Jeff Chose The Wrong Bridge: A Father’s Day Reflection-Part 4

15 Jun

“Oh, when darkness comes,

And pain is all around,

Like a bridge over troubled water,

I will lay me down.

—Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, 1970

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Dear Jeff,

It is incomprehensible to me that seven months have passed since I last wrote to you in my “Let It Be” post, though I guess it’s no more shocking than the fact that it’s been three years and seven months since you left us. And so here we are, at the dawn of the fourth Father’s Day that you have spent in Heaven, and it is a day that continues to confound me more than any other during the calendar year. On the one hand, I am so blessed both to have sons like Drew and Brett, who literally make me feel like the greatest father of all-time and also to have had you as a son and dear friend for 23 ½ amazing years. On the other hand, this day never fails to conjure up the memories of all my failures and missed opportunities to keep you here with us. These terrible thoughts are debilitating, because they almost make me feel unworthy of even celebrating this day, though I know deep down that such feelings are unfounded.

I get so confused sometimes when I think about my current relationship with you. I mean, I wrote above “to have had you as a son”, but aren’t you still my son? Of course you are. You just happen to be in Heaven. I still take care of you and your memory by writing on Kleinsaucer and by maintaining the Friends of Jeff Klein facebook page. I still call you every day and listen to your voicemail greeting. And I don’t devote any less time or energy to my relationship with you now than I did when you were here. It’s just much more complicated now.

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Hanging with Jeff at the beach, August 2005

My confusion causes me to stumble frequently when strangers ask about my kids. Mom got angry with me in December when a 20-something year old car salesman asked me how many kids I had, and I answered that I had two boys. Later, she wanted to know how I could say such a thing. I don’t know, I guess I just shudder at the thought of the inevitable follow up questions about where you all are and what you’re up to in life. That happened once at a big client dinner when I mentioned to a colleague across the table that my oldest son graduated from Middlebury in 2009. The guy asked me what you’ve been doing since, and I stammered and said something like “it’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time.” It’s brutal, Jeff. It really is.

I try to keep you alive in every way I possibly can. We still receive mail addressed to you from time to time, and I never notify the sender to take your name off their list. I also receive a daily email with an inspirational quote. It’s quite strange, because I never signed up for this, and yet it comes to my email address with the subject line “Your Inspirational Quote Jeff”. Why are they sending a daily email to my mailbox that addresses you? In any event, I will never unsubscribe from this, because seeing emails with your name on them makes me feel like you are still part of this world. And how ironic it is that they contain inspirational quotes that could have really benefited you.

Inspirational Quote

In addition, we constantly get emails from Carepackages.com asking us to send you care packages for midterm week, finals week, Valentine’s Day and all sorts of other occasions. We will never stop these emails either, because if this company thinks you’re alive and still a student at Middlebury, then maybe in some metaphysical way, you are. It somehow makes me feel as if you are closer to us and to this world than is actually the case.

midd care packages 2

Last Father’s Day, I wrote about the most egregious mistake I made as your father, which was neglecting to take you far away to a beach for a week when you were at the peak of your struggles, with no job and no real plan, in October 2010. There is still no question in my mind that if I had done that, your head would have cleared, we would have strategized about and agreed on a viable plan of attack for your future, and you would have come home a new and revitalized young man. And you’d be alive today. Instead, I went to work and left you home to flounder.

As if that crucial mistake wasn’t bad enough, I recently came upon an email, during one of my ongoing searches for precious memories of you, that highlighted yet another terrible error I made at a critical point in time. For context, you remember how nerve-racking it was for me during the financial crisis in 2009 when Bank of America was laying off people left and right after our merger with Merrill Lynch. As it became clearer over that year and into 2010 that I was not going to be one of the casualties, it was a tremendous relief for me.

And I guess that is why on August 2nd, 2010, at the very height of your suffering at your own job, when you were completely buried with work and could barely come up for air, I thoughtlessly sent you an email containing a snippet of my very positive 2010 mid-year performance review. I know that your beautiful response below was genuine and heartfelt, but looking back on it now, the level of insensitivity I displayed by sending you such a thing at that time is appalling.

