Believe Only In Good Signs And Disregard The Rest

10 Aug

When our family first moved up to Chappaqua, we joined Twin Oaks Swim Club, and it was there that I received, for the first time, what I considered to be a “sign” for the future.  And it was a good one.  The year was 1991, and Jeff was 4 years old.  Jeff and I were at Twin Oaks together late one summer afternoon.  All I remember is that we were playing in the sand, on which all of the playground equipment sat, digging and making sand castles, having a great time.  Shortly after we drove away to head home, I felt like I was missing something.  Sure enough, I looked down at my hand, and my wedding ring was not on my finger.

For context, I never take my wedding ring off, and I mean never.  It is a part of me, and it reflects my commitment to and my pride at being married to Carey.  So when I saw that it was missing, I freaked.  I jammed on the brakes, turned the car around, and hauled ass back to the swim club.  I quickly realized that these actions could easily upset a 4 year old, and so I tried my best to calmly explain to Jeff why we were going back so abruptly and urgently.  And I told him I’d need his help.  Rather than being upset, Jeff actually smiled at me, as if to say he was relishing the challenge.  From the time he was a toddler, he loved any sort of adventure, and this adventure was on.

We hit the sand, and I instructed Jeff to start looking around the area in which we had been playing.  I did the same.  It was approaching dusk, so we didn’t have much daylight left to find this tiny gold ring in a fairly large sand area.  I was distraught, but Jeff had no time for such feelings.  He started digging furiously.  It couldn’t have been more than two minutes before Jeff exclaimed, “Got it !”, and his hand emerged from the sand with my precious ring in it.  To this day, I have not forgotten the picture of his face absolutely beaming with happiness and self satisfaction.  I was so excited, I practically tackled him right there in the playground.  The poor kid didn’t know what hit him.  

Triumphant after finding my wedding ring, Jeff and I bask in the moment

I was beyond relieved.  And I remember sitting there in the aftermath of Jeff’s discovery and thinking this was clearly a sign from above.  I firmly believed I was being told that my marriage was forever and would endure anything that life could ever throw at us.  That was no big revelation, since I had already known for many years that this was the case, but confirmation from above can’t be bad.  From that day forward, I was a believer in signs.  And after nearly 28 years of marriage, I can tell you that the sign I received on that summer day in 1991 was right on the money.

How utterly ironic and complicated it is that the most devastating blow that life has delivered to Carey and me was having the son who created the positive sign by finding my wedding ring decide to end his own life.  But true to the sign, Carey and I have bonded together more closely than ever in the 33 months since, and we have absorbed the punch, which was delivered with knockout intentions.  We’ve endured excruciating pain, but we have survived it. 

But here’s the rub.  Signs don’t always work out that way and can sometimes be nothing more than mirages.   The best example of this was the apparently clear sign that was received by everyone in attendance at Middlebury’s graduation ceremony on May 24, 2009. 

That morning, the skies opened up, and it absolutely poured.  As is customary, family members and friends of the graduates arrived early to reserve seats, and college representatives were thankfully already there to hand out rain ponchos to everyone.  But the rain was unrelenting and it continued drenching the crowd throughout all the opening remarks, the keynote speech, and the valedictory address.  The poncho couldn’t prevent the bottom halves of my pant legs from getting soaked and sticking to my skin.

Jeff was determined not to let his rain poncho cover his graduation gown!Jeff was determined not to let his rain poncho cover his graduation gown!

But then, almost miraculously, as the graduates were about to be called to receive their diplomas, the rain stopped.   People started to fold up their umbrellas and look up to the sky.  What we all saw was stunning.  Not only had the rain stopped, but the clouds had started to part as if they collectively were the Red Sea, and lo and behold, the sun burst through and shone over the Middlebury graduating class of 2009.  From that moment on, as the graduates received diplomas, threw their caps in the air and began their celebration, the sun took over and there was nothing but blue sky to provide its backdrop.  It was an incredible turn of events.

