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Desperately Trying To Keep Jeff Alive On His 29th Birthday

2 Mar

 

Today is not a funeral.  It is a birthday, and we shall treat it as such.”

            –Tarzan Tahsin Ozan Gemikonakli, Facebook post, March 2, 2013

______________________________________________________

 Jeff,

Each and every birthday, I try my best to heed Tarzan’s words. It’s extremely difficult, though, as your birthday connotes many different things, and unfortunately, the thoughts that dominate my mind are those related to what might have been. My research into suicide has been excruciatingly painful, because each piece of data that I’ve found confirms what I intuitively knew—that any number of factors could have quickly changed the outcome and tipped your fate from death to decades of life in the blink of an eye. A suicide barrier at the bridge, a traffic jam on the way there, Brett’s school bus getting home a little earlier, a call from me making plans for that night…the list goes on and on. And the knife twists.

And if any of those things had happened, the research clearly shows that the suicidal moment would have permanently passed. You’d be celebrating your 29th birthday with us and others today, and during this incredible time in our history, each of your passions would have found plenty of fertile ground for your unique means of expression.

You really came of age during the 2008 Presidential campaign, and the passion that Barack Obama elicited from you is something for which I will always be grateful to him. I can only imagine how engaged you’d have been in this year’s bizarre campaign season. I can actually hear your expressions of outrage over the utter lack of substance in a couple of the Republican candidates and the somewhat disturbing policy positions of others.

I can picture you debating Jason, the young kid you mentored at Middlebury who is now a junior in college, about his strong support for Bernie Sanders. You would have spared no effort in trying to bring him around to your view that Hillary is the best choice for our country at this critical moment. I know you would have started a separate politically-focused blog on which to spread your message that Obama’s agenda must be continued. Your booming voice and colorful writing take over my mind during quiet moments at work. Knowing exactly what you’d be saying and writing makes it easy to fantasize, but while your spoken and written words are tantalizingly close, they are a tease.

And your brothers… they were kids when you upped and left, and now they are men with whom you’d have had raucous political conversations to complement your sports banter. Brett, as Features Editor of the Villanovan, has become a leading columnist covering the political campaigns, and Drew is aligned with you in his support of Hillary. He believes that electing a woman after an African American would not only be incredibly historic but would also indicate that our country, despite its divisions, is still capable of great things.

This train of thought leads me to the unbelievable reality that you never even knew that your little brother ended up at Villanova. For someone who was so close to his brothers and so engaged in Drew’s college search, that is something that boggles my mind. Your brothers were there for you at your graduations, and you were there for Drew, but it’s egregious, quite frankly, that you won’t be there for Brett.

 

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And when you layer on top of that the fact that ‘Nova recently attained and temporarily held college basketball’s number one ranking for the first time in its history, your not being here to see it is really too much to bear. My God, you’d have been out of your mind with excitement over this amazing development in Brett’s senior year. Instead, the only Villanova memories you left behind were your angry Facebook posts about how egregious calls by the refs handed ‘Nova a first round victory against huge underdog Robert Morris during your last March Madness tournament in 2010. If you had only known that Brett would choose two years later to go to college there, all would have been instantly forgiven.

 

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The reality is that observing all these current events that are so tied to your past keeps you alive for me. And even now, staying connected to you and keeping you alive in any way possible is crucial to my maintaining a healthy state of mind. I actually fear that as the people about whom you had such strong feelings start to fade from the scene, you will somehow become less relevant in the world.

As long as Kobe, Obama, Lebron and Eli Manning are still impact players, then in my confused mind, so are you. But when Kobe retires in May, and Obama leaves office next January, I feel like you will be that much more removed from today’s world, and thus you’ll be even more dead than you already are.

 

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At least March Madness is forever, so your passion will always live through the tournament. And this year’s tournament, in which so many teams have a real shot to win it all, would have taken your excitement to new heights.

Some might call it masochistic, but when I still periodically receive emails that are addressed to you, I can’t bring myself to hit the delete key. I also have to confess that I keep much of the snail mail addressed to you too. I just can’t trash it. I don’t know, man, I guess I just feel that if advertisers still think you’re alive, then maybe in some metaphysical way, you are. It’s all about keeping you alive.

 

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The most difficult conversation that Mom and I are having now is about her strong feeling that after five years, it’s time to start taking things down from the walls in your room.  Although I totally understand where she’s coming from, when she said it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I felt the onset of full blown panic. And as you know, I’m the most stable, least anxious guy around.

To me, beginning the process of dismantling your room would be complete capitulation, an acknowledgement that you truly are gone forever and there is really no reason for you to still have your own room. It’s too painful for Mom to see the memories, yet for me, when I walk in your room and see Obama’s “Yes We Can” poster and your bulletin boards with all your sports tickets and memories, you literally come alive again for me. When my back is sore and I sit in the massage chair in the corner of your room and look around, it feels like you’re there. Your life surrounds me, and I like how it feels.

