On Jeff’s 28th Birthday, Here Are The 8 Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned From Our Tragedy And Its Aftermath

2 Mar

On Jeff’s 28th birthday, I thought it appropriate to share the most important lessons I’ve learned, both from Jeff’s rapid two month plunge from being a happy and vibrant young man on top of the world to a hopeless shell of himself on top of a bridge, and also from our four years of attempting to recover.

Though I will encourage you in this post to do things that I failed to accomplish, I hope that knowing about my failures will help you achieve success in helping your loved ones. The lessons are listed in no particular order, except for the first one, which is by far the most crucial one to think about.

 

1.    Treat the decision to begin taking anti-depressants as a potentially life-threatening one.

Here are the facts, with no editorializing, and the timeline of events leading up to Jeff’s death. On August 11th of 2010, Jeff walked out on his paralegal job at a major New York law firm when the pressure became unbearable to him. He was deeply worried about what quitting the job meant for his future, but he talked openly about regrouping and trying something else. He decided to see a psychiatrist to discuss whether he should take medication to reduce his anxiety and “take the edge off.”

After one 45 minute session on August 31st, the psychiatrist prescribed Celexa. He didn’t warn Jeff that suicidal thoughts were a potential side effect of taking this drug.

On September 8th, while I was away on a business trip, Jeff approached Carey and told her he was having “bad thoughts” and had searched the internet for information on the Bear Mountain Bridge. Carey brought him back to the psychiatrist to report the situation. He then prescribed another anti-depressant called Remeron, which he felt would work well, in combination with Celexa, to eliminate Jeff’s suicidal thoughts.

However, the addition of Remeron caused what Jeff described as “a cloud” to form around his head. His ability to focus and think clearly was compromised, and he became easily fatigued. After reporting all this to the psychiatrist, he prescribed a mood stabilizer called Abilify to be taken in combination with the other two drugs.

Jeff med text 1

jeff med text 2

As described in my last post, Jeff drove to the Bear Mountain Bridge the day before he sent the above texts, and took pictures of it from a wooded area overlooking the bridge.

On October 13th, Jeff accepted a local job offer that would have enabled him to dip his toes back into the employment waters.

Jeff employed again

However, the effects of the three pill cocktail were so debilitating that Jeff felt he couldn’t even do the new job, for which he was clearly overqualified, and thus, we collectively decided it was time for him to wean himself off of these drugs under medical supervision. He spent the week of October 18th doing just that.

On November 9th, Jeff jumped to his death.

In summary, on August 31st he took his first Celexa pill, on September 8th he expressed suicidal thoughts for the first time in his life, and on November 9th, he jumped. Those are the facts.

The lesson learned is that, while anti-depressants work wonders for many people and can save lives, they are too often prescribed on a trial and error basis with the prescribing doctor having no idea how it will turn out. We were uninformed and didn’t do proper research. Had we known the risks, we likely would have chosen a different path. Treat the decision to take anti-depressants as one which carries your life in the balance, and go in with your eyes wide open.

 

2.    On Facebook, appearances can be deceiving. Those who appear happy are often, in actuality, deeply depressed. Beware the façade.

Could Jeff have appeared any happier than he did in his 2010 Facebook photos?

 

Jeff Sunset With Lisa and Ryan

Jeff at giants game 1

Does this look like the Facebook post of someone who would kill himself in four months?

 

Jeff epic weekend

In less than two months?

 

Jeff great night for sports

In one month?

 

Jeff Yanks Owning Twins Status

You get the gist. Jeff had it all—looks, intelligence, close friends and a loving family—and his Facebook photos and posts, even at the end, reflected that. Yet nobody except Carey and I knew that he was battling suicidal thoughts. Since we lost Jeff, you’d be shocked by how many young people have confided to me that they suffer from depression and have had similar thoughts. You would never know it from their Facebook pages.

So if there are people you care about, but your only sense of their well-being comes from what they share on Facebook, don’t assume that their smiling faces and happy posts are reflective of how they are really doing. Think about getting in more direct touch to get an accurate read on their true situation. Hopefully, it really is all good, but better safe than sorry, and that person might actually need a friend to talk to “live” and not over Facebook.

