
Three years ago, during the period between the period of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I made the decision to reach out to my younger brother who, at the time, was in prison. I hadn’t spoken to him in a while because I was so frustrated with his choices in life and how he ended up where he was. But during that period, I missed him deeply and knew I needed to forgive him and, more importantly, ask for his forgiveness for my own bullheadedness. I contacted him through the prison email system, and we began a seven-month correspondence that lasted until he got out of prison. Our father died just three weeks after that and, a year and three weeks later, my brother died, too.
In the nearly 14 months since my brother died tragically, I’ve reflected a lot on my decision to reach out to him and how it was the arrival of Yom Kippur that compelled me to do so. Had I not, he and I might not have reconciled prior to our father’s death or even prior to his death. I would have been rocked to my core had I not had a chance to reconnect with him and had my husband and I not hosted him out here for a week and got to spend time with him. Less than four months after his visit, he was gone. How very different my grief might have been had I not taken the atonement aspect of Yom Kippur seriously, remembered how much I loved my little brother for who he was inside, regardless of his life choices, and reached out to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
This year, my thoughts keep gravitating to my two half-siblings. We share a father and, due to reasons I don’t even honestly still understand, our relationship is strained. Other than commenting to my half-sister that my husband and I found some of her Facebook posts offensive about two and a half years ago, I don’t know what I did to her to make her wash her hands of me. As for my half-brother, we had a falling out after Dad died because he refused to come to the funeral. After my brother’s funeral last year, I asked both of them if we couldn’t put our differences behind us and move forward as a family. I’d already lost a sibling and didn’t want to lose any more, and now it feels as though I have, anyway. They both don’t talk to me – text messages receive either one-word replies or none at all – so I stopped trying months ago. I don’t know how to atone for an unknown transgression. Perhaps it’s that same bullheaded pride that’s holding me back, but I don’t know how to proceed, nor do I want to ask for forgiveness when I don’t have any knowledge that I did anything wrong in the first place.
Figuring that out is the internal work I’m doing for this Yom Kippur. I don’t know yet how I’ll move forward, but I know I need to reflect and think about things. Familial relationships are difficult and, as I’ve learned, fractured relationships often completely shatter after the death of a parent. It’s happened to me, and it’s also happened between my husband and his siblings since their mother died. Deciding what is the right thing to do is hard and, in this case, the ultimate decision may not be made until long after Yom Kippur has passed.
*Days of Awe and High Holy Days – the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are the High Holy Days.