22 months

October 27th, 2012 – July 27th 2014:  Beginning of the 22nd month.

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 December 19th, 2010 – October 27th, 2012: 22 months old.

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A Superboy...

A Superboy…

 

The length of time Rees was in our lives is now the length of time he was removed ripped from it.  I never really realized just how short a span of time 22 months was until I lived it in the wake of his loss.  22 months since I last heard his laugh.  22 months since he woke we up with his smile.  22 months since he last grabbed my hand.  22 months since I last heard him speak.  22 months since he was last in my physical world.  22 months since I was whole…

22 months represents his entire life.  Beginning to end.  Everything he was, everything I know about him – I feel about him, is derived from a lifetime that spanned 2 months shy of 2 years.  Most of the things I own, I have owned for much longer than 22 months… and there is not one of those things, including my own life, that I would not trade to have him here today.  I’ve written before about how time is such a cruel mistress.  The longer I live, the more time seems to take from me.  I guess this is the part of growing older that I never contemplated when was I younger.  Time is a huntress that starts tracking you and everything you love, from birth.  From the moment you enter world a new huntress is born that begins its mission to erase everything you are, and everything you will be.  As we age the huntress hones her skill until she is finally ready to make the final strike.  Sure, some of us are able to dodge the huntress at length, but no matter how wily we are, time will always strike true.

Time does this for everyone, and everything that has ever, or will ever, exist.  The paradox of human life is the fact that we are completely aware of time stalking us, yet we are totally powerless to stop it.  No other creature on this planet understands its own futility against time more than we do.  The cruelty of time is the fact that in our youth we feel we have so much of it, we don’t consider the future – while in our twilight we see the long road behind us with the inevitable terminus ahead but spend too much of  what remains lamenting the detours we took when there was more road ahead.  We spend so much time worrying about time, that we forget that there is one place in which time has no meaning: the present.

“The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
― Alice Morse Earle

In those 22 months of Rees’ life I am not sure if there many times that I stopped to think, in the present, of just how lucky I was.  I know there were times – there had to be, but I don’t recall anything in particular.  I took so much for granted in those 22 months because, in my mind, there was so much more time to be had with Rees.  I had everything planned out.  We would play with transformers together.  Pretend to be superheroes together.  Dig a ditch together.  Make fire.  Look up at the stars.  Talk about girls.  Play videogames.  Watch the Mets disappoint us on a yearly basis…etc.  I had his future all planned out.  It was going to be amazing.  It was going to be fun.  It was going to be the best.  It was never going to be. 

I did not know on October 26th, 2012 that would be my last time saying “goodnight, little man”.  I didn’t think time was going to track my little boy down.  At 22 months time doesn’t have any teeth – it shouldn’t be able to do what it did.  The future I thought I had on the 26th was destroyed the very next day.  From the moment of his death, until the moment of mine, time will now do nothing but remind me of what I had.  It is almost as if time now taunts me as she moves closer to taking her final lunge…

Now I realize that the analogy I just wrote is incredibly depressing.  It really sounds hopeless (especially when I read it back to myself – man, that is a real downer!) … but there is something that I need to point out:  The present.  22 months and 1 day ago Rees was in my life… but that is the past.  Heck, 2 minutes ago is the past.  There is nothing I can do about the past.  The road behind me is something I can’t change.  No matter how much I wish I could build a time machine (preferably out of a Delorean) – I know I never did/do.  If I did, I would have stopped what happened to Rees from happening and then the events that would have lead me to creating the time machine in the first place would never have come to pass and I wouldn’t have built the time machine in the first place which in turn means that what happened would have happened anyhow…  And as confusing as all that was, the truth is there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can do about the past.

It is equally futile to think about the future.  I am not there yet.  Of course I am now (at least from the perspective of where I was when I wrote the last sentence) – but the fact is we never exist in the future either.  If we did, I could have predicted what would have happened and it wouldn’t have happened (and no, I am not going to go off on some crazy time paradox thing again, my brain is still hurting from the one in the last paragraph).  The fact of the matter is that we exist in the present.  Always.  Forever.

In a way, we are really stuck in place, like a person walking on a treadmill, with time moving around us while we keep pace. All we have is the present.  Yes, Rees died 22 months ago.  22 months, 2 months, 1 hour, 10 years… it doesn’t matter.  He is no longer here with me.  There is nothing I can do to change that.  If I keep worrying about time, I just give the huntress more to grind her teeth on.  There is a gift that Rees gave me in his passing:  the gift of perspective.  The appreciation of the present.  Instead of lamenting his loss in the past and feeling sad about what could have been in the future, I now find myself enjoying what I do have right now.  I am thankful for the 22 months I had with my little boy.  He changed me, profoundly.

I don’t fear the huntress anymore – in fact I don’t see her that way at all really.  I’d rather think of time as my co-pilot in the journey of life to destinations unknown.    When I am through in this life, she will guide me to the next – the unwavering companion and navigator.   In losing my little man, I gained respect for the gift that is the present.  Now, more than ever, I realize that the gift he gave me was a literal respect for life.  Thank you, Richie for those 22 months… both of them.  My course is laid in, and I am ready for the jump to lightspeed – and I am happy to have that companion with me for the ride…

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Signs

The first few weeks of grief after losing a child are a mixture of rage, sadness, helplessness and fear: An unstable concoction that can react and explode at any given moment.  As someone who can now count himself among the unfortunate fraternity of those who lost a child I am sometimes asked by people to reach out to others who have recently suffered the same loss.  The almost universal inquiry that follows is if I can say something , anything, that will help them or guide them along their path.  Sadly, it is in those early days that words will have little or no effect.  I cannot describe the hysteria that is felt in the immediate aftermath other than to say it is a wheel of emotions in perpetual flux.  You are in an unnerving state of constant emotional change and nothing can stop that wheel from making its revolutions.  One thing I do tell these grieving parents is that it is important to feel every single one of those emotions in order to begin the process of healing.  Just as in chemistry, the reactants must come together to form a new product.  As the reaction proceed energy is released – sometimes furiously.  The products can only form in the wake of tumult and chaos. There is no other way to produce the end product.  Similarly, the grieving parent must experience and acknowledge every ounce of rage, sadness, helplessness and fear, as those feelings catalyze the synthesis of the “new normal”  they will eventually find themselves in.

Often times when I speak to grieving parents  (myself included) they recognize the fact that their friends and family want to help them – either through actions or words, but that very little resonates; at least at first.  Most people’s instinct in the wake of child-loss is to say things that they think will help the grieving parents. Paradoxically, at least to those who never suffered the loss and don’t truly understand it, those first few weeks are the worst time to hear advice on grief.   The reaction that child-loss generates is so volatile that our first thought is to “help” our hurting loved ones  and try to say anything (and often everything) that we think will “make it all better”.  In a way, our loved ones try in vain to keep the reactants of sadness, anger, rage and hopelessness away from the grieving as a means to avoid the combustion that follows.  Although the intentions of our loved ones is pure, they really can’t fathom what the grieving parent is going through.   For our loved ones recognizing the magnitude of the loss you experienced, coupled with their intrinsic fear of it happening to them,  results in the subconscious thought that they don’t want to even imagine what you are going through.  This is not an indictment of those we love, rather it is simply a function of the brain’s coping mechanism for something often described as unimaginable.

