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Was Jeff’s Suicide The Ultimate Rebuke? – A Father’s Day Reflection, Part 8

17 Jun

“Beyond all the grief and helplessness that other parents feel, your child’s suicide confronts you with particular problems, complications of your grief that are unique to survivors of a suicide.

You feel a profound sense of failure, that you could not prevent his death. Closely tied to your sense of failure is the implied rebuke: You could not make his life worth living, you could not offer him enough of…of whatever he needed so that he would want to live. You feel a terribly personal abandonment, that he preferred to die rather than be alive with you.”

Barbara D. Rosof, “The Worst Loss: How Families Heal from the Death of a Child”, 1994

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I handed Carey the note that Jeff gave to me on Christmas Day 2005, another precious gem that he had left behind, but one that I had only recently found. It was classic Jeff, expressing gratitude and thanks, as well as regrets over his role in a terrible mishap that had occurred that August when Carey and I were away in Hawaii for our 20th wedding anniversary.

Suffice to say that a party broke out at our house while we were gone, and the house was trashed. Jeff had passed out on a couch in our basement, rendering him incapable of defending the home front. He was devastated, and never being one to deflect responsibility, his year-end note expressed his heartfelt regret and gratitude for my support of him.

 

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Carey read the note, shook her head, and handed it back to me.

”Always loving, always grateful, always apologetic,” she said. “But he still left us.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Despite all the beautiful words, Jeff jumped off a bridge. It felt like the ultimate rebuke of everything we did for him over his 23 1/2 years. A rebuke of our parenting, in essence. And for me, it hurts to the core, because I didn’t do enough at the end, and it feels like it was a rebuke of that too—my lack of decisive action when he was on the brink.

That’s why it seems like I’m literally waging a tug of war in my heart and mind every year at this time. I have more beauty in my life than I could ever have prayed for, yet there’s a hole in my heart that can never be repaired. The demons that frequently remind me of what I didn’t do know exactly how to pour salt in that wound.

With the support of my family, I yank my mind back to focus on all that I have and on the knowledge that I’m a good father who made terrible mistakes.

So it wasn’t really a rebuke. Or was it?

It’s a bona fide tug of war.

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“Gazing at people, some hand in hand,

Just what I’m going through, they can’t understand.

Some try to tell me thoughts they cannot defend,

Just what you want to be, you will be in the end.”

—The Moody Blues, “Nights In White Satin”, 1967

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The clock had already crossed midnight when the Monday Night Football game between the Colts and the Texans ended. We had watched the entire game, as one-sided as it was, because we needed to be together and we both knew it. I turned and took the measure of my deeply troubled son who, with the calendar having now advanced to November 2nd, had exactly one week to live.

I’m fairly certain that he didn’t know that at the time, because for Jeff in the fall of 2010, suicide was a viable option that he kept in his back pocket, something he could pull out of that pocket on a moment’s notice if things became unbearable. At that moment, though, his point of no return hadn’t yet arrived.

From an unusually young age, I had thought about and had become excited about being a father. It was just what I wanted to be, and I knew I could be a good one. My own wonderful father had shown the way, and I had tried to take his parenting to a whole other level. Yet for all of that, I now sat beside a suicidal son.

I knew that the moment called for me to say something impactful, as I stared straight into his eyes, but all I could muster was a question:

“Jeff, do you trust me?”

He didn’t miss a beat:

“I trust you more than anyone in the world.”

“Then let me lead you out of this. Trust that I can help get you to a better place,” I said.

”Ok, I will,” he answered.

One week later, on the afternoon of November 9th, Carey told Jeff she was going to pick up Brett at the bus stop, and he replied that he was going to work on his law school applications.

But that was a lie. Soon after she left the house, Jeff got in his car and drove to the Bear Mountain Bridge.

A week earlier, he had looked me in the eye and told me he trusted me and would let me lead him. But he clearly didn’t trust me at all.

That was a lie too. And it felt like a complete and utter rebuke of me as a father. He didn’t think I could offer him what he needed to get better.

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“Are you gonna wait for a sign, your miracle?

Stand up and fight.”

Kenny Loggins, This Is It”, 1979

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It’s Father’s Day 2018, and the tug of war is on. I grip the rope firmly and dig in with my feet.

It’s time to fight.

I clearly see not only the white line five yards in front of me but also the demons five yards beyond it on the other side. They are sneering as they make the first tug. My feet start to slide, but in an instant, I feel a counter tug from behind.

I look over my right shoulder and see that Drew has anchored himself behind me. With his forearm muscles bulging from gripping the rope, he steadies me. As always, he is the steadying force in our family, the calm one in the storm.

My Drew. He was only 19 and away at college when Jeff jumped. He had been texting with Jeff every day during his last week and couldn’t possibly make sense of what happened. But in the ensuing years, he was there for me every step of the way, and we did everything together. And he always reinforced my worth as a father and let me know what I meant to him.

 

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And now he had come to support me in my greatest fight. Of course he did. I love Drew so much.

But the demons didn’t come here to go down easily. Their ugly voices just grew louder as they pulled harder.

“You spent his entire last night together watching football, you spoke with him the morning of November 9th when he got pulled over by the cop, you laughed over the phone together when she let him go without giving him a ticket, and five hours later, he still jumped. A complete rebuke.”

