Protecting The One You Love–A Love Story For Valentines Day

12 Feb

“We are all given circumstances by which we can exercise the choice to love.  That’s the thunderbolt that God supplies.  It’s that instant attraction to another person, those warm, fuzzy feelings, that fever akin to drunkenness or madness that causes you to know that you’re in love. 

But it’s what you choose to do after that thunderbolt has passed that matters.  You choose whether you’re going to continue loving the other person after the drunkenness has dissipated, after the frills of romance have fallen away.  You choose whether you’re going to continue to seek the best interests of the other person, and care about him or her through any and all circumstances–and for how long.  Love is a conscious choice.”

                  –E.B. Thompson, “Life’s Critical Moments”

________________________________________________________________________________

Even with my partner of nearly 30 years, I had to strategize in advance about when exactly to drop another bomb, another new piece of very difficult information about Jeff’s death. This was same day information, something I had just discovered that very morning in my office, and though it was not something I wanted to hit Carey with on one of our Friday night dates, I can never keep anything important from her. But the fact that this was four months ago, in October, a month which brings back the memories of all those depression filled days in 2010, made this strategic decision on timing even more important.

For over four years, I have spent way too many hours scouring our house and the internet for every existing email, text, document, card and photo related to Jeff’s final months, searching both for memories and for answers. Carey calls it “stalking”. I call it keeping him at the forefront of our lives, trying to make it seem as if he has just gone on an extended trip away and will come home for at least a visit some day. Call it what you will, but I realized in October that there was still something I had somehow neglected to view during these past four years. I had never opened the camera roll on his Motorola android phone.

And so I brought Jeff’s phone with me to work that Friday to do some viewing. It frightens me to take his phone out of our house, because if anything was to happen to it, or if God forbid I lost it, my recovery process would take a severe hit. But I knew I would protect it with my life, and my curiosity overwhelmed that largely irrational fear.

After a couple sips of coffee, I took the plunge. Since he had just purchased this phone in the late summer of 2010, there were only 23 photos, all from that autumn. Virtually all of them were of the friends he hung out with the most during that time, and they were so dark you could barely see anything other than silhouettes.

The final three photos, however, were anything but dark. They were taken outside on a gorgeous fall day. For the first five seconds, I was baffled and wondered if Jeff, in the middle of his medication-induced hopelessness, was still so impressed with the beautiful fall foliage that he was moved to snap some pictures. What an idiot I can sometimes be.

The beauty in the photos belied the darkness that motivated the photographer. I then saw that the camera had captured the Bear Mountain Bridge down below, through the trees. Jeff was apparently standing in a heavily wooded area that looked out over the bridge from a higher elevation, and he snapped those three pictures from there.

Jeff took this photo of the Bear Mountain Bridge on October 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

Jeff took this photo of the Bear Mountain Bridge on October 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

I clicked on the picture details, which revealed that the date was October 8th and the time 11:02 a.m.—one month and one day before he would return, fully prepared then on the logistics, to the bridge itself. As a burglar would do before making a heist, Jeff was “casing the joint”. During the time we thought he was studying for the LSATs and sending out resumes, he was instead scoping out his suicide spot.

Staring at the photo, I felt nauseous, as well as devastated and betrayed. Yes, on September 8th, eight days after taking his first misprescribed Celexa pill, he confided to us he was having bad thoughts and had “Googled” the Bear Mountain Bridge. But in the weeks after that, we were attacking the problem, having many heart to heart talks with Jeff, and he seemed to be responding. He went to two Giants games and regularly went out with friends over the following weeks. And his September and October Facebook posts seemed to indicate that he was an engaged and still vibrant young man.

Jeff exchange with drew about giants game

But while Carey and I were expending every ounce of energy we had to motivate Jeff and talk sense back into him, he was casing the Bear Mountain Bridge. I have since learned that once suicidal ideation creeps into a person’s mind, it doesn’t leave easily, especially when anti-depressants were what planted that seed. Oh, the thought of my precious son spending a beautiful fall day in this way breaks my heart all over again. I just can’t imagine the level of pain that would drive someone to that point.

At the restaurant, I looked across the table at my beautiful wife and thought about the renewed sadness I was about to bring upon her already battered heart. After a cocktail, I decided it was time. I focused on being as gentle as possible. After I eased into it by telling her that everything was fine but that I just needed to share something I had discovered about Jeff, I explained the situation. She stared back at me, expressionless. There was no reaction. Just a slight shrug of her shoulders as if to say “so what?” I was floored.

“Car, doesn’t that rattle you to the core, like it did me?”

“He’s dead, Rich. Why do you care?”

I was struck at that moment by how two soul mates could react to something so intense in such polar opposite ways. Seeing how utterly perplexed I was, she added:

“This conversation is a blog post. You should write about it.”

So here I am. __________________________________________________________________________

In her book “The Bereaved Parent”, Harriett Schiff devoted a chapter to the outlook for married couples in the aftermath of losing a child. To me, the most staggering sentences of that chapter are these:

“Very often, the bond becomes so taut that it snaps. In fact, some studies estimate that as high as 90 percent of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child.”

