Five Years Can’t Kill The Passion

9 Nov

“So many people have come and gone,
Their faces fade as the years go by,
Yet I still recall as I wander on,
As clear as the sun in the summer sky”

—Boston, “More Than A Feeling”, 1976

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Jeff saluting

Dear Jeff,

For five years I have fought, largely through this blog that bears your nickname, to keep your memory alive and vibrant. I have fought with ferocity and a sense of desperation that has shaken me. I’ve self-analyzed to try to understand why I’m so terrified that everything about you—your gorgeous looks and infectious personality, your many passions, your warmth and kindness—would someday begin to fade from the hearts and minds of people in both your broader universe and even in your inner circle. My conclusion is that it’s because you were a unique force of nature, and I just don’t want anyone to forget what the world lost as the result of your baffling and horrific decision to end your life.

I have been uplifted by the durability of your legacy. In the early days, events such as the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk in October 2011 and Project Bald on your birthday in 2013 were significant endeavors that served both to raise awareness for the cause of suicide prevention and to emblazon your memory on everyone’s psyche. More recently, I was deeply touched by the response to my Facebook request on your birthday this year that people post memories and anecdotes about you. The turnout was greater than I could ever have hoped for given that it was 4 ½ years after your death, and the sentiments expressed were beautiful and poignant.

Jared post

Geoffrey Chaucer, the man known as the Father of English literature, is credited with coining the statement “time heals all wounds”, but let me be the first to tell you, Jeff, that he is full of shit. It might heal some, but when he made that sweeping generalization, Chaucer clearly hadn’t considered wounds resulting from things such as suicide committed by one’s own child. The sad reality is that the wound has actually become deeper, because time has only served to give us more runway to agonize over how unnecessary your death was and how many different ways it could have been prevented. And it has given us more opportunity to miss you, mourn you and think about what might have been.

The pain from the deep, lingering wound has been compounded by the sheer terror that Mom and I experience from what would otherwise be normal, everyday life occurrences. We live in fear. I’m sure this is the opposite of what you would have wished for us, but your death’s aftermath was the last thing on your mind at the end. You didn’t picture us in the future, shaking when we receive cell phone calls from numbers that we don’t recognize, fully expecting that it must be someone calling with very bad news. Have you seen us tentatively approach our answering machine at home, hesitating to push the “play” button for fear of what devastating news the voice will deliver?

The casual observer probably wouldn’t understand why we’re so frightened.  After all, Brett is enjoying a happy and successful college career at Villanova, and Drew is working long, productive hours in his sport management and coaching career.  But when Mom sees him working 12 hour days at times, her panic returns as she has flashbacks of how you crumbled under the weight of the brutal, pressure packed hours of your paralegal job. The obvious difference, of course, is that Drew is doing what he loves while you were doing anything but. Panic attacks come without warning, though, and it is painful to watch.  My heart breaks for her.

I wish you’d communicate with us more frequently, as you did in the early days after you left. Signs from you are more sporadic now, and I never hear your voice anymore–except, of course, when I call your voicemail every day to hear your greeting. There are still times, though, when something happens that has your signature all over it. You were always a prankster, and earlier this year Mom was convinced that you were messing with her phone, causing it to “spaz” and change ringtones without her doing anything. We could picture you laughing out loud in Heaven, although we believe you were actually trying to infuse us with strength by simply communicating in this way and letting us know that you’re still out there.

phone spaz text

It is yet another example of your uniqueness that you nicknamed your mother “Pote”, the word you created as a derivative of “petite”, in reference to her slender build.  You were hilarious, Jeff.

Several months ago, your old friend Mike Philson shared a Facebook post showing a photo of a bench sitting on the edge of a beach. At the top of the photo, there was the following question:

benchphoto2

The first responder, a woman named Wendy, wrote “Jesus”. My response was second, and though it was less daunting, it still gave me chills as I typed it. I answered “Jeff”.

benchphoto1

While it would be great to chat with an iconic figure from the past or present, I would cut off a limb to spend one more hour with you. And though this Facebook question was obviously meant to be hypothetical, I feel that by answering as I did, I might in fact be granted this hour with you someday. I sometimes close my eyes and transport myself onto the bench, and patiently wait for you to arrive. But you never do.

During the first year or so after you died, I actually convinced myself that there was a chance that it was all a mistake and you would somehow come back. I thought maybe I’d check your room one day when we were getting ready to go out for a family dinner and I’d find you there getting ready too, as if nothing had ever happened. My flirtation with this fantasy started to wane over time as my rational side began to realize that we are no more deserving of having such a thing happen than anyone else who has ever lost a loved one. And so I finally let it go.

But not long after, I became attached to another fantasy that was prompted by a scene from Billy Elliot, the Broadway play which we all attended together many years ago.  Remember the scene in which Billy opened a letter that his deceased Mom left for him to read on his 18th birthday?

Her spirit appeared to him as he read the letter, they spoke to each other, and it was as if she had come back for a brief visit. That’s what I want, Jeff. I pray that you can come home for just one weekend so we can hug you, talk it all out, have another dinner as a family of five, and hopefully achieve some measure of peace. Then you can go back to Heaven. Of course, I’d take the hour on the bench too, so either way, let’s try to make it happen. I’m clinging to the hope that it can.

Lauren Kraft Greene posts daily messages of inspiration and/or wisdom on Facebook and on September 24th, she shared this one:

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

However simple and basic, the truth of that message blew me away as I thought about how your life cratered after one stinging defeat, which occurred when you walked out on your job and subsequently turned to antidepressants.

It confounds me that a young man who was all about life would end up choosing death after one brief jolting setback. I mean, everything about you exuded life, happiness and optimism.