Outliving our children is not unimaginable, every parent has imagined that scenario and then tucked the thought away as quickly as it appeared.  No, losing a child is simply nature’s greatest cruelty and it represents a primal fear we simply do not ever want to face ourselves.  When a loved one loses a child there is no hiding, no tucking away of the thought.  We are forced to witness a reaction that is explosive and violent:  Of course we want to put out the flames, it’s only natural.  This natural need to try and fix that which is broken in those we care about leads to statements like:  ”Look for the signs and you will see he is with you…”.  Those very words were uttered by countless people in the wake of Rees’ death.  To be honest, at the time and from my perspective, they offered very little comfort and often times just deepened the wound his absence caused.  I remember resenting hearing those words from people.  I knew they meant well.  I know they said it because they cared.

Regardless of intent, the first reason I resented those words was because I was not yet ready to hear it.  My mind and heart were not in a place to accept that as an answer.  The second reason I despised it was because I simply did not really believe it to be true – at least at that time I didn’t.  Despite having an unexplainable experience with “signs” after my father’s death, I was still somewhat entrenched in my belief that death was final and anything that could be considered a sign was merely a coincidence.  I was so angry that Rees was stolen from me that I had no reason to believe there could be anything out there to explain his loss other than the cruelty of an uncaring and ambivalent natural order dictated by chance and probability and nothing more.  Whatever minimal hopes I  previously held regarding the potential of an afterlife seemed to evaporate away like cold water on hot asphalt.  It was so bad that I even disregarded the “sign” my father gave me after he passed:   (below is an excerpt from my blog entry goodbye and the sign I got from my father)

About a month before my father succumbed to the cancer that ravaged his lungs, we had a conversation about death. At the time I was incredibly uncomfortable about the topic, as I knew my father’s own end was imminent. My father tried talking to me about his and by extension my own, mortality. I remember my father’s dismay when I told him I believed that when we died that was it – nothing more, a one way ticket to nothingness. Ever the showman, I stood up and turned off the lights in the room and told my father “You want to know what happens when you die? You just saw it. Light’s out. The end.” My father shook his head, but instead of a look of disgust or horror, I saw a smile on his face and the twinkle in his eye that he reserved for when he was keeping a secret that he knew would drive others crazy. My father knew something and he couldn’t wait to prove me wrong.

“You are wrong, Richie”. Those were his simple words – words that anyone who knows me irritate me to know end. “I feel sad that you don’t feel comfortable talking about this, but I KNOW there is something else after I die and I am going to prove it to you, Mr. Science!”, he said. My father then went on to describe his grand plan to prove to me that there was something more after death. He rationed that the only way to make me, the ultimate skeptic, believe that there is more to life after death was proof. I remember scoffing at the idea, asking my Dad how he could possibly prove it to me. As I stared him down, growing more and more frustrated with the direction of our conversation, I saw the light bulb go off in his head. ” Well”, he added with a smile of satisfaction ” we will just have to perform an experiment: Here’s the plan..”

The plan was amazingly simple and effective. My father’s idea was to give my wife, Samantha, a secret password that only she and he would know. Upon my father’s death he vowed he would return to me in some way and utter the password and I would have the proof I required. I remember laughing out loud at the notion and only went along with his plan out of sympathy and a sense of appeasement. At the time I did not realize that I had already forsaken my beliefs in science as I had a preconceived outcome that I was SURE of – a scientific no no. My father told Sam the password after I had left the room completely and went upstairs to our bedroom. I returned only after Sam had given me the ok, and for the remainder of our days together my father and I honestly never spoke another word about his grand experiment.

I was at my father’s side on the day of his death. My memory can paint a perfect picture of my father’s eyes the moment I walked into his room that morning. Though we didn’t speak, my father’s eyes actualized a fear that I had never before seen in them. The man I had looked up to as the epitome of strength and courage, a real life Superman, looked weak and afraid. To see my father whittled down to a husk of his former self and struggling mightily for mere wisps of breath filled me with hopelessness. I am sure my eyes belied the false sense of strength I was attempting to convey to him.

As things settled and my father became aware that both my sister and I were at his side the look of fear resigned to one of contentment. As I stood there comforting him and telling him how much I loved him the look of fear morphed into a look of peace and contentment. Though functionally mute for several days, he managed to hoarsly utter his last words to my sister and I: “I love you”. Not long after I felt the life slip from his large, once powerful hand, and I knew he was gone. I said, “Goodbye Dad, I love you”. I said goodbye to my father without a moment’s hesitation. It was natural, and poignant. According to everything I knew, my smug assurances told me that the light had turned off forever. Everything my father ever was ceased and he entered oblivion. Goodbye, Dad.

Exactly one month after my father passed I awoke from the first dream I had about him and found myself unable to get back to sleep. I quietly and stealthily slipped out of bed and walked down the stairs to our kitchen and sat at our computer. I sat there for about an hour or so before Sam must have awoken to realize that I was no longer in bed with her. She immediately came downstairs and found me at the computer and asked me what was the matter. I told her that I had a nice dream about my father, and went on to describe the dream.

In the dream my father was not dead, far from it in fact. In the realm of my unconscious mind he was alive and well with my family and me seated next to him at his picnic table at his house in upstate New York. In the dream my father was doing exactly what he would have been doing had he been alive: holding court. He was telling jokes, teasing people and playing his guitar. I remember the satisfaction I felt of seeing my father alive and all seemed to be right in the world. Then things changed. Like a storm cloud that sneaks over the top of a tall mountain changing the weather in an instant, my dream clouded over with the realization that my father was dead. All of the merriment ceased and my family all disappeared. I was left at the table with just my father, and in my dream I asked my father what was the password. He never answered. Instead, I was greeted with seemingly nonsensical images of dogs and world war fighter pilots and I awoke in disappointment.

I remember looking at Sam’s face as I described the dream, her sympathetic eyes filling me with an easiness to press on and tell the whole story. She smiled and acknowledged the salient points with a chuckle and continued to smile throughout… that is until I got to the last part. Never before in my life had I seen mere words draw the blood directly out of someone’s face until that moment. Ironically, it is I who would have been able to say I had seen a ghost, as her face took on the alabaster hue of an apparition. Upon hearing my description of dogs and fighter pilots, Sam immediately gasped, placed her balled up hand to her mouth and shook her head as if to dislodge a thought that had no reason being in her head. She hesitated a second and then uttered the words I will never forget: “The password your father gave me, I, I can’t believe this”, she stammered, “the password was Snoopy and the Red Baron!”.

We both stood there in awe and disbelief for several minutes. Ever the skeptic, I asked, and re-asked if she was sure. Samantha said that she wasn’t sure if the password was just Snoopy and the Red Baron, but she knew that was the main idea. She was without doubt on that. Unable to shake my skepticism, I then asked her if my father put her up to acknowledging any password I may have heard or seen just to mollify me and give me a sense of peace. I felt guilty about the inquiry, but needed confirmation. Sam vehemently denied that she would ever deceive me, and honestly her reaction was as genuine as can be. My father and Snoopy along with the Red Barron had given me pause. The reality of the ultimate finality of death that I was so sure of was now shattered and I scrambled to put the pieces together into a new mosaic of reality that incorporated this phenomenon. While I will always stop short of saying that what I received that day was proof (after all some part of my subconscious could have known the password somehow already) I now had evidence to doubt my previous belief. My father didn’t give me faith that there is something more after we die, but he did give me doubt that there isn’t anything at all. For a scientist, doubt is healthy. It keeps us honest. It gives us hope. A month after his passing, my father gave me the greatest gift he ever did while alive: the gift of possibility.

