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A Letter To My Son In Heaven On His 30th Birthday

2 Mar

“Well I’m not the kind to live in the past,

The years run too short and the days too fast.

The things you lean on are the things that don’t last,

Well, it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these time passages,

There’s something back here that you left behind,

Oh time passages…”

                                                –Al Stewart, “Time Passages”, 1978

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Dear Jeff,

What you left behind was all that was precious to you—your family, friends, memories and possibilities—and you left us to live and navigate the ensuing years without you. The big 3-0, your 30th birthday, is just another sad reminder of what might have been.

When you lose a child, especially in the gruesome, dark way that we did, every day thereafter becomes a war with your own mind. Looking at our situation objectively as we sit today, Mom and I are so blessed. We have two wonderful, loving sons still here on earth who bring us so much joy every day, and we each have jobs that we enjoy. We have friends, family, and a precious greyhound that you never met. And so we have these blessings that we can count, but we also have a son whose battered body is in a grave about thirty minutes from our home.

Controlling the mind is everything. I have needed to be mentally and emotionally strong enough to keep it focused on the blessings and away from the horror of what you did. You can imagine, Jeff, how difficult that can be, especially on certain dates—your birthday, your death date, and even on random days when I just can’t help myself. On those days, in the words of Al Stewart, my line gets cast into those time passages. I imagine the extent of your pain and loneliness as you drove to the bridge, and I have to physically snap myself out of it by punching a wall, doing some push-ups or jumping up from my desk at work.

For the most part, I’m able to stay squarely focused on all the good stuff. And I have to say, we had a lot of fun in 2016. Experiencing Villanova’s run to a most unlikely national championship in your beloved March Madness tournament was incredibly fun, and of course I know you directed it all from Heaven. I was so sure of it that I wrote a blog post about it in the days following Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beating shot.  And with Brett’s graduation occurring less than two months later, it was an amazing time for us.

 

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https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2016/04/13/can-spiritual-influence-from-heaven-affect-the-outcome-of-an-earthly-sports-game/

Then, in August, we finally took the family trip to Greece that we had always talked about. And while it was too late for you and surreal for us that you weren’t there, it was a vacation we’ll always treasure. Every time the slightest sad thought about you not being with us tried to creep in, I took one look at mom and your brothers and I beat it back. We carried you in our hearts as we biked through Athens, walked up the Acropolis to the Parthenon, and enjoyed the beaches and restaurants of Mykonos.

When we got back, I sat in the massage chair in your room one night and told you all about it. I often sit in that chair, both to loosen up my back and to talk to you.

Your room.

If it was up to me, Jeff, I’d leave it intact for as long as we live in this house. When I’ve gone in there over these years, I’ve felt like you came back to life as I stared at your posters, your bulletin board with your ticket collection, the stack of Middlebury Campus newspapers with all the articles you wrote, your NBA standings board and everything else.

However, it’s not solely up to me, and this topic is a case study for how two soul mates can feel completely differently about the same sensitive issue relating to their deceased son.  As the recent years rolled by, Mom increasingly felt it was morbid to leave your room untouched. And since she indulged me on this for six years, I agreed last year that it was time to take it down. My only request was that we do it gradually.

But then, I was walking in midtown on a recent Thursday morning when I received the following text from Mom, referring to Gram who was at our house at the time:

 

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WHAT?

This had come totally out of the blue, and I freaked. NOBODY can touch your stuff but me. I know where every single item in your room is—every Middlebury Campus newspaper containing your articles, every trophy, every shot glass from your  favorite places, every EVERYTHING—and if Gram put these things where I couldn’t locate them later, I would go ballistic. This is MY domain, and as irrational as it is, I get nervous when anyone goes in your room, even Mom, and even if it’s just to move an old phone charger of yours.

I started to hyperventilate. I frantically texted Mom to tell Gram not to touch a thing until I got home.

 

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No response.

I texted again to tell her that it wasn’t right to do this to me. Still no response.

I tried again to no avail, and at that point I called Gram’s cell phone. She picked up, and I told her not to touch a thing in that room. Clearly shaken, she assured me that she hadn’t and wouldn’t. Crisis averted.

I stood in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, placed my hands on my knees, and allowed my breathing to gradually return to a more normal pace. The thought of Gram moving your personal items into storage bins without me there had elicited feelings inside me that I had only felt once before—the day you went missing. The man you described in your suicide note as “the rock of the family” had just had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of midtown Manhattan.

Don’t worry, I’m still a rock. But I’m human with vulnerabilities too.

Jeff, I think I subconsciously believed, deep down, that if we left your room exactly as it was, you might have actually come home again some day.  I never saw your destroyed body after it happened, mostly because I was afraid I wouldn’t survive the sight, but also partially because if I didn’t see you, I could pretend that it wasn’t really you in that casket.

Mom later explained that she was in the supermarket with limited service at the time I was texting her. When she stepped out of the store, one frantic text after another popped up on her phone. She thought my reaction bordered on psychotic, and she later explained that with much of your furniture gone and the things that were on it now scattered on your floor, she had been feeling extremely upset that your room looked so sloppy and uncared for. Whether it’s your grave or your room, your amazing mother will never stop taking care of you.

Over the next few days after this harrowing incident, Mom involved me in the effort to organize your room. I put all the things I was worried about losing in bins of my choosing, and I stacked them in their new spot. Nothing will ever be lost. I know where everything is and feel in control again.

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Mom and I came together, as partners do, to take care of each other’s needs. For Mom, it was organization, and for me, it was preservation, and neither of us would ever throw out things that had a direct connection to you.

Your furniture.

I’ve written in great detail in prior posts about how Mom selflessly sought to protect me from the pain that awaited on the day you jumped. It should therefore come as no surprise to either of us that, six years later, she did the very same thing when it came to easing the pain I felt when the time had finally come to tackle your room.

As Drew was preparing to move out last fall into his new apartment, Mom told me that she’d asked Drew if he’d like to take some of the furniture from your room to his new place and that he had said yes. I was overcome with emotion over the poignancy of that. Your furniture would not only stay within our family, but it would go to your younger brother who adored you and saw this as a way to maintain his own connection to you.

But even more striking to me is the fact that your mother, this most elegant woman, had come up with a perfect, elegant solution to a terribly difficult situation, i.e. how to gradually dismantle our dead son’s room in the least painful way possible for all concerned. As a result, a part of you, both spiritually and physically in the form of your furniture, will live on in Drew’s new place.

Drew.

There are no words, Jeff, to describe what he has meant to me since you left. He was in college when it happened, but thankfully we still had Brett home.  But when Drew finished in 2013 and Brett went back to Villanova a few months later, I feared that he would soon move out. I prayed that he would live at home for the foreseeable future while he started out on his career.

Having him home, even if I didn’t see him all that much given his crazy schedule, was incredibly healing for me. And without a word on the topic spoken between us during that time, I know he sensed it.

So he stayed.

Being the kind, loving son that he is, he stayed. The two of us went to the NBA all-star weekend in Los Angeles just three months after you died. We watched sports on TV together, we went to Knicks games together and we played tennis together whenever I could grab some of his time.

 

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The fact of the matter, Jeff, is that he lived at home way longer than he needed to, and in the ultimate display of selfishness, I let him do it. I didn’t tell him that I’d be ok and that it was alright for him to go. Because of the desperate situation that you put us in, I let my own selfish needs take priority over what was right for my son. I am so ashamed of myself for that. It’s just that my relationship with each of you is so close that I cherish the times when we’re together. And now that Drew has moved, for just two more weeks, I still have…

Brett.

