Archive | March, 2013

After Yet Another Suicide Too Close To Home, Today I Began To Fight Back

28 Mar

“No doubt, Jeff would regret what has happened, but his death was not in vain; his untimely passing has pushed us to act on this growing epidemic, it has induced an urgency in us to be scrupulously aware of and grateful for the relationships that nurture us and are nurtured by us, and reminds us not to take each other for granted.

Today we celebrate his life, and the lives of all those who have slipped from our grasp.  Today we learn to tighten our grip, to empathise, to be selfless and self aware.  Suicide is one of the main killers of our recent generations.  Too many of us out there have been affected by suicides and attempted suicides—too many of us have fleetingly toyed with the idea.  We will learn from days like those and days like these, and we will look out for each other and we will remind each other of the priorities in life, of the beauty that surrounds us, of the stupor of our existence.

Today is not a funeral, it is a birthday, and we shall treat it as such.”

–Tahsin Tarzan Ozan Gemikonakli, Facebook post, March 2, 2013

Yesterday, the body of a Widener University student, Ray Bailey, was found in a fraternity house right next to Drew’s.  He had hung himself.  Drew texted me immediately upon finding out, and I was very thankful that he was coming home today for Easter break so that I could give him an enormous hug.

Ray Bailey, a gorgeous young man, was found dead yesterday

Ray Bailey, a gorgeous young man, was found dead yesterday

At first, I felt paranoid that somehow suicide was literally chasing our family and taunting us.  First, we lost our precious son to it, then a young man around the corner from our home did it this February, and now a kid on Drew’s fraternity row had succumbed too.  But on the morning after finding out about this latest incident, it hit me that I was looking at this completely the wrong way.

Suicide is not chasing our family.  It is pleading with us to step up and do something tangible to fight back.  Just like Tarzan and Mo did.  Project Bald not only increased awareness around the world, but it also raised nearly $5,500 for AFSP to put to good use in this battle (I will be posting a report to donors in the near future about specifically what the funds will be used for).  Now it’s time for me to show some leadership in any little way possible.  I understand this now, and so here is one small step that I took today that I hope will serve as an impetus for others to follow suit.

As I recently posted on Facebook, on March 23rd Carey and I visited Drew at Widener, where his frat was hosting a barbecue for the brothers’ families.  It was an amazing day full of warmth (not the weather) and friendship.  During the barbecue, I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with one of Drew’s frat brothers.  I have spoken to this young man on other occasions over the past couple of years when we’ve visited, and I’ve always been impressed by him.  And he has been amazing to Drew as a brother, including being there for him since learning of Jeff’s death.

Family day at Theta Chi

Family day at Theta Chi

As I listened to him talk, it struck me that he seemed a bit apprehensive about his future and sounded somewhat melancholy.  He confided that, as he pursues job opportunities, it really doesn’t matter where he ends up geographically, because family considerations would not be a factor in his decision.  I was sad to hear this.  When we said goodbye, I hugged him and told him I hoped to see him again when we returned in May to help Drew pack up to come home.

After hearing about the suicide that occurred right next to this young man’s frat at Widener, I realized that this handsome, bright, articulate kid fit the profile of someone at risk.  I have learned the hard way that good looks and intelligence don’t make one immune from bad thoughts.  I have similarly learned that being universally liked and respected, as Jeff was and as this kid is, often isn’t enough either.  Maybe my concern is way overblown, and he is perfectly well adjusted and at no risk at all.  But something told me that doing nothing was not an option and that this wonderful young man should know that there are people he can reach out to for advice when and if needed.

So what to do?  Well, I told Drew this morning to text this guy and tell him that nothing is wrong, but that I wanted him to call me at his convenience.  Within hours, he did, and we spoke this afternoon.  I simply told him that I enjoyed our conversation at the frat that day, that I was struck by the things he had said, that I value what a good friend he is to Drew, and lastly that I just wanted him to know that I want to be a resource for him to reach out to in the future for advice on anything at all, just in case he should ever want or need it.  I gave him my cell number and email address to put into his contacts and told him never to hesitate to get in touch.  The best part was that he was more than receptive to my contacting him.  He was clearly touched and very appreciative.  We will stay in touch.

Last year, one of Jeff’s Midd friends confided to me that they (don’t want to say whether it’s a he or she) had fought bouts of depression over time and continues to do so.  I told this young person to call me any time of day or night, and that they had everything to look forward to in life.  This was another attractive, extremely bright, and universally loved kid.  It has been awhile since I have been in direct touch with this person, and so I will remind them again today that I am just a phone call or an email away.

And so the big question is, have I really accomplished anything by telling a couple of young kids with everything to live for that I am there for them if they need advice, or if they just need an adult to talk to at any time?  I don’t know the answer, but doing so sure felt good and couldn’t have hurt.  I also am aware that suicide is not only a problem among the younger set and that it is pervasive among all age groups.  However, I have chosen to focus on the young, because that is where I personally am seeing the most damage being done and where I feel I can have the most impact.