And on the flip side…

 

3.    If you ever see something posted by a Facebook friend that is disturbing and doesn’t make sense to you, please do NOT ignore it. It is likely a warning signal of danger ahead

It doesn’t happen often, but I have seen posted comments in the past that reflected a deeply depressed mind. I understand that sometimes young people post lyrics from songs, but the chosen lyrics are posted for a reason.

I didn’t join Facebook until after Jeff died, but if I had been a member on October 30th, 2010 when Jeff posted the following status, I would have immediately either chained him to his bed or taken a leave of absence from work and not left his side until I was convinced he was stable.

 

Jeff Still Alive Status

You may ask why I didn’t do those things anyway given that I knew he had suicidal thoughts and was battling the effects of the meds, and the answer is that we were regularly and openly communicating. As a result, Carey and I felt on top of the situation and in control. He was applying for jobs, studying for the LSATs, going out with friends, and enjoying sports.

But if I had seen or known that he had broadcasted such a terrible thought to his 1,300+ Facebook friends, all bets would have been off. The fine line between in control and out of control had been crossed, and I would have known then that things were dire.

Notice that there is not one comment or question below Jeff’s frightening status. Maybe people sent him private messages, but I will never know that. I don’t say this to be critical. To the contrary, Jeff’s closest friends had absolutely no idea what was going on with him at that time, because he intentionally kept it from them. Thus, it would have been easy to dismiss this disturbing comment as Jeff just making some kind of weird joke. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. This leads me to…

4.    If your child is depressed, and/or has expressed suicidal thoughts, get his/her closest friends involved immediately in the rescue effort, regardless of your child’s wishes

As soon as he disclosed to us on September 8th that he had begun feeling hopeless, we urged Jeff to let his closest friends know how he was feeling so that they could help him through it and show him how much he was loved. However, he was adamantly against doing so, and his oft-repeated quote was: “They’re my friends, not my therapists.”

I knew in my heart that not getting them involved was a potentially crucial mistake, and in the end, that decision may have cost him his life. Jeff’s inner circle consists of amazing young men and women, and I know that their compassion and love for him would have helped us bring him back from the brink. At the time, I toyed with the idea of gathering them on a conference call, behind Jeff’s back, to explain the situation and seek their help. I just couldn’t bring myself to go against Jeff’s wishes.

People with whom I’ve shared these feelings have told me it would have been wrong to betray Jeff’s confidence by talking to his friends, and he would have lost all trust in me if I had done so. But what’s worse, Jeff being betrayed or dead? The answer is clear in retrospect. If I could have it back, or if I’m ever in a similar position, I will betray a loved one’s trust in a heartbeat if I believe it will keep them alive. The reason it is so critical to keep potential suicide attempters alive is because…

 

5.    Richard Seiden’s renowned 1978 study of 515 people who attempted suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge, but were restrained, concludes that “after 26-plus years the vast majority (about 94%) of GGB suicide attempters are still alive or have died of natural causes”

That is a crushing statistic as it relates to Jeff yet so hopeful for others who struggle but are alive. Had we been able to prevent Jeff, either before or during his attempt, from taking the plunge, it is virtually certain that he’d be alive today. Seiden’s study specifically sought to answer the following question:

“Will a person who is prevented from suicide in one location inexorably tend to attempt and commit suicide elsewhere?”

The study’s concluding paragraph answers that question decisively:

“The major hypothesis under test, that Golden Gate Bridge attempters will surely and inexorably “just go someplace else,” is clearly unsupported by the data. Instead, the findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature. Accordingly, the justification for prevention and intervention such as building a suicide prevention barrier is warranted and the prognosis for suicide attempters is, on balance, relatively hopeful.”

The lesson is that we must keep depressed and suicidal people alive at all costs, because their despair is usually temporary and their prognosis is actually quite good.

 

6.    If your gut tells you that your child is in serious trouble, make adjustments in your work schedule and find time to take them away and help work through their issues. 