 

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The bottom line is that Mom and I are 30+ year soul mates, and no matter what we disagree about, we always agree on the crucial importance of compromise. And so we will do this gradually in a way that works for her and eases me into it. First, we’ll take down some of the less personal items, like the framed sports photos. And then sometime later in the year, we’ll take down Obama, the Middlebury pennant, and the bulletin boards. That day will be the second most devastating day of my life.

Through relentless searching, though, I continue to find precious memories that I thought had long ago been lost or discarded. These “finds” energize me, and the memories bring you temporarily back to life. The most incredible recent discovery was a postcard, of all things, that you sent us during the summer of 2003 when you went on that Wilderness Ventures teen tour out west. It captures exactly who you were:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s the day after I left the message at home, and we’re getting our laundry done. We just showered too. Wow! It’s tough out here—the conditions are brutal sometimes. I’ll tell you ALL about it when I get home, but I just want to let you know that the kids are GREAT and I cannot tell you enough how much I’m looking forward to East Hampton.

Love,
Jeff”

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Like a digital camera that takes high resolution photos, this postcard is similarly a high definition snapshot of you. There you were, out in the elements, toughing out the hot and dry conditions, but loving the experience. And of course you thought the kids were GREAT. Was there anyone you didn’t like or get along with? I admire your gift of expression—in just a few sentences, you gave us a vivid picture of exactly how you were doing and what it was like. And in the midst of all that, you had one eye looking forward to a family tradition—a summer-end vacation for the five of us. I always thought you had perfect balance in your life between enjoying great times with friends and separately with family. I just don’t know whatever became of your ability and willingness to battle through tough conditions.

I guess it’s pretty ironic that over five years after your death, on your 29th birthday today, I’m still fighting a war for your life. It’s a fight to keep you relevant and to keep the memories fresh and vibrant. You were so worried about advancing through your 20’s and assuming the responsibilities that these years would bring. It’s so sad, because Drew would be the first to tell you that the 20’s are pretty damn good, and Brett’s early read would confirm that.

Kobe and Barack may be on their way out, but we’ve still got Eli and Lebron, and your man Bill Simmons is coming back with a brand new website and HBO sports talk show.

 

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With those guys still making headlines, I feel like you remain alive in a spiritual way, and given the reality of the situation, that’s the best I can ask for.

Today is certainly not a funeral. We each get only one of those, and tragically, you’ve prematurely had yours. But birthdays keep coming, and that is what today is.  It is the birthday of  our firstborn son who filled us with such pride and joy for 23 1/2 years. I promise you, I’m fighting like hell to treat it as such.

Happy 29th birthday, Jeff. I love you with all my heart.

Love,
Dad

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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

A Christmas Eve Tale: Using Jeff’s Spirit Above To Help Find Our Missing Dog

7 Dec

“Oh, they say, she died one winter,

When there came a killing frost,

And the pony she named Wildfire,

Busted down its stall,

In a blizzard he was lost.”

        –Michael Murphey, “Wildfire”, 1975

____________________________________________________________________________

It’s sort of ironic that for a family to whom Christmas has been so important, both spiritually and in terms of being a wonderful time for family bonding, Christmas Eve has not always been kind to us.

On Christmas Eve 2000, the five of us went into Manhattan to go ice skating at South Street Seaport, to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and then to have dinner at Michael Jordan’s steakhouse in Grand Central Station before jumping on the train home. It was a great day and evening.

However, at about one in the morning, Drew, who was just 9 years old, came into our room in tears and in obvious pain. True to his nature, he apologized for waking us up but said that he felt extreme stomach pain. I knew immediately what it was, as it happened to me when I was 11. I asked Drew to point to the exact spot on his abdomen where he felt the pain. He did so, and it was the precise location where the scar from my appendectomy was still visible on the right side of my abdomen.

I explained that we needed to get in the car right away and get to the hospital but that everything would be fine. I told him that Santa would know and would deliver his gifts to the hospital. And so in the early hours of Christmas 2000, Drew had his appendix removed and Carey came to sleep in his hospital room while I went home to be with Jeff and Brett. Drew opened presents in Northern Westchester Hospital on Christmas morning.

I would have thought that one such dramatic Christmas Eve incident would be enough for one family, but I was mistaken. Our evening on December 24th, 2012 was all planned out. We’d have an early dinner out together and then go to Church services. Those plans changed quickly, though, when during our greyhound Dobi’s late afternoon walk, she ran off in the woods at Dogwood Park, in the same direction in which she typically wanders off for short amounts of time. She had always come back in the past within ten minutes or so. Not this time.

