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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

They Don’t Really Want To Die: The Tragedy Of Instant Regret

8 Sep

“The millisecond that my hands left the rail, I had what I call an instant regret.  I prayed for my survival, hit the water, which is like hitting a brick wall at that speed.  I shattered three vertebrae, rendering me, my legs motionless.  I went down 70 to 80 feet, but I opened my eyes.”

–Kevin Hines, on the Glen Beck Program (8/12/14), discussing his suicide attempt from the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000

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There are many things about Jeff’s death that torment me on a daily basis.  For one, there isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that he felt instant regret the second he took flight.  Unlike Kevin Hines, however, Jeff insured that he’d have no chance to survive, as he jumped over train tracks, not water.  Additionally, after having studied the relevant research, it’s clear that if we or anyone else had somehow thwarted Jeff’s suicide attempt, there’s a better than 90% chance that he’d not only be alive today, but that he would likely have been alive decades from now.  He would have buried me someday instead of the reverse.

Suicide is an impulsive act, and when suicidal thoughts are harbored by a naturally impulsive person, that is a dangerous situation, a tragedy waiting to happen.

Jeff was always an impulsive guy, and during the good days which comprised his entire life until his last two months, his actions actually resulted in some very funny stories.

The most classic one was when,  on November 20th, 2005, the Saturday before he was to come home from Middlebury for Thanksgiving break, one of Jeff’s friends told him that the Anchor Bar in Buffalo had the best Buffalo wings anywhere. That’s all Jeff needed to hear, and in one impulsive motion, he went to their site,  www.buffalowings.com and ordered 125 (two and a half buckets) of the hottest and spiciest wings that they offered, to be shipped to our home in time for his holiday break. After partying hard that night and having forgotten he had placed that order earlier in the day, he went to the site again after midnight and ordered another 125. In the irony of all devastating ironies, their spiciest wings were, and still are, called “Suicidal”.

 

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When I checked my email the next morning, I found a confirmation of “my” order of 250 suicidal wings, and a credit card receipt for $250 including shipping.  I quickly realized that my impulsive eldest son was the culprit.  Sure enough, 250 wings arrived at our house a couple of days later. Lucky me. Classic Jeff. Fortunately, we had our big Thanksgiving bash at Carey’s cousin Athene’s house, and we all howled watching all the different generations of Greeks turning beet red after trying these incredibly spicy wings.

But impulsiveness cuts both ways, and during Jeff’s last months, it turned out to be his undoing.  Having had all he could take of his paralegal job and the heartless treatment he received from his bosses, Jeff quit and walked out without warning one day in mid-August of 2010.  He didn’t give notice to the firm, and he didn’t say a word to anyone. He just left.

And on November 9th, 2010, in a moment of extreme despair that nobody saw coming, Jeff committed the ultimate impulsive act.  After having made arrangements to see a behavioral therapist for the first time that afternoon, and after having lunch with Carey at home for over an hour while having another deep talk, and after telling her that he was going upstairs to work on his law school applications while she went to pick up Brett at the bus stop, something snapped.  I will never know what the final trigger was, but there’s one thing that I do know.  Had Jeff been met at the bridge by a barrier that prevented him from executing his plan, he would be alive today.

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In her February 14, 2013 New York Times front page article entitled “With Guns, Killer and Victim Are Usually the Same”, Sabrina Tavernise wrote, “Suicidal acts are often prompted by a temporary surge of rage or despair…”

The first formal study which confirmed that thwarting the initial suicidal urge can wipe it from a tormented individual’s mind forever was published by Richard Seiden in 1978.  It’s entitled “Where Are They Now? A Follow-Up Study of Suicide Attempters from the Golden Gate Bridge”. In the study’s opening paragraph, Seiden (a former professor at the University of California at Berkeley) wrote:

“Proposals for the construction of a hardware antisuicide barrier have been challenged with the untested contention that “they’ll just go someplace else”. This research tests the contention by describing and evaluating the long-term mortality experience of the 515 persons who had attempted suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge but were restrained, from the opening day through the year 1971… Results of the follow up study are directed toward answering the important question: ‘Will a person who is prevented from suicide in one location inexorably tend to attempt and commit suicide elsewhere?’”

Seiden notes that there are many landmark structures, including the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, that have historically been hotbeds of suicide activity. But as he wrote:

“… these examples differ from the Golden Gate Bridge story in one very significant respect. In every other instance the rash of suicides led to the construction of suicide barriers, which dramatically reduced or ended the incidence of suicides. Of all the suicide landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge alone has failed to solve the problem with a protective hardware suicide deterrent.”

Thankfully, as I will get to shortly, the Golden Gate Bridge finally did make a firm decision in June 2014 to solve the problem. 

One of my favorite photos of my boys and me was taken at the top of the Eiffel Tower in August 2008. Note the protective wire mesh that surrounded us. This was installed decades earlier to eradicate the plague of suicide from the tower. And the protective wire did just that. There is no way anyone can jump from there. The only way out is to walk back down the stairs or take an elevator. As Seiden’s study shows, barriers work not only to prevent a specific suicide attempt but also to alter a would-be jumper’s mindset such that they will never try again.