They are relentless, and I’m getting weary. But then, out of the corner of my left eye, I see him coming. With his customary swagger, he sidles up to the rope behind Drew and takes hold. Brett is a mountain of muscle, and with one yank, he has the demons on the brink of crossing the line.

My Brett. He was just 16 when it happened, and he knew how much Jeff loved him. So how could he have left us, left him?  One look at Brett on the rope gave me another infusion of strength and reminded me how critical it is to regularly let both of my sons know how much strength I derive from them. I remembered the email he sent me on September 29th, 2012, right after he started at Villanova. I love Brett so much.

 

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We had these suckers on the ropes now.

And then, out of nowhere, an unmistakable figure in his Middlebury t-shirt crystallized out in the distance. Though we hadn’t seen him in nearly eight years, Jeff looked exactly the same, young and fit. As he approached, we saw he was not smiling. Instead, his look was one of focus and resolve. I couldn’t let go of the rope to hug him, so he stopped next to me and said,

”Read my final note, Dad. It wasn’t a rebuke. I came to help you remember that.”

I’ve read the note about a million times, and it’s not that I’ve doubted that his words were heartfelt. He is the one who made me a father at 26, and I know how much he loves me. I’m a bottom line kind of guy, though, and to me, his final action spoke so much louder than his words.

 

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His smile broke out when he saw Drew and Brett. He playfully punched each in the arm as he walked by, and then he clenched the rope. I now had all three of my sons backing me up. Father’s Day, my day with my boys, was now here in earnest.

This tug of war was as good as over. The demons knew it, so they went for broke. They know exactly where my greatest vulnerability lies, and the dirty bastards went for it.

“What did you do during Jeff’s last month? Did you take him away to a beach to clear his head? No, you didn’t. You didn’t even think of it. You went to work. You went to work. You went to work. You went to work.”

Some might call that a low blow, but I just call it the truth. I didn’t even think of doing that until he was long gone. If there’s one thing that takes the wind out of my sails every time, it’s that – the knowledge that I went to work when Jeff was depressed and floundering at home.  

I started to lose my grip on the rope, and my feet started to slide forward.

But thanks to my incredible sons who literally had my back, I regained my footing and found a toehold just inches from the line.

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 “And she believes in me,

I’ll never know just what she sees in me,

I told her someday if she was my girl, I could change the world,

With my little songs, I was wrong,

But she has faith in me, and so I go on trying faithfully…”

         Kenny Rogers, “She Believes In Me”, 1979

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It always comes down to Carey, and at the end of the day, even on Father’s Day, how could it not?

We’ve been married 32 ½ years and together for 38 ½.

We’ve been to the top of the mountain and to the bottom of the darkest valley. But the only thing that matters is that we’ve been to those places, and everywhere in between, hand in hand, arms locked.

It is no surprise that she has come to join the fight. Having just gone through her own version of this on Mother’s Day a month ago, she understands exactly what this is all about.

Before heading to the back of the rope behind Jeff, she leans in to me and whispers in my ear,

“It’s time to put an end to this.”

Carey is my inspirational soulmate, the one that I reach out to when I’m down and need a boost, and now was such a time. Just a month ago, I was getting my ass kicked, 5-0, in my tennis league match by a younger, better player.  I was really upset, and I texted Carey between games. She replied immediately and knew exactly how to pump me up.

 

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I immediately won three straight games, and though I ultimately lost 8-5, I went down fighting, and it was far from a shutout. With Carey set now in the anchor position at the end of the rope, I actually did feel like Atlas.

I looked back at this beautiful, petite woman who, as an EMT, helps lift patients who are sometimes triple her weight. The demons were about to be obliterated.

She grabbed the rope and with one coordinated pull, the five of us sent the demons sprawling across the line.

And just like that, it was over.  

Together, as a team, we had won. Family bonds that are borne out of true love are unbreakable. We all suffered a devastating loss 7 1/2 years ago, but the fact that we have each other and have become closer than ever as a family is a blessing that will always inspire us to victory in our own individual battles.

 

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In our jubilation, we hugged and then frantically looked all around for Jeff.

But after having accomplished what he had come here to do, Jeff was gone.

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Today’s tug of war for my peace of mind has become an annual ritual that has taken place in the couple of weeks before every Father’s Day since 2011, my first Father’s Day without Jeff.  I would be naïve to think that I won’t have to fight again next year and for many years after that. 

I’m not fighting to make the truth go away, because that’s not possible or realistic. My failures and missed opportunities in Jeff’s final month are real and must not be sugarcoated. They must instead be treated as mistakes to learn from so that I can be a better father to Drew and Brett.

My fight is to not let the truth overwhelm me to the point of creating debilitating self-doubt in my mind as to my worth as a parent. Because if the Moody Blues band was correct that just what you want to be, you will be in the end, then I will be remembered as a devoted and loving father. That is what I want to be in the end. There is nothing more important.

After intense reflection, I understand now that Jeff’s decision to end his life was not a rebuke of me, Carey or anyone else. I may have missed my opportunity to save him, but misprescribed medication robbed him of his ability to save himself. His expressions of love and gratitude to me are everywhere in the cards, text messages, and emails that he sent over so many years. And I read them frequently.

Drew and Brett are home today, and a wonderful Father’s Day awaits. It would be the ultimate rebuke of their love and support of me if I let the demons take one ounce of enjoyment away from me.