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dreaming of snoopy and the Red Barron…

The sign my father gave me did in fact give me doubt that I was correct about the finality of death, but it did not convince me.  Where doubt is flexible, belief is firm and unyielding.  Before Richie died I held out a tenuous hope that my father did somehow visit me, providing me with doubt where once there only existed a belief it was a true end.  Rees’ death very nearly obliterated that hope.  With all the emotions I was experiencing, with the magnitude of the loss his absence created, I needed more.  If I were to believe that some part of us goes on after death I would need proof.  The more I thought about it, the angrier I grew as I asked myself, “how could my father reach out to me from beyond the grave to help me, and not do something to save my little boy from wandering into that pond?”.  If my father could “visit” me from beyond the grave, surely he could have protected Rees?  My doubt was dangerously close to becoming belief again.  If I were to believe that some part of us is eternal I would need the very signs I didn’t want to hear about in order to “prove” it to me…

Signs are tricky thing for someone who has been trained to look past coincidence and confirmation bias.  A scientist is trained to eliminate as many variables as they can to try and reach the truth.  ”Truth” is only something a scientist can claim after a series of controlled and reproduced experiments validate it.  For a scientist to find the “truth”, they must eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains, regardless of how improbable, must be the answer.  Along the same lines of thought is the principle of Occam’s Razor:  The idea that the simplest solution to a problem is most likely the correct solution.  When you apply this line of thinking to the idea that life somehow persists after death it would outwardly appear that Occam’s Razor slices this idea to shreds.  After all, what is simpler than the idea that when you die, ALL of you dies?  How does one find the truth in something that is inherently beyond our ability to test?  How does one get proof?

Applying Occam’s razor does not in itself answer the question or provide any proof.  It is simply a road map of  apparent solution.  If one wants to prove something they must have evidence to back it up: Proof.  Scientists are always cautioned about proof.  When analyzing data, a scientist must be sure to look at all sides of the problem and the “proof” that confirms or denies it.  One of the most difficult things for a scientist to overcome is their innate confirmation bias that is built into every single human being.  A confirmation bias is simply the tendency of humans to look for things that confirm what we believe to be true, and to ignore that which goes against that belief.  An example I use with my students when teaching about confirmation bias is the idea that we live on a “Small World”.  Say for instance you are travelling overseas and sitting at an outdoor cafe’ in Berlin, Germany.  As you are eating your meal you hear someone behind you speaking English with an unmistakable accent that is just like yours.  You turn around to the person and ask them where they are from and you find out they are from a town not far from you.  As the conversation progresses you find out that you actually know their nephew because he attends the same school as your children and is close friends with them.  Amazed at the odds that something like this would happen you proclaim “What a small world this is!”.  Indeed, the fact that you had this experience does seem to give evidence that it is indeed a “small world” – as no other explanation would explain it.

In reality it is not a small world.  At all.   In fact, the Earth is pretty damn big.   Here is the fatal flaw in that scenario:  The people described in that situation only used their one, isolated, experience based on a previous bias that it is a “small world” to confirm that which they already believed.  To think like a scientist would and prove whether or not it is indeed a small world they would need to take samples from EVERYONE gathered at the cafe and see if they had similar findings, or at the very least that the majority of the people their shared something with them that would lend credence to the theory.  If you polled everyone else at that cafe’ you would find that you shared just about nothing with them.  Would you then feel compelled to proclaim that, because you shared nothing with the majority of the people there, that it was in fact a “large world”?  A normal person would not, but a scientist/researcher would.  A scientist is trained to look at both sides of a problem and the potential that another answer exists outside of our bias.  It is for this reason that the “proof” of something must be thoroughly tested, examined and re-tested to eliminate any bias.

A grieving father who just lost his only son hoping  that there exists some possibility that his son’s life-force persists in some way could not be any further from unbiased.  If I am told to look for signs that he is there the scientist in me would also be compelled to look for signs that he is not.  I was not ready to perform a scientific experiment to prove something I found dubious to begin with and as such I really started to default to the idea that Rees was gone, in every single sense of the word.  My own personal Occam’s razor was apparently ready to sever the vestiges of my connection with Rees entirely simply because it was the easiest thing to do.

The first two or three days after Rees passed found me in a dark place that my own thinking was partly to blame.  I was angry, bitter and resentful – all the reactants that are expected.  I didn’t want to hear about signs, or heaven, or God or anything like that.  I didn’t believe there would be any signs, so I didn’t look for them – and of course that is when the first one appeared…

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second star to the right…

It was three or four days after Rees had passed and a couple of days after Superstorm Sandy that I walked outside and looked up at the moon right outside our kitchen door.  It struck me for 2 reasons:  First – the moon was incredibly bright and situated right over the walkway that lead from the door.  The moon was literally in the “picture perfect” spot for me to see it.  Second – the clouds that rolled past the moon that night moved with a haste that no doubt was caused by the remaining turbulence in the atmosphere left in Sandy’s wake.  I called Samantha to come outside to look at the moon and the “Peter Pan Sky” as it was reminiscent of  nighttime sky depicted in the film.  She came out and I put my arm around her and told her that Rees was our Peter Pan now… the boy who would never grow up.  It was at that moment that I noticed that there were only 2 stars visible in the sky from our vantage point – and they were directly to the right of the moon.  I told her to look to the second star to the right and straight on till morning and that is where we will find our little boy.  We hugged, we cried and we smiled.  I think it was the first time we really smiled since his passing.  There was a comfort to that moment that I cannot describe, and to try and do so would take away from majesty of the moment; suffice to say it was special.  As we started to walk back into the house I turned my head over my shoulder again to look up and noticed something else;  the stars we could see were actually part of the constellation Orion, my favorite constellation.

I didn’t see that natural spectacle as a sign.  It was just a special experience between two parents who needed something special to put our hearts at ease, if only for a fleeting moment.  Sam and I never shared that moment with anyone.  It was ours and Rees’ and no one else’s.  The sign came after the fact…  Flash forward a couple of weeks later and the following arrives in our mail from an anonymous donor (and yes, they are still anonymous!):

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a star in the constellation Orion? After I only told this to my wife… wow, what a coincidence…

As soon as Sam showed me I turned to her and asked her if she told anyone about our special moment that night.  She replied “No, no one…”.  I really couldn’t believe it.  I thought, what were the odds that someone would do this and it just happened to be in the constellation Orion?  Sam immediately called it a sign.  I wasn’t so sure.  The skeptic in me still reigned supreme.  A sign?  Perhaps, but not likely, I thought.  Instead I rationed to myself that it was more likely to be some cosmic coincidence;  merely a confirmation bias.  I did not rule out that it was a sign, but I wasn’t convinced.  I guess Rees knows his Daddy, because that wasn’t nearly the only sign he sent me.  I guess I am as tough a nut to crack as Samantha says I am.

The next sign was something that shook me.  It was a little over a week after Rees had passed and I took a drive, alone, to pick up some items I needed from Best Buy.  On the way to the store I turned my radio dial from sports radio to a music station.  Anyone who knows me knows that I almost never listen to music in my car.  It’s so bad that Samantha jokes that my radio would probably die of shock if I were to change the station.  Yet, on that day, I changed the station.  I recall that as I did I was talking out loud in the car and asking Rees if he was there.  ”Can you hear me, Richie?”, I asked,  ”Will this idea of ReesSpecht Life be a way to honor your life and the kindness we received?”.  The song that came on the radio at that very moment was “Hall of Fame” by Will.I.Am.  As I listened to the lyrics they fit the very question I asked Richie at that moment.  I was in shock…  As the song ended I questioned Rees further, “Was that you, Richie? Was that a sign???”.  At that very moment I was looking at some of the pictures of him that we printed but did not use for his memorial service the night before that were strewn across the passenger seat in my car.  The next song that came on the radio?  Photograph, by Nickleback.  A song about pictures and saying goodbye…  Oh my God, I thought as I arrived at my destination.