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More from Seiden:

“Relative to the Golden Gate Bridge, a consequence of this belief is that there would be little to gain from a hardware antisuicide barrier since “they’d just go someplace else.” On the other hand, there are those who hold a contrary view, namely, that a switch to less lethal agents would reduce suicides or that when a person is unable to kill himself in a particular way it may be enough to tip the vital balance from death to life in a situation already characterized by strong ambivalence.”

Jeff’s situation was characterized by strong ambivalence. He was hit by a wave of hopelessness on that November 9th afternoon, but exactly a week earlier, he was extremely excited to go to the Knicks game with his friends.

Three days earlier, he was texting us to pick up his favorite “Classic Triple” and fries from Wendy’s, and three HOURS before he died, he asked Carey why we didn’t have any tomatoes in the house for the turkey sandwich he had for lunch that day.

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This was not a guy who was hell bent on killing himself. Yes, he had suicidal thoughts, but something triggered that feeling of temporary despair on November 9th. Had he been stopped that day, Seiden’s study strongly suggests he’d be alive right now. I believe that with all my heart. Hardware suicide barriers, through their very presence, make committing suicide by jumping virtually impossible.

Jeff would be alive today if the Bear Mountain Bridge had had such barriers in place when he got there on that wretched day in 2010. The results of Seiden’s study make that perfectly clear:

“What this table discloses is that after 26-plus years the vast majority of GGB suicide attempters (about 94%) are still alive or have died from natural causes.”

And the study’s concluding paragraph:

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

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On June 27th, 2014, more than 3 1/2 decades after Richard Seiden’s study validated the effectiveness of suicide barriers, the Board that governs the Golden Gate Bridge voted unanimously to approve a $76 million funding plan for installation of steel-cable nets, 20 feet beneath the east and west edges of the bridge, that are intended to deter people from leaping to their deaths or catch them if they try. Once absorbed by the net, there will be no way out until help arrives. Here is the final design layout for the nets.

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Construction is expected to be completed in 2020. Though way too late to save the over 1,600 people who have jumped to their deaths from this bridge, it is reasonable to believe that once the nets are in place, there may never again be another suicide death from the Golden Gate Bridge.

That may sound like a bold statement, but it’s really not.  Prior to 1998, two to three people per year had been jumping to their deaths from the Munster Terrace cathedral in Bern, Switzerland. After a safety net was built, there have been no suicides there since 1998.  Zero.

And they won’t likely just go someplace else. In Washington, D.C., erection of barriers on the Duke Ellington Bridge did not increase suicides on the nearby, and unprotected, William Howard Taft Bridge.

Finally, in an analysis of all of the research done on suicide barriers around the world, a study by a University of Melbourne, Australia professor found that after barriers were installed, there was an 86 percent decrease in the number of suicides at the barrier site. And, overall, there was a net decrease in the number of jumping suicides in surrounding areas.

Suicide barriers work and I will advocate for them for the rest of my life.

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Kevin Hines, the man who 16 years ago thought he wanted to die but realized instantly after jumping that that really wasn’t the case, has done a lot of living ever since. He’s an award-winning global speaker, best-selling author, documentary filmmaker, and suicide prevention and mental health advocate.  And in 2013, Hines released his bestselling memoir titled “Cracked Not Broken, Surviving and Thriving After A Suicide Attempt.”  He sits on the Boards of the International Bipolar Foundation, the Bridge Rail Foundation and the Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

Hines’ story inspires and torments me at the same time. In my darkest moments, I envision Jeff in the air experiencing instant regret but realizing he would not survive. No Thanksgiving with family in two weeks, no Christmas, and no more March Madness. In those final seconds, I’m certain it all flashed before him.

Thinking about where Jeff would be and what he’d be doing now, at age 29, is all useless conjecture, but I know in my heart he would have made a difference in whatever he chose to pursue.  He touched everyone he knew with his kindness, sense of humor and zest for life, which he had until his last two months. Just like Hines, if Jeff had survived his jump, he would have thrived and shared his story to try to help others.

People who either think about or attempt suicide don’t want to die. They just want to end their pain, and there are many constructive ways to work on doing that. I pray that those who struggle, as a result of increased suicide awareness and prevention efforts, will come to realize that and never put themselves in the horrific position of experiencing instant regret.

Kevin Hines is one of only 34 people who have survived a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. Every effort must be made to build barriers at all bridges and take away other lethal means from the suicide attempters of the future who, without intervention, will not be so lucky.

–Rich Klein

Can Spiritual Influence From Heaven Affect The Outcome Of An Earthly Sports Game?

13 Apr

The Villanova / North Carolina game was truly made of magic, as it had all of the same ingredients that magic has. No, magic is not a “Christian” word, per se, but the essence of magic is certainly spiritual. And anything spiritual is wonderful and delightful and charming and captivating and thrilling and chilling all at once.

Villanova’s winsome win was misty and mystic, miraculous and yes, magical.”

