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My Battle With Post-Traumatic Stress Rages On

29 Jul

“Day after day, I’m more confused,

Yet I look for the light through the pouring rain,

You know, that’s a game that I hate to lose,

And I’m feeling the strain,

Ain’t it a shame?”

             –Dobie Gray, “Drift Away”, 1973

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On September 8th, 2010, 8 days after Jeff took his first Celexa tablet, I was placing the key in my San Francisco hotel room door when Carey called with the news that Jeff had just told her he felt hopeless and was having “bad thoughts.” And to take those thoughts one step further, he had Googled information on the Bear Mountain Bridge. I spoke with Jeff, reminded him that he was the one who made me a father for the first time, and pleaded with him to chill out until I got home the next day.

2015-07-27_0

Since then, I’ve tried to keep my number of business trips to San Francisco to a minimum, but I haven’t been able to avoid it completely. With memories of that 2010 trip still fresh, my visits over the last four years have been anxiety-filled yet thankfully uneventful. Until April of this year.

On April 29th, I was sitting alone in San Francisco having dinner in my hotel’s restaurant, reflecting on the previous evening’s panel discussion on suicide prevention in which I participated, when I noticed it was about 11 pm back home. Drew was scheduled to work until 10 that night, and so I impulsively texted Carey just to confirm he was home. She replied that he wasn’t so I assumed he had to work late or had gone out with the other coaches. With an early start time at work the next day, I figured he wouldn’t be out much longer.

As an EMT, Carey gets texts every time there’s an ambulance call in our area, even if she’s not on call at the time. The next message I received from her at about 11:30 pm informed me that there had been an accident on the Saw Mill Parkway southbound at the Chappaqua exit, which is precisely where Drew would have been driving to get home, and there had also been a “rock slide” onto the parkway. There are rock walls in certain spots alongside that parkway, and if there was a slide, these weren’t little rocks. They would have been more like boulders.

I immediately called Drew, and the call went straight to voicemail. His phone battery was dead.The temperature in San Francisco was in the mid-60s that evening, but at that moment, my body started to shiver uncontrollably. I was freezing. I paid the check and ran outside the hotel searching for warmth, but I couldn’t stop shivering. I texted Carey to let me know immediately when she learned anything, but she was already pulling out of our driveway, clad in her bathrobe, to make the short drive to the accident scene to look for him.

When I didn’t hear from her between 11:30 and 11:45 pm, I became certain that the worst had happened. Any parent would have been concerned if their son was scheduled to work until 10:00, was 25 minutes from home, wasn’t home by almost midnight, and they knew there was a terrible accident on the road he’d be taking. The nuance in my case, though, was that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had me convinced that I had lost another son. Carey then called from the car to tell me that the top story on CBS radio was that the Saw Mill Parkway had been shut down due to the rock slide/car accident in Chappaqua. She realized she couldn’t get on the parkway and thus would not be able to locate Drew.

saw mill rock slide 2

The common sense reaction to that update would have been to breathe a sigh of relief that Drew had most likely been just stuck on the closed road with a dead phone. My reaction, the PTSD reaction, was to assume he was the one in the accident. I waited for further word.

But there was no word. Just dead silence. By midnight, I pictured Carey on the side of the road sobbing over what she had discovered and trying to gather herself before calling me. Again. I was 2,500 miles from home, and I literally couldn’t take it anymore. I texted Carey that I was ready for the truth. And I braced myself.

Please say something text

The higher probability outcome had occurred. Drew had been stuck on the closed parkway and was only able to get home by following other drivers who backed up onto an entrance ramp to exit the Saw Mill.

I wish I could say that this incident was a random, infrequent occurrence, but unfortunately it’s not. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that Carey gets these ambulance texts all the time, and there are often instances when accidents occur in the general vicinity of where one of our kids could possibly be. Though Carey is not prone to assuming the worst when being notified of accidents, she understandably tries to account for her flock.

Carey text everyone accounted for

My bouts with PTSD symptoms can occur at any time and any place. The most recent example was both unexpected and terrifying. I was at my desk at work searching for an old document to which I needed to refer, and while reviewing the document list, my eyes locked in on one that I saved on November 9th 2010 at 3:42 pm.

Dear God.

On Jeff’s death certificate, the time of death on that day was estimated to be between 3:45 and 4:00. Not only did I begin to experience shortness of breath, but my mind went into an absolute frenzy at the mere sight of that date and time.

nov. 9th document

As I was clicking the mouse on November 9th, 2010 to save that document, where was my precious son? Was he driving over the Bear Mountain Bridge at that second? Had he already parked, and was he still in the car psyching himself up to take the plunge? Was he taking his last precious breaths? Was he in the air? Was he already dead? Was he thinking about aborting the plan? Why was I at work saving a document and not with him?

So much pain. So many questions. No definitive answers.