At the 20 minute missing mark, Carey and I started getting nervous, as darkness was quickly settling in. Dobi was wearing a bright pink coat, but not only didn’t we see anything in the distance, we didn’t hear any rustling in the leaves either. After a half hour, we started to bellow her name, beseeching this greyhound– whom we had rescued from the racetracks of Florida when our whippet Clif was diagnosed with lymphoma just three months after Jeff died– to come back to us. Dobi had comforted us greatly in the aftermath of Jeff’s death and Clif’s ultimate death in January 2012 (see “Clif’s Coming”, 1/30/12, https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/clifs-coming/ ), and now she was gone. The song Wildfire entered my mind. The forecast for that evening was for sleet and snow, and I panicked at the thought that Dobi could be lost in a storm just like Wildfire was.

DobiCoat

Dobi in her pink coat

After an hour, we had screamed ourselves hoarse with nothing to show for it. It was pitch black, and the silence was deafening. Carey and I agreed that this time she wasn’t coming back. Carey speculated that she had been attacked by a coyote or a deer that she had chased. Or maybe for some inexplicable reason, she had escaped the park onto a road. Not knowing what else to do, we drove home without our precious dog.

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 1

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 2

We had texted Drew and Brett what was happening, and when we got home, the look of disbelief on their faces broke my heart. Again. As we stood in the kitchen, that all too familiar feeling that our family had suffered yet another crushing loss permeated the room. It was surreal–there we were in a warm house while our greyhound was somewhere outside in the very cold night, hopefully still alive. She had been gone over 90 minutes. At that point, Carey verbalized what we were all feeling. We were going to go back into those woods, together as a family, and we weren’t leaving without our girl. We grabbed flashlights and got in the car, all five of us including Carey’s mom.

For a brief moment, though, I stayed behind in the kitchen while they went into the garage. I pulled Jeff’s picture out of my pocket–the one that was given out with the prayer card at his wake. He is wearing a deep blue shirt with a red tie. I keep it with me at all times. I looked him squarely in the eyes, and my rage that had boiled within me for over two years surged to the surface. I screamed at him:

“You owe us for everything you’ve put us through. YOU OWE US. Bring her back, do you hear me? As your father, I’m telling you to BRING HER BACK.”

I didn’t know if he could hear me, but I guarantee you the neighbors did.

No more death. No more tragedy. Not tonight. Not on Christmas Eve.

 2012-12-27_0

We parked the car, and Drew, Brett and I got out with our flashlights and plunged into the dark woods. We each started calling Dobi’s name as loud as we could while shining our lights every which way. Nothing. We walked a little futher in, now screaming in fear, not hope. About five minutes later, Drew called out, “I heard something up there”, and he pointed up and to our right. Brett whipped around and pointed his flashlight at the spot, and we all immediately saw a flash of pink. Instinctively, Brett sprinted toward her, and Dobi started to run away from the blinding lights. I screamed at Brett to stop, and when I called her in as calm a voice as I could muster, she ran into my arms. I had dropped her leash by the entrance, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t letting go until she was back safely in our car. It had been well over two hours since she went missing.

clif and dobi

Clif and Dobi

I don’t know exactly how Jeff got Dobi back toward the entrance to the park while we were driving back there, after Carey and I had searched futilely for over an hour, but I do know that enough things have happened over the past four years–most of which I’ve shared in this forum–to convince me that Jeff’s spirit is alive and that he is watching over everyone he loves. While I don’t think he can control everything (if he could, all his favorite sports teams would win the championship every single year), I believe that God has given him a sphere of influence within which to operate, and he has utilized this to communicate with us periodically, to turn out the lights on occasion at major sporting events, and to guide the dog he never met back to us. I shudder to think about the emotional devastation we would have felt if Dobi had not returned.

Once we returned home with Dobi and fed her, we went directly to Church. Dinner could wait until afterward. Once there, in addition to celebrating the miracle of Christmas under the leadership of our Priest, Father Elias Villis, we silently thanked God about a million times for bringing Dobi home. And I privately thanked Jeff for stepping up for the family and doing his part.

When I opened the Church doors to leave after the completion of the service, the snow was falling fairly heavily, the cars were covered with it, and I had to compose myself while thinking about how Dobi, then safe and warm in our home, could just as easily have been out in this storm with her pink coat saturated, and with her shivering and scared in the woods or elsewhere. I was instantly overtaken, right there on the Church steps, by that feeling of parental helplessness that I was introduced to so abruptly and violently in the fall of 2010, and I was deeply shaken by it.