 

— “Villanova vs. UNC – The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat”,  www.godandsports.net, 4/5/16

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In the 72 blissful hours after the greatest sports moment of my life had occurred, I thought I had read every article that had been written anywhere in the world about both Villanova’s unlikely yet beautiful buzzer beating win over UNC and also about the stunning basketball they played throughout the entire tournament.

The authors raved about the final game itself, that it was the greatest college game and ending ever, that Ryan Arcidiacono’s unselfish pass to teammate Kris Jenkins for the win was the epitome of team play, the choice to win a national championship rather than to seek personal glory. They talked about the stunning statistics that the Wildcats put up over the course of their six game winning streak to the title. The reactions of the coaches, players, fans and even Charles Barkley were shown and analyzed. The articles were well-written and heartfelt, and they exquisitely captured the magnitude of what happened.

But I was looking for more. I wondered if anyone understood that there was surely more at work here, specifically spiritual influence from Heaven.  And then I found the  article I was looking for, the one quoted above. Not surprisingly, I found it on a website called http://www.godandsports.com. If writers from a website with a name like that didn’t understand, then certainly nobody else would.

There are many who believe that becoming so invested in sports is silly and that the outcomes of games and the fate of teams are meaningless. As one in-law regularly says to me, “I watch sports but I don’t care what happens. It doesn’t affect my life.”  I can’t relate to that point of view, but that’s a topic for another day. Suffice to say that I consider myself a serious guy who spends countless hours thinking about serious things. I’m deeply concerned about the potential consequences of this November’s election results and about the threat of continued global terrorism, and I pray for and monitor how each member of my family is doing on their journey of recovery from our unimaginable tragedy.

My passion for sports coexists in perfect harmony with my more serious thoughts and concerns. Sports have provided me with some of my most memorable moments with my three boys, and even more recently with Carey, who has become just as avid a Villanova Wildcats fan as I have. Our shared fandom has helped create a bond between us that is magnificent to experience. And even when we’re not together for an important game, we have always been just a few keystrokes away from sharing our excitement over what is happening.

 

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“Last night, the Villanova win and the North Carolina loss was one for the ages. And while the win was earned and very real, it was also almost imaginary and make believe. It was real and unreal, surreal and serene, fabulous and fantastic, unbelievable and improbable, absurd and bizarre all at the same time. The game, unlike any other game, was dreamlike in the wildest sense and nightmarish in the worst.”   (www.godandsports.net)

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Of course it was almost imaginary, make believe and dreamlike.  That’s because Jeff’s spiritual influence had a direct bearing not only on the outcome of this game but on the direction of the entire tournament.

I won’t explain Villanova’s victory by simply saying “It was Jeff”. I will lay out specifically how I think it came to be. I understand that sharing my fringe views may cause some people to change their opinion of me as a grounded person, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I reassure you in advance that I remain strong, grounded and a rock for my friends and family, as Jeff expressed in his suicide note to us:

 

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But being strong and grounded doesn’t conflict with being a free thinker. I observe what goes on around me and try to infer meaning from those occurrences or events.  And the meaning of what happened during the 2016 March Madness tournament hits me between the eyes like a ton of bricks. It is unmistakable.

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“Magic is not a word you hear in church or find in a good sense in the Bible. But it’s a good word nonetheless. Yes there is “Black” magic, but that has no place here. I’m talking about virgin magic as pure as freshly falling, driven snow. And Villanova, while not a Cinderella team last night like they were oh, so many years ago in 1985 when Rollie Massimino’s team beat Georgetown, found the glass slipper and slipped it on just seconds before midnight.” (www.godandsports.net)

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The case for believing that Jeff influenced the outcome of the 2016 tournament begins with the knowledge, recently corroborated, that his spirit is alive. Evidence of that is overwhelming:

  • On November 14, 2010, the day after Jeff’s funeral, his beloved Giants played the Cowboys at the Meadowlands. A few plays into the second half, with the Giants down 19-6, the stadium’s top section of lights went out.  They played on. Immediately after the Cowboys scored on a 71 yard screen pass to make it 26-6, the remaining lights went out and the stadium was completely dark. There is no other plausible explanation for such a thing happening other than Jeff venting his frustration.  His body was laid to rest the day before, but he let it be known that his spirit was alive.

  • On August 13, 2011, which was the day after my birthday and one day before Brett’s, he and I went to the Yankees game. During the game, Jeff’s voice in my right ear was crystal clear.  He told me that Eric Chavez was about to walk, and then Jorge Posada was going to hit a grand slam homer. I shared this with Brett, and we proceeded to watch Chavez walk and Posada crush a grand slam.

  • On Christmas Eve 2012, our greyhound Dobi went missing in the woods during her walk. She was gone over an hour when we lost hope and went home. It was dark and snow had started to fall. The five of us, including Carey’s mother, gathered in our kitchen and decided as a family to go back and not leave until we found her. While they waited for me in the car, I stayed behind and screamed at Jeff that he owed us, and I demanded that he lead Dobi back to the entrance to the woods. Minutes after we headed into the dark woods, Dobi came scampering back to the entrance. She had been missing for over two hours.