And of course, I continue to suffer from what I know is irrational nervousness when I can’t reach one of the boys. Drew recently had a storage issue with his phone and as a result was not receiving every text that was sent to him. That resulted in several PTSD-driven anxious moments (separate from the Saw Mill Parkway incident) when I made terrible and misguided assumptions. Both he and Brett have been quite tolerant and understanding, though earlier this year, Brett pointed out that I need to be more realistic in my expectations for their response time:

Brett just texted me

Brett cab text

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I’ve had a few recent conversations with people who either suffer from depression or are close to people who suffer. They’ve shared with me that many people who have suicidal thoughts truly believe that they would be lifting a huge burden from their loved ones by killing themselves.

Such thinking is terribly misguided and has excruciating consequences. Instead of relieving a burden, those who commit suicide are inflicting extreme and everlasting pain on the people who love them the most. Dozens have thanked me for writing about suicide’s collateral damage in my recent Journal News article, because they felt it was crucial for that side of the story to be told.

I’m certain that Jeff’s horrific decision wasn’t driven by a feeling that he had become a burden to us. He never indicated that, either verbally during his final two months, or in the notes he left behind. Jeff actually began the last paragraph of his final note to our family by apologizing. He wrote:

“Mom and Dad, Drew and Brett, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry. Ultimately, I succumbed. I was too weak to forge ahead, too hopeless to keep on dreaming. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel…I have prayed to God for forgiveness, and I hope that 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.

All My Love,

Jeffrey”

Jeff final note closing

A young man who literally had it all was too hopeless to keep dreaming and saw no light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t get more baffling or tragic than that.

Jeff’s apology clearly indicates an understanding that he was about to inflict pain on his family. I don’t, however, think that in his weakest moments at the end, he had the ability to imagine the depth and lasting nature of that pain. I’ve wondered if he was able to watch me from Heaven as I gasped for breath in front of my computer screen at the sight of the November 9th, 3:42 pm saved document, or if he saw me shivering in San Francisco as I awaited news about Drew. I’m quite certain that if he did witness those things, he was devastated, because I know how much Jeff loved us. He was simply not of sound mind on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010.

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My war against PTSD rages on. I’m not sure what set of circumstances needs to exist for me to one day declare victory, but consistent with my belief that it is harmful to create artificial deadlines for achieving goals, I will not do so here. But I will win.

I’ll win because I’m strong and because, like Jeff, I too have it all. I have an amazing wife and two precious sons here on earth, and they are all working with me on this. Their constant expressions of support, like Brett’s text after my Journal News article had been published and Drew’s beautiful words in his cards, mean more than they can ever know.

brett your article is great

Carey and I have been married nearly 30 years now, and we continue to lift each other up every day. How can I not feel confident of victory when I receive texts like this:

carey strength text

Millions of people fight various levels of adversity every day, and unlike Jeff, most of them don’t succumb. Along with my enormous love for Jeff, I’m sad to say that I harbor anger toward him for not trying harder to find his personal reservoir of strength deep inside him. He didn’t fight hard enough for himself or for those who are now left behind mourning him, and he deprived us of a lifetime of incredible times together.

And he left me with PTSD.

After all those November 9th calls that went straight to voicemail, all the unanswered texts, and the slow realization that it was all over, how could it be any other way?

Jeff I'm so scared

Literally begging text

Jeff may have wished for peace to be with us all, but that is not to be. By executing on his deeply flawed view as to how to achieve peace for himself, he took it away from the rest of us. Those who contemplate suicide must understand this. Suicide is irrevocable and has long lasting consequences for loved ones who still have a life to live. It obliterates their peace.

Thus, I will continue to fight a war that I never signed up for, and to answer Dobie Gray’s question—yes, it is a damn shame.

–Rich Klein

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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

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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.

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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

The Joy And The Pain Of March Madness

18 Mar

I never knew that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, commonly known as March Madness, was the greatest sporting event on the face of the planet until Jeff taught me that this was an indisputable truth. I was a fan of professional sports who had never paid much attention to this tournament until Jeff showed me the error of my ways. He taught me so many things during his 23 ½ years—including the importance of living life with passion, about how random acts of kindness can really make a difference in the world, and about how we must do everything possible to love and support the underdogs, both in March Madness and in life.

Jeff explained to me that March Madness was the single largest national forum through which college athletes could demonstrate to the world that nothing is impossible, and that teams can overcome the longest of odds if they believe in themselves and are committed.  He lived to see those moments, yet he died because anti-depressants took away his belief in himself.

With unbridled passion, the likes of which I had never seen before or since, Jeff celebrated those 3 to 4 weeks each year by devoting every ounce of emotional energy in his body to rooting for every single underdog and to railing against referees whom he believed were encouraged by the NCAA to officiate games in ways that would help the big name schools win, and thus maximize television ratings.