Another amazing son. It has been awesome having him home since Villanova’s graduation, and during football season, I planned my Sundays around watching as many Giants games with him as possible.  In January, we had a great time going together to the ‘Nova-St. Johns game at the Garden, which has become a special annual outing for the two of us.

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And of course,  in my last post, I wrote about how raucous and fun it was listening to and observing Brett through the election cycle, which culminated with an outcome that none of us saw coming. Jeff, there is something I need to share with you regarding that outcome…

For a sunny guy, I have been harboring a very dark thought.

I can’t stop thinking about the fact that Trump crossed the 270 electoral vote threshold on the same date on which you jumped off a bridge.

November 9th.

I just can’t get that parallel out of my mind. I can only hope and pray that the date that devastated our family will not also be the date that began the devastation of our country.

The eerie similarities grow deeper. Exactly six years earlier, on November 9th, 2010, when it was clear you would not be coming home, I wrapped Brett up in a hug, with his head resting on my left shoulder, and told him we would get through this tragedy by sticking together forever.

Six years to the day later, on November 9th, 2016, Brett and I sat in the family room at around 12:30am, staring blankly at the TV screen as the electoral vote tally relentlessly continued to fall in Trump’s column.  Brett had to take the 5:30am train to work that day, and with confused eyes he looked over to me and asked if I thought he should go to sleep, i.e. was there any way that Hillary could pull out all the remaining states she needed? I told him he should go to sleep.

I stood up when he did, because I knew where he was headed. I opened my arms and as I wrapped him up on yet another November 9th, he placed his head in the same crevice on my left shoulder once again and asked me if everything was going to be ok. My response was similar to what it was six years earlier. It will be ok, because we will stick together and treat all people the right way, with kindness and compassion.

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Your room looks bare without the furniture there now, and we’ve continued to go through and store your belongings. This has resulted in a couple of wonderful new “finds”. I found a couple of editions of the Greeley Tribune in which you wrote sports articles in high school, and I’ve so enjoyed reading these early writings which preceded your Middlebury Campus gems.

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Then I came across a small wooden box, which contains what is essentially a diary that you kept in high school—individual folded pieces of paper with letters to yourself, that expressed your thoughts about the day and the future. Yes, I’ve started to read them, and your expressions of wonderment and excitement about the future are obviously bittersweet.

 

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Thanks to your beautiful mother’s elegant solution, I am at peace with moving forward to convert your room into a guest room. I’m sure you understand that this is something we must do.

I have no idea what this year has in store (maybe you can direct another Final Four run for Villanova?), but one certainty is that the war to control my mind will continue.

I will not win the battle every single day, and given the extreme nature of what you did, that is to be expected. But the blessings I have—especially Mom, Drew and Brett—are so overwhelmingly special that I will always win the war.

With mental and physical strength, as well as countless blessings, I’m ready, willing and able to soak up all of life’s joys, and to contend with its challenges, in 2017.  I know that is what you would want for me and for all of us.

Wishing you a peaceful 30th birthday, Jeff. Thank you for making me a father for the first time and for giving me 23 1/2 years that enriched my life in ways that will stay with me forever. I still feel the closeness of our relationship every day, and I thank God for that.

Sending all my love,

Dad

I Am Thankful And Honored To Call Him My Friend

2 Dec

I had made it through the majority of Rich’s most recent post on November 9th, before my eyes began to well up with tears. Hearing me from the other room, Stacy, my fianceé looked over my shoulder to see what had provoked such sudden sentiment. As she read the powerful and emotion-filled sentences of Rich’s post, Stacy asked with curiosity: “Who was Jeff Klein?”

“….Who was Jeff Klein?” ….”Who was Jeff Klein…?”

The question kept repeating itself in my head. I searched for the words to her seemingly short and innocuous question, yet could not formulate an easy response. Perhaps, the inability to encompass all of Jeff’s incredible qualities and abilities in one short response is what makes his passing so difficult.

As I took a step back to reflect on her question, numerous memories came flooding back into my mind.

I remembered playing on Jeff’s recreational basketball team and watching in amazement as he drilled endless jump shots. I remembered how infectious his joviality was, so much so that he could light up even the darkest room. I remembered trying to convince him that the Jets were clearly a superior team to the Giants – a misstatement that, unfortunately, persists today. I remembered talking to him about applying to law school and his curiosity about the legal profession.

The list is endless.

Yet, there is one memory that stands above them all.

Anyone who had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff could sense his intelligence in an instant. Jeff’s academic prowess was conspicuous even amongst an immeasurable wave of high school students who went on to attend top colleges. In sixth grade, I, like Jeff, chose to take French as a secondary language. It was there that we became fast friends. We were all given a French-equivalent name by our teacher – mine was Jerome.  Jeff’s was Joseph, a name I continued to call him, jokingly, even outside the classroom.

Time certainly has a way of flying by. Six years later, Joseph and I were in the same AP French class during our senior year. While Jeff was one of the top-performing students in our class, French remained – and will forever be – truly a SECOND language for me. One morning, our teacher was unable to make it to class. In her stead, she left grammar sheets which had to be completed and handed to the substitute teacher. To the delight of the entire class, our substitute teacher informed us that once we were done with the sheets we could leave early – a rare, yet treasured prize amongst high school students.

While my French skills placed me at a tortoise’s pace, the remainder of the class completed the sheets like hares. Jeff had completed his work early and was getting ready to leave. However, something stopped him in his tracks. While Jeff could have run off to the cafeteria to talk about sports with friends or catch a bite to eat, he put his bag back down. “Do you need help?” he asked. As the rest of the class filed out swiftly, Jeff stayed behind to help me complete the sheets. We both left the classroom with two extra minutes to spare before next period.

If I told Jeff why this moment was so memorable and impactful, he would probably smile and shrug it off as an innocent act of kindness. But this behavior on an otherwise relatively typical day in French class was not typical of everyone. It was a microcosm of Jeff’s selflessness, his compassion and his inherent desire to help others.

I finally had the answer to my fianceé’s question. “Who was Jeff Klein?”

….Someone I am thankful and honored to call my friend.

   –Jared Kaplan

Let It Be

9 Nov

And when the broken-hearted people living in the world agree,

There will be an answer.

 Let it be.

For though they may be parted,

There is still a chance that they will see,

THERE WILL BE AN ANSWER.

 LET IT BE.”

                         -Beatles, “Let It Be”, 1970

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Dear Jeff,

You and I both knew that this day would come, the time when a few years had passed and I had shared everything about you that there was to share—every anecdote, every photo, every text message and every email—and there was simply not much more to say about who you were, how this nightmare could have happened, how utterly devastated I am to have lost our firstborn son, how our family has navigated the road to recovery, and what I’m now trying to do for the causes of suicide prevention and of exercising caution in prescribing anti-depressants.

You know, in the beginning, I wrote on the blog for purely selfish reasons.  Writing turned out to be an effective form of therapy through which I could both unleash my raging emotions and also ensure that, for at least the ten or so minutes it took someone to read a blog post, people were thinking of you.  For as only parents of deceased children can truly understand, the single biggest fear I had in the aftermath of this tragedy is that people would quickly move on and rarely think of my precious son who had died such a senseless death.  I truly felt desperate to keep your memory alive.

