A Mother’s Day Tribute: The Story Of Pote And Jeff

13 May

 

I think the unbreakable bond between mother and son that was formed in Jeff’s first six months of life reached its apex during his last six months.  As was noted in my Father’s Day blog post last year, Jeff pretty much screamed for his first three months on earth, and continued to be a very difficult baby for months beyond that, before gradually becoming the happy kid and young man we all came to know and love.  But make no mistake about it, those early days were a real test for a young mother who couldn’t possibly have been expecting or prepared for this type of a greeting from her first-born child.  Carey, however, was more than up to the task, and it was during those months in 1987 that I went from merely being in love with her to being completely in awe of her too. 

Operating on little to no sleep for days and weeks on end, while also withstanding a constant decibel level which exceeded conventional norms, Carey held Jeff, rocked him, sang to him, breast-fed him, pushed him in his stroller and swing set, and did everything possible to make him feel soothed and warm.  The problem was compounded by the fact that I was of little help at that time, as I was writing my final thesis to complete NYU Stern’s MBA night program.  So the burden fell squarely on Carey’s shoulders, and she never wavered in her love, strength and devotion to her precious baby.  And I remain convinced that he not only felt that love at the time but that it always stayed with him for the rest of his life.  The evidence of that, which I will share at the end of this post, speaks for itself.

 

Jeff returned that love in spades over the course of his life.  He adored and appreciated Carey, and one way he manifested that affection was by calling her by a myriad of nicknames over the years.  The most common nicknames were borne out of Jeff’s bemusement over Carey’s extremely slender build.  Most kids call their mother “Mom”, but not Jeff.  Instead, it was “hey Petite”, “Petiteness”, “Potite (pronounced PO teet)”, and ultimately the shortened version, “Pote”.  Carey always got a kick out of these unconventional nicknames, and moreover, she reveled in receiving information-filled emails from Middlebury addressed to any of her nicknames, like this one from Feb. 15, 2008:

“Hey Pote,

So yesterday the editors assigned me to write the men’s basketball article for this week.  I emailed them and asked what my status is going to be for the rest of the year, bringing up the fact that they told me I would become assistant editor.  Almost immediately, one of them wrote back apologizing profusely, saying that he broke his thumb at the end of J-term and left campus early, so he didn’t follow up with me like he should have.  Anyway, he said he would definitely like me to become assistant editor, so that’s cleared up.

On Saturday evening, I’m playing in a dating game at the Grille.  This has been advertised since the beginning of J-term.  I’m one of the bachelors, and there are a number of contestants.  I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I’m sure it will be just like the real TV show The Bachelor that aired a year or two ago.  Anyway, the winning couple gets an all-inclusive date at one of several possible restaurants in the Middlebury area.  So that should be fun.  Tonight I am going to a Heaven and Hell party at KDR Social House.  It should be a lot of fun.

Love, Jeff”

When she read this, Carey lost it.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her laugh so hard.  Her email response to Jeff, and the exchange as a whole, is representative of the kind of repartee they always enjoyed with each other, and also the closeness of their relationship. Here was Carey’s return email.  And yes, I actually counted the “O’s” and the “Y’s”:

“OOOOOOOOOOOOHMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYGOOOOOOOD. 

That is soooooooo hilarious.  The Dating Game was actually a real TV show in the 70’s, I think.  There’s one girl and three bachelors, hidden behind a wall.  She can hear, but not see them.  She gets to ask the guys a series of questions which they have to answer.  At the end, she picks the guy she is intrigued with the most and they got a big night out.

Answer with as much romance as possible, and with a lot of wit, because in the show, a lot of the questions dealt with what the guy would do to romance her, compliment her, etc.

OH MY GOD.

You made my weekend!!!!!!!!!!”

For me, as an observer, watching the two of them interact was often better than watching a two person comedy show.  Jeff had the ability to make Carey laugh with just a random word or two.  For example, his morning greetings to her ran the gamut and always made her crack up:

“Bonjour, Madame”

“Hi, your Majesty”

“Look at those Raisin Nuts…” (a reference to the name of a new color of Carey’s finger nails)

“What are you weighing in at today, Pote, 105?”

Or I’d be in the kitchen with Carey when she needed to talk with him, and she’d call loudly upstairs, “Jeffffffffff…”  And he would bellow back in his best French accent, “Ouuuiiiiiiiiiiiiii…” Jeff’s unique high-pitched, drawn out delivery of this one word never failed to cause Carey to bust out laughing. 

Carey and Jeff on top of Camelback Mountain in Arizona, 1999.