Jeff took his first vacation days from work to stay home on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament in 2010 so that he could spend the entire four days through Sunday screaming himself hoarse as the upsets began to brew. I am actually quite thankful that many upsets did occur in what would be Jeff’s last March Madness, and that he documented the fact that he considered it the best tournament in his lifetime. And to top it off, Butler University, the ultimate mid-major underdog, came one Gordon Hayward half court shot away from toppling Duke for the national championship.

Jeff roared for schools I had never heard of before, such as Wofford, Belmont, Sam Houston State and Murray State. His excitement over this tournament was such that he couldn’t keep it to himself. And so in March 2010, he created his own sports blog to rant about the tournament. And he posted frenetically and passionately on Facebook to both release his own pent up excitement and to stoke the fires of his like-minded friends.

Jeff 2015 March madness blog announcement

The following string of March Madness Facebook posts will give you an idea of what it was like to experience the tournament in our house with Jeff. I was not a Facebook member then, so I have only discovered these recently while going through his timeline, but we all heard these same sentiments loud and clear as it was happening, and our neighbors probably did too…

 

Jeff 2015 March madness 1

Jeff 2015 March madness 3

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Jeff 2015 March madness 5

Jeff 2015 March madness 6

Jeff 2015 March madness 7

Jeff 2015 March madness 8

Jeff 2015 March madness 10

Jeff 2015 March madness 11

Jeff 2015 March madness 12

Jeff 2015 March madness 13

Jeff 2015 March madness 14

Jeff 2015 March madness 19

Jeff 2015 March madness 20

Jeff Butler status

Jeff 2015 March madness 16

Jeff 2015 March madness 18

And with that last post, Jeff’s final March Madness tournament concluded.  Can you imagine If I had gone up to Jeff on that day and said something like:

Glad you enjoyed the tournament, Jeff, because it’s the last one you’ll ever see. And you know why? Because 7 months from now, you’re going to jump off a bridge and kill yourself.”

He would probably have called an ambulance and had me rushed to the hospital, in fear that I had gone off the deep end. He would have been completely baffled by such a statement and such an absurd thought. On April 6th, 2010, Jeff was as happy as a young man could possibly be.

THAT is why I have not been able to pull the knife out of my heart.

And THAT is why I couldn’t watch the 2011 tournament, which took place just four months after Jeff died. And it is why I wrote a blog post that March entitled, “Call Off March Madness.” I was so out of my mind back then that I actually called the NCAA’s headquarters in Indianapolis and asked to speak to someone in charge about canceling the tournament. They put a very nice middle management type guy on the phone who patiently listened to me rant that they couldn’t possibly hold March Madness without Jeff watching. It was unfathomable to me. He gently replied that while he was sure he spoke for everyone at the NCAA in saying that they were sorry for our loss, calling off the tournament was not a viable option.

It is the cruelest of ironies that Jeff’s youngest brother now attends Villanova, which has legitimate aspirations this year to advance to the Final Four. I can’t even imagine how out of control excited Jeff would have been about that, and I firmly believe he would have put his love of upsets on hold as it related to Villanova’s games. It is outrageous, frankly, that Jeff is not here to see how his brother’s school fares in the Big Dance.

All of this explains why March Madness is probably the most difficult and bittersweet time of year for me, even more so than Jeff’s birthday, his death day, or any other day or time period. The tournament and his exuberant support of the underdogs defined who he was and what he stood for.

But I will not allow the 2015 tournament to be bittersweet.

Our family’s mania for basketball is greater than ever, as Drew’s coaching career began as Assistant Coach at the Hackley School this season, and he is now coaching three AAU Nor’East Lightning teams this spring.

And as this is Brett’s time at a basketball powerhouse school, we are going to enjoy it to the max. His school is poised for a strong run, and as a family, we intend to celebrate every second of it, however long it lasts. The four of us began by attending ‘Nova’s Big East Championship winning game at the Garden on Saturday, which was an awesome experience.

 

image

In his April 11, 2007 sports column in the Middlebury Campus newspaper, Jeff closed by writing:

“Oh, and one last thing: a 16 seed will knock off a one-seed in my lifetime. It’s gonna happen.”

In the fullness of time, Jeff’s proclamation is certainly bound to come true. However, with one impulsive and irrevocable act, he ensured that it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime.

Villanova is the one-seed in the East.

The least that Jeff can do, as the loving brother he was, is to use his spiritual influence to make damn sure that Lafayette doesn’t become the first ever 16-seed to pull off the miracle he longed for when it plays Villanova tomorrow evening.

 –Rich Klein

Protecting The One You Love–A Love Story For Valentines Day

12 Feb

“We are all given circumstances by which we can exercise the choice to love.  That’s the thunderbolt that God supplies.  It’s that instant attraction to another person, those warm, fuzzy feelings, that fever akin to drunkenness or madness that causes you to know that you’re in love. 