The bottom line is that whether it’s your dog or your child, you protect them as long as you possibly can, but when it’s time to remove the leash, your parental powers significantly diminish. At that point, all you can do is hope and pray that they are equipped to move forward productively, to make decent decisions and to stay out of major trouble. I have no idea where Dobi was or what she was doing during the two hours we were separated from her, but she somehow found her way back to us. Jeff, on the other hand, who had taken one dollar with him to the bridge on November 9th, 2010, just in case he decided to pay the return toll to come back home, chose not to. And in making that decision, he devastated the family he loved so much.

The story of Dobi on that Christmas Eve was just the latest incident that has made it quite evident to me that incorporating Jeff into our lives as if he was still here is the way to move forward most productively. That is why I made sure that he was central to our search and rescue mission for Dobi. And that is why I continue to yell at him when appropriate, talk to him daily, email and text him on occasion and call him every day to hear his voicemail greeting. I also stay attuned to his signals and will always be open to communication from him.

The path to recovery for me has never been clearer. I must continue to cherish what I do have, which is an incredible amount, while battling my loss by always carrying Jeff with me everywhere I go. Given how he sprang into action the second I called upon him to bring Dobi home two years ago, he obviously still needs me to be his father, and I will never stop being that for him. I miss him dearly, but through emails, texts, photos, videos, anecdotes and special memories, he truly remains alive for all of us.

I have learned not to look too far into the future, but for now, Dobi is home, the holiday season is beautiful, my wife and sons love me, and my friends and family are amazing. 2015 is almost here, and I’m ready to take it on. Things are bound to go awry along the way, but the events of December 24, 2012 gave me a blueprint for how to approach most problems in the future.

In many cases, I’ll pull out Jeff’s picture and sternly instruct him to make things right. And if that doesn’t work, our family will once again come together to brainstorm, and as a team, we will search for and ultimately find the answer.

–Rich Klein

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/

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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

Older Than My Older Brother

12 Oct

“I wanted you to know,

That I love the way you laugh,

I wanna hold you high and steal your pain away,

I keep your photograph,

And I know it serves me well,

I wanna hold you high and steal your pain,

‘Cause I’m broken, when I’m lonesome,

And I don’t feel right, when you’re gone away,

You’ve gone away; you don’t feel me here anymore”

Broken”, Seether (Feat. Amy Lee)

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As of today, I have lived one day longer than my older brother, who was born four years before I was. There aren’t really adequate words to describe how that makes me feel, especially since it was his choice for it to have turned out this way, but in this post, I will try.

Simply put, it is a strange, horrible, confusing and mystifying feeling that I am technically “older than my older brother.”  As for my parents, I really don’t want to even imagine how they must feel.  They tell me that without Brett and me, their prospects for going forward would have been a lot different.  Regardless, they’ve been brave and strong ever since, and they are truly special people because of that.

 I find myself often thinking about the course of events that have occurred throughout my life, and the people who have come and gone along the ride. I enjoy doing this, in fact, and I’m a big believer in the classic saying “everything happens for a reason”. However this is obviously the one instance where that is not true; Jeff leaving us could not have happened for any valid reason. The only real positive counter to this statement would be that the Kleinsaucer blog was formed, and especially as of late, more and more people are reading about the epidemic of suicide, and feeling more comfortable expressing themselves, thereby preventing themselves from doing such a horrible thing.

It goes without saying that I took Jeff’s death very hard; I had felt closer to him than ever during the fall of 2010, but I was simply unaware of any difficulties that he was going through. I had just transitioned to a new school, and while it wasn’t heaven, it was better than my previous school, so I was at least happy with that. Jeff, of course, kept in regular contact with me, asking about how I was doing and whether I was enjoying myself. And I was ecstatic telling him that it was possible I might perform at the halftime show at a Philadelphia 76ers game as part of a new dance class I was taking! Even just four days before he left us, we were also talking about our beloved Knicks, and what their season held in store. There was literally no sign of trouble in any of our text conversations.  Jeff’s texts are in gray, and mine are in yellow.

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Jeff drew text 3

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Drew nice profile picture

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Jeff Drew Text 1

We kept in contact frequently until the end, and I’m glad, but I feel that we could have been even closer. We were both relatively restrained when it came to conversing with each other. Suffice to say, I have had funnier/more outrageous/exciting text conversations with other people. And I still am kicking myself every day over the fact that once upon a time I used to lock the door of my room during high school. I always used to hear him try and come in, not be able to, and walk away… Just unacceptable on my part.

It’s funny when I think about it, because I feel that action of locking my door is something indicative of how our generation lives today. In other words, we focus more on ourselves, interact more with our various devices, and communicate less effectively with other people. I consider what happened a completely lost opportunity to cement our relationship. He was right across the hall, and we should have spent hours together.