And since I treasure every minute with my boys and would never let that happen, the voices that seek to torment me have no chance of pulling me over the line.

— Rich Klein

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Eight Years Too Late

30 Apr

“For those of you who read my column a few weeks ago, you will not be surprised that I am utterly disappointed at the lack of upsets in this year’s March Sadness…

What does this lack of upsets mean? For one, it makes you appreciate even more when significant upsets do occur. After last year’s upset-heavy tournament, some people—myself  included—started assuming that that would become the norm, when in fact it is the rare exception…

In any case, all this simply elucidates the significance and beauty of upsets. Monumental upsets do not occur every March Madness—as painfully indicated by this year’s tourney—so when they do, it is all the more reason to celebrate.

Oh, and one last thing: a 16 seed will knock off a 1 seed in my lifetime. It’s gonna happen.”

— Jeff Klein, The Middlebury Campus, April 11, 2007

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Andrew Becker (Jeff’s oldest friend):

 

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From my blog post, “Let It Be”, on November 9, 2013:

 

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It has finally happened, my son –  the historic upset that you not only predicted but waited your entire life to see.

#16 UMBC destroyed #1 Virginia on March 16, 2018.

With one horrific and impulsive decision, you ensured that it would not happen in your lifetime.

I know you were watching but still…

It was eight years too late.

— Rich Klein

I Recovered From The Depths Of Despair, And You Can Too (Jeff’s 31st Birthday Post)

2 Mar

You probably never thought you could live through your child’s funeral. What could have been more dreadful?

But you did.

Certainly, surviving all the grief you felt seemed impossible. Those days and nights of crying, exhaustion, and pain were almost beyond endurance. You were certain, at times, you would never get past that time in your life.

But you did.”

               –Harriet Schiff, “The Bereaved Parent”

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It was last summer on August 13th, the day after my birthday and the day before Brett’s, when we sat at an outdoor table at Harvest on Hudson in the blazing heat for a celebratory family brunch. Sitting at the head of the table, I was surrounded by love, hope, grit and resilience—Carey, Drew and his girlfriend Kelsey, Brett, Carey’s mom and 94 year old aunt, and my sister, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2006 and has beaten it into long-term remission.

It was a glorious day in what had been a glorious summer for our family, and if you had told me as they lowered Jeff’s casket into his grave on November 13, 2010, that I’d ever again use that word in relation to any time period in our lives, I’d have said there was about as much chance of that happening as there was of someone like Donald Trump becoming President someday.

Last summer was glorious for us for so many reasons. It was heartwarming watching Drew and Kelsey grow close; amazing to watch Brett come into his own at CBS News; romantic and fun lounging on the beach in Southampton with Carey; and wonderful to do a boys trip in Montauk again with Drew and Brett. It was glorious because it was just so normal. How did we ever get back to this place?

We got here by making a choice in the aftermath of our tragedy, though speaking for myself, there was really only one option. That option was to maintain an unwavering focus on my most precious gift–my family. While I knew that I’d be grieving over the unnecessary loss of Jeff for the rest of my life, I needed only to take a quick look around me to know that I still had too many blessings to not appreciate them every day. If anything, the fragility of life that I had learned about firsthand made it even more imperative to be thankful. In addition, I was frantic from day one about keeping Jeff’s memory alive, and so I resolved to aggressively incorporate him into my daily life.

By doing those two things–maintaining focus on what I had left and keeping Jeff at the forefront of my life–I was able to gradually allow myself to feel joy again.

And so I carry his picture with me everywhere I go, I wear his Middlebury t-shirt to my most competitive tennis league matches so that he’s literally close to my heart while I play, I talk to him behind my closed office door at work, and I do 302 sit-ups each day in honor of today, March 2nd, the day Jeff came onto the scene and began to take us on a wild 23 1/2 year ride. Also, Jeff would certainly approve of the fact that I pour all my sports passion into the Villanova Wildcats basketball team.  And that’s only a fraction of it…

When Jeff’s Verizon Wireless bill arrives each month, I elevate it to the top of the pile.

Like a retired star athlete whose team retires his number so that no one else who plays for that franchise will ever wear that number again, no one but Jeff will ever have the mobile number 914-450-5601. I will pay his monthly bill for the rest of my life to ensure that is the case and that I can always hear his voicemail greeting on demand. And I will ask Drew and Brett to continue to pay it when Carey and I are gone. Jeff was a star, and I’m retiring his phone number. Forever.

This is yet another way that I keep him close.

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When we landed at JFK in late January after a vacation in the Bahamas, Carey had a text from a friend stating, “I need to talk to you.”  When they connected, she told Carey about a college kid from the next town who had hung himself at school a few days earlier. She wanted Carey’s advice on how she could help the mother, who she knew well. It was striking to both of us how dramatically things had changed over the years since Jeff died. There have sadly been several local suicides after Jeff’s, and in the early days, people tried to shield us from such news, thinking it would make our pain worse to hear about others.

More recently, though, people seem anxious to talk to us about the latest tragedies and seek our advice. Some will even say things without thinking, such as, “Can you even imagine…” when discussing something like the latest school shooting. We realize that it’s because Carey and I appear to be totally back to the way we were before November of 2010 and that people don’t view us as grieving parents anymore. They mean no harm.