I still don’t recall what I purchased that day, but  I do remember getting back into the car and hesitating to start the car back up.  Would another song be on the radio that held a special meaning?  I was afraid to turn the key for fear of not hearing something that fit, thus confirming what I experienced was nothing more than me searching for meaning in something that had none.  I finally mustered the strength, turned the key and there was no song on the radio, just an add.  I was disappointed and ready to turn off the radio and then the next song played:  ”Time after Time”, by Cyndi Lauper.

if you’re lost you can look – and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you – I’ll be waiting
Time after time

After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows – you’re wondering
If I’m OK
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time -

If you’re lost you can look – and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you – I’ll be waiting
Time after time

As I listened to the song I started to sob uncontrollably.  I felt a connection so strong I just could not shake it.  It was primal, it was tangible.  He was there – so much so that I swear I saw him sitting in his seat behind me, smiling at me with a reassuring smile that everything was going to be ok.  He was there.  I had my answer.  My soul shook, and my brain trembled at the experience.  It defied logic and reason.  Sure, it still could be dismissed as just another confirmation bias; my subconscious tricking me – but the feeling was so real that even I, the devout skeptic and non-believer, was beginning to rethink my doubts…

A fair amount of time separated those signs from the next ones.  Scattered between them were what I like to call “inklings” – not really signs, but things that make you wonder.  Among these were reports from friends who saw psychics with Rees coming up in both.  The circumstances described in both cases were eerily correct regarding Richie and the events that unfolded that day, and if I actually believed in psychics I would rate them higher than mere “inklings”.  Another of these “inklings” occurred during our first family road trip after Richie’s passing.   I recalled looking back at Rees’ empty seat behind me, an overwhelming sense of sadness and hopelessness overtaking me.  I started to tear up but thankfully my sunglasses masked the waterworks from Samantha and the girls.  I recall asking silently “Are you with us Richie?” and immediately getting my answer.  Not one second after I asked, a car pulled next to us with a travel container on top made by Reese.  The timing could not be more perfect.  A coincidence?  Maybe, but maybe not.

There have been other “inklings” at different times as well.  More recently, on our 14th wedding anniversary, Sam and I went out to register for baby items for baby girl Specht.  Just as we started our “scanning” the song “Respect”, by Aritha Franklin came on the radio.  It was such perfect timing.  A coincidence?  Maybe, but maybe not.

Another example was during our family trip to Berlin, Germany last summer.  I had just found myself the recipient of an act of kindness by a man who did not need the photo-pass he purchased for a tour of Charlottenberg castle.  He turned around and gave it to me because he saw I had a camera.  I was so thankful that someone would do something so kind (and generous!).  Once we walked into the first room I was ready to take a shot with the camera I was now allowed to use and what do I see out the back window?  A tractor.  Parked right there for all to see and distactingly out of time and place for a location that transports you to the past.  I took the picture below and called Sam over to see it.  She was sure it was Rees – especially since once we went to the next room with a window the tractor was no longer there.  I thought maybe it was Rees, but maybe not.

A tractor out of time - and in a place you would never expect...

A tractor out of time – and in a place you would never expect…

Speaking of tractors, I now see them all over.  The rational side of me realizes that there are no more tractors now than there were before Rees passed, it’s just that I am now acutely aware of their presence.  I never realized how ubiquitous tractors were until Richie passed.  At least now I am beginning to understand why he got so excited and said tractor all the time… THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!  I don’t see every one of these tractor sightings as signs or inklings, but some are.  Just this past weekend, while upstate at our family property, we were out shopping for supplies and I saw this shirt:

love never dies either...

love never dies either…

Why was this shirt an inkling?  While we were in the shop I commented to myself that Rees would have loved it.  They had tractors everywhere and I mean everywhere.  It would have been heaven for him,  I thought – and it made me incredibly sad as I realized he was already there.  Of course what was the very next thing I see?  That shirt.  Tractors never die.  Well, I can assuredly attest, neither does love.  Doubters can doubt all they want, but I just don’t think they are ALL coincidences anymore.  Me, the rational, skeptical, non-believer, now can’t help but see SOMETHING.  A coincidence?  Maybe not.

I know there have been other little signs here and there that I am leaving out.  To be honest, there have been so many now I really cannot keep track of them – they are now a milieu of random happy sights, sounds and fond memories.  While I cannot recall all of those little signs, there are four big signs that I can recall with clarity, and by big I mean smack you in the face, punch you in the gut, you can’t ignore me signs…

1) The Rainbow:

a rainbow is shaped like a smile from Heaven's point of view...

a rainbow is shaped like a smile from Heaven’s point of view…

I took that picture of THE Rainbow while at my property in Upstate NY over the memorial day weekend of this past year (2014).  Why do I call it THE Rainbow?  Simple.  This rainbow was a sign, plain and simple.  For those of you who have read my blogs, or know me personally, you know that the one place on Earth that puts me at ease is “The Hill”; our family’s 76 acre slice of a mountaintop in the Catskills of New York.  It is the most special place in the world to me, and nothing made me prouder than to share it with my children – especially Rees.  I saw in Richie the chance to share the experiences I had with my own father on that sacred ground and pass a legacy of father and son on to him that he would in turn perhaps pass on to his own son one day too.  I know this is the place where Rees found his love of tractors.  Every picture I have of him up there his happiness is apparent and palpable:

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Oh, the trouble you would have gotten into!

Oh, the trouble you would have gotten into!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking out on the world...

Looking out on the world…

 

Read More…

My Life* Revisited…

Just over a year ago I wrote a piece titled “My Life*”.  It was rather brief but it represented, pretty succinctly, my feelings at the time.  The main point was that Rees’ passing cast a shadow over everything I did and never seemed to fade.  A couple of days ago I re-read the piece, wondering if my perspective had changed in the year since I wrote it.  Interestingly, in writing about my feelings of that time, I posited that the future may hold something different; perhaps a way to shake the shadow and finally edit the asterisk from My Life* out of the narrative of my existence.  That future is now…

I wish you were in my present and future...

I wish you were in my present and future…

One year later and I can tell you that the asterisk is still there.  All the time.  390 days later I find that while I have come so far in some aspects of my dealing with Rees’ death, I am still at a complete standstill over others.  It’s funny how life can move so fast from one perspective but appear immobile from another.   Here I am a year later and I feel like very little has changed for me emotionally.  I still wake up every morning with a nagging pain that lurks in the corner of my mind, biding its time for a chance to inflict maximum damage.  It’s almost as if the pain chooses dawn, the ultimate metaphor for fresh starts and blank slates, as a poignant metric to measure itself against.   The pain takes advantage of my morning grogginess to muster its strength in preparation for its strike – and it doesn’t take long.

One look at Rees’ hope chest, his “blanky” tucked under Samantha’s pillow, or his pictures on my wall is that is needed to chip away at the unfettered hope a new day brings.  I am immediately reminded of the fact that he is gone, and never, ever, coming back.  To some small degree, the hope of a new day is immediately diminished every single morning.  From the moment I awaken, the asterisk appears and re-calibrates my expectations of what a “good” day will be.