However, I quickly found that quite the opposite was true and that because you were such a force in this world during the time you were here, your friends and family thought about you frequently.  As examples, when March Madness rolled around, people thought of and talked about the upsets that you had always longed to see.  When David Stern announced his retirement, people were abuzz about how you must have been partying in Heaven.  When Obama was re-elected, several people emailed me on Election Day to say that they literally thought about you as they pulled the lever next to his name.

And on your 26th birthday, your friends in London, who had only known you for the three months you spent there in 2007 but upon whom you had an enormous impact, initiated Project Bald in your honor.  Everyone from those friends in London, to friends from Middlebury, to high school friends, to Chappaqua parents and of course your family, cut their hair in memory of you, and many went completely bald.

Project Bald pastires

DEREK SCHLICKEISEN--JEFF'S MIDDLEBURY KDR BROTHER

DEREK SCHLICKEISEN–JEFF’S MIDDLEBURY KDR BROTHER

Jeff's longtime childhood friend, Michael Fiorelli

JEFF’S LONGTIME CHILDHOOD FRIEND, MICHAEL FIORELLI

TARZAN TAHSIN OZAN GEMIKONAKLI, CREATOR OF PROJECT BALD

And of course, there is this day, November 9th, on which anyone who ever knew you will think about where they were when they heard the horrific and shocking news.

No, people will not forget Jeffrey Klein.  The passion with which you lived is legendary, and it will make you impossible to forget.

Even after I realized that, I still kept writing, and then for more than selfish reasons.  I’ve received dozens of emails over these three years from people who have encouraged me to keep at it because my posts were inspiring others.  I didn’t understand why at first, but I have come to realize that virtually everyone out there is dealing with something difficult in their lives, and seeing how open I’ve been about you, what happened, and how we’re dealing with perhaps the most appalling tragedy imaginable, gave people encouragement that they can overcome their own issues and also made them feel less alone.  I hope and pray that is the case, and I am humbled by even the notion that my writing may have achieved a greater purpose than the selfish one that initially drove it.

As for me, my routine of remembrance will never change.  When I sit down at my desk at work in the morning and wait for my computer to plod through its start-up process– which ultimately ends by displaying as my wallpaper the last picture of you and your brothers together on that sand mound in East Hampton– I remove your picture from my pocket (I literally carry it everywhere I go) and strategically place it on the same spot on my desk where it is easy for me to glance at it every few minutes.

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Computer photo

Then, I dial your cell phone number, 914-450-5601, and listen to your strong voice deliver your voicemail greeting.  On this day in 2010, I trembled in fear when I couldn’t reach you and my frantic calls went straight to that very same voicemail greeting.  Now, I crave hearing your voice in that greeting, as it calms me and makes me feel like we’re starting our day together.  To forever preserve my ability to hear your voice on demand, I will continue to pay your cell phone bill for as long as I live.

I wear your clothes and always will.  It makes me feel so connected to you when I wear your Middlebury t-shirts and pullover tops that fit me so well.  That gray Nike long-sleeve pullover shirt that you opened on Christmas morning in 2008, the video clip of which I have shared on this blog, is one of my favorites, as it still somehow has a trace of your smell on it, even after having been washed so many times.  And remember when I wore your Giants jersey on Super Bowl Sunday in 2012 when the Giants beat the Patriots to win the championship?  Once I put that jersey on that day, I felt as if you were watching it with us, and I knew the Giants couldn’t lose.   And when I wore your Obama ’08 shirt, despite my own political leanings, on Election Night 2012, I knew he couldn’t lose either.

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I hope you can hear me when I talk to you.  I think you can, because when I’ve looked at your picture and said, “Ok Jeff, it’s time to go meet Julie for coffee,” or “it’s time to go meet A.B. for lunch”, or “Jeff, we’re going to London to see Tarzan, Mo and Imogen!”, or “Jeff-you, Mom and I are going into Manhattan to have brunch with Thao,” it has appeared as if your smile widens ever so slightly in that photo.  And when I tell you we’re going to a Knicks or Yankees game with Drew and Brett, it really looks like it widens a lot.  Oh, that smile.  I’ve never seen a smile light up a room like yours did and still does in your photos.  It’s magical.  Who could ever have imagined that someone who so frequently flashed that smile would one day consciously choose to end his life in such a violent manner?

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Jeff double kiss

I feel your presence everywhere I go, but perhaps nowhere more than in the gym at Club Fit.  We used to see each other there often on weekends when we went to lift weights.  I used to swell with pride when I saw you walking toward me—smiling, of course– with your headphones on; they were attached to your IPod which rested in that black armband holder which struggled to stay wrapped around your muscular upper arm.  Even now, there are times when I see a young man who resembles you approaching from across the gym, and I freeze until I’m totally convinced that it’s not you.  Yes, fantasy will probably always be a part of my life.  Some might consider that to be pathetic and pity me.  I just consider myself to be forever hopeful that you might one day come home for a short visit.

Virtually every time I’m there, I go to the old fashioned file cabinets where they still keep all the training records for members who have worked with personal trainers over the years.  Sure enough, a file folder labeled “Jeffrey Klein” containing your training cards from March of 2001 still remains.  You were 14 and in 8th grade, and you wanted to get in really good shape prior to high school to ensure that you made the freshman soccer team that fall.  Needless to say, you did.

I suppose I should remove the file folder and take it home to keep with all the other precious memories of you.  But I leave it there, because when I visit that file cabinet and look at your card between sets on the butterfly machine, it makes me feel as if you are still at the gym with me and I can walk over there and connect with you again.  Just like in the old days.  You were 5’8” at the time, on your way to 6 feet in the ensuing couple of years.

Jeff's health card

I look at your perfect health record indicated on the card and can’t avoid thinking about how you destroyed your perfect and healthy body nearly a decade later.  Thankfully, you were gone immediately and didn’t have to endure physical pain, but dear God, the thought of the terror you must have felt while in the air for those few seconds…You cannot imagine the pain that shoots through every part of me when my mind goes to these places.

Speaking of the destinations to which my mind sometimes travels, there are no boundaries when I’m walking alone on weekend mornings, deep in the woods at Gedney Park with Dobi (our greyhound that you never met but who I know you helped return to us last Christmas Eve when she went missing).  I’m sure you understand that I don’t spend all that time thinking only about you.  In fact, I spend most of it thinking about how deeply I love Mom, Drew and Brett and how incredibly thankful I am to have them and to be so close to each of them individually, and also to still be so close as a family unit.  Because if not for them, Jeff…well, you know better than anyone how this sentence ends.

But of course, a portion of my walks are dedicated to thinking about you, and over the past three years, my mind has covered a lot of ground.  I have thought of the times we shared together at every stage of your life, from my rushing home from work to play with you in the basement of our Millwood townhouse during your first four years, to shooting baskets in the driveway of our first home in Chappaqua,  our baseball trip to different ballparks in 2003 when you turned 16, going to the Big East Tournament together in 2010, trick or treating with you on Halloween every year when you were a kid, all the Knicks and Yankees games, going to your plays, band concerts, travel soccer and basketball games in middle school, JV and Varsity basketball games in high school, ski trips, family beach vacations and vacations abroad, coaching your rec basketball team for four years, flying with you to London to help you get set up for your semester abroad, parents’ weekends at Middlebury, your high school and college graduations, prepping you for job interviews, playing tennis, ping pong, one-on-one basketball and mini golf together, having baseball catches in the backyard after work, teaching you how to hit, picking you up at that party in Scarsdale when you got drunk for the first time and couldn’t get home, taking you to the train station parking lot to teach you how to drive, and coming to get you when you totaled your car on an icy Mount Kisco road in 2005.  And of course, doing everything I could over your last two months to make you understand how much you had to live for.  This list represents only a fraction of the times we shared.  Man, there weren’t many things that we didn’t do together.