But it’s what you choose to do after that thunderbolt has passed that matters.  You choose whether you’re going to continue loving the other person after the drunkenness has dissipated, after the frills of romance have fallen away.  You choose whether you’re going to continue to seek the best interests of the other person, and care about him or her through any and all circumstances–and for how long.  Love is a conscious choice.”

                  –E.B. Thompson, “Life’s Critical Moments”

________________________________________________________________________________

Even with my partner of nearly 30 years, I had to strategize in advance about when exactly to drop another bomb, another new piece of very difficult information about Jeff’s death. This was same day information, something I had just discovered that very morning in my office, and though it was not something I wanted to hit Carey with on one of our Friday night dates, I can never keep anything important from her. But the fact that this was four months ago, in October, a month which brings back the memories of all those depression filled days in 2010, made this strategic decision on timing even more important.

For over four years, I have spent way too many hours scouring our house and the internet for every existing email, text, document, card and photo related to Jeff’s final months, searching both for memories and for answers. Carey calls it “stalking”. I call it keeping him at the forefront of our lives, trying to make it seem as if he has just gone on an extended trip away and will come home for at least a visit some day. Call it what you will, but I realized in October that there was still something I had somehow neglected to view during these past four years. I had never opened the camera roll on his Motorola android phone.

And so I brought Jeff’s phone with me to work that Friday to do some viewing. It frightens me to take his phone out of our house, because if anything was to happen to it, or if God forbid I lost it, my recovery process would take a severe hit. But I knew I would protect it with my life, and my curiosity overwhelmed that largely irrational fear.

After a couple sips of coffee, I took the plunge. Since he had just purchased this phone in the late summer of 2010, there were only 23 photos, all from that autumn. Virtually all of them were of the friends he hung out with the most during that time, and they were so dark you could barely see anything other than silhouettes.

The final three photos, however, were anything but dark. They were taken outside on a gorgeous fall day. For the first five seconds, I was baffled and wondered if Jeff, in the middle of his medication-induced hopelessness, was still so impressed with the beautiful fall foliage that he was moved to snap some pictures. What an idiot I can sometimes be.

The beauty in the photos belied the darkness that motivated the photographer. I then saw that the camera had captured the Bear Mountain Bridge down below, through the trees. Jeff was apparently standing in a heavily wooded area that looked out over the bridge from a higher elevation, and he snapped those three pictures from there.

Jeff took this photo of the Bear Mountain Bridge on October 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

Jeff took this photo of the Bear Mountain Bridge on October 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

I clicked on the picture details, which revealed that the date was October 8th and the time 11:02 a.m.—one month and one day before he would return, fully prepared then on the logistics, to the bridge itself. As a burglar would do before making a heist, Jeff was “casing the joint”. During the time we thought he was studying for the LSATs and sending out resumes, he was instead scoping out his suicide spot.

Staring at the photo, I felt nauseous, as well as devastated and betrayed. Yes, on September 8th, eight days after taking his first misprescribed Celexa pill, he confided to us he was having bad thoughts and had “Googled” the Bear Mountain Bridge. But in the weeks after that, we were attacking the problem, having many heart to heart talks with Jeff, and he seemed to be responding. He went to two Giants games and regularly went out with friends over the following weeks. And his September and October Facebook posts seemed to indicate that he was an engaged and still vibrant young man.

Jeff exchange with drew about giants game

But while Carey and I were expending every ounce of energy we had to motivate Jeff and talk sense back into him, he was casing the Bear Mountain Bridge. I have since learned that once suicidal ideation creeps into a person’s mind, it doesn’t leave easily, especially when anti-depressants were what planted that seed. Oh, the thought of my precious son spending a beautiful fall day in this way breaks my heart all over again. I just can’t imagine the level of pain that would drive someone to that point.

At the restaurant, I looked across the table at my beautiful wife and thought about the renewed sadness I was about to bring upon her already battered heart. After a cocktail, I decided it was time. I focused on being as gentle as possible. After I eased into it by telling her that everything was fine but that I just needed to share something I had discovered about Jeff, I explained the situation. She stared back at me, expressionless. There was no reaction. Just a slight shrug of her shoulders as if to say “so what?” I was floored.

“Car, doesn’t that rattle you to the core, like it did me?”

“He’s dead, Rich. Why do you care?”

I was struck at that moment by how two soul mates could react to something so intense in such polar opposite ways. Seeing how utterly perplexed I was, she added:

“This conversation is a blog post. You should write about it.”

So here I am. __________________________________________________________________________

In her book “The Bereaved Parent”, Harriett Schiff devoted a chapter to the outlook for married couples in the aftermath of losing a child. To me, the most staggering sentences of that chapter are these:

“Very often, the bond becomes so taut that it snaps. In fact, some studies estimate that as high as 90 percent of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child.”

I’m blessed to be part of the fortunate 10 percent.

November 9th, 2010 was the day that illustrated better than any other the enormity of that blessing.

We have all experienced moments in our lives that will stay with us in unfading detail forever. The hours that most accurately captured who Carey is as a person, as a wife and as a mother occurred on the worst day of our lives, and they will always remain in high definition in my memory bank. Once it was clear late that afternoon that Jeff had gone missing, I ran to Grand Central to get the next train home.

Once the train emerged from the tunnel, I thought of Jeff’s references on September 8th to the Bear Mountain Bridge and “bad thoughts”. I got my phone out and started Googling away. I started with “Jeffrey Klein suicide”, “Bear Mountain Bridge suicide today” and several other iterations. Those searches only pulled up old news stories about suicides of the past. I felt a surge of hope. Ok, I said to myself, maybe this is one big overreaction and he’s alive and his phone died. He’s at the gym or hanging out at a friend’s house, or…

My hopeful thoughts were interrupted by my cell phone. It was Carey. The conversation is still etched on my brain and it always will be.

“Car, have you found him?”

“Rich, are you on the train?”

Yes, HAVE YOU FOUND HIM?”

“Sweetheart, I want you to just put your head back on the seat, close your eyes, and steel yourself.”

“Why, is it over?

“Just come home. It’ll be ok. Put your head back, close your eyes, and steel yourself. I love you.”

“But there’s nothing on Google, so maybe…”

But she had hung up.

This extraordinary woman, a mother who had obviously learned in the preceding couple of minutes that her firstborn son—the baby she had rocked for hours on end as he screamed bloody murder for the first three months of his life, the kid she so patiently cared for as he took the “terrible twos” to a whole other level, and the young man who grew out of all that to become the smartest, most gorgeous, funniest and most loving young man we had ever known—was dead, reacted to that news by thinking about how to best protect me in the calmest and gentlest way possible, and to prepare me for what I was about to come home to.

This relentlessly giving woman, who has literally helped save lives as a member of Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps, had lost one of the lives most precious to her, yet she thought first about my devastation before her own. This was unparalleled love and kindness.

And so I put my head back on the seat, closed my eyes, and steeled myself.

Even in that moment, I was aware enough to realize the magnitude of what Carey had just done. She had repressed the most profound grief a person could possibly feel in order to ease her husband into our new world, with two living children instead of three, by giving me a little time to process it all before getting home. And she did all that without bluntly saying the words that I couldn’t have withstood hearing from her at that moment.

The woman who had every reason to just collapse on the floor in a sobbing heap instead went about protecting her flock. By the time I got home, she had somehow found a way to tell our 16 year old Brett that something had gone terribly wrong with Jeffrey, and she had called her mother and told her to drive to our house so we could all be together. Carey’s display of strength, compassion and selflessness was superhuman in those dreadful moments, and I can say honestly that I don’t think I could have displayed those attributes at that time if the roles had been reversed.

But Carey wasn’t through yet. She had another precious child to try to protect. At around 10 p.m., after two police officers had confirmed Jeff’s death by driving to our home to express their condolences and drop off his cell phone, drivers license, final notes and the $1 bill he brought with him in case he changed his mind and wanted to pay the toll to come back home, we couldn’t wait any longer to call Drew at school. In yet another act of strength and selflessness, Carey insisted that she would make the call. I listened in tears as she masterfully and maternally explained gently to Drew what had happened and that he would need to come home the next day.

After hanging up the phone, having given every last bit of herself that there was to give, Carey placed her head on my chest and, at long last, allowed her first tears to stream. _________________________________________________________________________________________

Back at the restaurant, I continued to study Carey’s gorgeous face and inscrutable countenance, as the memories of those first six defining hours on the day Jeff died ran with great clarity through my mind. And as they did, my understanding of what was happening in the current moment also became quite clear. Four years after fiercely protecting the hearts and souls of everyone in our family, keeping us afloat by not allowing herself to crater in those most critical and vulnerable hours, it was now time for Carey to protect herself.

Agonizing over the fact that Jeff had visited and taken photos of the bridge a month before he jumped was not productive or healthy for her, and she knew it.  Like every other detail about our nightmare, she repressed it and let another piece of scar tissue form.  I briefly wondered to myself whether it was a mistake to have shared this information with her, but not doing so was never really an option, and Carey knew that too. Our marriage has never operated that way. I had dropped a necessary bomb, but I tried to do it in a way that spared her from further damage. Just as she had done with me over four years ago.

As Carey glanced down at her phone to read a text from one of the boys, I stared one more time at the love of my life and wondered how I could ever make it all up to her.

–Rich Klein

Brought Back To Reality By A Rotten Pumpkin

22 Jan

On November 23rd, 2014, I was walking our greyhound Dobi in the park per my usual weekend routine. As we strolled, Carey called and I heard immediately that she was in distress. She had just left the cemetery after her weekly visit to Jeff’s grave and was distraught to find that the pumpkin she had placed there in October had completely rotted, and the plants she had last planted were as dead as he was.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jeff’s tennis trophy that had been standing next to the headstone for all these years had finally succumbed to the weather. The tennis player’s arm had broken off from the rest of the body, just like I imagine Jeff’s body came undone when it hit the train tracks below the Bear Mountain Bridge. To add insult to injury on that day, Jeff’s dead body was hit by a CSX freight train shortly after he landed. That is the reality of what his grave represents, irrespective of Carey’s tireless efforts to make it look as good as possible, and on this day, its appearance matched the reality of the situation.

For over four years, Carey had lovingly and relentlessly tended to the grave that should never have become home to our precious son who died such a senseless death. She had kept it looking as beautiful as a grave can look, but she had not been able to get there the weekend before, and now she was beating herself up for the resulting decay that taken hold of the pumpkin, plants and trophy. I consoled her as best I could, saying that of course she would replace everything and have it looking beautiful again in short order.   But this situation did not lend itself to consolation. Jeff was dead, his demise having been completely unnecessary, and now his grave looked like crap.

A short while after hanging up with Carey, I glanced at my phone and saw a notification that she had commented on my post on the Friends of Jeff Klein Facebook page from two days earlier, when I had shared the link to my first article on Elephant Journal. Carey “likes” many of my posts but rarely comments, so I was anxious to read what she had to say. But I was horrified to find that under a long thread of beautiful comments from others, she wrote:

carey rotten pumpkin facebook comment

I got angry, and I texted her to take it down.  I told her what she wrote was disgraceful.  Carey was hurt that I would say such a thing and ask her to do that, and the following text conversation ensued with my texts in blue:

rotten pumpkin text 1

rotten pumpkin text 2

It was not until six days later, when we were out for dinner on the next Saturday night, that we gave the topic the time it deserved. Carey explained that while it’s great that I’m trying to inspire and help people, my attempting “to save the world” can come across as almost romanticizing what Jeff did and implying that his death had occurred for some greater good.  She feels that my writing portrays us as heroically dealing with the tragedy.  But the reality is we are broken and bleeding, and always will be, albeit propped up by the joy that Drew and Brett bring us every day of our lives.

And furthermore, after I had made Jeff’s and our family’s lives so public for four years, was she not entitled to make one brutally honest public comment of her own?

Of course she was.

After a healthy discussion, Carey asked if I still wanted her to take the comment down. The answer was no. Absolutely not. She was right—it was too little, too late for Jeff, and the damn pumpkin was rotten. That truly is the reality.

As I’ve said several times on this blog, I began writing four years ago for purely selfish reasons. Writing was an effective form of therapy for me and it made me feel like I was doing everything possible to keep Jeff’s memory alive. I didn’t realize for probably two years that it was helping others and perhaps saving some lives. But that was just a by-product of what I was doing, not the primary motivation for it. Once it became clear to me, though, that people were in fact being helped, I became energized by that knowledge, and I began to write more frequently and frenetically.

The desire to help others then became the driver. The more positive reinforcement I received from people about the blog’s impact, the more I was able to focus on writing alone and not dwell on the horror of what Jeff had done to initiate all this in the first place. And that is where some perspective may have been lost and why Carey injected a dose of reality back into the conversation.

Carey posted her comment that day partially as a result of timing and partially to provide perspective. She wrote it in a grief-stricken moment after driving away from the most terrible place a parent could ever have to visit. This excruciating experience was exacerbated by the deterioration of the very objects that she had placed at the grave to mask its true meaning. And so she understandably vented.

As a matter of perspective, Carey sent a reminder that, notwithstanding the fact that his final act was induced by the side effects of medication, what Jeff did was violent, devastating and a betrayal of those who adored him. He would have gotten better with time, and as Carey has come to that clear realization, it has hit her particularly hard. This makes everything all the more painful. Helping others is important, but nothing either one of us does can bring Jeff back to where he belongs.

I will keep writing, as a continuation of both my therapy and my attempts to try to help those who struggle realize that life is always worth living. For over four years, I have bared my soul in a public forum, and Carey has supported my doing so—reticently at first but then more easily after an adjustment period. Now that she has expressed her genuine grief in an honest public comment, I fully support her and admit that my initial reaction to it was impulsive and not well thought out.

My precious wife and incredible mother of our three boys lost her first-born son in sudden, violent fashion, and she has every right to tell it like it is. My heart bleeds for her, and I would do anything to take away her pain. You have no idea how much I love her.

Carey long ago replaced the rotten pumpkin and dead plants with beautiful, seasonally appropriate decorations. And the broken trophy has been replaced by another from Jeff’s ample collection that still sits on the dresser in his room.

jeff trophies

However, there is no sugarcoating the fact that I’m talking about decorations for a grave, below which lies the decomposed body of my boy, who would have most certainly recovered had he given his life the time it deserved.

The pumpkin was rotten, just like everything about this situation. That is the harsh reality that Jeff left us with, and Carey was simply giving honest voice to this awful truth.

–Rich Klein

A New Year’s Fantasy

30 Dec

“Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.”

                             –Lloyd Alexander, Author

_____________________________________________________________________________

A couple of years ago, when I strolled through the Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan before Christmas, I came upon the latest Stephen King novel entitled “11/22/63”, which was the date JFK was struck down by Lee Harvey Oswald. On the book’s front cover was a newspaper containing the familiar headline: “JFK Slain In Dallas, LBJ Takes Oath,” but shockingly on the back cover, a completely different newspaper is pictured. That headline reads: “JFK Escapes Assassination, First Lady Also OK! Americans Breathe Sigh Of Relief.” WOW ! I stood there stunned by the whole concept, and I knew I had to have that book.

jfk cover

jfk back cover

The book’s premise is that a Maine school teacher, Jake Epping, learns from his friend, the owner of a diner, that the pantry in the back of his diner is actually a portal for time travel back to a specific date in the past, September 9, 1958. Step into the pantry, and you can travel back 53 years. Jake’s friend had been using the portal to buy ground beef at 1958 prices, but he offers Jake the opportunity to go back there for a deeper purpose—to stalk Oswald for five years and then prevent one of history’s most infamous events from happening.

The combination of a subject that fascinates me and the sheer concept of going back in time to prevent a senseless tragedy sent my mind into an absolute frenzy that day at Barnes & Noble. I had to sit down in the store’s Starbucks to compose myself. It was because I’ve had recurring fantasies since Jeff died that I actually stopped him before it was too late. These aren’t dreams I’ve had while sleeping. These are wide awake, sitting-at-my-desk-with-the-door-closed fantasies that I can’t stop visualizing.

The Los Angeles Times review of King’s book says:

“This is the conundrum of any time travel story…Every action taken in the past has an effect on the future, which means even the best intentions often have unintended consequences. Jake learns this early in the novel, when he tries to save a man he knows from a childhood catastrophe, only to learn, upon returning to the present, that in the new world he’s created, his acquaintance was killed in Vietnam.”

I don’t see the conundrum. Was it better that Jake’s friend died in childhood, or 15+ years later in Vietnam? My view is that every day of life is a blessing, and I’d have taken another 15 years with my beautiful son in a heartbeat, if that’s all I could have. No brainer. The future is always uncertain, but all senseless tragedies should be reversed if the power exists to do so. I do understand the horrors that people endured serving in Vietnam, and I don’t mean to make light of those. But to have 15 extra years with my son, almost under any circumstances, would be my choice.

I have two very distinct fantasies, one simple and one dramatic. The simple one has me coming home early on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, and I pull up to the house just as Jeff is backing out of the garage. I say “hey, where are you headed, I came home early so we could grab an early dinner at Michael’s and then watch the Knicks-Bucks game at the bar afterward.”

And Jeff, not knowing what to say, kind of stammers and says, “Oh, sure, ok, great” and he pulls back into the garage. I wonder why he says he needs to go back into the house to get his wallet, while I stare at a $1 bill and his loose driver’s license in his car’s cup holder. There are also a few sheets of paper on the passenger’s seat. I assume he just forgot the wallet while rushing out of the house.

He seems surprised and definitely out of sorts, but he pulls himself together, and we drive over to Michael’s. We then have our typical great time together, talking about a plan for him to regroup and to figure out how to channel his true passions into a career that he will love. And after a few beers, we start screaming at the TV as the Knicks proceeded to get blown out by 27 in Milwaukee.

But in the real world that night, Brett sat between Carey and me on our bed, and we mindlessly stared at that Knicks game on TV, not knowing what to do or say. And we spent at least two hours trying to summon the courage to call Drew at college to tell him his big brother was gone forever. How do you tell a 19 year old middle son that, in the blink of an eye, he had become our eldest ?

In my dramatic fantasy, I also come home early. I don’t know how or why, but somehow I’ve been tipped off to what Jeff was on his way to do, and I speed toward the bridge. I get there in time, and as he gets out of his car, I pull up behind him. I get out, lunge toward him, and wrestle him to the ground, all the while telling him how much I love him and that everything will be ok. I usher him into my car and drive him home.

I tell him that we’ll just tell the police later that his abandoned car had broken down. The next day, I take him to the behavioral therapist he was supposed to see on this day. It goes well, as we expected, and the session gives Jeff the motivation to move forward in a positive way. The meds he had been on the month before completely leave his system by the end of the year, and he feels back to himself again. He is ready to embrace 2011.

The Associated Press’ book review says:

“Revealing how ‘11/22/63’ ends would, of course, spoil the book. But it kind of doesn’t matter, because the lesson is clarion: Don’t mess with yesterday. It may bite. Pulling at the threads of time’s tapestry is done at our own peril, and the conventional assumption that changing one thing about the past would make today better is simplistic. Besides, King writes, ‘The past doesn’t want to be changed.’”

That may be true–the past may not want to be changed—but I would do anything including selling my soul if that’s what it took to bring Jeff back. And changing that one thing absolutely WOULD make today better. It would make the world a better place, brighten the days of many people who have been deeply hurt by losing Jeff as part of their lives , and it would erase the devastation that our family has endured and make us whole again.

There would be no peril in changing the past to prevent what Jeff did. There would only be goodness, beauty and hope. There could be no negative repercussions to bringing back a young man who truly touched people’s lives and who had so much potential to do great things someday. And since his death was an isolated incident that didn’t involve anyone else, reversing it would not alter the natural order of the universe.

The New York Times book review says:

“There is a darker what-if. What if history is too forceful to redirect? What if jiggering the engine produces no favorable outcome — merely a postponement of the inevitable? If he had lived, Kennedy might not have escalated the war in Vietnam, and might have kept America out of a bloody mire. But we don’t know. What if we were headed there anyway? Then our tampering might only make things worse. It is not historical inevitability, but something close.”

I disagree with this passage. I don’t believe there is anything inevitable about any of our fates. We shape them through our actions and our approach to life. If Jeff had gone to his appointment that day instead of to the bridge, he wouldn’t have simply been postponing the inevitable. He would have been embarking on a new path, the right path, to getting his life back on track after the detour he took by leaving his job. And every day that each of us is out there in the world battling it out is a day that brings us new hope and promise. If our destinies were inevitable, why bother trying to shape them? Why bother striving for anything? Of course, that is ludicrous.

In mid-August 2010, we left for East Hampton for what would be our final family vacation with Jeff. The first day there, I got pretty sick, and by the time we went out to dinner that night, my temperature had spiked to over 102. I almost never get sick, and I guess it unnerved Jeff to see me in that state.

He asked to me to get up from the table so he could speak with me privately. He brought me to the vestibule by the restaurant entrance and said, “Hey, I see what my whole job situation has done to you, and I don’t want you to worry. I’m gonna step up and go to law school.”  He broke into a big smile as he said that.

He was clearly concerned about me and was making a very loving gesture, and I responded by embracing him right there and telling him how much I loved him. But I corrected two things about what he said. First, I told him I just happened to get sick- his leaving a job had nothing to do with it. And second, while I appreciated the sentiment, I told him I only wanted him to go to law school if HE wanted to go. I said I’d rather him step up and strive for WHATEVER he wanted to do. Either way, it was an amazing moment.

Less than three months later, though, medication-induced thoughts led Jeff to commit an irrevocable act. Tragically, when it comes to suicide, there are no “do-overs”.

But “11/22/63” prompted me to dream that maybe there can be a do-over after all. Maybe there really is a time-travel portal somewhere in the world, in some abandoned inner city warehouse, or some vacated farmhouse in the heartland, or maybe even in Atwater Commons at Middlebury, for all I know. I guarantee you this—if one exists, I will find it, even if it takes the rest of my days.

And when I do locate it, I will travel back to the afternoon of November 9th, 2010. If I have a choice when I get there, I will opt for the simpler fantasy of catching Jeff before he leaves our house, and then taking him to that long overdue dinner at Michael’s, so that I can eat, drink and watch basketball with him again. After setting life back on its proper course, I will return to 2015 to find Jeff blogging away about the world of sports, getting ready for a night out with the guys, and talking about his exciting new job working at ESPN.com.

The realist in me understands that I won’t likely find the portal that I seek. But my worldview is always that as long as I’m out there working hard every day to realize my dreams, there’s always a chance that I will. And while writing about Jeff in this forum has been great and therapeutic under the circumstances, I look forward to the day when, after fixing the past and returning to a beautiful present with Jeff in it, I visit and express my gratitude to Elon Rubin (this blog’s creator) for having given me the opportunity to write on the Kleinsaucer blog.

When I see the look of sheer befuddlement on his face, as he asks me what the hell a Kleinsaucer blog is, it will be the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen.

-Rich Klein

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

7 Dec

“Oh, they say, she died one winter,

When there came a killing frost,

And the pony she named Wildfire,

Busted down its stall,

In a blizzard he was lost.”

        –Michael Murphey, “Wildfire”, 1975

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

DobiCoat

Dobi in her pink coat

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

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 1

Text with drew xmas eve 2012 2

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

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

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

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

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

 2012-12-27_0

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

clif and dobi

Clif and Dobi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Rich Klein