It’s not just the morning though;  every good moment in my life follows this pattern of hope immediately neutralized by the pain:  My students just collectively aced their end of the year final! - Oh yeah, my son died.  It’s my birthday! – Rees is gone.  My sister got a new job! – you will never have your son again. Our former Au Pair Melina is coming to stay with us again! - but she will not bring Rees back.  We are having a new baby! - she won’t ever get to know her big brother.  ENOUGH!!!  -  Every good feeling, every single one, is quantified on a new metric with the pain of Rees’ eternal absence as the reference point.  Since every good feeling, experience, or thought is dampened by the pain  I find cannot have one without the other – and my brain appears to have found its own solution…

I now find myself avoiding the things that would elicit the comparison in the first place.  Much like Pavlov trained his dog to salivate at the sound of the dinner bell, I find that my brain often places me in an emotional limbo – a state where neither pain nor pleasure is felt – to keep me from re-living the loss.  It is almost as if my mind will not allow me to reach the highs of life because my subconscious fears the fall from them.  More and more I find the things that used to bring me immense pleasure now merely satiate me and nothing more.  I want to enjoy the things that I used to, but my mind wont allow it.  Even when surrounded by my friends and family I now feel trapped by my own mind; isolated and alone.

I used to really love playing video games...

I used to really love playing video games…

I was told by many other parents who lost a child that the second year is really the hardest of all.  They told me that the first thing you will notice is that your friends and family who initially showed so much concern, and went out of their way to talk to you and spend time with you, will eventually go back to their old routine, leaving you feeling alone.  They made sure to point out that it wasn’t the fault of those friends and family – it was merely a function of life.  Balance must be restored, and eventually life has to go on.  One consequence of this restoration of balance, they warned, was that people would start to treat you like nothing ever happened and think that you are “fine”.  As people stop treating you with “kid gloves” and their lives returned to normal, you will still find yourself adjusting to your new normal.  Finally, the worst of all the “second year” issues would be the cruelest paradox: the loss of your child becomes more tangible while, at the same time, you agonizingly find you start to forget what it was like to have them in your life.  The cumulative effect of this “second year phenomenon” is a depressing sense of isolation and hopelessness that makes it more difficult than the first year.

I remember when I was told this that I initially scoffed at the notion, thinking nothing can be worse than the acute pain you feel after losing the most precious thing in your life.  We officially entered the “second year”, in November of this past year.  I remember that, at the time, I really felt like I had things figured out and I would avoid the pitfalls that my new friends in our unfortunate fraternity warned me about.  The foundation was doing great things – from toy drives, to awarding $6,000.00 in scholarships, to providing meals/christmas dinner for local families in need and the distribution of our “pay it forward” cards.  We were doing the positive things that made a difference in other’s lives.  It was around that time that the children’s book was coming together and our vision for the foundation was really starting to come into focus.  I thought that all of these positives, and the amazing support we had through ReesSpecht Life, were countering the negatives.  Through it all, I remained confident that I had solved the problem of the “second year”.

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photoadamrebecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time is a cruel mistress and it turns out that wasn’t exactly true.  Yes, we were doing amazing things with the foundation that we started in Rees’ name.  Yes, we had the support of thousands and thousands of people.  Reports of kind acts literally came in from all over the world.  Our scholarship award winners were doing amazing things in college.  The toy drive was a huge success that helped so many families in need.  The meals we provided for local families made for happy holidays that may not have otherwise happened.  The evidence of Rees’ impact was all around – and it was that positive energy that I attributed to keeping the darkness at bay.  I really thought I had it figured out.  I was sure I had beaten time and the “second year” phenomenon.  I was wrong.  Time waits for no one…

It turns out that those positives we accomplished through the foundation, while amazing, were not the reason I wasn’t experiencing the issues associated with the “second year”.  In reality, those things really just kept us so busy that we literally did not have time to address the underlying issue.  Much like a wound left untreated too long, the reality of the “second year” began to fester, unknowingly, in my soul.  No matter how much you try to cover it up, there eventually comes a time when you can longer ignore the wound and it demands your immediate attention.  I could no longer ignore time by keeping myself busy.  Time had come to collect its dues and I just was not ready to pay off the debt.

It really hit me around April of this past year.  It was around the time we were getting ready for our Islanders fundraiser and we had broken the news that Samantha was pregnant.  Our book was getting close to being published (or so we thought) and things with the foundation were really hitting their stride.  When things should have been looking up, I started feeling more and more down.  I just couldn’t shake the feeling.  I found myself getting depressed and doubting the future.  I grew more depressed as my overtures to my former friend to talk about what happened with Rees fell on deaf ears.   My writing, which almost always had some form of a positive spin, seemed tainted with a tinge of that depression which was palpable.  I suddenly started to notice the signs of the “second year” and it really hit me hard.  The font size of the asterisk in the narrative of my life grew and seemed to become bold.  I just couldn’t find a happy place.

The worst part about all of this is that I didn’t tell anyone.  Not even Samantha.  I just didn’t want to burden her with it – and I certainly did not want to share it with my family and friends in fear that they would think My God, just get over it already… I started to distance myself from them.  Avoidance became a very effective way to navigate my way through the pain.  Ironically, it wasn’t my friends who were abandoning me, it was me who was abandoning them; I just did not realize it.  From my perspective it was they who were leaving me to wallow: confirming the prediction from those who warned me about what was to come.  Everything I was warned about was coming true and there was nothing I could do to avoid it.

I wish I could write at this very moment that I am past this stage – that I somehow figured out how to get over this hump, but I cannot.  I know the best thing for me to do is ADMIT that I am not okay.  I think this is my first step to resolving my self-inflicted problem.  My amazing therapist, Paul, told me that the best thing I can do is to feel everything I need to feel in order to move on.  Avoidance is not the answer.  What I do realize now is that avoiding the issue and trying to hide it behind the commitments of work and the foundation will simply not work.  I need to feel the pain I have to feel so that I can move on.  I need to cry when I see an ambulance and not repress it.  I have to scream out the pain that wells up inside from time to time (I found the top of the mountain of the property we own is an excellent place to do so).  I must to admit, to my wife, my children, my friends and family that I am hurting – and it’s ok to still hurt.  I need to feel everything, good and bad, or else I will feel nothing at all.  I have to take the advice I wrote last year:

 ”…to use that asterisk to shape my future in a way that I choose, learning from it, growing from it and becoming a better person from it.   In my past life I lost my little boy.  In the present, and the future, I gained ReesSpecht for life… asterisks and all.”

I need to look at those pictures of Rees every morning and allow myself to smile AND feel sad.  I must come to grips with the fact that I will never have any closure with a “friend” who refuses to accept any responsibility in Rees’ death and let me and my family suffer at the hands of CPS due to his cowardice.  Some people just don’t have it in them to face the truth – and I need to make sure I do. I must make sure that I am taking the time to reach out to my friends and family to see how THEY are doing and stop avoiding contact due to my fear of feeling.  In the end, I need a good dose of perspective:  While this is our second year without Rees, in fact we are closing in on a time when he has been out of our physical world for as long as he was in it, I need to also see that this is the second year in which we started on our mission to make the world a little better place, one Rees’ piece at a time.  Just as light cannot exist without darkness to contrast it to, happiness cannot exist in a world devoid of pain.  You can’t have one without the other. I need to stop looking at my asterisk as a scarlet letter and start looking at it as a reminder that life lies somewhere in the middle of the Good times and bad times – happiness and sadness.  You can’t live life without experiencing and acknowledging both.  It’s time I learned to live My Life* again, asterisks and all.