In one of your suicide notes, in the paragraph addressed to me, you wrote,

“The times we shared, I will always treasure.”

But that’s ridiculous, man.  How could you not have seen the absurdity of those words?  You can’t treasure anything when you’re dead, Jeff.  Or maybe your spirit in Heaven can?  I just don’t know.

Do you remember “The Napkin”?   Oh, I thought I was so smart and had such a great brainstorm as to how to pull you out of your funk in October 2010.  I was sitting at my desk at work one day thinking about how ridiculous it was that you were feeling so down about yourself.  Then the light bulb went on, and I needed to write my thoughts down while they were fresh.

 For some strange reason, I couldn’t find a pad or a clean sheet of paper anywhere on my cluttered desk, but there was a clean white paper napkin, and so I unfolded it and started to draw.  I drew a grid with rows and columns.  Down the left side of the napkin, I listed attributes: looks, intelligence, friends/social life, family love & support, financial backing, and the ability to get into a fine law school.  Across the top, I labeled the three columns: low, medium, high.  Naturally, it was a no-brainer for me to check the “high” box next to each and every attribute.  I mean, you were a guy who unquestionably had it all.

The Napkin

I was so certain I had come up with the perfect way to illustrate to you that your future was beautiful that I literally sprinted out of my office to catch the next train home so I could show you The Napkin.  When I entered your room, I removed it from my pocket and asked you to look at it.  You studied it intently.  I remember our exact conversation, word for word, from there:

Me:  “Jeff, now let me ask you something—is there anything on this napkin that you disagree with?”

You:  “No, not at all.  I don’t disagree with any of it.”

Me:  “Ok then.  What I want you to do is keep this in your night table drawer, and whenever you feel the least bit down about anything, take it out, look at it again, and remind yourself how blessed you are.”

You:  “Ok, I definitely will.  Thanks, Dad.”

I have no idea if you ever looked at it again.  But on that night, I naively thought I had broken through the cloud that hovered around your head and that I had shown you the light.  I have been blessed with emotional stability and so I had no idea how overly simplistic it was for me to assume that I had solved this complex problem by showing you the facts on a napkin.  I was unable to relate to the depth of the despair that you were feeling, which was compounded by the medication you had been taking.

On the night of your death, I went up to your room and opened your night table drawer.  The Napkin sat right where I had seen you place it that night, and right next to it was your wallet.  I’ve since added the dollar bill that you brought to the bridge in case you decided to turn around, pay the toll, and come home.  It all remains there today.

jeff's night table

And now about the blog…

To be clear, Jeff, this blog remains wide open for business regardless of whether or not I continue writing.  My potential decision to stop writing doesn’t affect that.  This is everyone’s blog, not mine, and Elon’s concept in creating it was for it to develop into a mosaic of your life over time.  I fear that by dominating it as an author, I may have gotten in the way of that development.  And so I will encourage everyone who wants to contribute a post, a photo, a thought, or anything at all, to send it me or Elon, and we will post it.

Like so many professional athletes over the years who grudgingly retired when their numbers started to decline, but who ultimately returned to their sports when they realized that they just couldn’t stay away from the game, I too would reserve the right to come back and blog more about you someday.  But for now, I sense that it might be time for me to step aside and let it be.  I am not at all certain that this would be the right decision for me, for you, or for the blog’s readers.  And that is why I have, for now, simply decided to take a breather, listen to feedback from others, and allow my heart to ultimately decide what to do.

I listen to “Let It Be” every single weekend when I’m alone in my car, and it soothes me.  I hear Paul McCartney sing so passionately that there will be an answer, and to a degree, that is certainly true in your case.  You became overwhelmed by the cold, pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major international law firm at which you worked an exhausting number of hours, and in August 2010, you reached a breaking point and quit.

You were so shaken by the experience that you agreed to a psychiatrist’s recommendation to take anti-depressants, and those pills completely destroyed your ability to think clearly for the last two months of your life.  You never recovered from the side effects of the multiple types of medication you were given.  I pray that what happened to you will prompt others to exercise great caution and carefully consider the necessity of taking such drugs before doing so.

But there will never really be an answer, at least not in the way that the Beatles meant it.  How can there ever be an answer for the random nature of life that led you to such a job in the first place and caused you take it so irrationally hard when you left it.  Why couldn’t you just have moved on and sought something better suited for you, rather than seeking comfort from a doctor and his medication?

And how can there really be an answer given that if someone had asked me in mid-July of 2010, less than 4 months before you left us, how 2010 was going for you, I would have responded that it was probably among the top 3 best years of your life.  You had the time of your life in Newport on July 4th weekend, spent Memorial Day weekend in D.C. with your buddies, and spent days of heavy partying at Duke and UNC that April.  You were blogging away, thoroughly enjoying your times with friends and family, and your texts reflected the joy you were feeling.  Suicidal people don’t write texts that say, “This is paradise” and “living the dream…” just four months before they jump, Jeff.

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And what about the events of three years ago today?  On the day you made an earnest attempt to get to your initial behavioral therapy appointment, why on earth did your Bluetooth not work when I called you, causing you to be pulled over by a cop?  And once you got going again, how could the Sprain Parkway, the road on which one almost never finds traffic, be jammed like a parking lot that morning?

And there will never be an answer as to why, after having lunch with Mom in our kitchen for over an hour while talking it all over, you told her you were going upstairs to work on your law school applications while she picked up Brett at his bus stop.  When she got home, you were gone.

What caused you to make the snap decision, after Mom left the house, to write your final notes and bolt?  We were going to watch the Knicks-Bucks game that night, weren’t we?

There will never be closure on these agonizing questions, and that is why it is impossible to just let it be.  But I have no choice, Jeff, because you’re gone and you’re not coming back.

You closed your final note to the family by writing:

“I have prayed to God for forgiveness, and I hope He will answer my prayers.  I too have prayed for each of you, and in spite of this decision, I care about you all deeply.  I hope to see you all in Heaven, reunited, one big happy family for all eternity.  Until then, may peace be with you all.”

But that’s impossible, Jeff, because you destroyed the peace in our lives.  How can there ever truly be peace for Mom and me again?  As I’ve written in previous posts, I’m trying really hard to overcome this post-traumatic stress that I feel, but I’m struggling mightily.  By executing on your completely absurd and misguided notion as to how to put yourself at peace, you took it away from the rest of us.

Let that be a lesson to others who have loving families and who perhaps think about following in your footsteps.  If they love the “survivors” that they’d be leaving behind, they must not do it.  They must instead turn to their family and friends for support in getting through the rough patches.  That is obviously what you should have done.  We were here for you with open arms and open hearts.

Fortunately, though, despite the lack of complete serenity, we have regained our ability to enjoy things again.  I mean, I really get pumped up when I win tough tennis matches or go to Knicks games with your brothers and Mom, and I enjoy my quiet evenings out on dates with Mom more than ever.  And I love spending time with our closest friends and family.