I’m blessed to be part of the fortunate 10 percent.

November 9th, 2010 was the day that illustrated better than any other the enormity of that blessing.

We have all experienced moments in our lives that will stay with us in unfading detail forever. The hours that most accurately captured who Carey is as a person, as a wife and as a mother occurred on the worst day of our lives, and they will always remain in high definition in my memory bank. Once it was clear late that afternoon that Jeff had gone missing, I ran to Grand Central to get the next train home.

Once the train emerged from the tunnel, I thought of Jeff’s references on September 8th to the Bear Mountain Bridge and “bad thoughts”. I got my phone out and started Googling away. I started with “Jeffrey Klein suicide”, “Bear Mountain Bridge suicide today” and several other iterations. Those searches only pulled up old news stories about suicides of the past. I felt a surge of hope. Ok, I said to myself, maybe this is one big overreaction and he’s alive and his phone died. He’s at the gym or hanging out at a friend’s house, or…

My hopeful thoughts were interrupted by my cell phone. It was Carey. The conversation is still etched on my brain and it always will be.

“Car, have you found him?”

“Rich, are you on the train?”

Yes, HAVE YOU FOUND HIM?”

“Sweetheart, I want you to just put your head back on the seat, close your eyes, and steel yourself.”

“Why, is it over?

“Just come home. It’ll be ok. Put your head back, close your eyes, and steel yourself. I love you.”

“But there’s nothing on Google, so maybe…”

But she had hung up.

This extraordinary woman, a mother who had obviously learned in the preceding couple of minutes that her firstborn son—the baby she had rocked for hours on end as he screamed bloody murder for the first three months of his life, the kid she so patiently cared for as he took the “terrible twos” to a whole other level, and the young man who grew out of all that to become the smartest, most gorgeous, funniest and most loving young man we had ever known—was dead, reacted to that news by thinking about how to best protect me in the calmest and gentlest way possible, and to prepare me for what I was about to come home to.

This relentlessly giving woman, who has literally helped save lives as a member of Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps, had lost one of the lives most precious to her, yet she thought first about my devastation before her own. This was unparalleled love and kindness.

And so I put my head back on the seat, closed my eyes, and steeled myself.

Even in that moment, I was aware enough to realize the magnitude of what Carey had just done. She had repressed the most profound grief a person could possibly feel in order to ease her husband into our new world, with two living children instead of three, by giving me a little time to process it all before getting home. And she did all that without bluntly saying the words that I couldn’t have withstood hearing from her at that moment.

The woman who had every reason to just collapse on the floor in a sobbing heap instead went about protecting her flock. By the time I got home, she had somehow found a way to tell our 16 year old Brett that something had gone terribly wrong with Jeffrey, and she had called her mother and told her to drive to our house so we could all be together. Carey’s display of strength, compassion and selflessness was superhuman in those dreadful moments, and I can say honestly that I don’t think I could have displayed those attributes at that time if the roles had been reversed.

But Carey wasn’t through yet. She had another precious child to try to protect. At around 10 p.m., after two police officers had confirmed Jeff’s death by driving to our home to express their condolences and drop off his cell phone, drivers license, final notes and the $1 bill he brought with him in case he changed his mind and wanted to pay the toll to come back home, we couldn’t wait any longer to call Drew at school. In yet another act of strength and selflessness, Carey insisted that she would make the call. I listened in tears as she masterfully and maternally explained gently to Drew what had happened and that he would need to come home the next day.

After hanging up the phone, having given every last bit of herself that there was to give, Carey placed her head on my chest and, at long last, allowed her first tears to stream. _________________________________________________________________________________________

Back at the restaurant, I continued to study Carey’s gorgeous face and inscrutable countenance, as the memories of those first six defining hours on the day Jeff died ran with great clarity through my mind. And as they did, my understanding of what was happening in the current moment also became quite clear. Four years after fiercely protecting the hearts and souls of everyone in our family, keeping us afloat by not allowing herself to crater in those most critical and vulnerable hours, it was now time for Carey to protect herself.

Agonizing over the fact that Jeff had visited and taken photos of the bridge a month before he jumped was not productive or healthy for her, and she knew it.  Like every other detail about our nightmare, she repressed it and let another piece of scar tissue form.  I briefly wondered to myself whether it was a mistake to have shared this information with her, but not doing so was never really an option, and Carey knew that too. Our marriage has never operated that way. I had dropped a necessary bomb, but I tried to do it in a way that spared her from further damage. Just as she had done with me over four years ago.

As Carey glanced down at her phone to read a text from one of the boys, I stared one more time at the love of my life and wondered how I could ever make it all up to her.

–Rich Klein

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One Response to “Protecting The One You Love–A Love Story For Valentines Day”

  1. Weeping Oak February 12, 2015 at 8:57 am #

    Rich, I am so moved by your writing, so honest and brave. I am equally moved by the strength that you and Carey share, and how you protect, love, and care for each other and your family.

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