Here Comes The Sun – Part 2

12 Apr

“As of this past week, I guess it’s safe to declare that the infamous winter of 2010-11 is finally over. Here comes the sun. Unfortunately for our family, unlike in previous years, the sun does not bring with it the same restorative powers that it used to. It is unable yet to thaw our grief over losing a special and precious young man who was lost in a senseless tragedy that simply did not have to happen. All I can do is hope and pray that there will some day come an April when I can once again welcome the return of the sun and say with conviction, like the Beatles did,

‘It’s all right.’ ”

 

   –Kleinsaucer, “Here Comes The Sun”, April 29, 2011, https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/here-comes-the-sun/

___________________________________________________________________________

It was almost as if the restaurant’s management knew when they seated us that, on this particular night, Carey and I needed to sit side by side on the banquette at our table to celebrate not only another birthday but also a 34 year love. But there was even more to it than that. We didn’t know it when we walked in, but it was also going to be time to again acknowledge the pain, and this fortuitous seating arrangement ensured that we would be close enough to literally prop each other up. After a wonderful dinner, when the check arrived, Carey leaned in close, and I felt her heartache and sensed her tears before they appeared.

“Don’t you just miss him SO MUCH”, she whispered with an emphasis on the last two words and a heartfelt passion that moved me to the core.

Dear God, do I miss him. I held her hand while the check was taken care of, and we held each other tight during the short taxi ride to our hotel.

“I would give anything to touch him again, to hug him,” she whispered in the taxi, through the tears, and then I lost it too. And then she asked the unanswerable question that we’ve repeated ad nauseam for 3 ½ years, “How could he leave us?” Back at the hotel, we quietly cried ourselves to sleep in each other’s arms.

It was time. On March 29th, nearly 3 1/2 years after his death, the guttural grief needed to be released again, and it was cathartic. I have learned that grieving is an unpredictable process. You just never know when the waves of sorrow will arrive or what will trigger them. On the night of our dinner out to celebrate Carey’s birthday, the trigger was ironically how close we were, both physically and spiritually as we enjoyed another beautiful evening together. That bond, of course, is what reminds us of all that we have enjoyed and all that we have suffered together, and the latter part was the genesis of our emotional release.

We are blessed beyond words with not only the two most special sons any parent could ever want, but for 23 1/2 years, a third. But the hope I expressed for the month of April in part one of this post three years ago will need to be put on hold for at least another year. It’s not all right. And maybe the reality is that it never can be.

The ironic thing is that April, for Jeff, was replete with things he loved the most–the March Madness semis and finals, the opening of the baseball season and of course, the start of the NBA playoffs. Jeff’s last April was perhaps his happiest of all. He was clearly “feeling it”, and it was evident in everything he said and did. April 2010 was downright raucous for him.

How fitting it is that Jeff’s last April began with him finishing 2nd in what our town affectionately calls the “Domershick Pool”, a March Madness pool organized by our friend Mitchell. It was the best finish of Jeff’s life, not because he wasn’t a great sports prognosticator, but rather because he historically went out of his way to pick upsets instead of choosing who he really thought would win. If you had told me in April 2010, that it would be, by his own choice, Jeff’s last March Madness tournament, I would have laughed in your face. This kid was having the time of his life.

For Jeff, April 2010 was a month in which he expressed his passion for all his interests and beliefs with a force that was compelling and energizing to everyone around him. For example, on almost a daily basis, he sent us links to all sorts of provocative articles about things like the biased officiating in the NBA playoffs and the failings of then Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.

My favorite emails from Jeff that month were the ones with subject lines that said “Must Read” or “Another Must Read”. He was passionate about making sure that everyone in our family appreciated and agreed with his very strong opinions on these matters. And I loved how these emails often led to some great banter between him and Drew.

jeff a must read

Jeff another must read

Drew to jeff

Jeff to Drew

Perhaps nothing stoked Jeff’s fire that month more than the articles that came out about Myron Rolle, the outstanding Florida State safety, who was not coveted by NFL teams in the draft (he was chosen in the sixth round with the 207th overall pick) presumably because he chose to skip his senior year to take advantage of a Rhodes Scholarship and study at Oxford. This caused NFL teams to question Rolle’s “commitment to football”.

Jeff, who placed a high value on intelligence and academic interests, was irate when he read about teams questioning Rolle’s decision. He couldn’t believe that an outstanding player was being penalized for also following academic pursuits. On April 29th, he found an article entitled “How Dare NFL Teams Question Myron Rolle’s Commitment To Football”, which echoed his views, and he immediately sent it to me, Carey, Drew and Brett. Check out the passion that oozes from Jeff’s words insisting that we read every word. I also loved the subject line, which read “Life Lesson”. My son was fired up, and I was as happy and proud as a father could be:

Jeff life lesson email

Jeff knew that Carey wasn’t much of a fan, but he still wanted to engage her in his passion for sports. And so he went out of his way to find sports articles that had an angle that would appeal to her. He found this one, which dealt with society’s reduced tolerance for male athletes who have committed abuses against women, on April 21st, and he encouraged Carey to read it:

Jeff to Carey

Jeff was not a one dimensional guy, though. During that month, he made sure to also keep me up to date on the latest world and political news. I loved getting emails like this from him (not the tragic news, obviously, but the fact that he was so engaged in world news as well as sports):

Jeff quake

Jeff Quake response

Jeff Quake response

jeff you'll love this article

And in April 2010, Jeff wasn’t just sending articles to us—he was writing his own on his Talkin’ Sports blog that he had created the month before as a vehicle through which he could convert a broader audience to his point of view on a range of sports issues. Not only did Jeff build a reader base among his own friends, but he was so excited about his new venture that he even reached out to my best friends!

jeff to bob

jeff to bob

I loved how Jeff solicited my advice for blog post ideas during that time and how we’d bat them around together. Then, whenever I’d critique a blog post draft, he would immediately write back and either accept or rebut my points.

Rich email to Jeff with blog idea

Jeff response to my blog idea

Jeff response to my blog critique

In the middle of all this, Jeff was still working hard at his job, and even though there were times during that month when he had to work some really long hours, for the most part he was able to achieve a healthy work/life balance. At that time, he was content with the job. It didn’t get ugly there until late July.

Jeff colin email

jeff colin email 2

Jeff colin email 3

jeff colin email 4

Jeff’s passionate April became downright raucous during the last week of the month when he headed down to North Carolina with his friends to visit Duke and UNC for a long weekend of partying. Or, I should say it was supposed to be just for the weekend. Unbeknownst to me at the time, since I wasn’t a Facebook member, Jeff partied so hard the night before he was supposed to come home and go straight to work that he decided to stay longer and call in sick. I have since found out that Drew and Brett knew what had happened, but being loyal brothers, they honored Jeff’s requested code of silence and did not tell Carey or me. And Andrew Becker (A.B.) and Ryan Williams, Jeff’s friends and partners in crime, were the ringleaders back then in trying to protect Jeff’s secret.  They urged Drew and Brett on Facebook not to tell us.

Jeff facebook raging

AB not notified

ryan don't tell

Drew facebook about jeff

There was no way to know then, though, that there would be one crucial decision that Jeff would make in April that, I can only say in retrospect, might have cost him his life. Through a referral from a family friend, he was given the opportunity to interview for a Risk and Compliance position at a U.K.-based law firm’s New York office. Such a position would have taken him away from the grueling and volatile deal environment in which he worked as a paralegal. The hours would be regular, and such a position would not entail pulling all-nighters or working on weekends.

As with every major decision in Jeff’s life, we discussed it as a family, and in the irony of all tragic ironies, Jeff chose to stay where he was because he felt that his then current position would afford him the best opportunity to spend more time working on his blog. I cannot help but rehash the following conversation and wonder if Jeff would be alive today if he had pursued and obtained this other job.

jeff risk job 1a

Rich response to compliance job

Jeff Risk Job 3

And with that decision, the glorious April of 2010 came to an end for Jeff, and both the sun and his future were bright as could be.  Beautifully, that month was followed by three equally happy and passionate months.  It all came crashing down at the very end of July. There are so many reasons that Jeff’s loss is so excruciating for our family, but perhaps more than anything else, the fact that this young man could not have been any happier than he was for the first seven months of 2010 is what tears us to pieces.

I have tried, through all the emails above, to convey the level of joy that he felt exactly four years ago this month. To this day, it is inconceivable that someone who lived so passionately in April could end his own life in November. It illustrates the powerful truth of the saying, “life is so fragile,” and that is why none of us can ever take the emotional well-being of our friends and loved ones for granted. We must be vigilant at all times and never assume that everything is ok.

It was as if salt was poured into our wound when, the month after Jeff died, a winter began that turned out to be perhaps even more brutal than the one we just endured. The length and severity of that winter was what prompted me to write the “Here Comes The Sun” post three years ago. It was the combination of another rough winter and the beautiful memories of April 2010 that prompted me to write part two today.

The change of season from winter to spring will always be bittersweet for me. There is no way around that.  Sadly, the restorative power of the April sun remains inadequate.  And so I guess it’s just not practical to pray that the return of the sun will convince me that “it’s all right”. That was a naïve hope in April 2011.

However, there is a viable alternative way to approach the dawning of spring, and it is one that I intend to follow beginning this year. I will welcome the return of the sun by allowing its warmth to remind me that nobody’s life is completely all right and that I am blessed with so much, including an amazing wife, precious sons, and the best friends and family anyone could ever ask for.

And I will celebrate the sun’s return by remembering not only Jeff’s last amazing April but also the 23 ½ joyous, passionate and raucous years our family had with him. We packed more into that time together than most relationships do in twice as much time.

Sun, sun, sun, here we come.

And when the waves of sorrow come calling again, as they invariably will, at least I know that I have a beautiful and special partner who I can hold in my arms while we ride out the storm together. That is one thing that does enable me to say with absolute conviction:

“It’s all right.”

–Rich Klein

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