If I had done this in late October of 2010, I’m certain that Jeff would be alive today.  It is clear to me now that, with the relationship we had, if I had taken him away to a beach for a week to let him clear his head and to talk to him far away from the distractions of home, he would still be here.  I wrote about this blown opportunity in agonizing detail on Father’s Day in 2013 (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-butterfly-effect-and-the-golden-opportunity-i-missed-to-save-my-son-a-fathers-day-reflection-part-3/). The bottom line is that I missed my chance and never got another one. I have to live with that for the rest of my life. I share this so others can avoid making the same egregious mistake.

 

7.    You absolutely, positively must find outlets for your grief, rage and frustration after experiencing a devastating loss

When it first happened, I was numb. However, it didn’t take long for a combustible mixture of raging emotions to begin to swirl inside me, and if I hadn’t found ways to release those toxic feelings on a regular basis, I could have envisioned myself ultimately exploding in a fiery mess.

Thankfully, Elon Rubin served up Kleinsaucer to everyone who loved and missed Jeff, and those people began to share anecdotes about him on the blog. Then, 13 days after Jeff died, on November 22, 2010, I wrote my first post (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/buy-me-some-peanuts-and-cracker-jacks/), and it was so therapeutic for me that I never stopped writing. Writing about Jeff’s life, his death, and all the issues related to both, has been the single most important action step that I’ve taken to help myself recover from this tragedy. It enables me to release the grief, rage, frustration and bewilderment that will always live inside me.

Exercising, which has always been a big part of my life, has become even more important. Whether it’s playing in my weekly 90 minute tennis league match, lifting weights with a vengeance or doing my daily 302 sit-ups in honor of Jeff’s birthday (3/02), these activities exhaust my body and release enormous amounts of tension.

I have also focused on organizing bonding vacations with my family and frequent trips to sporting events with the boys (we just enjoyed the NBA All-Star Game at the Garden together). What better outlet could there be for one’s grief than to bond even closer with your loved ones who WANT to be here on earth and to spend time together?

 

8.    Save your childrens’ photos, videos, emails, texts and cards.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you save these things to ensure you have memories in case something terrible happens. Having endured tragedy has simply reinforced to me what precious gifts these things are and that they should be enjoyed under any circumstances.  And  since I did save these things,  I can always pull up a classic email exchange like this …

 

Jeff Shaq 1

And my mature fatherly response:

Jeff Shaq 2

Jeff Shaq 3

Or I can soak up the love that Jeff had for me by reading an old card like this one…

Jeff last birthday card to me

Jeff last birthday card to me 2

Or I can watch a video showing Jeff’s joyous reaction to receiving a sports DVD for Christmas…

Viewing these things is a double-edge sword, but I treasure them all and I’m thankful that I never hit the delete key on a classic email or text from any of my boys and that I kept all the photos and cards. These items have contributed heavily to my recovery by reminding me of what a wonderful 23 ½ years Jeff had and by helping me vividly remember all the great times we had together.

 ________________________________________________________________________

Please don’t take what I’ve written above as “preachy”. I was a miserable failure when it came to saving my son’s life, so I am the last person who would ever preach to anyone. I just thought it might help some of you if I shared the most important things I’ve learned through this horrific ordeal.

Jeff should be celebrating his 28th birthday tonight with a family dinner, and he should have partied with his friends this past weekend. If not for one brief, acute, crisis-oriented moment, he’d be right here doing those things. There is so much we can learn from Jeff’s unnecessary death, and I hope today’s post is the first part of an ongoing conversation about how parents and adult mentors can prevent other young people from going down that same tragic path.

Lastly, please consider taking two minutes to help us celebrate Jeff’s birthday on Facebook by simply going to the Friends of Jeff Klein page and sharing a memory, anecdote, photo or brief thought about Jeff, about the blog or about anything else that moves you. Your doing so would make the memory of Jeff’s 28th birthday eternal, and that would mean more to me than you could ever know.

–Rich Klein

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4 Responses to “On Jeff’s 28th Birthday, Here Are The 8 Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned From Our Tragedy And Its Aftermath”

  1. Marie Considine March 2, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Dear Rich,

    Words can’t express how sorry I am that Jeff took his own life and how empathetic I feel for and Carey. You are spot on when you say it’s hard to tell when someone we love is making a turn for the worse.