Jeff sipping ritas

And how ironic is this—last month, I opened your top dresser drawer to see what clothes were still in there, and the very first thing I pulled out was this T-shirt from your senior musical at Greeley:

Jeff Livin t shirt

There sure was such a lot of livin’ to do, but you threw it all away by not trusting that together, as a family, we would have worked things out and helped ease your concerns about the future, as the meds gradually exited your system. Had you allowed that to happen, just imagine what you would have seen, done and celebrated over these past five years: another Giants Super Bowl victory, your man Obama winning a second term, your five and ten year reunions at Middlebury and Greeley respectively, finding the career path that you were really meant to follow, great times with friends, family, and the young woman who I believe would have been the one.

Life is about making choices, and five years ago today, you chose to die.  I asked Father Elias some months later why God allows things like this to happen.  He explained that God doesn’t interfere with a person exercising his or her free will.  I guess that’s why we have mass shootings and other horrific crimes too.  I really wish He’d reconsider this no intervention policy, at least in the most dire situations.

Several people, in their kind effort to exonerate me from blame, have told me that you were just ill and that there was nothing any of us could have done to prevent your death. Funny how you weren’t ill until you took that first Celexa tablet 70 days before you died. You were never ill. You were the victim of a tragic accident in the form of a cataclysmic chemical reaction inside your body to the meds, and you certainly can’t be blamed for that.

However, I do blame you for quitting without putting up a real fight. Your strength of spirit was legendary, yet you didn’t dig deep and tap into that when your life was on the line. Every single day when I walk the streets of Manhattan, I pass homeless twenty-something year old people sitting on the sidewalk with signs explaining their plight and asking for money. These people literally have nothing but the clothes on their back, yet they sit there day in and day out fighting to survive another day by raising enough money for food.

Every time I pass one of them, I give them some money and encourage them to keep fighting. I’ve even told a few, who I’ve come to know a little bit, about you and what you did. I recently told Jerome, a guy about my age, that if you had had even half the fighting spirit he has, you’d be alive today. I showed him your picture, and he just shook his head in disbelief. People who seemingly have relatively little to live for, fight on. You succumbed as soon as things got rough. I will never understand.

But now it’s my turn to make a choice, and I have chosen to end this blog post on the five year “anniversary” of your death by remembering your passion for so many different things. In no particular order:

For the Yankees:

Jeff yankees win status

Jeff Yankees first series in five yrs

Jeff celebrating with yankees

For Barack Obama:

Jeff Notes from the desk article

Jeff obama progress in white house

Jeff obama t shirt

Jeff dose of humor

For March Madness:

Jeff pumped for march madness 2

Jeff pumped for march madness 1

For great times with friends:

Jeff loving senior week status

Jeff partying in Durham

Jeff at party

Jeff kegstands

For the underdog:

Jeff underdogs status

Jeff doesn't understand root for superstar status

For your family:

jeff appreciates family

Against overpaid athletes:

Jeff Eli manning 97.5 million

Jeff Eli minimum wage

Against the quality of officiating in professional and college sports:

Jeff NBA refs zero credibility

Jeff thanks refs status

Jeff umpires artrocious

And so, my son, I will continue to fight to keep the memory of your passion alive as the years without you continue to roll by. Thanks to mom and your brothers, my friends, my job, this blog, and the Club Fit tennis courts and weight room, I can and will live a happy and fulfilling life.

But the fact that I couldn’t successfully impart to you that you shouldn’t confuse a single defeat with a final defeat is the reason I will never be the same guy I was five years and one day ago. There will always be a chunk missing from the person I used to be, and a sense of loss and failure that can never be erased. Rest assured, though, even with a broken heart, I have retained 100% of my ability to love mom, Drew and Brett with the same passion as always, and I will never confuse my single failure to save you, as monumental as it was, with a final failure.

I look forward to our meeting on the bench, or even better, to a special weekend visit at home. We’ve kept your room exactly the way you left it, while we long for a return that is way overdue.

Love you forever,
Dad

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7 Responses to “Five Years Can’t Kill The Passion”

  1. Christie Evans Sturges November 9, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    sending love and prayers to you Rich on this most tragic 5th anniversay

  2. Colleen Griffin Wagner November 9, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    sending love and prayers to you and the family today and always and gratitude for sharing such beautiful memories

  3. Ed November 9, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Rich, the buzzer goes off for us all. there’s a last out, the final bell, the photo finish. Yes the ending is sometimes very dramatic and sometimes very tragic, but the real beauty is in how the game was played. I will always remember Jeff at the NC State basketball camp winning the free throw shooting contest. Not because he won, that was the ending. No, I will remember him because of the way he shot. A least 50 kids were screaming on every shot. Jeff was as calm as could be. He never flinched. Never took his eye off the hoop. My stomach was in knots, but he was in his driveway. In the zone. Shooting with dad!!! That’s what I will always remember and pray as you and Carey move forward…. his LIFE is what you will remember most!!!

    Ed

  4. Francesca Hagadus November 9, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    Time only forms scar tissue, which is different from healing.

  5. Sharon Djaha November 9, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    What a beautiful and painful tribute to read and, no doubt, write. Your pain (and that of the rest of your family) in unimaginable. I wish you all peace and the comfort and the knowledge that Jeff is always with you. Thinking of you all on this sad day.

  6. susan mcclanahan November 9, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    Thank you for this blog Rich. I will miss it and will never forget Jeffrey. xoxo Sue

    • rktrain November 9, 2015 at 2:47 pm #

      Thank you Sue, but you don’t need to miss the blog, as it is not going anywhere. I will continue writing.

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