  • On Good Friday a few weeks ago, Brett and I drove in the pouring rain to the cemetery to visit Jeff’s grave. The forecast called for the rain to continue all afternoon. The second we stepped foot on the grass next to the grave, the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. Brett hadn’t been there to visit for many months, and Jeff let us know how he felt about Brett’s return.

Jeff’s spirit is alive, and you should believe the same about your own departed loved ones.

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“This game, above just about any other and every other NCAA game we’ve ever seen, was fairy-tale fanciful, story book beautiful and yes, enchanting; it was simply full of pixy dust dazzle.” (www.godandsports.net)

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There was no possible way that Middle Tennessee State could beat Michigan State in the first round of the tournament. It was an example of men against boys, a big time basketball program against a nonentity. But when Middle Tennessee State completed what I consider to be the biggest upset in tournament history, I knew that the time had finally come and Jeff was writing the script.

Specifically, I believe that Jeff has been clamoring since he first arrived in Heaven for the ability to direct the tournament. But he was a new arrival and it wasn’t his time. I also understand that in Heaven, there are many millions of alumni and fans from all the schools that play in the tournament each year. So why was Jeff the one to be given a sphere of influence?

Those who knew Jeff remember that he was a force of nature and that when he latched onto a cause, he was passionately relentless in pursuing it. And so I believe that when it came to his little brother’s senior year at Villanova, Jeff knew it was now or never. He wanted Brett to experience the joy of being on campus when it happened, and he wanted to give some of the joy back to our family that he had so abruptly taken away.  And so he passionately pleaded his case to his guardian Angel, and said Angel relented and allowed him to have at it. But just this one time. Jeff was given the chance to draw it up. Middle Tennessee State kicked off Jeff’s dream, followed by Northern Iowa’s absurd half court buzzer beater against Texas, and Wisconsin’s corner buzzer beating shot to beat Xavier.

Then there was Villanova. Jeff had fun with this one.  In their first three games, they absolutely destroyed their opponents, including number 3 seed Miami. For kicks, Jeff made the Kansas game interesting, but Villanova beat the overall number one seed with perfect free throw shooting down the stretch. And then the record breaker that had millions of jaws dropping to the floor in amazement. The Wildcats unleashed a barrage of offensive firepower on the shell-shocked Oklahoma Sooners in their Final Four contest. It was the widest margin of victory in Final Four history. How did that happen, the nation wondered.

When Kris Jenkins launched the championship winning shot against UNC, it began to drift left. When you watch the video below, specifically the slow motion replays,  you’ll notice that Kris bends his body to the left as he follows the ball’s flight, praying that it didn’t drift any further. But he needn’t have worried, as this was Jeff’s crowning moment, the moment he would give the brother he adored a lifetime memory in his senior spring semester. He created a jet stream that was blowing to the right, and the ball’s leftward drift ceased. As the ball swished through the net, Jenkins straightened up again, the celebration began, and a video clip that will be replayed and remembered for decades to come was created.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L7FFJUz0tdo

_____________________________________________________________

It is devastatingly ironic that the godandsports.net article which so perfectly captured the spiritual and otherworldly nature of the Villanova-UNC game concluded with a paragraph that explains precisely why Jeff was not here to watch it with us.

“In one of the greatest basketball games ever played, we saw the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And such is life. In life there are times when we win big and there are times when we lose large. We both come close and fail and almost lose it and win. And that’s the mystery of this life. Our failures seem like the end and our victories seem like we’ve only just begun. And the mystery of this life is learning how to both enjoy the thrill of victory and endure the agony of defeat, both all at once at the same time.”

Jeff won big for most of his life, but he felt like he lost large when he walked out on a job that brought more pressure than he could handle. To him, that failure seemed like the end and an ominous sign for his future. That gross misperception, exacerbated by misprescribed medication, led to his demise.

To be clear, what I’ve described in this post provides only a small amount of solace. I use the knowledge that Jeff’s spirit is alive, as well as his periodic communication, to help ward off the pain.  Nothing can replace the physical presence that we miss so much, but these things do help, especially during times like March Madness.

Whether or not you believe anything I’ve written in this post is irrelevant, because I’ve shared it solely to encourage you to be open to signs from your own friends and family in Heaven. If you are open to receiving communication, you may very well get it.  And talking to them in your private moments can be therapeutic and is something I highly recommend.

Do believe and remember this–the sports moments that gave Jeff the most joy and excitement during his life were the ones in which an underdog team won on a buzzer beater. His reactions made the house shake. Villanova was a three point underdog to UNC, and they won their first national championship in 31 years on a buzzer beater.

Hmmm.

As Led Zeppelin sang in such haunting tones in “Stairway to Heaven”:

“Ooh, it makes me wonder

Ooh, it really makes me wonder.”

 

–Rich Klein

When Hearts Become “Un-numbed”

5 Jan

The pace of modern life is often so relentless that it keeps you focused outward, away from your inner core. Over time, this stance numbs your heart.  To increase your positivity, you’ll need to ‘un-numb’ your heart. Let it feel. Let it be open.  Slow yourself down enough so that you can see and hear and sense with your heart, not just with your eyes, ears and mind.”