And it’s true, we have regained the ability to feel genuine happiness and joy, and I’m glad that people see that and therefore don’t filter every word that comes out of their mouths when they’re around us. But we are still grieving always, and we manage the pain as you would a chronic illness, through our own therapeutic methods and routines. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

But no reign is eternal, no empire lasts forever. The past two years have seen Federer’s dominance fade, as 2010 saw his streak of consecutive semifinal appearances broken and Roger add only one trophy to his case…

This is the first time that he has not won one of the four Grand Slams during a tournament year, but it won’t be the last.  Roger Federer will never win another major…”

— Erik Wallulis, “Top 10 Reasons Roger Federer Will Never Win Another Grand Slam”, Bleacher Report, September 12, 2011

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Nine months later, Roger Federer won his 17th major.

And 4 1/2 years after that, at age 35, he won the first of 3 more majors, and last month at age 36, he regained the number one world ranking.

My point is that when Walluliis wrote that article, he was unwittingly doing more than making a simplistic and misguided sports prediction. He was contributing to a broader narrative that I feel has taken hold in our society and has been detrimental to the emotional well-being of large swaths of the population, and in particular, children and young adults. The message is essentially that when the chips are down, they will always stay down. People can’t recover and turn things around. The aging process is irreversible, and illness can’t be beaten. This prevailing pessimism is why the global suicide rate continues to increase, especially among young adults.

But that’s a load of crap. Roger Federer, Tom Brady and countless others have proven that sheer dedication and force of will can lead to prolonged athletic success. The workforce in general is aging, because people in all walks of life are working productively for longer than ever before. My sister and countless other cancer survivors have blown away the myth that a diagnosis is an automatic death sentence. Societal norms have been rewritten and will continue to be.

People recover.

In my small universe, I have witnessed how several of Jeff’s friends and peers, who have told me since Jeff died about their severe emotional struggles, have fought through their issues and improved with time. Three have recently married, and the others are doing just fine because they simply resolved to keep on fighting. These examples are why this is my favorite banner ever:

 

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Most young adults get to a better place by just living, maturing, gaining life experiences and taking even the smallest of action steps to move forward. Their difficult situations are not irreversible. Jeff and others who commit suicide, however, can’t call for a do-over, and that is so tragic because, according to a 2013 British study,

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have made it possible for scientists to watch the rate at which the PFC matures, and have discovered the male brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25.” (Medicaldaily.com, Men Mature After Women — 11 Years After, To Be Exact — A British Study Reveals”, June 11, 2013)

Had Jeff simply lived to fight another day, each day until his brain fully developed, I am certain he’d be alive, happy and productive today.

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“The fear of the unknown is behind us, for most of us, because we have already taken a long look at hell.

Understand and accept that, for you, there is still a future and one that can be as bright and good as you choose to make it. You have before you the rest of your life. What you do with it is entirely a matter of choice.”

                                                                         —Harriet Schiff

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On Jeff’s 31st birthday today, I want people who knew him or have come to know him through this blog to remember who he was.  I want them to remember his handsome face:

 

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His hilarious personality:

 

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His passion for sports and for the underdogs, his sweet jump shot, his interest in politics and fervent support for Barack Obama, his love of food and drink (he once ordered curried goat from a fast-food counter in a mall), his sense of humor, his love for his family and friends, his Talkin’ Sports blog (http://jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com) and his articles in the Greeley Tribune and The Middlebury Campus newspapers.

But equally important for today’s post, I want you to understand where Jeff would have been today, at age 31, had he just bowed his head, said a prayer, and weathered the storm during the late summer and fall of 2010. He would have found his way, as his 23 year old troubled brain became a mature late 20s and early 30s brain. I envision him as a columnist and commentator, in sports or in politics. And he would have been fine.  Absolutely fine. He had a loving support system surrounding him, and he would have returned to his vibrant self with the passage of time.

And that is the point of Jeff’s 31st birthday post: hopelessness can be overcome, and for those who make the choice to fight, it almost always is. You just need to find the strength within you to live in the moment, put one foot in front of the other, and resolve to take small, incremental action steps each day to make your situation a bit better than it was the day before. Have goals for the future, but don’t live there and obsess over it. That’s what Jeff did, and it’s why he’s not here to celebrate his birthday with us today. I believe the worst thing any of us can do is to create artificial deadlines for achieving goals.

And so with permanent holes in our hearts, Carey, Drew, Brett and I forge on and find our own ways to cope with our loss and experience joy again. Brett will run 3.02 miles today, while Drew prefers to run 3.2.  I know that Jeff will be honored by each of his brother’s loving gestures on his birthday. March 2nd is a day to reflect on Jeff’s life–the joyous days and the days that turned dark, as we continue to try to understand and come to terms with what happened.

My outlook, though, is anything but dark. I have two sons here on earth who bring me pride and joy every day, as does the memory of my oldest son in Heaven.  And I have Carey, the love of my life since I was 19. I agree with Harriet Schiff that what you do with your life is a matter of choice, and I made the choice years ago to focus on all the blessings I still have, not the enormity of what I lost, and everyone who is depressed or hopeless can make that same choice. It’s easier for some than it is for others, I understand that. But you all can do it. Each of us is stronger than we think we are.

It all could have unraveled so easily if I had let it. But I simply wouldn’t let it. And I never will.

