The Long Arms Of Love

17 Sep

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”

                                             –Barbara Bush



four of us at Drew's moving up day

When you looked at Jeff, his big brown eyes might have caught your attention first. Or maybe it was his trademark amazing smile that he so readily flashed. After those facial features, though, it would be difficult not to notice those long muscular arms and long slender fingers. They were longer than those you’d expect to see on someone who was just over 6 feet tall.

And over the course of his life, Jeff put those long arms and fingers to good use. As a travel team and high school basketball player, Jeff was able to use them to launch his deadly three point shot over taller defenders. When playing defense, his long fingers were instrumental in forcing innumerable turnovers by poking the ball away from opposing ball handlers.

To me, though, there was nothing better than observing the way Jeff used his long arms when posing in photos and at family gatherings, when he wrapped them around us and pulled us toward him. Under Jeff’s silent direction, it came to be almost an unwritten rule within our family that when we wanted to take a photo of our boys together, Drew and Brett would wait for Jeff to line up in between them and use that wingspan to wrap them up. Our photo albums reveal that this started when the boys were quite young and continued until the very last photo they took together.


Boys on restaurant deck

The symbolism of these pictures is twofold. First, they are clearly symbolic of the love Jeff had for his brothers and his entire family. He delighted in calling Drew and Brett by the nicknames he created for them over the years—“Freight Train” for Drew, and “B-Man” or “Red Cheeks” for Brett—and he loved being the big brother, teasing them incessantly while alternately quizzing them in detail about their days.

Jeff, Drew and Brett at Boys Club



The sight of Jeff with his arms draped around his brothers in nearly all of our photos is completely reflective of how much he loved them and was protective of them until the very end.

Ironically, though, in his last days, when his resolve was weakening, the big brother reached out to his next youngest brother for reassurance that they would always stick together.  This text exchange, which took place three days before Jeff made the horrific decision that he couldn’t go on, and which Drew shared in his blog post, “My Brother-Part 2”, will forever bring tears to my eyes. His brothers, as well as Carey and I would have locked arms and hearts with Jeff always.

Jeff, Drew text exhange november 6th

The photos also symbolize the fact that Jeff truly was always at the center of everything that went on in our household. He was the man in the middle, the driving force and dominant personality in our family. His moods became our moods. His causes became our causes. He had me thoroughly convinced that NBA Commissioner David Stern must go. Playoff games were fixed. We could not rest until instant replay was implemented in major league baseball (it happened this year, but he didn’t live to see it). We needed to make sure every single person we knew was planning to vote for Obama in 2008. When we couldn’t decide where to go for a Sunday night family dinner, all eyes turned to Jeff to make the decision (and he always obliged). And when we were trying to decide where to go for a European vacation in ’08, Jeff lobbied hard for a Paris/Barcelona trip. He wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and walk on Las Ramblas. Guess where we went…

The picture that we took of the boys at the base of the Eiffel Tower–of course with Jeff in the middle with his arms around his brothers– is one of my all-time favorites and is my Facebook cover photo. The broad smile on Jeff’s face says it all.


After Jeff walked out on his job in August of 2010, we took a family trip to East Hampton to decompress during that difficult time. The pictures taken on that trip ended up being the final ones ever of our three sons together. It is fitting that this set of photos included that patented image of a smiling young man pulling his brothers toward him with those long arms of love. Jeff was still smiling then, because that picture was taken a little over a week before he took his first dose of Celexa, the anti-depressant that flooded his mind with suicidal thoughts for the first time in his life, just eight days after taking his first pill. As he stood on that sand mound with Drew and Brett, he had yet to have even a remote thought that he would end his own life 2 ½ months later. The phrase “life is so fragile” comes to mind.


Barbara Bush’s quote resonated with me because Jeff clearly agreed that family meant putting his arms around everyone and being there. He was always there, at every family dinner, holiday and event, and he enjoyed every minute of those times. And then, in a relative blink of an eye, he wasn’t there anymore.

It is difficult for me to fathom the brute force and sheer magnitude of the depression and suicidal wave that overcame Jeff two months before he succumbed. Those feelings must have been so completely overwhelming to have caused him to leave the family and friends he so clearly loved. I can’t relate to it, and therefore I must give up trying to understand it. It is too painful to keep ruminating over why I couldn’t prevent what happened. Since nobody in our family can ever doubt how much Jeff loved us, I need to just leave it at that and accept the fact that he was gang-tackled by a cocktail of different pills which left him defenseless.

So instead, I find myself staring at the precious images of my three boys then and my two boys now. I have observed Drew and Brett closely over these last 3 ½ years, and it is evident that their brotherly love is strong. They will always miss the long arms of love that once held them, but their shared love of family, sports and each other will always keep them close.

Cancun drew and brett

Drew and Brett at Kim's wedding

Drew and Brett on dock at Newport

Jeff didn’t live up to his end of the November 6th, 2010 deal that he made with Drew, but the photo that Drew and Brett asked me to take of them on Thanksgiving Day 2011, just one year after Jeff died, reflects their understanding that as the surviving brothers in our family’s complicated world, they definitely “gotta stay close and stick together.”

Drew and Brett Thanksgiving 2011

I find their resolve to be very poignant and quite beautiful.

–Rich Klein


One Response to “The Long Arms Of Love”

  1. Lisa December 30, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    So do I… Jeff thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures and your thoughts.

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