The symbolism of that moment was unmistakable and dramatic.  And we all talked about it openly, not only amongst ourselves, but with all the other parents and students we didn’t even know.  The sign was clear- for each of the members of the Middlebury class of 2009, the future was bright, the possibilities were endless, and the world was their oyster.  The nation was in the grip of a severe recession at that moment, but just as the sun broke through right when these young people were receiving the document that signified their entrance into the real world, they too would break free from this bleak economy and lead us all into a bright future.  The whole scene was beautiful.

It was all bright and sunny by the time they became graduates

For the vast majority of the class of 2009, I’m sure that the sign received back then has turned out to be full of truth and very real.  For Jeff and our family, however, it was simply an illusion, and 18 months later, he was gone.  But there was no danger back then in our choosing to believe that there was some great meaning behind the abrupt weather change that day.  Quite the contrary, why shouldn’t we always choose the optimistic view whenever we can?  It may not work out, but the worst possible outcome of believing in a positive sign is that you suffer a disappointment.  And I had not, until writing this blog post, ever even thought about that 2009 moment in relation to Jeff’s tragic decision.  So there was no harm in believing at the time.

In fact, by taking a positive approach, I believe we maximize our chances of a good sign becoming a self fulfilling prophecy, thus leading to a successful result.  And for the first 16 months after Jeff graduated, it sure seemed like he was a poster child for the “sign” of May 24, 2009.  He was road tripping to Key West with his best buddies, then starting his first full-time job, partying with his friends, blogging his heart out (, and basically living the dream.  A brutal stretch at work and some misprescribed meds later, Jeff decided that there was no longer any brightness in his future, and his life came crashing down in two short months.

Jeff blogs text

Therefore, Jeff is also a poster child for the real danger that lies in latching onto negative signs, extrapolating their meaning into the future, and in doing so, coming to incorrect and often absurd conclusions.  That is precisely what Jeff did, and the consequences were fatal.  And though there is no doubt in my mind that the meds are what created that distorted mindset in Jeff, there is a lesson in this for everyone.  The lesson is to dismiss seemingly bad signs as nothing more than part of life’s everyday ebbs and flows.  Yes, it sucked that the November 2nd, 2010 Knicks game that Jeff and Julie Parise were excited to attend was canceled, but for Jeff to elevate the significance of that occurrence into anything more than it was—namely, that some asbestos fell from the Garden ceiling– was just plain wrong and misguided.  


Picture of Knicks cancellation sign

The final straws, of course, occurred on November 9th, 2010, and I’ve already written about them in detail (  Jeff was on his way to seek help when an unthinkable sequence of events prevented him from getting there.  Was it a one-in-a-million type of situation that unfolded that day?  Absolutely.  Would it have frustrated the hell out of any one of us if we had gone through it?  Yes.  Notwithstanding all of what occurred, should Jeff have simply shaken it off and gone back for his rescheduled 3:30 appointment with the behavioral therapist?  Of course.

But instead, he took the events of that day as a sign that life was just not meant to work out for him.  It doesn’t get more tragic than that.  And so I close by restating and reinforcing the lessons we’ve learned through our tragedy.  If you see something good out there that you believe portends positive things for your future- grab that sign, hold on to it, and go with it as far as it will take you.  If, however, things happen on a given day that somehow convince the pessimist in you that your future will not be bright, fight that feeling with ferocity and ignore the so-called negative sign.  That type of sign is nothing more than a distraction.  We all shape our own destinies and make our own breaks.  Negative signs are creations of our imagination, and as our family so painfully learned from Jeff’s last days, the failure to dismiss them as such can be at best dangerous, and in the worst case, fatal.  If this blog post can persuade even one person to heed this warning and learn from Jeff’s horrific mistake, I know that my son in Heaven will breathe a sigh of relief. 

-Rich Klein


2 Responses to “Believe Only In Good Signs And Disregard The Rest”

  1. Susan McClanahan August 11, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I’m saving this one for when a McClanahan needs
    perspective. You are so very right Rich. THANK YOU! xoxox, Sue

  2. lisa August 12, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    What a beautiful picture of you and Jeffrey in the sand. Your words continue to inspire and elevate. How extraordinarily generous of you to share your experience in the service of others. Big hug, Lisa

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