From Joy To Anguish: The Handwritten Letters From Jeff

9 Nov

“I have no particular animosity towards emails; they are a fine way to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings. But they are far less personal than a handwritten letter…

Letters are intimate, words from one heart or mind to another…Letters require time and thought. They require sitting with our words before we send them out into the world. They are crafted, not dashed off; they are intentional, not by-products of passing whims; they are personal and directed at individuals; they are little works of art.

Letters allow for the beautiful ability to collect treasured thoughts and feelings. They are tangible reminders of the lives we lived, the people we knew, the places we traveled, the thoughts we had, the loves we shared. They hold a concrete space in this ever-changing and malleable world.”

 –Paige Vignola, “The Lost Art Of Letter Writing”, November 13, 2013, http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/11/the-lost-art-of-letter-writing-paige-vignola/

__________________________________________________________

The one thing about Jeff, perhaps more than any other, that made him so unique and special is that if you were part of his inner circle, any random day could turn into an instant classic for you with absolutely no warning. And so it was on a day in late January in 2008 when Jeff was at Middlebury for the glorious J-term, a month during which students took one class (usually a very eclectic one that had nothing to do with their academic concentration), went skiing, and partied relentlessly. Jeff’s favorite J-term class of his four years at Midd was, not surprisingly, “The History of Mexican Food”, especially since the course required students to taste the foods they were learning about.

So how could Jeff turn an ordinary January day in Chappaqua into an instant classic for us while he was at Middlebury? The answer was in that day’s mail.

In the middle of all the bills and the usual junk mail, there was a hand addressed envelope to us from Jeff. In the age of texts and emails, why would Jeff ever write us a letter? I ripped it open to find out, and the one and a half page handwritten letter I found was something we have treasured ever since. It was dated January 21, 2008.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to enable people to get to know Jeff even better than they did before, and his deep love of family is one of the primary things that defined his life. It is in that context that I share the complete letter that he sent to us nearly seven years ago, as it is the clearest illustration of that love:

Jeff letter 1

“January 21, 2008

Dear Mom, Dad, Drew and Brett,

I’d just like to take a little time out of my evening to say how grateful I am to have you guys as family. Like most, we’ve had our ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, we are all so lucky to be such a close, unified, happy family.

Mom, throughout my entire life, it has been evident how much you want the best for me and how it pains you when I have not gotten that. You have constantly pushed me to achieve my best, and I deeply appreciate that. You work nonstop to keep the family functioning, and although it may not seem like it at times, your work does not go unnoticed. You are an inspiration to us all.

Dad, I am absolutely blessed to have you as a father. You have provided us all with such an amazing lifestyle, which I am so very thankful for. You are the ultimate example of a selfless human being who finds the greatest joy in giving to others. You have served as the perfect role model for me and have given me invaluable life lessons. I can only hope to be as good and complete a person as you.

Drew, you have really developed into a nice and successful person. Your dedication to, and ultimate achievement of, making the varsity basketball team is the utmost accomplishment, and proves how far you’ve come. Like Dad, you always aspire to do the right thing and be a good person. Keep up the good work.

Brett, you too are coming into your own as a big eighth grader. Like Drew, you’re doing great in basketball, knocking down shots and racking up points, night in and night out. Also, your vast group of friends demonstrates how socially adept you are and how other people enjoy being around you. Keep up the good work too.

All in all, I think each of us is blessed to be part of this family. I know I am.

Love,

Jeff

P.S. And since I left Clif out of the equation, here’s to my appreciation of the cutest and least annoying dog ever. You da man, Clif !”

Jeff Letter 2

Jeff letter 3

After sharing so many emails and texts from Jeff on this blog, all of which were so expressive and communicated to us so powerfully, it is hard for me to say that Jeff’s handwritten letter was more powerful as a means of communication than those were. However, I do think it was special and unique, as it is not every day that you receive a letter containing such beautiful sentiments from your 20 year old son.  And this was one of only two handwritten letters he ever wrote to us as a young adult. The second and final one, of course, was the one that shattered our hearts.

To me, the striking aspect of this incredible letter is the fact that Jeff actually took the time to write to us and express such love and appreciation for everyone in our family, including Clif, our dog at the time.