While it’s not acceptable that Jeff left us, I feel it’s quite ironic that he would absolutely hate the way the world operates today. For example, we may care about how many likes we get on a social media post more than we care about brightening the days of other people. In sports, people take shortcuts to achieve their goals faster (“Our team isn’t good enough to contend? Let’s buy better players to make us contenders!”). I’m looking at you, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Cavaliers. Jeff wasn’t a Lebron fan to begin with, and he would have despised his return to Cleveland. He would have seen through Lebron’s declaration that he wanted to come home again and would have blogged that his return was really rooted in selfish interest merely to surround himself with a better supporting cast than the one he spent four years with and spontaneously ran away from.

If been here to watch the NBA playoffs with me last spring, we would have been laughing over the disparities in attendance from arena to arena; the Staples Center packed with fans who marvel over the incredible ball movement of the LA Clippers, while fans in the Verizon Center attending the Wizards’ games apparently being more concerned with the quality and quantity of their drinks than actually watching the game. But I digress, and I don’t want to make it seem like I wrote this post to take shots at others… because I didn’t, and I don’t want to come across as someone that I’m not. I actually feel that I’m starting to view these types of things in a similar way that Jeff would have; it’s cool and interesting, but nothing could ever compare to spending time with him right next to me.

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Anyway, it meant the world having Jeff as an older brother for the time that I did. Having him to look up to for anything always made me feel so secure. I will always be able to take away from watching him the diligence that he approached every aspect of life with, whether it was pursuing his studies (and his very brief amount of time as a paralegal), his work ethic towards sports, and his ability to maintain relationships, to name a few. I want to approach my life the same way he did, and also be a top-notch role model for Brett. I can’t imagine the effect this has had on him. I want to fill the void and be the best older brother I can be for him, while also approaching the rest of my life with an unparalleled sense of fearlessness and resilience. I know I’ll get hit here and there, but nothing can ever take me down.

As for myself, my brother, and my parents, we will always have each other for support and to lean on for the rest of our lives, and that is obviously quite certain.  Because of what has happened, I actually can’t picture a tighter bond possible between family members.

I am now older than my older brother was, and I am going to live out my life to its natural conclusion. Had Jeff never left us, he and I would have taken on life’s challenges, and had quite an amazing time doing so. All the more reason I just wish I could have held him high, and stolen his pain away.

–Drew Klein

The Long Arms Of Love

17 Sep

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”

                                             –Barbara Bush

 

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four of us at Drew's moving up day

When you looked at Jeff, his big brown eyes might have caught your attention first. Or maybe it was his trademark amazing smile that he so readily flashed. After those facial features, though, it would be difficult not to notice those long muscular arms and long slender fingers. They were longer than those you’d expect to see on someone who was just over 6 feet tall.

And over the course of his life, Jeff put those long arms and fingers to good use. As a travel team and high school basketball player, Jeff was able to use them to launch his deadly three point shot over taller defenders. When playing defense, his long fingers were instrumental in forcing innumerable turnovers by poking the ball away from opposing ball handlers.

To me, though, there was nothing better than observing the way Jeff used his long arms when posing in photos and at family gatherings, when he wrapped them around us and pulled us toward him. Under Jeff’s silent direction, it came to be almost an unwritten rule within our family that when we wanted to take a photo of our boys together, Drew and Brett would wait for Jeff to line up in between them and use that wingspan to wrap them up. Our photo albums reveal that this started when the boys were quite young and continued until the very last photo they took together.

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Boys on restaurant deck

The symbolism of these pictures is twofold. First, they are clearly symbolic of the love Jeff had for his brothers and his entire family. He delighted in calling Drew and Brett by the nicknames he created for them over the years—“Freight Train” for Drew, and “B-Man” or “Red Cheeks” for Brett—and he loved being the big brother, teasing them incessantly while alternately quizzing them in detail about their days.

Jeff, Drew and Brett at Boys Club

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The sight of Jeff with his arms draped around his brothers in nearly all of our photos is completely reflective of how much he loved them and was protective of them until the very end.

Ironically, though, in his last days, when his resolve was weakening, the big brother reached out to his next youngest brother for reassurance that they would always stick together.  This text exchange, which took place three days before Jeff made the horrific decision that he couldn’t go on, and which Drew shared in his blog post, “My Brother-Part 2”, will forever bring tears to my eyes. His brothers, as well as Carey and I would have locked arms and hearts with Jeff always.