Yes, You can enjoy life after losing something so special....

Yes, You can enjoy life after losing something so special….

p.s.  If you know someone who lost a child, or anyone close to them, take the time to ask them how they are doing… even if it is years later.  Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world.  Remember, you are not going to remind them that they lost someone special – they live with that reality every day.  You will remind them that the person lived – and that is all anyone who has lost someone special could ever ask for…

 

 

Spread a little Rees Specht to a teacher!

Click on the picture below to download a .pdf that you can give to your child’s teacher to let them know you purchased a copy of “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness” for them for next school year.  You can purchase your copy and put the teacher’s name and school address as the shipping destination.  Order HERE and then print out the .pdf below to give to your teacher to let them know!

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I believe…

This has been a whirlwind couple of weeks.  I really feel like I can’t tell which end is up – mostly because I find myself oscillating between extreme highs and lows.  It all started with our discovery of the baby’s gender and it really has not slowed down since.  We had our concert on June 6th, and while the music and performers were top notch, I found myself disappointed in the low turnout.  It was amazing to see the musical talents of my former students on display, all for the love of a little boy they never met.   I even had a chance to sing a song to my little man… a song made special by the teacher who inspired me to become a teacher myself.  You can watch my tribute to her and Rees here (I apologize to Josh Grobin for my awful rendition… I tried!).

I was so nervous that night and felt my performance did not match the effort I put into it, but considering that the last time I sang in front of an audience I forgot ALL the lyrics to the song I was singing I’ll take that night’s performance as a victory. The song I sang, “To Where You Are”, by Alan Menken, Richard Marx and Linda Thompson is the perfect tribute to how I feel about Rees. I do believe he is out there, watching over me: at least I do most of the time.  There are times when I doubt it.  That night was bittersweet.  We only sold about 89 tickets and I really hoped we would have had a bigger turnout.  I was depressed after the concert and I really should not have been.  It was such an amazing night, and I think I got more depressed as I realized that I should have been happy about how special the event was, not sad about the low turnout.  Of course this realization saddened me further as I just could not stop focusing on the “whys?” regarding the low attendance.  Are people no longer interested in supporting us?  Are we old news?  Did someone get a hold of college recording of my ill fated rendition of “The Ballad of Davey Crocket”? - (yes, the song I forgot the lyrics to was THAT song!).  All of these thoughts and more poured through my mind that night as I tried to lie down to sleep.

It was in that time that doubt crept back in and I felt fraudulent for singing a song about what I believed to be true.  As much as I wanted to focus on the positive, I found my emotional state would not let me.  When Rees passed, the one saving grace I had was a belief that something out there was watching over us and this was all a part of some bigger picture that I could not fathom.  I always felt like Rees was on a mission to change things for the better.  The empty seats I saw looking out that night painted a different picture.  I started to doubt everything I was doing and had doubts as to how I could sustain the effort to keep the movement alive.  Thankfully, the intervention of my good friend, and ReesSpecht Life Board member Jim S. helped me to see the bigger picture and my crisis of confidence was abated, but certainly not erased.

Jim reminded me that the bigger picture was about more than the concert.  It was about more than one event… or one moment in time.  He reminded me of how special the night was for those who were there – and that for those people and my family it made a difference.  What we do is about the collective good that we accomplish, one piece at a time, and I had lost sight of that fact in this case.  He reminded me of our book publishing efforts and how we were on track to reach our goal.  Surely I could see that the message of ReesSpecht Life was resonating with so many people – it just doesn’t happen all at once.  The wise math teacher taught the science teacher the importance of looking at the sum, and not the individual integers on the other side of the equation…

That really pushed me out of my funk.  After only about a day or so I was back to myself again and ready to take on our goal of making this world a kinder place, one piece at a time.  It was in that time that followed that I heard from our local county legislator that the resolution to make December 19th (Rees’ Birthday), “Kindness Day” in Suffolk county would be made official.  Donations to our book were coming in at a steady pace and it seemed like we would hit our goal.  Things were looking up and we were moving forward again, full speed.   Doubt was in my rear view mirror, and it was in that moment, while looking behind,  that the breaks engaged and everything came to a stop.

With one week to go I realized we were further away from our goal than our average daily donations would be able to meet in the time left.  I kept my cool, thinking that people were just waiting until the last minute.   I rationed that with 38,000 facebook followers there was no way we couldn’t get at least 1% of those people to order a copy of the book that I put everything into.  Of all the things we have done in the past year, the book remains (and will remain) the most important and special piece of everything.  A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness is my love note to not only Rees, but the movement we have started in his name.  On top of that, I also included the other “Angels” who served as inspiration for what we do and every single part of the book just felt “Right”.  The illustrations were beyond gorgeous, and the story really conveyed our message so that a child could grasp it.  The inclusion of “Seeds of Kindness” cards at the end of the book would allow children the opportunity to see the power of kindness for themselves.  Everyone who read copies of the book at various stages all had the same response: it was a beautiful message and fitting tribute to my little boy.  Other than my own flesh and blood, there is nothing in this world that I am more proud of than this book.

In many ways the book is like another child of mine.  Parts of me, mixed with parts of Samantha and our families came to create something out of pure love that we have the highest hopes of it entering the world and making a difference.  It is our sincere hope that the story will resonate with children and that the message is something they will carry with them for all of their days.  In other ways the book is the manifestation of everything we have left of Rees.  His memory, his legacy, his heart and his soul.  I really want this book to succeed for no other reason than I had no control over his fate, but I feel like I have control over his legacy.  I want to help make this world a better place in his name and I put everything into the book that I could – just like every parent puts everything they are into making the lives of their children as successful as possible.

The part I forgot, was that parents can’t live for their child.  Once they enter the world on their own, a parent can really only help provide guidance to their children through life’s obstacles but cannot steer them through them.  As a parent, our instinct is to protect our children from everything, but in reality we find we can only protect them so much before they venture out on their own path.  The same is true of our book.  I gave it all I had, put everything I could into helping be successful and now I have to hope for the best.  Unfortunately, its the hope part that is getting to me.  Hope only goes so far before reality rears its sometimes ugly head and pierces the veil of hope.  When that happens, doubt comes right back in; the uninvited guest of reality.

Yesterday, reality hit me hard.  It was a sucker punch really.  I was so blinded by hope that I really didn’t see the reality of the fact that, barring a miracle, we were just not going to hit our goal.  While it may appear that the goal of $20,000.00 was an arbitrary number, it was not.  That is amount that was calculated that we would need to earn, minus the fees from credit and paypal processing and the fee from Indiegogo (the site hosting the crowd funder), to be able to print all book orders and have enough books to supply to teachers and schools that would be willing to institute character based learning lessons on the power of kindness.  Sadly, when you don’t reach your goal figure with Indiegogo, they claim 10% of your pre-goal donations in addition to credit card fees and paypal fees.  In short, we will be able to fulfill orders made, but we wont have enough to provide for the programs we wish to offer.  Ironically, it was yesterday- father’s day of all days, that I realized we were most likely not going to make it.  Combine that realization with the already mixed emotions I was experiencing on a day that should only be positive and it created an opportunity for doubt to return – yet this time it did not creep in: It entered like a super nova, obliterating everything in its path.