At first, I had a guilty feeling when I felt happy about these things, as if that wasn’t appropriate after having lost our precious son.  But after reading the last page of Harriet Schiff’s book “The Bereaved Parent”, I came to understand that it was ok to be happy and that we deserved to be so.  She closed her book by writing:

“As long as I live I will be sorry Robby is dead.  That is fact.  That is something I carry always.  There are times, especially the good times, when I miss him still.  But there are still good times.  We share joys as a family that he did not live to share and I am sorry.  But we still have joys.  That is as it should be for us.  That is as it should be for you.”

And so it should be.  Given your love for us, I know you would want it to be that way.  You made the decision to no longer physically be a part of our family joys, and so I cannot feel guilty any more.  I am confident that you understand this.

Despite my obvious frustration, I know you also know how much I love you and how much energy I still devote to thinking about you, looking at you, talking to you and taking care of your memory every single day.  And I will never stop doing those things.

My wish for you is that you continue sleeping peacefully, my son.  And always remember that although I may not be writing about you anymore, you remain as big a part of our family as ever, and my love for you is eternal.

Go Knicks.  Go Yankees.  Go Giants.  And go #16 seed in March Madness which will one day upset a #1 seed, as per the declaration you made in your J.K. Rolling column from April 11, 2007.  When it happens, I expect to look up and see you holding that classic beer mug with a pretzel stick in the handle, with a smile on your face that is bigger and broader than ever.  Because I can assure you that at that moment, when the mother of all upsets has occurred for the first time in history, everyone who ever knew you or has read about you here will be looking up to Heaven, fully expecting that you will lead their celebration.  Until then…

All my love,

Dad

Jeff saluting

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vq1sK8Xfm5E

A Mother’s Day Celebration: The Story Of Pote And Jeff-Part 2

12 May

Most kids call their mother ‘Mom’, but not Jeff.  Instead, it was “hey Petite”, “Petiteness”, “Potite”(pronounced PO teet), and ultimately the shortened version, “Pote”.”

           —“A Mother’s Day Tribute: The Story Of Pote And Jeff”, May 13, 2012, (https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/a-mothers-day-tribute-the-story-of-pote-and-jeff/)

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Carey and Jeff laughing sitting in water St. Thomas

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Carey and Jeff on Beach

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Jeff, Drew and Carey in Paris

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Carey and Jeff outside of Bleu

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Carey and boys Easter 2013

“And most of all, you were sure it would be impossible for you to function as a whole human being not buffeted by the waves of sorrow that swept over you in the early days of your tragedy. But you will. You will do all that and you will do more.”

–Harriet Schiff, “The Bereaved Parent”

Why We Celebrate

2 Mar

On the occasion of Jeff’s 26th birthday today, I have decided to reprint my post from March 2nd, 2011, Jeff’s first birthday after he died.  This is the first time I have reprinted an old post, and I am doing so for two reasons.  First, I believe that this post captures, perhaps better than any other, the essence of who Jeff was and why his loss is so devastating.  Second, at the time this was posted, I had not yet joined Facebook or created the Friends of Jeff Klein group, and so it is likely that the majority of the group never read this.  And so, in celebration of Jeff’s birthday on the day of Project Bald, the following is a transcript of my post, Why We Celebrate 24, from March 2nd, 2011:

Why We Celebrate 24

Jeff would have turned 24 today. Those are devastating words that leave me numb. Jeff LOVED birthdays, and not surprisingly, he enjoyed those of his family and friends just as much as he did his own. As a family, we always make a big deal of birthdays. For Jeff, on the morning of his birthday, Carey always made him a special breakfast if he was home at the time. And of course a special dinner that night would follow, including the opening of presents, and a nice big cake.

Jeff birthday cake 1997

Our family will celebrate Jeff’s birthday today in our own way, and we hope that all of his friends, family and readers of this blog join us in their own way. The remainder of this post explains why we celebrate and why we will do so on Jeff’s birthdays forever.

A couple of months ago a friend of ours asked us to consider a hypothetical scenario , as a way to ease our pain. She suggested that when the pain is most excruciating, we think about and answer the question posed in the following “what if” situation. What if, shortly before Jeff was born on March 2, 1987, God had come to Carey and me and said,

“You are about to have a son who will be the light of your lives for the next 23 1/2 years. He will be blessed with exceptionally good looks. He will be intelligent and will achieve great academic success at one of the nation’s finest high schools, as well as at one of its finest liberal arts colleges. He will be strong and athletic and will play both varsity basketball and tennis in high school. Throughout his childhood and into adulthood, he will be deeply passionate about the things and the people he loves. His passions will include sports, writing, eating, drinking, family and friends. He will combine his passion for sports and writing to become a sports editor for his college newspaper. He will revel in the experience of being the beat writer for the basketball team and traveling with the team to all of its away games. He will thoroughly enjoy having his own sports column called JK Rollin’ and continuing to write after his graduation on his own sports blog called Talkin’ Sports (blog is a futuristic word that you’ll learn about in 20 years).

Carey, your relationship with him will be exceedingly close, to the point that you will consider him to be your alter ego, and he will feel the same way. Rich, your relationship with him will be what every father dreams about having with his son. And he will have two brothers whom he will adore and who will adore him. He will love you both very much and will express that to you frequently in the cards that he writes, and you will save those cards forever.

You will enjoy incredible family vacations with him over the next 23 1/2 years, both in the U.S. and abroad. You will go to countless sporting events together, and Rich, you will take him on a baseball trip to 3 different ballparks in 3 consecutive days, for his 16th birthday. It will be a one-on-one bonding trip that will rank as one of the most special times of your life. You will be young enough to play sports with him, and you will enjoy all of them together (your greatest joy will be when, starting at age 14, he starts to beat you in one-on-one basketball, tennis, ping pong, and anything else you dare challenge him to play).

He will infuse your household with laughter during his entire life. His sense of humor and larger than life personality will be such that they will define your family. He will do outrageous things, such as ordering 250 buffalo wings on a whim, ordering curried goat from a fast food counter at a shopping mall, or affectionately pouring a beer on one of his very closest girl friends. He will create multiple nicknames for everyone in the family (Rich will be “Sir”. Carey will have many nicknames, including “Potite, Petiti, or Pote for short-all derivations of ‘petite’ referring to your slender build. His brother Drew will be Poobus, Freight Train and others too numerous to name, and his youngest brother Brett will be Red Cheeks, or just Red for short, as well as B-Man) , and hearing him use these nicknames will leave you in stitches. He will say grace before meals at home in unique ways that I will not have heard before, such as ‘God is great, God is the boss, let us thank him for this steak and hot sauce.’ He will get away with it because I will know how devout he is and that he is truly thankful.

He will have an incredible group of friends who will truly love him and will cherish the many amazing times they will have together. He will enjoy with his friends everything from a road trip to Key West, 4th of July at Newport, trips to Duke, a Memorial Day weekend in D.C., rock concerts, intense racquetball matches with guys named AB, BH and Jack, poker games, beer pong, and the list goes on and on.

And most importantly, he will have a heart of gold. His warmth and kindness will deeply touch and have a positive impact on the lives of many people. While in high school, he will be co-Executive for a community service organization called SHARE, and in that role, he will organize trips to The Cottage School in Pleasantville, NY where he will design and lead organized activities for their students, who suffer from social and emotional disabilities. In college, he will become a mentor for a young kid from a broken home in the local community, and they will become close friends. They will get together virtually every Sunday for four years, and by graduation, he will have had a profoundly positive impact on the young man’s life.