The glorious summer of 2017 is now a treasured memory, but on Jeff’s birthday, I have high hopes that 2018 will bring our family an increasing number of glory days.

–Rich Klein

 

 

 

Six Years After Jeff’s Death, Goodbye To The Candidate Who Infused Him With Life

2 Nov

“Nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere is willing to hope. Somebody is willing to stand up. Somebody who is willing to stand up when they are told, ‘No you can’t ‘, and instead they say, ‘Yes We Can’.”

     –Barack Obama, February 12, 2008

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When I saw the card in the mail, it seemed so right and natural that for a brief moment, I was back in 2008, and I instinctively put it aside to give to Jeff when I next saw him. But as had been the case in similar situations when I’d allowed myself to drift from the real world over these past six years, reality struck back quickly, reminding me once more that if I ever see Jeff again, it will be in a very different place.  And It will be too late to give him the card.

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Yet here it was, a voting card addressed to Jeff as if he was still here, because with an extremely consequential election on the horizon, how could he not be?  His booming voice from eight years ago, passionately explaining why Barack Obama needed to prevail over John McCain, still echoes throughout Middlebury’s campus, in many bars in Westchester County and Manhattan, and Lord knows, in every room of our home. Thankfully, I can hear him as clearly today as I did back then. Such was the passion with which he spoke and campaigned on Obama’s behalf. In 2012, I actually believed that Obama, without Jeff on earth to fight for him, would have no chance against Mitt Romney.

Despite Donald Trump’s deep concerns about dead people voting, there’s something very wrong about the fact that election officials don’t accept absentee ballots from Heaven, for if they did, Jeff would surely find a way to get it here. His unwavering support for Obama would clearly have extended to Hillary Clinton as the keeper of the President’s legacy. But irrespective of the fact that the Westchester Board of Elections still believes he’s here and continues to send him voting information cards, the harsh truth is that politics is yet another passion that Jeff left behind when he made his tragic choice.  The depth of his despair on November 9th, 2010 was so great that Barack Obama’s re-election two years in the future was the furthest thing from Jeff’s mind.

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Jeff was three weeks shy of 21 when the young candidate out of Chicago uttered the words quoted at the beginning of this post, but it was more than the pithy catch phrase at the end that had him captivated from the start. Jeff was on his way to graduating magna cum laude from Middlebury, and he placed a high value on intelligence, especially when it came to choosing a candidate to back as the leader of the free world.  Obama had it, and Jeff viewed him as a welcome contrast to the President of the prior eight years.

Whether Obama had what it took to actually govern effectively remained to be seen, but Jeff was willing to take a flyer on that. The man was intelligent, articulate , a respected Senator and a devoted family man, and if that wasn’t enough, Obama was passionate about hoops too. Done deal. Jeff resolved to dedicate the next nine months of his life to convincing every single person in his inner and outer circles that it was crucial that Barack Obama be elected President.  And when Jeff latched onto a cause, you knew it was going to be a wild ride. This email to me, which signified the beginning of his crusade, made that perfectly clear:

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As an admirer of McCain back then, I couldn’t resist taking every opportunity that summer, when the race appeared to be close, to send Jeff little barbs about how Obama was blowing his opportunity to beat a Republican Party in disarray. I sent him an article in which Republican strategist Ed Rollins was quoted as saying that Joe Biden was a terrible VP choice for the Dems and that Hillary should have been chosen instead. Jeff  blew that argument out of the water in his response to me, but he did acknowledge that the race was tight.

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When the polls showed that the contest remained close through early September, Jeff began to ruminate over what he considered to be the potentially dire implications of an Obama loss.

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However, just a week later, the tide began to turn Obama’s way, and by the time the calendar turned to October, I  conceded to Jeff that he could probably relax and start planning the election night parties at Middlebury.

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Starting a month before Election Day, Jeff and Elon Rubin, this blog’s creator, began the countdown to victory.

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And then, history was made on a night that contained little suspense. It was clear from early that evening that Obama was in control, and at exactly 11 pm Eastern time, when the polls closed in many western states, the first election in which Jeff cast a vote was called for the first African American President-elect. It took Jeff only three minutes to email me with his victory message.

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Of all all the emails and texts that I’ve shared over the past six years, this one brings to the fore the widest range of powerful emotions.  I feel in my bones Jeff’s sense of triumph and satisfaction that he had fought for a winning cause. I shed tears of happiness that the candidate and his message had so inspired him and sparked a fire within him that was on a par with his passion for the underdogs of March Madness. And staring at this email brings a longing for the closeness of our relationship that prompted him to email me just three minutes after the election had been called.

But the most overwhelming emotion of all is profound sadness. Neither of us knew in Jeff’s glorious moment that almost exactly two years later, with the euphoria of Obama’s victory long past, he would completely lose the spirit of “Yes We Can” and succumb to a hopeless feeling that was the antithesis of Obama’s vision for the nation. That dreadful feeling was also in direct contrast to the outlook that Jeff publicly expressed on Facebook in the days after the election, as he basked in the afterglow of victory.

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And isn’t that the greatest tragedy of all?  Jeff WAS in for a great eight years and beyond, not necessarily because of what the new President was going to do, but rather because Jeff had it all going for him.  He was armed with every attribute one could ever ask for to forge a successful future, but in the final analysis, he failed what I believe to be the true test of intelligence.

In John Holt’s book “How Children Fail”, he defined intelligence in a way that has always resonated with me. Holt wrote:

“By intelligence, we mean a style of life, a way of behaving in various situations, and particularly in new, strange, and perplexing situations.  The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.

The intelligent person, young or old, meeting a new situation or problem, opens himself up to it; he tries to take in with mind and senses everything about it;  he thinks about it, instead of about himself or what it might cause to happen to him;  he grapples with it boldly, imaginatively, resourcefully, and if not confidently, at least hopefully;  if he fails to master it, he looks without shame or fear at his mistakes and learns from them.  This is intelligence.”

Jeff wanted to celebrate intelligence, but when faced with the first real difficult situation of his life, namely not knowing what to do after abruptly walking out on his first full time job, he did the polar opposite of what Holt lists above. He didn’t grapple with it boldly or even hopefully. He thought about himself and what the situation might cause to happen to him. He felt shame and fear after his setback, and instead of learning from it, his distorted mind concluded that his future was bleak. And then he let the worst happen by succumbing.

How terribly unfair it is of me, though, to even suggest that Jeff’s end had anything remotely to do with not acting intelligently. He was a brilliant man who was the victim of a cataclysmic chemical reaction inside his body and mind to misprescribed medication that left him defenseless. I had just hoped that intelligence and inner strength would be enough to overwhelm the destructive power of the meds.  But Jeff just couldn’t find that reserve of strength that we all have inside us. He tried for two months. It is not for me to judge whether he could have tried even harder.

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The text messages arrive each day without fail, the level of excitement contained within them rising as Election Day nears. Some report the latest projected electoral vote count, while others share the egregious happenings on the campaign trail. He is certain now that his candidate will win, and after over a year of loudly and passionately articulating how crucial it is that this result come to pass, he is ready to celebrate.

His booming voice at the dinner table so dominates our animated conversations about the election that the familiarity of it all overwhelms me.  As I drifted again into my alternate reality on this particular night, I heard his heavy, thundering feet running down the stairs to tell me the latest breaking news. I prepared to tell Jeff to take it easy because while I love his passion, he was making the house shake again.

But I could only stare as the 6′ muscular figure in the Middlebury t-shirt emerged from the dark hallway into the family room pumping his fists in jubilation and bellowing  “Arizona is now a toss-up! It’s gonna be a landslide!”

Having regained my senses, I was clear again that it wasn’t 2008, and while they are built the same, talk the same and have the same passions, that was not Jeff standing before me.

It was Brett, wearing Jeff’s college t-shirt and shadow-boxing in front of the TV as he watched CNN’s John King excitedly talk about the electoral map.

 Just six months older than Jeff was in October 2008, Brett has matured into a young man who is strikingly similar to his oldest brother. His recently found passion for politics has taken us on a 15 month election campaign ride that’s been eerily and beautifully similar to the one Jeff took us on eight years ago. Brett’s commitment to his candidate and his opposition to her opponent is on a par with Jeff’s commitment to Obama, and the way they each expressed that support through emails, texts and verbal onslaughts is identical. As Brett said to me one night this past summer, “We’re basically the same person…except for…”

He left it there, knowing full well that no further explanation was needed.

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Drew, who had swung by to pick up some stuff before heading to his apartment, walked into the family room and observed his fist-flailing, fast-talking little brother rail against Donald Trump. Drew is a more low key Hillary supporter who is much less willing than Brett, Carey and I to overlook Hillary’s baggage, and he’s been disgusted by the venom in the campaign for a long time.  Nonetheless, his chill demeanor stands in sharp contrast to that of his vociferous brothers. He took one look at me and instantly knew what I was thinking. He broke into a broad smile, walked over and wrapped me in a hug. Without a word spoken, the hug shared our mutual thought:

Jeff lives.

Six years after making the horrific decision to end his life, Jeff still lives. He lives through the amazing memories he created for us all. He lives through our nation’s political process, through March Madness, through his love of the Knicks, Yankees, Giants, great food and great beer, and through his brilliant writing on his Talkin’ Sports blog and in his school newspapers.

And yes, he lives through his youngest brother, who has proudly taken on his bold and hilarious persona.

Lastly, Jeff will always live through our exiting President, who served as the catalyst for some of the most exciting times of his life. Barack Obama has served our country with exceptional dignity and grace over eight scandal-free years, he’s a great guy, and Jeff couldn’t have chosen a better role model to support with such high energy.

I’m sad to see Obama go, but I will always be deeply grateful to the man who infused my son with so much life just two years before his tragic and unnecessary death.

–Rich Klein

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

The Final Piece Of Jeff’s Story–A Father’s Day Reflection, Part 6

19 Jun

Does your conscience bother you?

Tell the truth.”

–Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama”, 1974

 

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It may be difficult to believe that after grieving in this public forum for over five years, there is still a painful slice of Jeff’s story that I haven’t yet shared. I’ve gone into agonizing detail about what happened to Jeff and how we’ve been coping since, but even the thought of writing about this last piece has been too overwhelming. And so I haven’t. But today is Father’s Day, the day that brings to me each year an odd mixture of pride and self-loathing, and the latter feeling is what led me to publish this today.