                           –Barbara Fredrickson, “Positivity”, 2009

_____________________________________________________

I stood at the water’s edge for the last time on this rejuvenating vacation, my stare fixed upon the cloud formation in a sky that was preparing for another gorgeous sunset.  For five years I had believed that I’d periodically seen Jeff in the clouds. In Turks and Caicos in 2012, it was crystal clear- the portrait of Jeff’s head with his arms outstretched, giving a double thumbs up to Carey and me for going away to focus on taking care of ourselves.

Jeff Turks cloud


Turks & Caicos, November 2012

This time was different, as the head looked more like an animal’s than a human’s head, and the arms looked more like paws, but nonetheless, I was sure it was him.  He was just being his prankster self. And with Carey having already gone back to our room, and with nobody else left on the beach, it was just Jeff and me. Alone and at long last, face to face.

It had taken five long years for the rendezvous I had dreamed of to finally occur, and as I stood on the beautiful island of Nevis this past November on our last evening there, Jeff had clearly decided that the time was right. He knew that this was the place to which we had escaped after the five year anniversary of his death, and the island’s beauty and tranquility provided the perfect setting. My thoughts, however, were not particularly tranquil. I was going to let out my rage to him once and for all.  Right there on a remote Caribbean island.

While staring at him, I thought about how the people who loved him most had repressed their pain to cope with the unthinkable loss, and my heart broke yet again…

_______________________________________________________

During the week of November 15th, 2010, Carey found me sitting on our family room floor, staring at the television between sets of sit-ups, while silently and repeatedly shaking my head “no”.  My overwhelming grief had taken complete control of my body and mind, and I was oblivious to my head shaking. Carey knelt down and put her arms around my head until I stopped.  There must have been comfort in routines, though, and so I resumed my sit-up regimen.  But there were only so many I could do, so I mostly wandered around the house aimlessly for two weeks.  I had to go back to work, and after Thanksgiving seemed like the right time. In order to get on the train that first day, and to generally move forward with my life, I needed to find a way to smother the pain. It wasn’t until five years later that I realized what I had unknowingly done to make it work.

_______________________________________________________

When I arrived home on November 9th, 2010, I found Brett curled up on his bed.  He adored his oldest brother, and at 16, he had just been introduced to life’s cruelty for the first time. My enduring memory of those dreadfully sad moments in Brett’s room is that after allowing me to hold him for a couple of minutes, he gently pushed me away with these words:

“I’ll be ok. You need to go take care of Mom.”

I felt my body sag at Brett’s selfless words, and before going to do exactly what he said, I told him we’d be together forever and would get through this tragedy. After Jeff’s wake and funeral that weekend, Brett went back to school on Monday. His basketball season started that day, and he had prepared his entire childhood to play on Greeley’s varsity team, just as both his brothers did.  And so he took his first step forward and did just that.  Athletes play through physical pain, and Brett found a way to play through his emotional pain.

Since then, Brett has demonstrated his love for Jeff in small, subtle ways.  Calling it his “test taking shirt”, he wears Jeff’s Middlebury t-shirt on the days of important exams at Villanova, and he frequently uses words or phrases that Jeff was known for.

Brett test taking shirt

During his first two years at college, though, he either couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about Jeff to his new friends and fraternity brothers. This past spring, however, during a frat meeting, he told his brothers what had happened.  I guess the heart can only hold certain things inside it for so long.

 ______________________________________________________

Drew was at a new school to which he had recently transferred when his cell phone rang on the evening of November 9th, 2010.  Carey delivered the news in as gentle a way as possible, but there was no way to sugarcoat the raw facts.  His older brother to whom he looked up and loved was dead of his own choosing.  After hanging up the phone, Drew kicked a large trash can the length of his dorm hallway.  Just three days earlier, Jeff had reached out to Drew for support, and in his understated yet direct way, Drew let him know he’d be there for him.

Jeff stay close and stick together

Drew u got it

Three months later, Drew and I went to Los Angeles for the NBA All-Star weekend, a trip that was planned for four of us, including Brett and Jeff.  Brett had to stay back for his playoff basketball game, so Drew and I went, and we spent hours talking about our loss.  We lamented how this type of weekend together was what Jeff lived for before antidepressants distorted his thoughts.  We talked about the blog posts I had started writing on Kleinsaucer, and Drew said he wanted to write his own at some point.  Over the next few years, Drew wrote three such posts, and they were extremely moving.

When he went back to school after our weekend together, Drew joined Theta Chi, and in a frat meeting where each pledge was asked to share something personal, Drew told them about Jeff. He opened his heart, and the feelings flowed.

Jeff’s photo remains on the desk in Drew’s room next to his computer’s keyboard, where he strategically placed it five years ago.

Jeff photo on Drew's desk

_______________________________________________________

Andrew Becker, known to his friends as A.B., is one of Jeff’s oldest and best friends. They were together throughout childhood, they were together in Bryant Park the day Jeff walked out on his job in August 2010, and they were together on Jeff’s last weekend of life, which was spent partying in Manhattan.