While it is always difficult sending your first child off to college, we were used to seeing Jeff at regular intervals, since Midd is only four hours away.  But when Jeff decided to spend the fall of 2007 at University College of London (UCL) for a semester abroad, Carey decided that she wasn’t going to wait until almost Christmas to see her son.  So she planned a trip to London to visit both Jeff and her Colgate freshman roommate, Terri Smith Burke, who lives in London and who has been a constant source of support during these past 18 months.

Jeff was having a blast in London with his newly-made group of friends (Tarzan and Mo, you are the best), and between partying with them, seeing the sights in London and other cities, playing on UCL’s basketball team, and even going to Wembley Stadium to see the Giants play the Dolphins in the first-ever NFL game overseas, the semester abroad was everything he could have hoped for.  I think it’s a true reflection of how much Jeff loved Carey that when she informed him of her plans to visit for a few days, he was totally excited about it and didn’t view it at all as an intrusion into the fun he was having with friends.  Quite the contrary–the email that Jeff sent her on November 13th, 2007, just a few days before Carey’s trip, showed how excited he was to spend some quality time with his Mom:

“Hey Mom,

I took care of everything today.  I ordered Tower of London tickets for Saturday; we just pick them up at the site.  And I made two dinner reservations.  The first is Thursday, 7:00 at Archipelago.  The second is 7:30 on Saturday at Alistair Little.  I tried to get Rules for Saturday—it looked like an excellent place—but they were really booked and only had times of 5, 5:30 and 11:00.  Anyway, both of the places I got reservations at also look excellent.  Can’t wait to see you!

Love, Jeff”

Carey had a great trip, and a little over a month later, Jeff was back home for Christmas.

As close as Carey and Jeff were at that point in time, I believe they became even closer when Jeff moved back home after college, primarily because with the maturity that comes with young adulthood, Jeff had gained a complete appreciation for the incredible woman that his mother is. He always had the knowledge, and now he had the true pride and appreciation.

He admired her work as an EMT, and with his awareness of and sensitivity to social issues, he was extremely proud of Carey’s position as a very active member of the Board of Directors of Hope’s Door, an amazing non-profit organization that provides a safe haven and various services to survivors of domestic violence.  And all the while, Carey ran the household seamlessly with a focus on everyone else’s needs before her own. 

When Jeff became a commuter to a job that often required him to work 18+ hour days, Carey was there to support him in every way.  Carey often recounted how, on the mornings she was on call for the ambulance, and she dropped Jeff off at the train station, their goodbyes often went like this:

“Have a good day, Jeff, and thanks for being such a GREAT kid”

“Oh you’re welcome there, Pote.  Save some lives for me today.”

And she has.  Since becoming an EMT, Carey has played a key role in saving several lives.  Jeff’s pride in Carey’s efforts was clearly evident in that one phrase he invariably used: “save some lives for me.”

But in the cruelest irony, Jeff’s was the one life that she could not save, and although she did everything she could possibly do for him during his last weeks, Carey continues to dwell on his words, “save some lives for me today.”  However, none of us could counteract the effects of the meds he was on, and by the time he had weaned himself off of them, it was too late.  Deep down, I pray that Carey knows this, but her feelings are real, and I know they torture her every day.  If Jeff had only thought about the havoc he would wreak on his Mom and the rest of his family, I have to believe he wouldn’t have taken that final drastic step.

After adjusting to the grueling hours of a paralegal at the end of 2009, Jeff really began to flourish at the start of 2010.  He worked hard, partied with his friends, blogged through March Madness and the NBA playoffs, had a weekly poker night with his buddies, took weekend road trips, and basically lived life to the fullest.  And by the time Mother’s Day 2010 rolled around, Jeff clearly couldn’t suppress his love, admiration and respect for Carey.  In fact, he chose to express those things in a big way.  Literally.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeff had gone out and bought an enormous Mother’s Day card, measuring  two feet high and sixteen inches wide.  It was a big card filled with big feelings, and after receiving something like that, Carey could never have imagined that this would be the last Mother’s Day card she would ever receive from Jeff.  With Carey’s permission, I share with you what Jeff wrote inside the card.  It was dated May 9, 2010, exactly six months to the day before he decided to leave us.  Jeff’s references to the pain Carey had been in and what she had gone through relate to surgery that she had recently undergone:

  

“May 9, 2010

Dear Mom,

After all you’ve gone through in the last couple of months, I want to offer my deepest, most sincere declaration of how much I love you and appreciate all that you do for me every single day.  I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to wake up every morning in the pain you’ve been in and still do an exemplary job of taking care of us, and making sure the household runs smoothly.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

Every attribute listed on the front of this card describes you to a tee.  You go out of your way to make all of us happy every single day, every waking moment.  You’ve offered me enough support and advice to last a lifetime, yet I know you will continue to offer me more of your wisdom as time goes on.  From getting me breakfast every morning to doing my laundry, you’re always thinking of ways to be helpful and make sure my day runs as seamlessly as possible.  You’ve always struck the right balance between holding on and protecting me, and letting me explore and venture out on my own.  You’ve offered me valuable lessons on right vs. wrong through your moral compass and steadfast commitment to living according to the word of God.  And finally, I know that nobody is happier when things go well for me and cares more about my wellbeing than you do.

So from the bottom of my heart, Mom, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day.  I love you.

Love,

Jeff”

There are no words to adequately describe my sorrow over the fact that Carey, an extraordinary mother, has had to endure the excruciating pain of losing her first-born son in the way that she did.  It is so incredibly unfair, but unfortunately that is exactly what life, all too often, is.  However, with this last Mother’s Day card, Jeff left behind a precious gift, the ultimate tribute to his mother, who was such a guiding force in his life.  This gift can never be taken away from her, and it will stand tall, literally, in our home forever.

While nothing can ever ease the pain of our loss, I pray that Carey feels comforted not only by the knowledge of how much Jeff loved her, but also by the fact that he expressed it so beautifully in this and so many other cards, and also in the day-to-day closeness of their relationship.  I remember the anecdote that Julie shared in one of her blog posts, when she described seeing Carey and Jeff walking in town in the rain, sometime after he had come home after graduation. He held an umbrella over her head with one hand while his other hand was placed in the small of Carey’s back, guiding her across the street.  It must have been a wonderful sight seeing a son acting with such chivalry, protecting his mom from the rain.  That simple act was so representative of the way he felt about Carey.

I know that Carey takes further comfort in the knowledge that she has two other adoring sons who love her just as much and who will always have her back.  That is a blessing in itself.  Drew and Brett have awed us with their strength and I know they will never let her forget for a minute what a special mother she is.  And whenever Carey feels like she still needs a little love from Jeff, she needs only to pull out The Card, the ultimate expression of what she meant to him on so many different levels.

Cancun, December 31, 2011

 For me, the most poignant image of Carey and Jeff is probably the picture I took while standing behind them on the beach at St. Thomas in February 1990, when Jeff was a week or two shy of his third birthday.  I believe that this photo, which captured a tender moment as they sat together at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, reflects the essence of the beautiful relationship the two enjoyed from the time Jeff was little.  I’m quite sure that during those moments together on the beach, Carey was talking to, laughing with, and also taking the opportunity to teach her son.  And as much as anything, they were just enjoying hanging out and being together.

 

This Mother’s Day blog post is meant to serve as an eternal celebration of the unique bond that existed between Carey and Jeff from his first minutes on earth when she held him in her arms as he cried, until his final ones, when they had one last heart-to-heart conversation just three hours before he died.  I have written this on Jeff’s behalf, with the benefit of his own words, to honor this most special woman, wife, mother and role model.

-Rich Klein

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5 Responses to “A Mother’s Day Tribute: The Story Of Pote And Jeff”

  1. Sharon Djaha May 13, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    Such a beautiful tribute to Carey, Jeff and the whole family. Wishing her a day of love, peace and comfort.

  2. Lisa May 13, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Rich,

    You really are a knight in shining armor for your beloved Caret.
    Thanks for sharing one of the most moving tributes to a mother I have ever read.

    Big hug to you and your family today.

    Lisa

  3. Valerie Berman May 14, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    A tribute well deserved to an incredible mom and wife!!! She should know how much she is loved and admired!! Valerie

  4. jodee novak May 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    it is going to be impossible for me to put my feelings into words as beautifully as rich did, but there are a couple of thoughts that come to my mind. it’s too bad that we don’t really say these things until tragedy strikes, but we should. from the day of jeffrey’s birth until right this very minute, i have looked to carey as a role-model for the type of mother i have always wanted to be. and i am quite certain i am not the only one. NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING could or would ever change my perception of her as the epitome of what a wife and mother should be. i am eternally grateful to her for the example she set as she raised her boys and i raised my son and daughter, and we went through the highs and lows of married life and parenting. the incredibly close bond that she formed with all three of her boys is something that has always been palpable when you are in their presence, and which i have never seen duplicated. and any of us who have spent time with carey and her boys over the 18 months since jeffrey’s death need only take one look at drew and brett standing mature and handsome, proud and loving, supportive and strong at their mother’s side during the darkest of days … carrying on the role of their eldest brother, keeping his spirit alive, and making sure that the light of the love he had for his cherished mother continues to burn brightly through them for all the world to see ♥

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Mother’s Day Celebration: The Story Of Pote And Jeff-Part 2 | Kleinsaucer - May 12, 2013

    […]            —”A Mother’s Day Tribute: The Story Of Pote And Jeff”, May 13, 2012, (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/a-mothers-day-tribute-the-story-of-pote-and-jeff/) […]

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