I do know that, for me at least, doing nothing but blogging was no longer enough.  Everywhere I turn, suicide is staring me in the face.  In my own family.  Around the corner.  And in the frat next to Drew’s.  As I said earlier, I feel like it’s pleading with me to at least try to do something to stop it.  Or maybe it’s daring me to do so.

Thus, I will aggressively move to take as many young people under my wing as possible.  And I will encourage everyone, through this blog, to be proactive and contact me directly if you want to talk.  Furthermore, I will repeatedly tell the people I love and care about how I feel about them, even if they become tired of hearing it.  Expressing genuine love to those you care about is one weapon we can all use to try to fight back and reduce the risk of suicide.

Research shows that suicide is often the result of temporary surges of rage or despair.  People can be guided through those temporary bouts by their loved ones.  As Tarzan wrote on March 2nd, “Today we learn to tighten our grip…”  What powerful words written by this compassionate young man.  Just beautiful.  And we must follow his lead and do just that.

I am the last person who should preach to anyone, as I failed at preventing my own son from taking his life, and so please don’t take this as a sermon.  I just wanted to share my view that if each one of us—regardless of whether you’re a 20 something friend of Jeff’s or a peer in my age group—reaches out and lets at least one young person know that we care about them and are there for them at any time, we will reduce the global rate of suicide by some percentage, and collectively will save at least one life.  And hopefully more than one.  I believe this with all my heart.

Today is the day I have resolved to tighten my grip.  And I’m not letting go.  I will not let another life, among those within my contact universe, slip through my fingertips ever again.  The younger generation needs to understand that life is precious, regardless of the obstacles it sometimes presents.  Working together, I have no doubt that we can help them see the light and guide them toward achieving happy and productive lives.  Let’s do this.  Together.

-Rich Klein

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For Jeff, March Was All About Birthdays, Basketball And Brackets

12 Mar

“Oh, and one last thing: a 16-seed will knock off a one-seed in my lifetime.  It’s gonna happen.”

–Jeff Klein, J.K. Rolling Column, The Middlebury Campus, April 11, 2007

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In the last March Madness bracket of his life, Jeff finished second in what our town affectionately calls the “Domershick Pool”, which is named after its organizer, our friend Mitchell.  Ironically, it is the only time in his life that Jeff ever finished that high in the standings and won that much money, as he usually finished toward the bottom given his love of picking underdogs.

I do believe, as Jeff wrote in his column on April 11, 2007, that a number 16 seed will one day beat a number one seed.  However, with one impulsive and misguided act, Jeff insured that it would not happen in his lifetime.  And that is a tragedy beyond words.

I pray that this year’s tournament will feature several enormous upsets of the type that Jeff so craved, because as always, I know he’ll be watching.  I have received signals from Jeff that one such upset will be pulled off by Villanova, the school at which his little brother Brett is a freshman.  Jeff has given me even stronger signals that he expects Gonzaga to go all the way.  It is the type of small school (less than 8,000 undergraduate students) that Jeff loved to see topple larger rivals, and the fact that the younger brother of his Middlebury friend Logan Rutherford is a current student there makes the choice of Gonzaga compelling.

And so when Villanova pulls off a big first round upset and Gonzaga storms through the tournament en route to a stunning and historic championship, leaving much larger basketball programs in its wake, give a nod to Heaven above where the biggest March Madness fan of them all will have a huge smile on his face.  I, for one, intend to fill out my bracket according to Jeff’s signals and then sit back and see if my son is right.

-Rich Klein

Why We Celebrate

2 Mar

On the occasion of Jeff’s 26th birthday today, I have decided to reprint my post from March 2nd, 2011, Jeff’s first birthday after he died.  This is the first time I have reprinted an old post, and I am doing so for two reasons.  First, I believe that this post captures, perhaps better than any other, the essence of who Jeff was and why his loss is so devastating.  Second, at the time this was posted, I had not yet joined Facebook or created the Friends of Jeff Klein group, and so it is likely that the majority of the group never read this.  And so, in celebration of Jeff’s birthday on the day of Project Bald, the following is a transcript of my post, Why We Celebrate 24, from March 2nd, 2011:

Why We Celebrate 24

Jeff would have turned 24 today. Those are devastating words that leave me numb. Jeff LOVED birthdays, and not surprisingly, he enjoyed those of his family and friends just as much as he did his own. As a family, we always make a big deal of birthdays. For Jeff, on the morning of his birthday, Carey always made him a special breakfast if he was home at the time. And of course a special dinner that night would follow, including the opening of presents, and a nice big cake.

Jeff birthday cake 1997

Our family will celebrate Jeff’s birthday today in our own way, and we hope that all of his friends, family and readers of this blog join us in their own way. The remainder of this post explains why we celebrate and why we will do so on Jeff’s birthdays forever.

A couple of months ago a friend of ours asked us to consider a hypothetical scenario , as a way to ease our pain. She suggested that when the pain is most excruciating, we think about and answer the question posed in the following “what if” situation. What if, shortly before Jeff was born on March 2, 1987, God had come to Carey and me and said,

“You are about to have a son who will be the light of your lives for the next 23 1/2 years. He will be blessed with exceptionally good looks. He will be intelligent and will achieve great academic success at one of the nation’s finest high schools, as well as at one of its finest liberal arts colleges. He will be strong and athletic and will play both varsity basketball and tennis in high school. Throughout his childhood and into adulthood, he will be deeply passionate about the things and the people he loves. His passions will include sports, writing, eating, drinking, family and friends. He will combine his passion for sports and writing to become a sports editor for his college newspaper. He will revel in the experience of being the beat writer for the basketball team and traveling with the team to all of its away games. He will thoroughly enjoy having his own sports column called JK Rollin’ and continuing to write after his graduation on his own sports blog called Talkin’ Sports (blog is a futuristic word that you’ll learn about in 20 years).

Carey, your relationship with him will be exceedingly close, to the point that you will consider him to be your alter ego, and he will feel the same way. Rich, your relationship with him will be what every father dreams about having with his son. And he will have two brothers whom he will adore and who will adore him. He will love you both very much and will express that to you frequently in the cards that he writes, and you will save those cards forever.

You will enjoy incredible family vacations with him over the next 23 1/2 years, both in the U.S. and abroad. You will go to countless sporting events together, and Rich, you will take him on a baseball trip to 3 different ballparks in 3 consecutive days, for his 16th birthday. It will be a one-on-one bonding trip that will rank as one of the most special times of your life. You will be young enough to play sports with him, and you will enjoy all of them together (your greatest joy will be when, starting at age 14, he starts to beat you in one-on-one basketball, tennis, ping pong, and anything else you dare challenge him to play).

He will infuse your household with laughter during his entire life. His sense of humor and larger than life personality will be such that they will define your family. He will do outrageous things, such as ordering 250 buffalo wings on a whim, ordering curried goat from a fast food counter at a shopping mall, or affectionately pouring a beer on one of his very closest girl friends. He will create multiple nicknames for everyone in the family (Rich will be “Sir”. Carey will have many nicknames, including “Potite, Petiti, or Pote for short-all derivations of ‘petite’ referring to your slender build. His brother Drew will be Poobus, Freight Train and others too numerous to name, and his youngest brother Brett will be Red Cheeks, or just Red for short, as well as B-Man) , and hearing him use these nicknames will leave you in stitches. He will say grace before meals at home in unique ways that I will not have heard before, such as ‘God is great, God is the boss, let us thank him for this steak and hot sauce.’ He will get away with it because I will know how devout he is and that he is truly thankful.

He will have an incredible group of friends who will truly love him and will cherish the many amazing times they will have together. He will enjoy with his friends everything from a road trip to Key West, 4th of July at Newport, trips to Duke, a Memorial Day weekend in D.C., rock concerts, intense racquetball matches with guys named AB, BH and Jack, poker games, beer pong, and the list goes on and on.

And most importantly, he will have a heart of gold. His warmth and kindness will deeply touch and have a positive impact on the lives of many people. While in high school, he will be co-Executive for a community service organization called SHARE, and in that role, he will organize trips to The Cottage School in Pleasantville, NY where he will design and lead organized activities for their students, who suffer from social and emotional disabilities. In college, he will become a mentor for a young kid from a broken home in the local community, and they will become close friends. They will get together virtually every Sunday for four years, and by graduation, he will have had a profoundly positive impact on the young man’s life.

But here’s the catch. Just after turning 23 1/2, something will go terribly wrong. After 2 months, a combination of uncertainty over his future and misprescribed medication that will hinder his ability to think clearly will lead him to make a horrific decision to end his own life. The shock, pain and sense of deep loss that will engulf you will be beyond description, unimaginable and unspeakable. And I cannot guarantee you when or if that pain will ever abate.

And so the question is, knowing what I’ve just told you, would you like to move forward with your son’s birth, or would you like to call the whole thing off ? It’s your choice.”

Asked another way, sitting here today with the benefit of perfect hindsight and in extreme pain that may never end, would we do it again ?

The fact that it takes less than a split second to answer ‘of course we would’ is the reason that we will always celebrate Jeff’s birthday. March 2nd was the day in 1987 when he began a 23 1/2 year journey, during which he made everything he touched better and everyone he knew happier. And so even though the last birthday that Jeff would ever celebrate was his 23rd, those of us who love him deeply will celebrate his 24th today and all future birthdays for as long as we live. Because we would absolutely do it all over again. And again. And again.

-Rich Klein