Jeff and AB

Jeff and A.B.

A.B. was shocked and devastated by Jeff’s death, both because he loved him and because, like all of Jeff’s friends, he didn’t know Jeff had been suffering.  After all, they’d had their typical great time in the city into the early morning hours of Sunday, November 7th, when Jeff crashed at A.B.’s friend’s apartment.

Jeff ABs frat bros aptmnt

I picked Jeff up at the Chappaqua train station later that morning, and he told me he had a great time.  About 55 hours later, he jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge.

A.B. comforted me greatly in the months that followed. He sat with me at Brett’s basketball games, we had lunch numerous times in the city, and we remain in close text contact.   He has a knack for coming out with very poignant words at the most emotional times. After the Giants beat the Patriots in the 2012 Super Bowl, A.B. and I texted about how excited Jeff would have been if he’d been here to see it.  Concluding our text exchange, he wrote:

“Well, times like these, we just have to savor the moments for him, and stick together.”

Even now, I get a lump in my throat when I think of those words.  Yes, that’s exactly what we need to do, always—savor the moments Jeff would have loved, and stick together.  A.B. is wise beyond his years.

_______________________________________________________

 I decided long ago that when November 9th falls on a weekday, I wouldn’t sit home and mourn.  It’s better for me to stay occupied and go to work.  On this past November 9th, at 9:51 a.m., in the middle of an internal meeting, I received the following text from Brett:

 

Brett i love you dad

And then more:

 

brett 1

Brett 2

Brett 3

The 16 year old kid who somehow found a way to keep the pain beneath the surface in order to move forward with his life was now a man, and on the fifth anniversary of losing his brother, he honored him by running exactly 3.02 miles in recognition of Jeff’s March 2nd birthday. He opened his heart and allowed Jeff’s presence to fuel him during his run, and the shin pain he’d been enduring disappeared.  I couldn’t hide the moisture in my eyes, and so I started to plan a graceful exit from this meeting. But then my phone buzzed again.  It was Drew.

 

Drew Hope you're getting through

True to the form he has exhibited his entire life, Drew’s primary concern was for all of us. He had involuntarily been thrust into the role of the oldest brother, and on this terrible day, he was focused on being there for Brett.

Emotionally spent, I knew that for me, this meeting was over, so I bolted.  My colleagues would cover for me.

I was back at my desk a few hours later when A.B. texted.  It is a text that made me realize what we all had been doing these past five years, and it is one that will stay with me forever. This loving, compassionate guy had nailed it once again with his poignant words.

 

AB emotion moment

Later that evening, A.B. texted me with a photo of Jeff’s grave, the headstone having just been adorned by roses that he, Lexie Picker and Blake Heller had brought. On this tragic anniversary, they visited Jeff to let him know how much he is missed.

 

A.B. roses at Jeff's grave

For years, we all numbed our hearts.

Of course we did, because how else could we have gone on after losing our son, brother or friend?  The magnitude of this tragedy is beyond words, and had we not numbed our hearts to some degree, we could have easily just dissolved into puddles on the floor.

But on November 9th, 2015, hearts became “un-numbed”.

And the result was a beautiful, heartfelt display of love and emotion that I will never forget.

_______________________________________________________

As the sun descended directly behind my son the cloud, it illuminated both him and the enormity of the moment.

 

Jeff Nevis cloud

I called for the anger that had been brewing inside me all these years to rise to the surface.  Jeff’s profile in the brilliant sky appeared to edge closer in anticipation of my words, but in the moment of truth, I opened my mouth and there was nothing there. I choked.  My legs suddenly felt unsteady. I sat down in the water and fought back tears, but what was the purpose of holding them back?  There was nobody else around. I cried because I miss him so much that it hurts, because I know in my heart that I could have done more to try to save him, and also because I was emotional over having just had a very special vacation with Carey on this beautiful island paradise.

I thought back to A.B.’s text and realized that while the anger I feel toward Jeff for leaving us is very real, the fact that I’ve focused on that instead of the love and the pain has been part of the unconscious process of numbing my heart.  And as A.B. said, you can only do that for so long before it all comes out.

As I sat there with my tears and my un-numbed heart, I whispered “I love you” to Jeff, but there was no way he could have heard me. I looked around to confirm the beach was still empty, and then I shouted it from the depths of my soul. The whole island heard that one and so did Jeff. The sun slowly fell below him, and as it did, Jeff’s body began to peacefully dissipate into the atmosphere, a beautiful contrast to the way his body violently came undone under the bridge five years earlier. I watched the sun touch the water out on the horizon, and I then felt a level of calm and serenity that had eluded me for half a decade.

I packed up and headed back to our room feeling unburdened, un-numbed and excited for a final night in paradise with my beautiful wife of thirty years.

I knew all too well that serenity can be fleeting, but for at least that moment in time, it felt as if Jeff and I had finally made our peace.

–Rich Klein

Time To Lessen The Pressure On Our Kids And Help Them Find Peace Of Mind–A Father’s Day Reflection, Part 5

17 Jun

“Now if you’re feelin’ kind of low ‘bout the dues you’ve been payin’,

Future’s comin’ much too slow.

And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin’,

Can’t decide on which way to go,

I understand about indecision,

But I don’t care if I get behind,

People living in competition,

All I want is to have my peace of mind.”

 

            –Boston, “Peace of Mind”, 1976

__________________________________________________________________________

I would have been shocked into submission if someone had told me in 1978, when I chose the last two lines of the lyrics above for my high school yearbook quote, that those lyrics would one day be my rallying cry to advance the cause of suicide prevention in the aftermath of my own son killing himself. But just as those were the best words to encapsulate my feelings about life then, they are even more important to me 37 years later in my effort to convince parents everywhere that proactively seeking ways to lessen the pressure on our children is the most impactful thing we can do to reduce the global suicide rate among the younger generation.

Rich yearbook 3

Until Jeff changed everything, I had never felt an ounce of anxiety in my life. That is partially because I was dealt a good hand, genetically speaking. I have no family history of mental illness. The more important reason, in my opinion, is that I had an amazing father who went out of his way to make me feel safe, secure and as stress-free as possible. Don’t get me wrong—he was all about hard work, but as long as I did my best at whatever I was doing, he never questioned the result.

We lived in a modest home in a rough neighborhood, but he made me feel that I never had to worry about anything. When the public schools I attended got a bit too rough for my parents’ liking, they sent me to a private high school for ninth grade. While no longer getting beaten up for my lunch money was good for my physical well-being, I was immediately overwhelmed academically. I promptly received the equivalent of a D- on my first European History exam at the school, and I was devastated. I told my dad the work was over my head and I wanted out. I’d rather go back to the public high school and take my licks.

He told me to relax and that I just had to get used to taking essay tests, as I had never taken one before. My dad eschewed college to go into the family business (anyone remember the S. Klein department store in Union Square?), so the fact that I would one day actually go to college was good enough for him. I ended up being an honors student in high school and headed off to Colgate, which made my father a proud guy.

But once at Colgate, I had no idea what to major in. I wanted to be a sportscaster, but there was no communications department there. Dad, ever the voice of reason, suggested Economics because “you can’t go wrong with that.” Well, that would have been true if I didn’t get a D+ in the basic Intro to Microeconomics course. I wanted out again. Supply and demand curves made me nauseous. He said I probably had a crappy professor and told me I’d be fine and to stick with it. I did. I graduated on schedule with my economics degree, albeit with some mediocre grades along the way.

I couldn’t find a job after graduation during the deep recession in 1982, but my father was unconcerned. He even supported my brief flirtation with becoming a TV sportscaster when a station in White River Junction, Vermont offered me the position for a whopping $9,000 per year. He said if I took it and either failed or didn’t like it, at least I wouldn’t regret not having tried. However, I’ve always been risk-averse, so I decided to plod forward in search of a bank training program position.  You can decide from the clip below whether I could have made it.

Dad told me to live at home as long as I needed to, and it would all work out in time. I was hired by a bank called Manufacturers Hanover after seven months of looking, and I remain in the industry 32 years later.

There was no such thing as hopelessness in my parents’ home. It was always about taking the bad with the good and continuing to chip away incrementally at your goals. There were no artificial deadlines. Life was not a race. I am a product of my upbringing, which is why I’m solid as a rock emotionally and it is one key reason I was able to withstand the loss of my son.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

The crucial question, though, is what each of us would do if our child came home with a D- on his/her first exam at a new high school, or a D+ in his/her first course in a proposed area of concentration in college. And how would we react if our young adult child couldn’t find a job for seven months after graduation? Most importantly, how would we treat them along the way on this long, uncertain journey?

In his Op-Ed piece entitled “Love and Merit” in the New York Times on April 24th, David Brooks wrote that the two great trends in parenting today—greater praise and greater honing of our kids to become high achievers—result in what he calls “directional love” and “meritocratic affection”. The consequences for our children’s emotional well-being are great. Brooks wrote:

These children begin to assume that this merit-tangled love is the natural order of the universe. The tiny glances of approval and disapproval are built into the fabric of communication so deep that they flow under the level of awareness. But they generate enormous internal pressure, the assumption that it is necessary to behave in a certain way to be worthy of love — to be self-worthy. The shadowy presence of conditional love produces a fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.

On the one hand, many of the parents in these families are extremely close to their children. They communicate constantly. But the whole situation is fraught. These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.”

I gave Jeff safe love. It is the one thing I laud myself for and don’t beat myself up about. I never once pushed him to follow me into a career in finance, nor did I ever push him to achieve great grades in school. Perhaps the greatest compliment Jeff ever gave me was written in the birthday card pictured below where he wrote that he felt happy and safe when he was around me.

Jeff last birthday card to me

However, I failed miserably by not realizing that in today’s pressure-packed world, it’s simply not enough to refrain from imposing stress on our kids. That alone is not sufficient to help them find their peace of mind. We have to take it one step further by proactively and aggressively seeking ways to reduce the stress and pressure that they feel. We must forcefully convey the messages that there is no universally accepted definition of success, that there are no deadlines for achieving goals, and that living in the moment is key to enjoying life.

While Jeff was steamrolling toward a 4.0 GPA at Horace Greeley High by virtue of his natural academic prowess and strong work ethic, I never once went out of my way to let him know that it would be perfectly fine to get a “C” here and there, or even a D+ like I did in microeconomics, and that his world would still keep turning. I never urged him to get “A’s”, but I never told him to relax and just do his best either. That may not sound like I did anything seriously wrong as a parent, but it’s a nuance that can very well be the difference between depression and serenity.

When he was working 18+ hour days at his paralegal job at a major New York law firm, I didn’t encourage him strongly enough to start looking for something that he could get passionate about. He took the paralegal job just to get employed, not because it was enjoyable or rewarding for him. It wasn’t until after he quit and started taking antidepressants that I aggressively worked to lighten his emotional load, but by then suicidal thoughts had crept in and it was too late.

Jeff all nighter email

Jeff no shame email

Jeff ample notice email

And at the end of October 2010, after he had been weaned off the meds, I didn’t even think to take Jeff away to a beach to clear his head, have fun and to strategize together, as the great team that we were, about his future. It was an egregious mistake that I will never live down.

The bottom line is that reducing the unnecessary level of pressure that these young people feel to not only “succeed” but to do so quickly, however self-imposed that pressure may be, is one way to lower the suicide rate in this age group. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The estimate is that a person takes his/her life every 13 minutes in this country alone.

Wall Street has tried to address these issues by limiting the number of weekday hours its younger people can work and by only allowing them to come to the office on one weekend day. But as an insider, I can tell you that many hardliners I work with scoff at these limits and lament the fact that these young people are getting off easy compared to how hard they all worked back in the day. It’s appalling to hear, and I have called people out on it. The reason these limits were put in place is because a young intern at Bank of America in London literally worked himself to death in the summer of 2013 by staying at the office 72 consecutive hours without sleep. Apparently, nobody asked him to do this, but it is equally apparent that nobody insisted he go home either.

In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that a son of mine would one day be one of our community’s poster children for suicide. But he is, and I haven’t run from that reality. I’m an average, regular guy, and if this can happen to one of my kids, it can happen to anyone’s.

My point is that we all need to be extremely in tune with our children’s feelings and cognizant of the importance of easing their fears. It’s time to prioritize their mental health over academic, athletic and career achievements. They need to know that it’s ok to not know what to do, or to fail and take time to regroup, and neither we nor they should create artificial deadlines. They need to know that our love is safe and unconditional.

The song “Peace of Mind” should be on top of everyone’s personal Billboard chart. The critical line is:

But I don’t care if I get behind”.

Of course we mustn’t care, because what does it even mean? Behind who? Behind what? If your friend gets engaged before you do, are you behind in some sort of race? Or if you find the career you love before your sibling does, so what? Or if you take 5 or 6 years to graduate from college, does the world come to an end? Of course not.

In the scheme of life, none of this matters. Each individual travels his/her own unique journey, and that is actually the beauty of life. We must encourage our kids, and they must encourage each other, to follow that unique road, to do so at their own pace, and to expect and accept that there will be detours and bumps. By consistently spreading this mantra, we can drive societal change and help reduce the global suicide rate.

__________________________________________________________________________

My father adored Jeff, who was his first grandson, and given that Dad lived a wonderful life to nearly 83, I must admit that I’m glad he wasn’t around to see how Jeff’s life ended. It would have devastated him, and he never would have been able to comprehend how anyone could even consider suicide as an option.

2012-05-20_36

My Dad and Jeff

On this Father’s Day, I salute and thank my dad, Leo J. Klein, for always lifting undue pressure from my shoulders. It is because of him that I never worried when I stumbled, failed, or had no idea what to do with my life when I was 22.

My greatest heartache on this day, though, comes from knowing how deeply disappointed he would be that I didn’t take the parenting lessons he taught me by example and apply them to my own son. Aggressively trying to moderate Jeff’s self-imposed drive to follow a perfect path toward adulthood may or may not have saved him, but it certainly would have given him a better chance to survive when things turned south.

All I can do now is reiterate to Drew and Brett how proud I am of them, how much I love them, how happy I am that they are following their passions, that they should just enjoy each moment, and that I will be there to support them every step of the way.

Talking to them about these things is the way I intend to spend Father’s Day, and I hope that many Dads around the world will do the same.

–Rich Klein

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

2 Mar

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff med text 1

jeff med text 2

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

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

Jeff employed again

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

On November 9th, Jeff jumped to his death.

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jeff Sunset With Lisa and Ryan

Jeff at giants game 1

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

 

Jeff epic weekend

In less than two months?

 

Jeff great night for sports

In one month?

 

Jeff Yanks Owning Twins Status

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

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

And on the flip side…

 

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

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

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

 

Jeff Still Alive Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The study’s concluding paragraph answers that question decisively:

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Jeff Shaq 1

And my mature fatherly response:

Jeff Shaq 2

Jeff Shaq 3

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

Jeff last birthday card to me

Jeff last birthday card to me 2

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

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

 ________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

–Rich Klein