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I actually don’t know how I could have done such a thing, and knowing you the way I do, I am quite certain in retrospect that my email accelerated your downward spiral. Nine days later, you walked out and quit. Under more normal circumstances, my email could have reinforced your view of me as a role model, which is what every father wants to be for his kids. But being unfair to yourself, you felt as if you were failing under the weight of grueling hours and demanding attorneys. I was not nearly sensitive enough to that reality, and as a result, my email highlighted a contrast that likely made you feel worse about yourself, rather than prouder of me. It was a disgraceful lack of judgment on my part, and although it is too late now, Jeff, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I don’t err all that much, but when I screw up, I seem to do so in a big way.

So many people have said to me over these last few years that you must not have thought about the amount of pain that you’d be leaving behind, because if you had, you never would have gone through with it. But sadly, you and I know the truth about that.

I know that you damn well remember the night, about two weeks before you jumped, when I came in your room with the clear intent of addressing the consequences of you ever acting on your horrific thoughts. I knew how dire the situation was then, and I decided I needed to look you in the eyes and tell you straight up. I also knew that I would never forgive myself if, Heaven forbid, I hadn’t had this conversation, and then you ended up doing what you ultimately did. And so I decided to go for the game changer and lay it on thick. I will always remember my exact words to you that night, because I prepared extensively for this conversation, and I felt certain these words, along with The Napkin I had already shown you, were my best shots to eradicate suicidal thoughts from your brain once and for all:

“Jeff, you may think that you’d be putting yourself at peace if you ever acted upon your thoughts, but the devastation and carnage you’d be leaving behind would be unimaginable. Mom and I would never be able to withstand the pain of losing you. You would scar both your brothers for life. I would need to quit my job and sell the house. We would never be able to walk by this room. Would you EVER do that to your family?”

Naturally you said you wouldn’t, but I remember feeling that there was a lack of total conviction in your voice, and the brief conversation did not put me at ease. But what else was I supposed to do? Put you under surveillance and have you followed 24/7? Honestly, if I had thought of that at the time, I would have done it. You’d still be here if I had, because you would have been stopped before ever getting to the bridge. Believe me, I torment myself with those thoughts every day.

But I can imagine what you’re thinking now:

“Well Dad, let’s see. You didn’t quit your job or sell the house. You all walk by my room every day, and you go in there all the time. Drew and Brett are doing great. You and Mom seem fine to me. So what was up with all those things you said to me that night?”

All I can say to that, Jeff, is that you will never know the feelings that Mom, Drew, Brett and I live with every single day. You will never know the pain that comes from losing a child or a brother, especially in this way, and you will never know how deep the pain runs from simply missing you. And you will never understand how it feels when everywhere I go, there is something that reminds me of you and of how you should still be here with us. Yes, we opted for stability in not selling the house, and I would never have compromised my ability to support our family by quitting my job, but the fact remains that you did leave unimaginable devastation and carnage in your wake, just as I said you would. You may not be able to see it, but it exists in our broken hearts.

My egregious mistakes notwithstanding, I was the one who could have led you to a better place, but with a mind altered by anti-depressants, you were simply not a willing partner at the end. The real tragedy is that your despair was temporary, and all you needed was a temporary bridge over the troubled water you saw to get you to that better place.

I was that bridge, Jeff, and you knew it.

I have never encountered a weight that I couldn’t carry, and your 190 pounds of muscle would have been no different. And like all fathers would have, I tried to lay myself down and carry you on my back. But you wouldn’t let me. Instead, you chose the bridge at Bear Mountain as a permanent ending place, rather than me as the bridge to a future filled with happiness and stability. I guess it all gets back to that imaginary trip–to a beach in Florida– that I never thought to take you on until it was too late. That is where I should have taken you to change the outcome. I will never live down my failure to do that. Even without that trip, though, I was still there trying to advise you, guide you and motivate you. I just couldn’t get through to you.

As a father who adored you, I was the bridge you should have chosen. I was the bridge that would have taken you from your troubled present to a very near future when your body and mind would have been free from the meds once and for all. From then on, you would have found your path, and the Bear Mountain Bridge would have represented nothing more than a scenic route to take when traveling to Rockland County. I was the only bridge you would ever have needed.