In retrospect, it doesn’t surprise me that Jeff sent us such a letter in January of 2008. As with most months in his life, aside from his last two, that was a time during which Jeff was flying high. He had just returned weeks earlier from a fabulous semester abroad in London with his newly made friends who would later become the creators of Project Bald in his memory, he was thoroughly enjoying another January term of fun and frolic, and of course his emails during that month were upbeat and hilarious.

The first thing that got Jeff’s juices flowing that January was that, after being away for a semester, he was given the opportunity to resume his J.K. Rolling column for the two issues of the paper that would be published during the month.  He was fired up about that, and this was also exciting news for me, because I knew it meant that we would resume our routine of Jeff sending me drafts of his articles to critique before he’d send a final version to the editor. I found that to be such a bonding experience for us, and I absolutely loved our banter over his terrific work. And as you can see below, my suggestions were often wrong, and Jeff was never bashful about pointing that out!

Rich email to Jeff about numbers

Jeff email about rule of journalism

Jeff cool trivia fact

Perhaps my favorite email of the month from Jeff was the one he sent me on January 14th, after he was confused by a package I sent him containing the sports section of a recent edition of the New York Times. I have no recollection of what article I wanted him to read, but his email was classic and a perfect example of how even when he was being a bit of a wise-ass, he did it in a sort of respectful way. That’s actually a pretty unique talent for a 20 year old:

Jeff NY Times email

Starting the next day, though, our sports banter got more intense as the Giants prepared to play the Packers in the NFC Championship game with a Super Bowl berth on the line. I didn’t think the Giants could pull it off, but Jeff did, and he articulated his stance in classic Jeff Klein style. Even now, whenever the Giants are scheduled to play on a particularly cold day, I can’t help but think of and laugh over Jeff’s comment about Eli Manning:

Jeff hey i really disagree email

Jeff not convinced on brett favre email

jeff eli is a little girl email

Jeff Eli email closing

January at Middlebury was a month for going out and having fun, and I knew that when I got an email from Jeff that was written in the early morning hours, there was a good chance that it would be a classic. The email he sent just after 2 a.m. on January 17th ,when he found out my alma-mater’s basketball team had lost in overtime on a buzzer beater, definitely merits hall of fame status in my view:

Jeff noooo email

Jeff Patriot league email

Jeff Colgate in 1995 Tournament email

Jeff california is good email

For his second and final article of J-term, Jeff decided to write a recap of the NFC and AFC championship games. I always preferred it when he wrote opinion columns rather than writing recaps of events, because I literally felt his passion for his beliefs jump off the page.  When I received a draft of this one, I expressed that to Jeff.   As always, his answer was well thought out and reasonable:

Jeff opinion column email

And then, on January 22nd, there was one last exchange to end another wonderful and passionate January term at Middlebury:

Jeff when coming home

Jeff coming home email

But those were the days when we never had to worry whether Jeff would return home after being away. He was a young man who loved his life, both at college and at home, and his texts, emails and the handwritten letter that arrived that month illustrated that. All of Jeff’s communications were so vibrant, and as Thao Lam has pointed out to me, they were always so perfectly written, including proper punctuation, even after he had been out partying. This is why I never even considered hitting the delete button when something arrived from Jeff. Little did I know that one day all of this correspondence would serve as one of the primary means by which I would help people get to know him better after he was gone.

After he was gone.

When I type those words, the enormity of the tragedy swallows me whole. The vibrant young man of January 2008 and well beyond should be here with us today. All he needed to do was live to fight another day. In fact, that’s all any of us needs to do. A winner is nothing more than a loser who tried one more time.

After graduating from Colgate in the heart of the 1982 recession, I was turned down for jobs by nearly every single bank in New York before a bank named Manufacturers Hanover made me an offer on Christmas Eve 1982 after seven months of looking. I was more than ready to quit the search by then, but I became a winner by simply trying one more time.  My perseverance back then resulted in a 31 year career in banking that continues today.

In the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, Jeff, in a brief and impulsive moment of extreme weakness, decided to stop trying. He typed on one page individual messages to each of his closest friends. I distributed copies of that page to each of them when they visited our home the day before the wake.