But here’s the catch. Just after turning 23 1/2, something will go terribly wrong. After 2 months, a combination of uncertainty over his future and misprescribed medication that will hinder his ability to think clearly will lead him to make a horrific decision to end his own life. The shock, pain and sense of deep loss that will engulf you will be beyond description, unimaginable and unspeakable. And I cannot guarantee you when or if that pain will ever abate.

And so the question is, knowing what I’ve just told you, would you like to move forward with your son’s birth, or would you like to call the whole thing off ? It’s your choice.”

Asked another way, sitting here today with the benefit of perfect hindsight and in extreme pain that may never end, would we do it again ?

The fact that it takes less than a split second to answer ‘of course we would’ is the reason that we will always celebrate Jeff’s birthday. March 2nd was the day in 1987 when he began a 23 1/2 year journey, during which he made everything he touched better and everyone he knew happier. And so even though the last birthday that Jeff would ever celebrate was his 23rd, those of us who love him deeply will celebrate his 24th today and all future birthdays for as long as we live. Because we would absolutely do it all over again. And again. And again.

-Rich Klein

Knicks 2000, This Is Our Year

17 Dec
“Well it’s the Knicks, back in the mix, representing all New York City kids,
Like tricks, last year we done, Eastern Conference champs, and you’re about to see it again like a rerun
But this new season we’re about to enter, the Knicks taking no shorts, like winter,
So put your hands in the air and cheer:  Knicks 2000, this is our year!”
—-“Go New York, Go New York, Go”-New York Knicks Theme Song- 1999-2000

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ59Wg5h2aY

These days, something as simple as watching a Knicks game on TV can send my mind and emotions into frenzy.  And that is exactly what happened on the evening of December 6th as I watched the team that has alternately exhilarated and tormented our family for the past 20+ years completely dismantle LeBron James and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat under a barrage of threes from both unlikely sources (Raymond Felton-6 threes) and more likely suspects (Steve Novak-4 threes).  In Miami.  For the second time this year.  It was almost too good to be true.

I was joyous as I watched this beautiful blend of youngish old players and really old players whip passes around the perimeter for wide open threes, while Felton kept the defense honest by periodically driving the lane.  I texted frantically with Brett at Villanova.  It took every ounce of strength I had to refrain from texting Drew at Widener, but he had two finals the next morning, and if he was watching the game instead of studying, I didn’t want to know.  And through it all, my head nearly exploded from the pulsating lyrics of the old Knicks rap-style theme song that I couldn’t get out of my mind: “Knicks 2000, THIS IS OUR YEAR…GO NEW YORK, GO NEW YORK, GO….”

Why 2000?  It’s because , in the aftermath of the Cinderella season of 1998-1999 when the Knicks sprinted to the NBA finals as the 8th seed in the East, only to go out meekly against the Spurs in 5 games, the Garden played that song before every game and during many timeouts the following season, which was so full of hope.   But it later became a sarcastic rallying cry for Jeff and the rest of our family as the Knicks’ fortunes plummeted over the course of the next decade.  We’d be at a Knicks game in, say 2005, and if they were doing well that day, Jeff would turn to me and say, “Heyyyy, Knicks 2000, this is our year!”

That Knicks 2000 season (1999-2000) wasn’t their year to go all the way, as the theme song so hopefully suggested, but even so, it was another highly successful one for the Knicks. They finished third in the East with a 50-32 record before losing to Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Back then, the Garden was still a great place to be, and when Jeff turned 13 on March 2nd, 2000, I thought it would be fun to take him to a game for his birthday and to have the Garden post birthday wishes to him on the scoreboard. He loved it, and the snapshot of that scoreboard message remained on Jeff’s bookshelf in his room for the rest of his life, and it remains there today.

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The frenzy that took over my mind during the Heat game stemmed from the fact that the Knicks were such an integral part of Jeff’s life from the time he was about 3 years old until, almost literally, the day he died.  I took him to his first game in 1991 when he was 3 ½, and when Jeff and I stumbled upon Charles Oakley and John Starks signing autographs shortly thereafter in what is now the Target strip mall in Mount Kisco, Jeff was hooked for life as a die-hard Knicks fan.  Always armed with a camera back in those days, I was fortunate to be able to take photos of Jeff with these Knick stars.

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The decade of the 1990’s was a golden era for Knicks basketball, including two trips to the finals in ’94 and ’99.  They had a Hall of Fame center (Patrick Ewing) and coach (Pat Riley), and the Garden was absolutely electric in those days.  And as a family, we took full advantage and went to dozens of games over that decade and enjoyed every minute of them.

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I wish I could adequately describe the scene in our home on June 22nd, 1994 when the Knicks played the Rockets in Game 7 of the NBA finals.  The championship was at stake, and Jeff, Drew and I were pumped up for the game.  Carey was seven months pregnant with Brett, who was already enormous and very active, and would arrive two months later as our largest baby at 9 lbs, 2 oz.  Jeff wanted us all to watch together in our bedroom, which would have been fine, except that the two of us became increasingly agitated as John Starks proceeded to shoot 2 for 18 from the field and essentially cost the Knicks what would have been their first title in 21 years.

Apparently our screams were not pleasing to fetus Brett, and he too became agitated inside of Carey, and before long she was rubbing her stomach trying to calm him down while rightfully requesting that we tone it down a notch.  Drew, true to his easygoing nature, remained calm and amused through it all.  He was three at the time.  I actually don’t think it was our screaming that bothered Brett.  I think he too was furious at Starks for his performance.

 I’m actually quite thankful that Jeff grew up during that exciting and successful time, because when things turned south with the advent of the new century, he did not take it well.  Jeff was appalled at the blundering moves of Knicks’ President Isiah Thomas from the time he signed on in December 2003.  I, however, thought it was important back then to stay optimistic about the Knicks’ prospects, especially with young Brett, since I didn’t want him to jump ship and root for another team like the Nets, who were going through their own mini-golden era at the time.  But Jeff had no tolerance for my unfounded optimism, and he was intent on setting the record straight.  And so, on February 23rd, 2006, he sent me two links to extremely derogatory articles about the Knicks as part of the following email.  In the subject line, he wrote “Reality”.

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And just in case that wasn’t enough to convince me that the Knicks’ future was bleak, the very next day he sent me the following email for good measure, with two more articles:

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Throughout that decade, Jeff remained incredulous at the egregious things that regularly occurred in the sports world.  The Knicks’ woes were always part of his hit list.  On November 14, 2007, Jeff sent me an email from London where he was doing his semester abroad.  It was a classic Jeff Klein sports rant that belongs in the email Hall of Fame.  Not surprisingly, it included scathing criticism of the Knicks’ then current situation.  And Jeff included a sarcastic variation of the “Knicks 2000, this is our year” rally cry.

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The cruelest irony of all is that the Knicks that Jeff loved so much were a big part of his final days, and events related to them may have been the final straw that broke his spirit for good.

When Jeff was really down at the end of October 2010, I figured the best way to snap him out of his funk would be to go to the Knicks season home opener on Saturday night, October 30th against Portland.  All five of us were excited to start the new season at a game together.  Jeff also had a Halloween party that night in the Village, so it was perfect.  He’d come to the game with us, and we’d drive him downtown to his party afterward.

