Brought Back To Reality By A Rotten Pumpkin

22 Jan

On November 23rd, 2014, I was walking our greyhound Dobi in the park per my usual weekend routine. As we strolled, Carey called and I heard immediately that she was in distress. She had just left the cemetery after her weekly visit to Jeff’s grave and was distraught to find that the pumpkin she had placed there in October had completely rotted, and the plants she had last planted were as dead as he was.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jeff’s tennis trophy that had been standing next to the headstone for all these years had finally succumbed to the weather. The tennis player’s arm had broken off from the rest of the body, just like I imagine Jeff’s body came undone when it hit the train tracks below the Bear Mountain Bridge. To add insult to injury on that day, Jeff’s dead body was hit by a CSX freight train shortly after he landed. That is the reality of what his grave represents, irrespective of Carey’s tireless efforts to make it look as good as possible, and on this day, its appearance matched the reality of the situation.

For over four years, Carey had lovingly and relentlessly tended to the grave that should never have become home to our precious son who died such a senseless death. She had kept it looking as beautiful as a grave can look, but she had not been able to get there the weekend before, and now she was beating herself up for the resulting decay that taken hold of the pumpkin, plants and trophy. I consoled her as best I could, saying that of course she would replace everything and have it looking beautiful again in short order.   But this situation did not lend itself to consolation. Jeff was dead, his demise having been completely unnecessary, and now his grave looked like crap.

A short while after hanging up with Carey, I glanced at my phone and saw a notification that she had commented on my post on the Friends of Jeff Klein Facebook page from two days earlier, when I had shared the link to my first article on Elephant Journal. Carey “likes” many of my posts but rarely comments, so I was anxious to read what she had to say. But I was horrified to find that under a long thread of beautiful comments from others, she wrote:

carey rotten pumpkin facebook comment

I got angry, and I texted her to take it down.  I told her what she wrote was disgraceful.  Carey was hurt that I would say such a thing and ask her to do that, and the following text conversation ensued with my texts in blue:

rotten pumpkin text 1

rotten pumpkin text 2

It was not until six days later, when we were out for dinner on the next Saturday night, that we gave the topic the time it deserved. Carey explained that while it’s great that I’m trying to inspire and help people, my attempting “to save the world” can come across as almost romanticizing what Jeff did and implying that his death had occurred for some greater good.  She feels that my writing portrays us as heroically dealing with the tragedy.  But the reality is we are broken and bleeding, and always will be, albeit propped up by the joy that Drew and Brett bring us every day of our lives.

And furthermore, after I had made Jeff’s and our family’s lives so public for four years, was she not entitled to make one brutally honest public comment of her own?

Of course she was.

After a healthy discussion, Carey asked if I still wanted her to take the comment down. The answer was no. Absolutely not. She was right—it was too little, too late for Jeff, and the damn pumpkin was rotten. That truly is the reality.

As I’ve said several times on this blog, I began writing four years ago for purely selfish reasons. Writing was an effective form of therapy for me and it made me feel like I was doing everything possible to keep Jeff’s memory alive. I didn’t realize for probably two years that it was helping others and perhaps saving some lives. But that was just a by-product of what I was doing, not the primary motivation for it. Once it became clear to me, though, that people were in fact being helped, I became energized by that knowledge, and I began to write more frequently and frenetically.

The desire to help others then became the driver. The more positive reinforcement I received from people about the blog’s impact, the more I was able to focus on writing alone and not dwell on the horror of what Jeff had done to initiate all this in the first place. And that is where some perspective may have been lost and why Carey injected a dose of reality back into the conversation.

Carey posted her comment that day partially as a result of timing and partially to provide perspective. She wrote it in a grief-stricken moment after driving away from the most terrible place a parent could ever have to visit. This excruciating experience was exacerbated by the deterioration of the very objects that she had placed at the grave to mask its true meaning. And so she understandably vented.

As a matter of perspective, Carey sent a reminder that, notwithstanding the fact that his final act was induced by the side effects of medication, what Jeff did was violent, devastating and a betrayal of those who adored him. He would have gotten better with time, and as Carey has come to that clear realization, it has hit her particularly hard. This makes everything all the more painful. Helping others is important, but nothing either one of us does can bring Jeff back to where he belongs.

I will keep writing, as a continuation of both my therapy and my attempts to try to help those who struggle realize that life is always worth living. For over four years, I have bared my soul in a public forum, and Carey has supported my doing so—reticently at first but then more easily after an adjustment period. Now that she has expressed her genuine grief in an honest public comment, I fully support her and admit that my initial reaction to it was impulsive and not well thought out.

My precious wife and incredible mother of our three boys lost her first-born son in sudden, violent fashion, and she has every right to tell it like it is. My heart bleeds for her, and I would do anything to take away her pain. You have no idea how much I love her.

Carey long ago replaced the rotten pumpkin and dead plants with beautiful, seasonally appropriate decorations. And the broken trophy has been replaced by another from Jeff’s ample collection that still sits on the dresser in his room.

jeff trophies

However, there is no sugarcoating the fact that I’m talking about decorations for a grave, below which lies the decomposed body of my boy, who would have most certainly recovered had he given his life the time it deserved.

The pumpkin was rotten, just like everything about this situation. That is the harsh reality that Jeff left us with, and Carey was simply giving honest voice to this awful truth.

–Rich Klein

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One Response to “Brought Back To Reality By A Rotten Pumpkin”

  1. Marlene January 22, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Rich, you said everything I wanted to say to Carey after I called her, and then regretted what I had said to her. And, of course, you said even more. Thank you.

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