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

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