How could he not be excited about a Knicks game with his family and a Halloween party with his best friends after, right?  He even wore his policeman’s costume to the game.  To top it off, as I was driving us into the city that night, Jeff received an email informing him of his excellent LSAT score, and he was visibly proud of it.  I looked at his smiling face in the rearview mirror as he told us, and I was certain that things were clearly turning around in the right direction.

Except for the fact that the Knicks lost that night, everything else worked according to plan.  Jeff partied in the city, slept there and came home the next morning.  He was then all set to go to his next Knicks game on November 2nd with Brooke and Julie, using tickets from our half season plan that we buy every year.  Jeff was clearly excited to take them to their first NBA game and had planned to meet Brooke at the train station in Chappaqua to take the 4:40 train into the city, where they would meet up with Julie.

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But as I’ve shared here several times before, that game was called off when asbestos was found falling from the ceiling in the Garden that afternoon before the 7:30 tip-off.  Jeff was crushed and, given his state of mind at the time, seemed to place a much deeper meaning on what happened than was appropriate.  I explained that to him and offered him a choice of other sets of tickets for upcoming games over the next week or two.  Jeff said he would think about it but never got back to me on that.

On the night of November 8th, 2010, after having watched most of Monday Night Football with Jeff and while giving him a big hug goodnight, I told him the Knicks were playing the Bucks the next night and suggested that if he was around, maybe we could watch the game together.  He said, “Sure, sounds good,” and at that moment, I am 100% certain that he was not planning to end his life the next day.  But something snapped the next afternoon, and I never saw him again.

Of all the feelings and emotions that I’ve experienced over the past two years, the one that has surprised me the most has been the extent to which I fantasize about Jeff and about how I could have prevented this tragedy.  In my first post of this year (“Starting A New Year By Seeking A Do-Over Of The Past”, January 10, 2012, https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/starting-a-new-year-by-seeking-a-do-over-of-the-past/), I shared some of those fantasies. I have fantasized in detail about how I could have come home early from work that day and found Jeff before he pulled out of the garage.  I would have then taken him over to Michaels, our favorite local sports bar, to watch the Knicks game over dinner and drinks.  I have further dreamed about how different the November 10th newspaper articles could have been if I had done that.

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 However, now that I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that the outcome can’t be changed, I instead fantasize that maybe someday God will let Jeff come home for one weekend, just a Friday night to Sunday night, so we can hold him just one more time and to try to achieve some understanding of how things could have gone so wrong.  Drew and Brett could come home from school for that weekend to see him, and we’d all stay inside the entire time to preserve the secrecy of Jeff’s visit.  Maybe if Jeff can make this happen, we can all watch one more Knicks game on TV together.

In the meantime, while I wait patiently for that fantasy weekend with Jeff, the 2012-13 Knicks continue to sit in first place in the East and are playing like the true TEAM that Jeff had longed to see since Knicks 2000.  Say what you will about them being too old or that they shoot too many threes to sustain this success.  Neither concern is valid.  Thanks to modern fitness technology, 35-40 year old professional athletes today can perform at a much higher level than those of yesteryear, and as long as the Knicks’ marksmen don’t force up their threes, they will continue to make around 40%, which is a recipe for success in the NBA.

While I don’t think Knicks 2013 will be the season in which they win it all, I do think they will get to the finals.  And along the way, they will continue to thrill their fans, including Jeff, with their unselfish team play.  In fact, upon further reflection since my last post, I think that Jeff’s thumbs-up gesture to me above the clouds in Turks and Caicos may have been as much about how the Knicks are playing as anything else.  After all, they were a huge part of his life until the very end, and so there’s no reason to think that they aren’t just as important to him where he is now.  And Jeff was equally important to the Knicks, and in a loving gesture facilitated by his friend Evan Sahr just weeks after he died, they posted this message on their scoreboard.

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I have already begun to share some great Knicks moments with Drew and Brett during their Christmas breaks from school.  Drew and I went to that amazing game against the Lakers last week, and he, Brett and I are going to the Nets game together on Wednesday.  I remain a blessed man.

Since December 6th, though, I still have not been able to get that pulsating music out of my head.  Go New York, Go New York, Go. But it just hit me that this vintage Knicks theme song is one of my connections to Jeff, and I never want it to go away.  So let the music play, and let the Knicks continue to roll.  For me, this is about more than just sports.  This is about my family continuing to find ways to fight back from the depths after the grave injustice that we suffered, and doing so in part by bonding together around a team that has been such an integral part of our lives for over two decades.  These Knicks have provided energy toward our healing process, just as the Giants did earlier this year.  And who knows how many other families in the hurricane-ravaged tri-state area feel just the same way for their own very personal reasons?

So please, when you watch or read about the Knicks, think of Jeff.  Remember his passion for the team and for basketball played the right way, and on his behalf, put your hands in the air and cheer.

Knicks 2000, forever our year.

-Rich Klein

 

We Always Found Our Beach

4 Dec

After another November 9th without Jeff had come and gone, and it was time to escape for a few days away with my wife and best friend of 27 ¼ years (the best friend part actually goes back 33 years), there was never a question that we would flee to a beach.  For the beach is where our roots run deepest, back to when we were a young dating couple and then a growing family of 3, 4, and then 5.  From the sands of Manasquan, New Jersey when Carey and I were 20 years old, to our first vacation with Jeff in East Hampton when he was 18 months old, to our final vacation as a family of five in August 2010 right back in East Hampton where it all started– the Frisbees had flown, the nerf footballs had been tossed, the smash balls had been hit in record numbers, the body boards had been ridden, and the oceans and seas had refreshed us. While we will always treasure our European family vacations to places like Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris and Barcelona, our beach vacations have been the largest part of our family’s identity.

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Jeff, Dad with smashball rackets

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For Carey and me, Turks and Caicos was an ideal location for this November’s trip– a new destination where we could add a fresh chapter to our story, as empty-nesters for the first time.  But nothing is simple and uncomplicated these days, and I felt uneasy about being out of the country while Drew and Brett were at school back home.  Having lost Jeff, I think I now suffer from separation anxiety as it relates to my other two boys, and being away such that I couldn’t get to them quickly if needed, was difficult for me.

 But as I sat there on the beach feeling anxious, I looked out at the cloud formation over the Caribbean, and sure enough, there was Jeff, with the profile of his head above a layer of clouds, and with his arms outstretched, giving me the thumbs up sign with both hands.  A crystal clear, double thumbs up signal.  He was telling me that everything would be ok and to relax.  And so I did.  I am so thankful that I captured this incredible image of my son communicating with me from above.

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My thoughts wandered to our first Caribbean vacation with Jeff, in February 1990 in St. Thomas, and of how after surviving such a trip with a tough kid in the throes of his terrible two’s, we thought we may never go away again.  That was the vacation on which Jeff thought it would be fun to hurl a glass full of milk across our hotel restaurant at which we were dining, causing a horrified French woman to exclaim, “Mon Dieu”!  Fortunately, nobody got hurt or wet.

That was also the trip on which I was excited to watch heavyweight champion Mike Tyson defend his title against unknown Buster Douglas.  But fearing that the TV would keep light-sleeping Jeff awake and crying, Carey put the kibosh on that idea.  I practically cried myself when I awoke the next morning, turned on HBO, and heard the announcer proclaim, “If it wasn’t for HBO, you would have missed the GREATEST UPSET IN BOXING HISTORY!!!”, as they showed a replay of Tyson crashing to the canvas   Thanks Jeff.