I’ve shared many times that on September 8th, 2010, eight days after Jeff took his first antidepressant tablet, he told Carey that he was having suicidal thoughts and had searched for information on the Bear Mountain Bridge. What I didn’t share was that Jeff also told her that he had drafted a suicide note that he subsequently deleted. I was in San Francisco on a business trip when all this was happening, and you can imagine how frantic I was to get home, hug him, and talk to him.

When I returned home, I asked Jeff to send me the suicide note he had written. He replied with the following email to both Carey and me:

 

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My heart shattered at the very notion that MY SON actually drafted a suicide note, but it then soared with my misguided belief that we had dodged a bullet. It was ok, I told myself. Jeff had just had a brain cramp in reaction to taking an antidepressant for the first time, and he had freaked out. Now he was back to his senses and wrote of a new beginning full of hope and determination to not give up. Here is the end of his revised note, a document beautifully titled “The Beginning”.

 

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“I WILL NOT GIVE UP”.

Jeff’s resolute pledge was comforting, because in my heart, I didn’t believe that a son of mine could feel so depressed and desperate that he would seriously consider taking his own life. Nonetheless, Carey took Jeff back to the man who I began to call, in my own mind, “Dr. Meds”, and he took Jeff down a path of adding more drugs to the mix. This course of action ultimately led to his demise.

Carey and I felt it was crucial for Jeff to get back to normal routines, namely working in a less stressful job and starting to blog again. He had not written a post since July 8th, as shortly after that he was assigned to a high profile bankruptcy case that took over his life.

Jeff agreed that he needed to get back into the workforce, and he wasted no time working on a new blog post that would target his longtime nemesis, NBA commissioner David Stern. I prayed that this suicidal episode was some bizarre bump in the road and would be fleeting. What I failed to understand is that once someone seriously considers the possibility of suicide, that person must be considered “high risk” from then on.

Two weeks later, on September 24th, our whole family received an email from Jeff with his new blog post attached. The subject line alone brought me to tears:

“After a long hiatus…”

 

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Oh God, it had been way too long. But when I read the post and felt that vintage Jeff Klein passion again, I was fired up. David Stern probably didn’t miss Jeff’s critical words, but I sure did. My boy was back. I had no idea that it would be the last post of his life, and it remains at the top of Jeff’s website (www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com).

 

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Three weeks later, on October 13th, Jeff took another step forward when he accepted a job offer, even though it was a job for which he was way overqualified. But the point was for Jeff to become active and productive again, and to get out of the house. He was to start on Monday, October 18th.

Before going to sleep on Sunday, October 17th, I went to Jeff’s room to wish him luck with the new job. When I got to his doorway, I saw him kneeling over the printer on his floor, removing a few sheets of paper. Instead of asking him what he was printing, I instead blurted out my own wishful thinking and didn’t even wait for him to answer:

“What are you doing, Jeff, printing out stuff on the company to read before tomorrow? That’s a great idea.

Jeff froze. I had caught him red-handed, and I didn’t even know it. With an awkward smile, he mumbled something like, “Yeah, yeah, right, just want to read up on them.”

For someone who considers himself to be an experienced and savvy guy, I’m often shocked and embarrassed by what a naïve imbecile I can sometimes be. I accepted Jeff’s awkward answer without question or concern. Had I taken just two steps forward to confirm what Jeff was saying, the jig would have been up, because I would have seen instantly that he was not holding information on his new employer. He was holding the document that was originally entitled “The End”, then became “The Beginning” and had now come full circle to become “The End” again. And the second sheet of paper was a goodbye note addressing each of his closest friends.

Jeff knew exactly how he would spend his lunch break on his first and last day of work. I, however, simply said goodnight, wished him luck again, and with blissful ignorance, climbed into bed. I had been two strides and some common sense away from derailing Jeff’s plan right there in his bedroom. But an experienced father of three grown boys was completely incapable of reading the most obvious warning signs in the awkwardness of his firstborn son.

At 12:45pm the next day, October 18th, I was at my desk at work when my cell phone rang. The caller ID displayed a number with an 845 area code. The only person I knew in this area code was my sister, and that wasn’t her number. With that possibility eliminated, I knew there was only one other. I suddenly became Mr. Savvy again and realized that from our home in Westchester, the Bear Mountain Bridge begins in the 914 area code and ends in the 845 area code. I was certain that I was about to be told that Jeff’s life ended in the 845 zone. I screamed “Hello” in a terrified, pleading voice.

“Hello, Mr. Klein? This is Officer Lugo of the Bear Mountain Police.”

Of course it was.

My next words were spit out on pure impulse.

“Is my son alive?”

I didn’t even have a chance to brace myself, as Officer Lugo answered quickly in a rather chipper voice.

“Yep, we’ve got him. He’s standing right next to me. He was standing on the bridge, looking out. A trucker saw him and pulled over, and asked him if he was ok. Your son told him he wasn’t feeling very well, and the driver called us immediately.”

At that moment, the horror of the fact that my son had driven to a bridge and stood at its edge contemplating whether to jump was a mere side note. The only thing that mattered was that he was alive and that we all, by the grace of God, had a second chance to help him get better. How many people in life actually get a second chance?