He also typed a full one page letter to our family in which he both addressed each of us individually and also explained extremely eloquently—notwithstanding how distorted his logic was– why he felt he had to end his life. I have shared snippets of that letter in various blog posts over time. It is cruel irony that the format of the first part of this letter was identical to that of the one he had written in 2008, with loving individual messages to each of us. It was the remainder, containing his rationale for quitting, which made it dramatically different.

Jeff, however, must have felt that the typed letter to our family was somehow not sufficient as a final goodbye to Carey and me. And so he took a couple of extra minutes out of his final day to write us one more handwritten note, using a black pen and driven by a black mindset. I took this last act to mean that Jeff considered a handwritten note to contain a level of intimacy and love that even he, the King of emails and texts, could not convey in a typed one. After reading it hundreds of times since, I believe he was right. I feel his love and his pain so deeply through his handwritten words. With his last pen strokes, Jeff wrote:

 

Jeff final note

Paige Vignola wrote that letters are “intimate, crafted and not dashed off, intentional”, and that “they are personal and directed at individuals.” This is all very true of Jeff’s final note. I know my son, and he clearly wanted to make this as personal and intimate as it could possibly be. And he also thought this would be the best way to ask us to forgive him.

It is not our place to forgive him or to not forgive him, but the fact that he asked for that is telling. A person asks for forgiveness when he or she knows they have done something either wrong or hurtful, and Jeff knew deep down he was making the wrong decision, both for himself and for those closest to him, but the strength he needed to make the right decision had evaporated. So often in life, people need strength just to make the correct decision. As the poet Aeschylus wrote, “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” And so it did for Jeff, but at the end, he simply couldn’t muster that effort, because his ability to do so was thoroughly dampened by the effects of misprescribed medication.

Today, though, I prefer to focus on Jeff’s first letter, and so in celebration of this post and of that beautiful handwritten gift of January 21st, 2008 which I treasure and read frequently, I have written by hand three letters—one each to Carey, Drew and Brett—and I have given those letters to them. They are letters filled with love, hope and the determination to fight together through whatever adversity that any one of us might encounter over the years. I hope and pray that they always hold these letters close to their hearts just as I do with Jeff’s, and just as I do with all the special occasion cards that I’ve received and kept from each of them over time.

And lastly, in closing, I ask every reader of this post to consider doing what Jeff did on January 21st, 2008 when he decided to “take a little time out of my evening to say how grateful I am…”.

Take some time during an upcoming day or evening to write a letter by hand to someone you care about and fill It with heartfelt positive thoughts, uplifting messages and lots of love. Perhaps there’s someone out there to whom you’ve wanted to say certain things but couldn’t find the right words. A “well crafted, intentional letter from one heart to another” could do the trick. Or maybe there’s someone you do express your feelings to often but you still want to give them something that holds “a concrete space in this ever-changing and malleable world.”

Either way, I think you’ll find the act of writing a letter to someone you care about to be fulfilling and heartwarming. For me, it was both those things, and it was yet another way to honor the memory of my beautiful son in Heaven on the fourth anniversary of his completely unnecessary death.

–Rich Klein

Advertisements

3 Responses to “From Joy To Anguish: The Handwritten Letters From Jeff”

  1. Lisa November 9, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Rich- thank you sharing such an intimate, evocative blog post. My thoughts are with you all today.

  2. Susan McClanahan November 9, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    What great advice Rich. Thank you for sharing and what a beautiful family you
    have. I love you guys and am thinking of you today. xo, Sue

  3. Scott November 9, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Rich,

    Though I live in town, I don’t believe I’ve knowingly had the privilege of meeting you or your family in all our years here. I have, however, become familiar with Jeff’s vibrant life and his tragic passing, specifically through your writings.

    It is a gift to have the emotional capacity to share such an intimately painful experience with others. And while it is therapeutic for you to express those emotions in your writings, it is equally soothing for many of us to read about a life so filled with promise and joy.

    Yours is a loss that no one can begin to comprehend, regardless of the good-willed intentions of those who might say, “I can imagine how you must feel.” You should know, as you likely do, that Jeff’s life will continue to show itself through the goodness of those lucky enough to be touched by being his family and friends.

    Scott H.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: