Support the news
Click the play button above to listen.
DEBORAH GREENE: Sometimes I wish that before I had picked up the phone, that I had I just taken in for a moment what it felt like, because ever since that moment happened, nothing’s ever been the same for me.
I was at the Whole Foods on a Monday morning, just doing my regular food shop. I had a cart full of groceries and my cellphone rang. I saw my brother's cellphone number. His voice was shaking, and I said, "How are you?"
He said, "Not — not good. Daddy’s dead. He killed himself."
All I kept saying was, “What? What are you talking about?”
I was in the produce section, and it was loud — there were a lot of people — so I moved to the entryway of the store. I remember walking away from my cart.
I couldn’t be hearing it right. It just couldn’t be. It felt very violent. Sick to my stomach.
It was almost like being on the phone with him was keeping me upright, and the moment I hung up with him, the weight of what I had just learned came crashing down on me.
I remember falling to the floor. I was crying very loudly, screaming, saying the words out loud that my father had taken his life. I felt exposed and raw, like somebody ripped out my soul.
That’s really when all of these women swarmed around me. It was sort of a haze but I remember conversations around me.
The words I recall most were the woman who took my hand and asked, "Would it be OK to say a prayer?" There I was, this Christian prayer being offered up, for me, the wife of the rabbi, and my Jewish father. I remember only a part of the prayer, but it was asking God to care for his soul.
And when you lose someone to suicide, the thought that they feel so tortured — the notion of God taking care of his soul, it stayed with me. It’s been important to me.
I remember just a moment of clarity, and thinking, “I have a friend who works here, and her name is Pam. Can someone go see if she’s here?”
PAMELA CHANIN: A team member came to me and said, "There’s somebody here who needs you." So I just ran up front. Deborah was on the floor, shaking, gasping through the crying, trying to simply breathe.
I just got down on the floor and tried to hold her and rock with her. I got her to make eye contact, and I said, “Deborah, I’m gonna help you stand up, and we’re going to walk back to my office.”
I immediately grabbed two chairs, and I sat facing her. She was verbally trying to process how this could have happened.
GREENE: “How could he do this? Why would he leave? Why would he do this?” I don’t think she tried to answer. She just let me say what I needed to say.
CHANIN: There was no concept of time. I was holding her hands as she was trying to talk to her mother.
GREENE: Such a hard phone call.
CHANIN: One of my team members came in very quietly and said, “One of the women wants her to have this gift card.” [Deborah] just shook her head and cried.
GREENE: That gift card fed my family at a time when I couldn’t.
CHANIN: To this day I don’t think Deborah knows who that person was.
GREENE: Those women really stepped into an emotional mess. It was incredibly brave. It’s not something most people are prepared to meet head-on, particularly with a stranger. Nobody had to stop and help me, and I hesitate to think about what might have happened if I’d gotten in my car and tried to drive home.
All of those women were witness to the darkest and probably most intimate moment of my life. Every day, when I think of that moment, I think of them. They are forever a part of me, ingrained in my heart, and they gave me a sliver of light.
In this traumatic imprint, I know I’m not alone.
In case, by any chance, one of those strangers that day happens to hear this, I want to tell them that I am eternally grateful. Just put those words out somehow into the universe, This is what was done for me. I might never be able to thank these women personally, but I can tell you what they did.
Support the news