Officer Lugo explained that they were required to take Jeff to a hospital for evaluation, and I wouldn’t be permitted to visit him until the next morning. I’ve written many times that Jeff spent the week from October 18th – 25th being weaned from all the meds under medical supervision. But I had not told you that he was forced to spend that week in a hospital until it was determined that he was not a suicide risk.

When a nurse brought Jeff out to meet with me in a private waiting area the next morning, I stared at my handsome, brilliant, funny, kind and loving son and thought about the absurdity of this situation. Finally, Jeff looked me in the eye and said:

“I was so calm while I was driving there.”

I’m not often at a loss for words, but I didn’t have a clue how to respond to that. But Jeff didn’t wait for a response:

“Dad, I’m really glad I’m still here.”

I somehow controlled my body’s impulse to literally jump for joy. “YES!” my mind screamed. Jeff didn’t want to die. He had to do this to realize that. He now knew that life is always the right choice. Our eyes locked, I maintained my poker face, and I answered as forcefully as I could:

“Of course you are. Sometimes in life, people need to be pushed to the brink to realize that they’re never going to go over the edge. You were there, and you consciously chose not to go any farther. And now that it’s behind you, you never will.”

He nodded in agreement.

Later that afternoon, Jeff texted Carey with a heartfelt apology and yet another message of hope and resolve. He seemed almost embarrassed that it had come to this, which made me even more certain that he was going to be fine.

 

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But I needed to get him back home and out of the environment that we thought was destructive to his well-being. It took a full week to wean him off the meds and another 24 hours after that for Jeff to pass exit interviews. He came home on October 26th. Jeff had prepared for his suicide right in front of my clueless face on the night of October 17th, but that was history now. He was home, alive, and we were all blessed with a second chance.

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Exactly two weeks later, Jeff drove right back to the bridge, and this time, he didn’t hesitate.

Many kind and well-meaning people have told me that there was nothing I could have done to prevent Jeff’s death. Unfortunately, that’s just not true. The closeness of our relationship combined with the love and respect he had for me provided a significant opportunity for me to impact his thought process and outlook. But he needed to be taken away from home for some one-on-one time and attention from his father. I wrote in thorough detail in my 2013 Father’s Day post about exactly what I should have done, so I won’t repeat it here.

 

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/

 

Whether you agree with me or not, the bottom line is that doing nothing was not an acceptable option, and that’s exactly what I did.

Nothing.

Sure, we talked plenty over his last two weeks, but my daily routines never changed. I went to work like it was any normal time. Hell, as my Outlook calendar painfully reminds me, I even flew to Kansas City on October 28th for a “celebratory closing dinner” with a client.

Dear God.

 

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I had a son at home who had stood atop a bridge contemplating his next move and had drafted two suicide notes in the span of two months, and it apparently didn’t cross my mind that it was time to put everything else on hold and devote every ounce of my energy to Jeff. I had left work early for two decades to get to his basketball games, band concerts, teacher conferences, and the like, yet when his life was literally on the line, I went about my normal day and left him home to flounder.

Carey did absolutely everything to take care of Jeff, but with Brett still in high school, she had to take care of him too. It was my responsibility to step up and take Jeff away.

I allow myself on the one hand  to acknowledge that I’m a very good father, but then how could I have fallen asleep at the switch at such a critical moment? Even on the 1% chance that my taking Jeff away for that week wouldn’t have saved him, at least I’d have given it my best shot.

But instead I just went to work.

The pain of this knowledge is excruciating and is a catalyst for the self-loathing that returns every Father’s Day. Jeff’s texts and emails of resolve and hope indicated that there was something to work with during those final months. However, instead of latching on to those olive branches, I just let them hang, and a precious second chance was squandered.

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In 1974, Lynyrd Skynyrd beseeched its listeners to tell the truth about their respective consciences.

To say that my conscience bothers me would be a gross understatement. It torments me and has me on a string. Every time I’m enjoying something, it tugs on the string and yanks me back into its wretched claws and reminds me of what I didn’t do. Its relentless pulsating voice envelops me when I dare to wake up in the middle of the night.

“Dad, I’m really glad I’m still here, I’m really glad I’m still here, I’m really glad I’m still here, I’m really glad I’m still here, I’m really glad I’m still here.”

Stop. Please stop. But it won’t, and many a night’s sleep prematurely ends.

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Not everybody gets a second chance in life. When you’re blessed with one, what you do with it can ultimately define you and more importantly, determine crucial outcomes. I don’t want to be defined by my critical failure in the crunch time of my son’s life any more than a pro athlete wants his career to be defined by missing a potential game winning shot in the NBA finals. But it is inescapable. Unfortunately, my neglect didn’t cost something as trivial as a game. I believe firmly that it cost my son his life.

According to the Bible, Jesus said that the truth shall set you free, and maybe that’s why I chose to share the final piece of Jeff’s story today. But I’ve discovered while writing this that the more relevant saying is that the truth hurts.

Badly.

I’m looking forward today to being with Drew and Brett, whose unconditional love I’m blessed to have on Father’s Day and every day. They are terrific young men, and thanks to the closeness of my relationship with each of them, I’m able for long periods to block out the inconvenient truth about how I failed Jeff.

On Father’s Day, however, I’m defenseless against the truth’s assault. We all have to live with the consequences of our actions, or in my case inaction, and I do that every day. Since I can’t go back, my way forward is to never forget the lesson I’ve learned and to love my precious family that much more aggressively.

–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

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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