Man, did Jeff and I have fun in the summer of 2008 when we finally kept our long-held promise to buy the DVD of that fight and watch it together over a couple of beers.  Jeff never tired of hearing me tell the story of how he caused me to miss a piece of sports history as it happened.  Notwithstanding all that, this was also the trip that produced some of the post poignant photos of Carey and me, with our little boy.

Jeff, Dad in Water St. Thomas

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Carey holding Jeff in St. Thomas

Jeff was known for his love of any kind of adventure and some of our journeys to the beach did not lack for adventure and drama.  The best example was the horror of August 1998, when the five of us were having such a great beach vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia that we didn’t pay much attention to the fact that Hurricane Bonnie was rapidly bearing down on the southeastern coast.  By the time we did hear about it, it was too late. Bonnie had peaked at a Category 3.  We were trapped in our rented beach house on stilts, directly across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  When the power went out, the only shred of light we had was from Brett’s tiny plastic toy flashlight, which was enough to enable me to search the old fashioned phone book for the number of the local police station.

I instructed Drew and Brett to go to sleep, but there was no way Jeff was going to miss any of this excitement.  He thought it was the coolest adventure ever and was completely oblivious to the danger we were in.  Carey and I were quite clear on the danger level, however, as we watched the ocean surge perilously close to our house. Jeff, though, was always the one who wanted to go on the craziest rollercoaster ride at any amusement park we ever visited, so this was just another wild adventure for him.  He seemed to have no fear of situations like this, and that remained true for the remainder of his life.

Jeff was practically giddy when, nearly two horrible hours later, a police van pulled up to our house and offered to lead us to the local elementary school, where the Red Cross had set up shop to house evacuees like us.  When we got to the school, we were taken to our five red gym mats, which were to serve as our beds for the night.  And when we woke up (not that I slept a minute), we found a long table stocked with small cereal boxes, pints of milk and some orange juice.  Of course, Jeff was the first person on line for this American Red Cross-style continental breakfast.

From Jeff’s perspective, there was no doubt as to which of our beach vacations was his favorite of all.  It was our August 1997 trip to Nantucket, and the reason was simple.  For this trip, we arranged to share a beach house for two weeks with Carey’s sister and her family. Jeff absolutely loved his cousins, Chris and Jono, and so for him, spending nearly two weeks with his two brothers and two cousins all together was as good as it got.  His memories of that trip were so rich that he actually wrote about them in a high school English paper entitled “Early Treasures”, in which he reflected on some of the highlights of his childhood.  Here is some of what Jeff wrote about that Nantucket trip: 

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“The best summer experience of my life occurred when I was ten years old, the summer before fifth grade.  Virtually every year since my youngest brother Brett had been born, my family had vacationed in a rented beach home for two weeks at the end of August.  My parents would choose a different location every summer, some of which included Montauk, Martha’s Vineyard, and East Hampton.  It was a fun and relaxing way to end the summer, to savor those last moments of freedom before school once again picked up.  My brothers and I never had any trouble amusing ourselves all day on the beach and then afterwards back at the beach house;  we loved the daily schedule…”

“I loved seeing my cousins; they were like best friends.  Unfortunately, since they lived in Maryland, we had never been able to see each other as much as we would have liked; our visits, when we did get together, always seemed too short.  Yet now we were going to share together two weeks full of jokes, laughter, and endless fun.  This vacation, I realized as a smile washed over my face, would surely surpass all of the previous ones…”

“Nantucket was the only vacation I ever went on with Chris and Jono, or for that matter, any of my relatives.  As I rode the ferry back to the mainland and then sat in the car on my way back to Chappaqua, my mind was deep in reflection and thought.  School would be starting in under a week.  I would go back to my ordinary life—and that was perfectly fine with me.  But at the same time, I knew I would go through every day longing for what I had been blessed with from August 20 to August 30, 1997.”

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And then there was East Hampton and neighboring Montauk, the beach communities where it all started and where it all ended for our family as we knew it.  We spent more time on those beaches over 20 years than we did on any others, and it is where so many of our family traditions were created and cemented.  We had our “go to” restaurants such as the Lobster Roll and Gossman’s Dock, the latter being the place where Jeff cracked open his very first lobster, as well as his very last one just three months before he died.  And for breakfast, Jeff lived for our visits to Mr. John’s Pancake House, which he affectionately called “Johnny Pancakes.”  Not even the usual hour long wait times could lessen his enthusiasm for that place.

OUR FINAL VISIT TO JOHNNY PANCAKES, AUGUST 2010

OUR FINAL VISIT TO JOHNNY PANCAKES, AUGUST 2010

And every trip out there included multiple visits to the Puff ‘n’ Putt miniature golf course in Montauk.  Jeff loved playing that course, and he was super competitive, whether it was playing against just me when he was younger, and then against his brothers too when they were old enough.  Those were also the beaches on which my sons and I tossed every conceivable ball and object known to man and where we must have set records for how many waves we rode with our bodies and our boards over the years.

How fitting it is that our very last beach vacation as a family of five was in East Hampton in August 2010, less than a week after Jeff had walked out on the job he despised.  Prior to leaving the job, Jeff had asked his firm for approval to take a few days off for our vacation, and he seemed to be looking forward to it.

I get an eerie feeling when I think back to how I had to spend most of that vacation in bed with a fever that spiked to over 103.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick in my life.  Did I subconsciously have an inkling that something was very wrong?  I don’t know.  But despite my illness, the boys seemed to have their usual great time, as the following photo shoot from August 16, 2010 reflects.  These are the last images ever captured of our three boys together.

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I don’t think I will ever be able to return to East Hampton again, which is a tragedy in and of itself given the depth and the richness of the family memories that reside there.  But the pain would be too great—the pain of knowing that Jeff will never again be on that mound of sand with both arms around the brothers he adored, and the pain that would result from just being near our favorite restaurants, beaches and the miniature golf course that he loved so much.

But that doesn’t mean that our family has stopped going to the beach together.  Far from it.  It is where we belong, and in the two years since Jeff died, the four of us have vacationed together on the beaches of San Juan, Rehobeth (Delaware) and Cancun.  Those trips have been therapeutic for all of us, and they have helped us bond even more closely together, if that’s possible.

CANCUN, DECEMBER 31, 2011

CANCUN, DECEMBER 31, 2011

Drew and Brett are young men now, and the number of opportunities we’ll have to vacation together as a family will naturally decrease over time.  However, I know that we will continue to search for and find our beaches, the way we always have, and they will be ones where we can create beautiful memories in a new context—our new world in which we are still a family of five, but with Jeff now joining our journeys by looking down at us from Heaven above, just as he did in Turks and Caicos.

I have no doubt that when our family next hits the beach, I will look up at the blue sky and once again find Jeff hanging out above the clouds, with his outstretched arms beseeching me.  But this time, instead of reaching for my camera, I will grab the nearest ball and heave it with all my might toward him.  And being the outstanding athlete that he was and will always be, I know that Jeff will make the catch.  I then picture Drew and Brett rushing into the ocean while battling for position to catch Jeff’s return pass from the sky.  It will be just like old times.

By visualizing all this, I realize that I have, in fact, discovered our new beach.  It looks a lot different than the St. Thomas of 1990, the Nantucket of 1997 and the East Hampton of 2010.  But as long as I go there in lockstep with Carey, Drew and Brett by my side, I know that Jeff will be the first one to give it a big thumbs-up.

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– Rich Klein