I can’t express the low I hit last night.  I doubted everything.  I doubted what we could possibly do to make a difference in our boy’s name.  I found the cynicism that I thought I vanquished after Rees’ passing was alive and well, hiding in a corner of my soul, waiting for the opportune moment to come back out.  All at once I was depressed, sad, angry and cynical… a powerful combination for making bad decisions and forging regrets.  I felt like I was on a figurative ledge, with ReesSpecht Life the building upon which I was perched, and release from all the stresses, doubts and worries being the pavement, far below. I think I was almost ready to make the leap – if not for the intervention of my sister who talked me down.  She backed me off the ledge and helped me regain my focus.  Yet, just like a literal “jumper” who is talked away from leaping, just backing off the ledge does not fix the problem.  My hopelessness was still there.  I couldn’t see the beliefs and dreams that built the foundation of the very precipice of which I was ready to leap.  I asked Rees for help to remind me.  I spoke to him last night before I went to sleep.  I begged him, again, to help remind me.  My hope was shattered so badly this time though that regardless of the innumerable times he has answered me,  regardless of the rainbows he sent – I just didn’t believe it at the time…

And yet again, my little boy proved to me that he is here.  Just when all hope was lost, when all faith I had was being questioned, I received a message that was so loud and clear that I thought I really may be insane to even question my beliefs ever again.  If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – then I must be.  Every single time I have questioned why we are doing this, something has come along to set me back on the path.  I almost think the Rees must be getting tired of sending me signals (sorry kid, your Dad is a little stuborn…).  The sign I got was a message from a parent in my email this morning.  To be honest, I sometimes fear parent emails this time of year because many times they are inquiries about why their child received this grade or that grade.  As soon as I started reading this message, I realized it was anything but that, and I started openly weeping in my empty classroom.

I wont go into details about the note, just to say that it literally reaffirmed everything we have been trying to do.  Our mission has made a difference in a young girl’s life.  What more can I ask?  If nothing else, there is a girl who has been touched by Rees’ spirit and her life is better because of it.  The message I received today reminded me of our very motto to make a difference “One Rees’ piece at a time…”.  It bothers me that doubt still has such a  strong, periodic hold on me, but it’s moments like these that serve as the constant reminders that what we are doing is making a difference.  It’s not donations and dollars that make the difference in what we do, its the currency of the heart and soul of human kindness made tangible that is.  Thank you Hannah for reminding me why we are doing what we do.  It means the world to us, and well, I keep saying we want to change the world – I just sometimes forget that world includes us too!  I can’t promise that doubt wont creep back in from time to time, but God help me if ever stop believing.  The signs are many.  The tangible proof we are making a difference is out there.  I believe.  I believe.

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Hello little girl…

Big Sisters

Big Sisters

To say the last 19 months has been a roller coaster ride would be the understatement of the century.  The first 5 or 6 months after we lost Rees was nothing but a blur.  I really can’t recall much at all from that time period, including how I felt at the time.  Thankfully I have the writings I posted to read over and gauge where I was in the time after April of 2013 , but since I really did not write much, except for “Why?”  in those first five months, I have no real reminder of where I was emotionally during that period.  I remember I was hurting – but I forget exactly how it felt.  I know there was a persistent knot in my stomach that would not abate – but it’s intensity no longer resonates.  I recall despair threatening to overwhelm me at any given time – yet I could not tell you how desperate I truly was.  These few things I remember seem like shadows at dusk to me;  exaggerated and stretched, yet barely perceptible.

One feeling I can recall with clarity was the sense of hope I had.  I had hope that we could start something in Rees’ name to help honor his short life and return the kindness countless others had bestowed upon us.  I had hope that my daughters, Abigail and Lorilei, would learn that life goes on for the living and that true love never dies as long we take the effort to cultivate it.  I had hope that Samantha and I would emerge through this ordeal a stronger couple, capable of taking on anything that life tried to throw at us.  All of these things, and plenty more, were things I hoped for – and for the most part have come to pass.  Yet of all my hopes and dreams for our future, there was one hope that lingered in my mind but I dared not share with anyone other than those closest to me:  The hope that we would have another little boy one day…

I really never shared this hope with others for fear of people misunderstanding my feelings.  It would be easy for those around me to just assume that all I really wanted was a “replacement” for Rees:  That my wanting to have a little boy was fueled by my inability to truly let Rees go.  I rationed that no amount of explanation would satisfy some people about the real reason for my desire, so I took the easy route…  I kept it to myself.

Samantha and I always wanted a big family. While we never got into an ‘official” discussion about having a fourth child before Rees passed, it was something we both jokingly hinted at from time to time.  My friends and family all knew that I was happy with our family dynamic of having 2 girls and 1 boy – but our hearts had plenty of room for more love,even though our house and bank account may not have.  I vividly remember the day after Rees was born, sitting next to Samantha in the hospital with Rees in the bassinet next to us, thinking about how I felt that this was not the last time I would be in this situation.  In my mind I was going to be a father again – and since I had my girls and my boy, it didn’t matter what I had, I just knew I would be there again one day.

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To say I was a proud papa is an understatement…

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A little boy, being a little boy…

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Boys: Fire, holes and rocks = win

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have written several times already about how badly I wanted Rees to be a little boy.  I had two beautiful little girls before Rees and I just wanted the opportunity to have the experience of a father-son relationship. I always had a feeling that Rees was a boy and when the doctor announced “It’s a boy!” I could not have been happier.  At that moment my life had come together in exactly the way I dreamed it would.  22 months later, in one moment of time that I relive in my mind constantly, that dream died.  I lost my only son, and he was never coming back.  All hope was lost.  My future was robbed from me.  One thing I do remember feeling exactly was the sense that the hole in my world would never be filled again.  My only son had died…

I remember holding Sam in my arms outside of our neighbors house the night Rees had passed.  We were not allowed back into our home until the police had finished their investigation so our neighbors, Marty and Vanessa took us in until we could return.  I remember feeling trapped, both physically and mentally.  Sam was beside herself and I tried everything I could to soothe her.  I will never forget the dazed look in her eyes as she paced around, back and forth, calling out “I want my baby back,  I want my little boy… our little boy is gone Richie…I want my little boy back!.”.  What could I do for her?  I felt so hopeless.  Nothing I could do would take this pain away from her.  That moment in time was the most pain I had ever been in – not only having to deal with my own loss, but seeing the love of my life broken and inconsolable.  I remember just grabbing her and wrapping my arms around her and telling her we would get through this.  I told her I didn’t know how, but we would get through this – that we had no choice really because the girls needed us.  Her sobbing ebbed at that, and she regained her composure, looked me in the eye and said the words that I was feeling at that moment: “I want to have another baby.”

Now I realize that those words were forged in a moment of intense grief and loss that is honestly immeasurable.  Those words were a mental defense mechanism to help maintain some sense of control over an untenable situation.  As the weeks went by I recall Samantha and I having conversations about whether or not we wanted to have another child and we often flip-flopped our positions.  Sometimes it was I who wanted to have another baby, and other times it was her.  It wasn’t until April of last year that we both found ourselves on the same wavelength:  we had too much love to give and we wanted another pair of little feet scampering around our home… not to replace Rees, but certainly to fill a void in our hearts.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts we found out Samantha was pregnant in July of last year.  I was ecstatic.  It was almost as if the universe decided to set right a great wrong in our lives and bless us with another child.  Being cautious, we did not tell anyone of Sam’s pregnancy with the exception of our former Au Pair, Melina.   Melina was such a big part of Rees’  life – and ours as well, that we just had to let her know when we arrived in Berlin last August.  Melina’s excitement was palpable – and everything just seemed so right.  I wanted to fast forward the next nine months and meet my new baby.