In the years before the meds attacked your brain, you knew that life was full of great moments that made the tough times seem trivial.  I recently came across your Facebook status from July 23rd, 2009.  Remember this one from when you were in Florida with Jack, Ryan and Elon?

Jeff life is good status

Rubbing my eyes.

Life is good?

LIFE IS GOOD???

Life is good.

OF COURSE LIFE IS GOOD, JEFF.

How did you ever forget that?

Why was I unable to get you to understand that, despite the struggles we all go through, we must forge ahead on our journey and live for the good moments.  Especially when you have the type of support network that you did.

Despite the failures and mistakes that Father’s day conjures up, I intend to enthusiastically celebrate it. Drew and Brett have so many of your best traits, especially those of warmth and kindness, and they give me love and support every day. The closeness of my relationship with each of them is such a blessing, and I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I didn’t have them. And whether we just play some tennis, go play pick-up basketball at the gym, or throw the Frisbee around at Gedney Park, it’s going to be a great day.  And I know one thing for sure–the three of us will end Father’s Day by watching Game 5 of the Heat-Spurs series tonight.

Brett and me at Yankees 2013

rich and drew in red hawks shirts

In the final analysis, I know that even the best of fathers make mistakes. The problem is that mine were made during the crunch time in your life and were so completely avoidable had I applied even a modicum of common sense to the situation at hand. For what it’s worth, I have learned so much from what happened and I should be equipped now to be a better father and a wiser man going forward.

The inner peace that I have started to feel recently comes from my having used the last three years and seven months as a time of deep reflection about my 27 years of fatherhood, which you initiated. During that time, I have come to realize that you, Drew and Brett have given me nothing but positive reinforcement for the job I’ve done as your father all these years. Even in your final notes, you cast all the blame upon yourself and told us we were “the best parents a son could ever ask for.”

And so it’s time now to enjoy the type of family day that you lived for. As with everything, we will do so with your spirit in our hearts and your photos all around us. I am a blessed man with two special sons here and 23 ½ years worth of amazing memories of my time spent with you.

Perhaps the most touching and, in retrospect, poignant thing you ever wrote to me was in the last birthday card I ever received from you, on August 12th, 2010. You had quit your job the day before, but you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want to ruin my birthday. At your lowest moment, you wrote:

“I feel happy and safe when I am around you, and I realize how much you care about me.”

 

Jeff last birthday card to me

Jeff last birthday card to me 2

I guess a father can’t ask for much more on Father’s Day than to know that he has made his kids feel happy and safe, and that they know how much he cares. It begs the question, of course, why those feelings weren’t enough to keep you here and why you didn’t use me as your bridge. It is a question that I will ponder for years to come, but not today. It is my special day, and I’m quite sure you would tell me that I deserve to celebrate it with a mind unencumbered by such difficult thoughts.

Love you always,

Dad

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4 Responses to “Jeff Chose The Wrong Bridge: A Father’s Day Reflection-Part 4”

  1. Connie Plaehn June 15, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    A wonderful story, Rich. Jeff is smiling at you from heaven today and has given you a beautiful Father’s Day! Enjoy every moment of it. Yours, Connie Plaehn

  2. Bethany September 4, 2014 at 2:02 am #

    I happened to come across your page while searching for an inspirational quote or a picture in Google, as I often do sometimes. It’s mostly during times when I’m reflecting on memories or missing my dad, as i often do… Finding your story has me in tears and i thank you for sharing your story with the world. What an amazing father you are and such a wonderful angel you have in heaven watching over you guys. Sending many prayers and thoughts your way. God Bless.

  3. Matt October 21, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    Rich, I was sitting next to you on the train tonight, and saw you getting all emotional as I rudely looked at your iPad wondering why. I guess I figured it out after a few minutes, and even more after looking at the web address and reading this now. God bless and sorry for your loss. Stay strong..

  4. ken kurtz May 11, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

    So sorry, Rich. Don’t know you, your three boys, or your wife from Adam. Stumbled upon this, read it, and now in tears. I’m so, so sorry. Grew up in Yorktown Heights, and BMB used to scare the heck out of me. I’m so, so sorry for your loss, and will pray that you no longer feel the guilt that you do.

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