    Please consider sharing information about NAMI Westchester’s free programs and services. We need to two about mental health, not be ashamed and hide it from people who know us. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves and others in how to recognize the signs of a mental illness and learn how to get help. There’s an in-school program called Ending the Silence that starts the conversation and teaches these skills. Where there’s help, there’s hope, http://www.namiwestchester.org, 914-592-5458. Annual awareness 5K walk on Saturday, May 16, 2015: http://www.namiwalks.org/Westchester. Thank you for sharing your story. ~ Marie Considine, Walk Manager

  2. drrachellevy March 2, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    Richard Klein- thanks for the never too often reminder of what a precious gift each moment with my sons is… I treasure them beyond words… and will continue to stop whatever I’m doing to listen to them when they want to either talk or share some new (godawf heavy metal) music with me.
    But I don’t doubt that your were fully present with Jeff– instead, as a Psychologist and parent–I see the fault in the medical profession. I find it appalling how easily scripts are written and how loose follow up and monitoring is given the potential side effects.
    I won’t launch into a description of the many reasons these drugs have been dispensed like candy or how research has shown that talk therapy is as effective, if not more so, than medication in treating most mental illness. In my practice, I’ve learned to do everything in my power to make meds a last resort — especially for children and young adults… and will continue to do so, even if it means offering a 100% money back guarantee.
    My take-home lesson from your 8 most important lessons is that I need to be informed before accepting prescriptions of any kind for my children, especially from providers I don’t know well…
    If I have that vague “I’m not sure” sense after a doctor’s visit, I’m getting a second or third.

    Of course, being on top of everything is nearly impossible..with multiple children, work, etc.. but I do think I can do better…especially as it relates to medical advice. I need to shop around and talk more before accepting any specialist’s recommendation. And, to respect that parental gut instinct before moving ahead.

    As a mental health professional, I hold my profession at fault. First, do no harm, is a maxim many forget.
    As a mother, I am going to do more shopping around before choosing a doctor for my sons. I will not bestow anyone with a title with my confidence before they’ve earned it.

    I hate to write that, because I’m afraid it will prevent the many people who could benefit from it from seeking help. But, like many things in nature, the quality of mental health professionals falls, like many things in nature, on an inverted-U curve, with half being below adequate. This is not life threatening when choosing an accountant or tennis pro, but it can be when choosing a health care provider. Choose those that are outliers to the right of the curve. They are there. They require a more work to find.
    Two final thoughts:
    1) what makes your blogs so relevant to everyone is your honesty… it’s the most powerful tool we have… to share the truth of our innermost experiences with others.
    2) this one is nearly impossible to offer to someone who has suffered a loss as devastating as yours, but here goes-
    from what I gather, we are still quite primative in our understanding of the universe…. things that appear so real and absolute to us, such as the line between life and death, may be a function of our limited sensory abilities rather than of universal reality.
    There are very real and enormously powerful forces that are beyond our ability to see, hear or touch them. We rely on them every day when we wirelessly connect with people all over the globe. Discovering the earth was round, not flat, was completely counter to every human sense. It was nonsense. But it was true.
    Modern physics suggest that our conceptions of time and space may be grossly limited by our perceptual abilities.

    Though little consolation to someone experiencing the kind of profound loss that you and your family have, both science and history stronly point toward the likelihood of their being a different reality… that our experience of death as a final gateway is faulty… that beings live on in ways, we are not yet fully able to grasp. We know that our experience of time as being linear is more a human perception than a scientific reality. Science shows that time doesn’t behave that way at all.

    More than anything, I hope these thoughts relieve some blame
    that is not yours to assume. Or that they, as you may already be aware of, they give you a
    glimpse of a reality in which Jeff is alive in ways well beyond the memories you keep of him. If you can get past the title
    and the description, Anita Moorjani’s book, Dying to be Me, has been extraordinarily illuminating for those who have lost a child or other dear one– as well as to those of us who can clearly imagine the devastation such a loss would bring.

  3. audrey brooks March 2, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    Wanted you to know . .. http://time.com/3723472/facebook-suicide/

  4. rob reuben March 27, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    i am in shock i have always loved you and know there could be no better father-you were a role model for me growing up-and you still are

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