Jeff, Drew text exhange november 6th

The photos also symbolize the fact that Jeff truly was always at the center of everything that went on in our household. He was the man in the middle, the driving force and dominant personality in our family. His moods became our moods. His causes became our causes. He had me thoroughly convinced that NBA Commissioner David Stern must go. Playoff games were fixed. We could not rest until instant replay was implemented in major league baseball (it happened this year, but he didn’t live to see it). We needed to make sure every single person we knew was planning to vote for Obama in 2008. When we couldn’t decide where to go for a Sunday night family dinner, all eyes turned to Jeff to make the decision (and he always obliged). And when we were trying to decide where to go for a European vacation in ’08, Jeff lobbied hard for a Paris/Barcelona trip. He wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and walk on Las Ramblas. Guess where we went…

The picture that we took of the boys at the base of the Eiffel Tower–of course with Jeff in the middle with his arms around his brothers– is one of my all-time favorites and is my Facebook cover photo. The broad smile on Jeff’s face says it all.

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After Jeff walked out on his job in August of 2010, we took a family trip to East Hampton to decompress during that difficult time. The pictures taken on that trip ended up being the final ones ever of our three sons together. It is fitting that this set of photos included that patented image of a smiling young man pulling his brothers toward him with those long arms of love. Jeff was still smiling then, because that picture was taken a little over a week before he took his first dose of Celexa, the anti-depressant that flooded his mind with suicidal thoughts for the first time in his life, just eight days after taking his first pill. As he stood on that sand mound with Drew and Brett, he had yet to have even a remote thought that he would end his own life 2 ½ months later. The phrase “life is so fragile” comes to mind.

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Barbara Bush’s quote resonated with me because Jeff clearly agreed that family meant putting his arms around everyone and being there. He was always there, at every family dinner, holiday and event, and he enjoyed every minute of those times. And then, in a relative blink of an eye, he wasn’t there anymore.

It is difficult for me to fathom the brute force and sheer magnitude of the depression and suicidal wave that overcame Jeff two months before he succumbed. Those feelings must have been so completely overwhelming to have caused him to leave the family and friends he so clearly loved. I can’t relate to it, and therefore I must give up trying to understand it. It is too painful to keep ruminating over why I couldn’t prevent what happened. Since nobody in our family can ever doubt how much Jeff loved us, I need to just leave it at that and accept the fact that he was gang-tackled by a cocktail of different pills which left him defenseless.

So instead, I find myself staring at the precious images of my three boys then and my two boys now. I have observed Drew and Brett closely over these last 3 ½ years, and it is evident that their brotherly love is strong. They will always miss the long arms of love that once held them, but their shared love of family, sports and each other will always keep them close.

Cancun drew and brett

Drew and Brett at Kim's wedding

Drew and Brett on dock at Newport

Jeff didn’t live up to his end of the November 6th, 2010 deal that he made with Drew, but the photo that Drew and Brett asked me to take of them on Thanksgiving Day 2011, just one year after Jeff died, reflects their understanding that as the surviving brothers in our family’s complicated world, they definitely “gotta stay close and stick together.”

Drew and Brett Thanksgiving 2011

I find their resolve to be very poignant and quite beautiful.

–Rich Klein

Jeff Chose The Wrong Bridge: A Father’s Day Reflection-Part 4

15 Jun

“Oh, when darkness comes,

And pain is all around,

Like a bridge over troubled water,

I will lay me down.

—Simon & Garfunkel, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, 1970

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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Dear Jeff,

It is incomprehensible to me that seven months have passed since I last wrote to you in my “Let It Be” post, though I guess it’s no more shocking than the fact that it’s been three years and seven months since you left us. And so here we are, at the dawn of the fourth Father’s Day that you have spent in Heaven, and it is a day that continues to confound me more than any other during the calendar year. On the one hand, I am so blessed both to have sons like Drew and Brett, who literally make me feel like the greatest father of all-time and also to have had you as a son and dear friend for 23 ½ amazing years. On the other hand, this day never fails to conjure up the memories of all my failures and missed opportunities to keep you here with us. These terrible thoughts are debilitating, because they almost make me feel unworthy of even celebrating this day, though I know deep down that such feelings are unfounded.

I get so confused sometimes when I think about my current relationship with you. I mean, I wrote above “to have had you as a son”, but aren’t you still my son? Of course you are. You just happen to be in Heaven. I still take care of you and your memory by writing on Kleinsaucer and by maintaining the Friends of Jeff Klein facebook page. I still call you every day and listen to your voicemail greeting. And I don’t devote any less time or energy to my relationship with you now than I did when you were here. It’s just much more complicated now.

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Hanging with Jeff at the beach, August 2005

My confusion causes me to stumble frequently when strangers ask about my kids. Mom got angry with me in December when a 20-something year old car salesman asked me how many kids I had, and I answered that I had two boys. Later, she wanted to know how I could say such a thing. I don’t know, I guess I just shudder at the thought of the inevitable follow up questions about where you all are and what you’re up to in life. That happened once at a big client dinner when I mentioned to a colleague across the table that my oldest son graduated from Middlebury in 2009. The guy asked me what you’ve been doing since, and I stammered and said something like “it’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time.” It’s brutal, Jeff. It really is.

I try to keep you alive in every way I possibly can. We still receive mail addressed to you from time to time, and I never notify the sender to take your name off their list. I also receive a daily email with an inspirational quote. It’s quite strange, because I never signed up for this, and yet it comes to my email address with the subject line “Your Inspirational Quote Jeff”. Why are they sending a daily email to my mailbox that addresses you? In any event, I will never unsubscribe from this, because seeing emails with your name on them makes me feel like you are still part of this world. And how ironic it is that they contain inspirational quotes that could have really benefited you.

Inspirational Quote

In addition, we constantly get emails from Carepackages.com asking us to send you care packages for midterm week, finals week, Valentine’s Day and all sorts of other occasions. We will never stop these emails either, because if this company thinks you’re alive and still a student at Middlebury, then maybe in some metaphysical way, you are. It somehow makes me feel as if you are closer to us and to this world than is actually the case.

midd care packages 2

Last Father’s Day, I wrote about the most egregious mistake I made as your father, which was neglecting to take you far away to a beach for a week when you were at the peak of your struggles, with no job and no real plan, in October 2010. There is still no question in my mind that if I had done that, your head would have cleared, we would have strategized about and agreed on a viable plan of attack for your future, and you would have come home a new and revitalized young man. And you’d be alive today. Instead, I went to work and left you home to flounder.

As if that crucial mistake wasn’t bad enough, I recently came upon an email, during one of my ongoing searches for precious memories of you, that highlighted yet another terrible error I made at a critical point in time. For context, you remember how nerve-racking it was for me during the financial crisis in 2009 when Bank of America was laying off people left and right after our merger with Merrill Lynch. As it became clearer over that year and into 2010 that I was not going to be one of the casualties, it was a tremendous relief for me.

And I guess that is why on August 2nd, 2010, at the very height of your suffering at your own job, when you were completely buried with work and could barely come up for air, I thoughtlessly sent you an email containing a snippet of my very positive 2010 mid-year performance review. I know that your beautiful response below was genuine and heartfelt, but looking back on it now, the level of insensitivity I displayed by sending you such a thing at that time is appalling.

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I actually don’t know how I could have done such a thing, and knowing you the way I do, I am quite certain in retrospect that my email accelerated your downward spiral. Nine days later, you walked out and quit. Under more normal circumstances, my email could have reinforced your view of me as a role model, which is what every father wants to be for his kids. But being unfair to yourself, you felt as if you were failing under the weight of grueling hours and demanding attorneys. I was not nearly sensitive enough to that reality, and as a result, my email highlighted a contrast that likely made you feel worse about yourself, rather than prouder of me. It was a disgraceful lack of judgment on my part, and although it is too late now, Jeff, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I don’t err all that much, but when I screw up, I seem to do so in a big way.

So many people have said to me over these last few years that you must not have thought about the amount of pain that you’d be leaving behind, because if you had, you never would have gone through with it. But sadly, you and I know the truth about that.

I know that you damn well remember the night, about two weeks before you jumped, when I came in your room with the clear intent of addressing the consequences of you ever acting on your horrific thoughts. I knew how dire the situation was then, and I decided I needed to look you in the eyes and tell you straight up. I also knew that I would never forgive myself if, Heaven forbid, I hadn’t had this conversation, and then you ended up doing what you ultimately did. And so I decided to go for the game changer and lay it on thick. I will always remember my exact words to you that night, because I prepared extensively for this conversation, and I felt certain these words, along with The Napkin I had already shown you, were my best shots to eradicate suicidal thoughts from your brain once and for all:

“Jeff, you may think that you’d be putting yourself at peace if you ever acted upon your thoughts, but the devastation and carnage you’d be leaving behind would be unimaginable. Mom and I would never be able to withstand the pain of losing you. You would scar both your brothers for life. I would need to quit my job and sell the house. We would never be able to walk by this room. Would you EVER do that to your family?”

Naturally you said you wouldn’t, but I remember feeling that there was a lack of total conviction in your voice, and the brief conversation did not put me at ease. But what else was I supposed to do? Put you under surveillance and have you followed 24/7? Honestly, if I had thought of that at the time, I would have done it. You’d still be here if I had, because you would have been stopped before ever getting to the bridge. Believe me, I torment myself with those thoughts every day.

But I can imagine what you’re thinking now:

“Well Dad, let’s see. You didn’t quit your job or sell the house. You all walk by my room every day, and you go in there all the time. Drew and Brett are doing great. You and Mom seem fine to me. So what was up with all those things you said to me that night?”

All I can say to that, Jeff, is that you will never know the feelings that Mom, Drew, Brett and I live with every single day. You will never know the pain that comes from losing a child or a brother, especially in this way, and you will never know how deep the pain runs from simply missing you. And you will never understand how it feels when everywhere I go, there is something that reminds me of you and of how you should still be here with us. Yes, we opted for stability in not selling the house, and I would never have compromised my ability to support our family by quitting my job, but the fact remains that you did leave unimaginable devastation and carnage in your wake, just as I said you would. You may not be able to see it, but it exists in our broken hearts.

My egregious mistakes notwithstanding, I was the one who could have led you to a better place, but with a mind altered by anti-depressants, you were simply not a willing partner at the end. The real tragedy is that your despair was temporary, and all you needed was a temporary bridge over the troubled water you saw to get you to that better place.

I was that bridge, Jeff, and you knew it.

I have never encountered a weight that I couldn’t carry, and your 190 pounds of muscle would have been no different. And like all fathers would have, I tried to lay myself down and carry you on my back. But you wouldn’t let me. Instead, you chose the bridge at Bear Mountain as a permanent ending place, rather than me as the bridge to a future filled with happiness and stability. I guess it all gets back to that imaginary trip–to a beach in Florida– that I never thought to take you on until it was too late. That is where I should have taken you to change the outcome. I will never live down my failure to do that. Even without that trip, though, I was still there trying to advise you, guide you and motivate you. I just couldn’t get through to you.

As a father who adored you, I was the bridge you should have chosen. I was the bridge that would have taken you from your troubled present to a very near future when your body and mind would have been free from the meds once and for all. From then on, you would have found your path, and the Bear Mountain Bridge would have represented nothing more than a scenic route to take when traveling to Rockland County. I was the only bridge you would ever have needed.

In the years before the meds attacked your brain, you knew that life was full of great moments that made the tough times seem trivial.  I recently came across your Facebook status from July 23rd, 2009.  Remember this one from when you were in Florida with Jack, Ryan and Elon?

Jeff life is good status

Rubbing my eyes.

Life is good?

LIFE IS GOOD???

Life is good.

OF COURSE LIFE IS GOOD, JEFF.

How did you ever forget that?

Why was I unable to get you to understand that, despite the struggles we all go through, we must forge ahead on our journey and live for the good moments.  Especially when you have the type of support network that you did.

Despite the failures and mistakes that Father’s day conjures up, I intend to enthusiastically celebrate it. Drew and Brett have so many of your best traits, especially those of warmth and kindness, and they give me love and support every day. The closeness of my relationship with each of them is such a blessing, and I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if I didn’t have them. And whether we just play some tennis, go play pick-up basketball at the gym, or throw the Frisbee around at Gedney Park, it’s going to be a great day.  And I know one thing for sure–the three of us will end Father’s Day by watching Game 5 of the Heat-Spurs series tonight.

Brett and me at Yankees 2013

rich and drew in red hawks shirts

In the final analysis, I know that even the best of fathers make mistakes. The problem is that mine were made during the crunch time in your life and were so completely avoidable had I applied even a modicum of common sense to the situation at hand. For what it’s worth, I have learned so much from what happened and I should be equipped now to be a better father and a wiser man going forward.

The inner peace that I have started to feel recently comes from my having used the last three years and seven months as a time of deep reflection about my 27 years of fatherhood, which you initiated. During that time, I have come to realize that you, Drew and Brett have given me nothing but positive reinforcement for the job I’ve done as your father all these years. Even in your final notes, you cast all the blame upon yourself and told us we were “the best parents a son could ever ask for.”

And so it’s time now to enjoy the type of family day that you lived for. As with everything, we will do so with your spirit in our hearts and your photos all around us. I am a blessed man with two special sons here and 23 ½ years worth of amazing memories of my time spent with you.

Perhaps the most touching and, in retrospect, poignant thing you ever wrote to me was in the last birthday card I ever received from you, on August 12th, 2010. You had quit your job the day before, but you didn’t tell us because you didn’t want to ruin my birthday. At your lowest moment, you wrote:

“I feel happy and safe when I am around you, and I realize how much you care about me.”

 

Jeff last birthday card to me

Jeff last birthday card to me 2

I guess a father can’t ask for much more on Father’s Day than to know that he has made his kids feel happy and safe, and that they know how much he cares. It begs the question, of course, why those feelings weren’t enough to keep you here and why you didn’t use me as your bridge. It is a question that I will ponder for years to come, but not today. It is my special day, and I’m quite sure you would tell me that I deserve to celebrate it with a mind unencumbered by such difficult thoughts.

Love you always,

Dad