The day after we returned from Berlin the universe, which I thought owed me one, decided it was not yet ready to restore balance.  I took Samantha to the hospital to find out she was miscarrying.  I can’t describe the blow that was.  I really felt like things were finally working in our favor, and then that happened.  The lows we found ourselves in after that were not as severe as after losing Rees, but they were certainly lower than they would have been had we never had the perspective we had in the wake of losing him.  Again, I was reminded of the fact that some things are just out of our control…

The next several months were a maddening repetition of failed pregnancy tests and frustration.  I kept trying to rationalize why we were having troubles conceiving.  Each month brought a new reason for our failures.  “Well this wasn’t our month”, or “Maybe it was meant to happen on Rees’ birthday” became my mantra.  Then Rees’ birthday came and went and we failed again.  Sam and I really started to doubt that it would happen.  I think we literally tried every wive’s tale and superstition to try and conceive – all to no avail.

Our lives started to become scheduled based on ovulation predictors and me applying the science I teach at school.  It honestly started to become almost clinical – to the point where we both wondered why we were putting ourselves through this torture.  Then, low and behold, the February test came back positive.  My reaction this time was a 180 from the last one:  cautiously optimistic, but expecting the worst.

The next four months found me in an almost daily repetition of that feeling of waiting for something bad to happen.  I no longer had any delusions about universal recompense – I kept waiting for the bad news.  My pensive thoughts kept focusing on what bad news we could get in each new stage of development – news that never came.  Each test came back perfect.  Heartbeat: perfect.  Head and neck circumstance: normal.  Spinal cord: located where it should be.  Everything was perfect.  There remained really only one thing left to hear:  Was our baby a boy or a girl.

Oh, the trouble you would have gotten into!

Oh, the trouble you would have gotten into!

I found myself in an uncomfortable position regarding my gender “preference” for the baby.  On one hand I really wanted to have another chance at the father-son relationship I was teased with for 22 months.  On the other hand I really, truly, only cared about whether or not they were healthy.  Since all of the previous testing had indicated that everything was fine, discovering the gender was really the only other unknown I had to concern myself with.

Sam was convinced the baby was a boy.  So much so that she referred to the baby as “he”.  I didn’t know what to think, but I was leaning towards a girl – figuring the universe wasn’t done letting me know who was in charge.  Both Abby and Lori thought the baby was a boy too, along with over 65% of our friends, family and Rees’ pieces.  I get why they felt that way; probably the same reason I did – the idea that universe would find a way to correct a great wrong and restore balance.  Well the universe is a mystery for a reason…

We were all in the room for the sonogram.  I was nervous waiting and I could see Sam and the girls were too.  Before the sonogram technician said it, I saw it:  It was  girl.  There was no doubt.  5 seconds later, she declared “You are having a little girl” and our reactions were all very different.  Sam was confused.  Abby was cheering.  Lori was crying and I was in a state that I still can’t quite explain.  I was both happy and sad all at once.  I was sad at the recognition that I would now, most likely, never have the experience of being a father to a boy for more than 22 months – yet I was also happy that I had a new little girl to fawn over and call “Daddy’s little girl”.

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4abbylori2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course other things immediately started racing through my head at that moment like: oh my God, I have to pay for 3 weddings now! Or We don’t have enough bathrooms for 4 women! To,  A lifetime of drama, mood swings and endless queries of “Do I look fat in this dress/outfit” would be the order of things from now on.  At first I only saw the down side of having a third little girl.  I really felt guilty.

 

I will take you fishing :)

I will take you fishing :)

I am truly blessed.  A new little girl will be entering my world and I get the honor of being her Daddy.  What a grand life I have planned for you, little one.  There will be ups and downs, hits and misses – but we will go through it together.  No father will be more blessed than I when you enter this world.  I can’t wait to meet you little miss ^#(!\@ (sorry, you will have to wait to get the name!).  I already know the first words I am going to say to you:  “Hello little girl, I am your Daddy! – and boy, what adventures we are going to have”.  I am no longer worried about whether or not I get to have that father son relationship… who knows, it could still happen (Cue Samantha smacking me as soon as she reads that) – after all, we still have plenty more love to give <3  But I am not worried about that.  I just want to meet you and welcome you to a world made a little kinder by your big brother that I am sure you already know…

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Here’s looking at you, Kid.

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This is my good side…

 

Please help us get word out…

Well, we are 16 days into our attempt to raise the funds to self publish 2,000 copies of our book.  So far we have raised just over $6,000.00!  As of now we are 1/3 of the way to our goal, with a little less than 2/3 of our time remaining.  At this rate making our goal is going to be really close.  We need your help…  Below you will see three promotional pictures with links to the .pdf files for each (Click on each picture for .pdf).  Please share these with your friends and family and, perhaps more importantly, any businesses/orginization that may want to sponsor us.  I know we will reach our goal – and it is all because of the amazing people we have that have helped us reach the place we stand today.

As an added bonus, for any business/orginization that you recommend that partakes in our $500.00 graphic sponsor, we will also include your name in our book as an official supporter of ReesSpecht Life.  We will have a page of standout “Rees’ Pieces” who helped us by spreading the word.   It is our sincere hope that the publishing of our book marks the beginning of our journey to making a difference in children’s lives and teaching them the importance of kindness.  The book, coupled with the school programs we wish to start with it, is our first step.  Thank you so much for all of your support.  Together we can make this world a better place, one Rees’ piece at a time…

-ReesSpechtfully,

Rich and Sam Specht

aboutbook

aboutrsl

perks

 

 

Let’s make this world a little kinder…

There are many people who have messaged me that are confused about the availability of our book.  I want to clarify everything and explain (as succinctly as possible) what the current status is and how you can order the book and/or help us make a wide distribution of it possible.

As many of you are aware, we had publishers lined up for our book and were set to release it on May 7th… well due to unforeseen circumstances, our original publishers were not able to produce the book in the format we wanted.  As a result of this last minute potential disaster we were forced to scramble and find another way to get the book out.  We could try other publishers, but that process will take more time and we really want to have the book available as soon as possible without going through the vetting process of finding another publisher.  The fact of the matter is that we have a completed project that has been professional illustrated and edited and it really only needs to be printed – at this time there is nothing a small publisher can do for us that we haven’t already done – including reaching a wide social media market.

Our solution to this issue is to self-publish and print ALL of the copies ourselves.  At our current price per unit and factoring in costs of shipping and editing and illustration fees,  it will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.00 to make 2,000 copies of the book available.  We feel that with our built in support, coupled with the added support of word of mouth we can easily make our goal.  So far, in only 1 week, we have hit 21% of our goal.  Still, we need to make sure that we keep the momentum going.  This is where your support extends beyond the financial:  We need you to share our crowd funder through email, facebook and twitter with all of your friends and family.  Our dreams can only come true with your help.  The tools to share it are located right underneath the video (“The Story behind the story”) on the main page of the campaign.

Additionally, many people seem to be a little confused as to what a crowd-funder like Indiegogo is.  Very simply, it is a way to generate the funds to support a project with the investment of a group of individuals (a crowd).  We proposed our project on Indiegogo, and they host it and collect the funds.  A crowd-funder is not a straight up donation (although you can just donate if you wish) – it has to supply perks for your contributions.  In our case, the perks range from the very basic and low cost, to much more expensive and high value.  The campaign link has all the perks listed, but I will share them here for quick reference:

  • Pay it forward cards and magnets for $15.00
  • Just the book for $15.00
  • 1 signed copy of the book and 10 ReesSpecht Life Pay it forward cards for $25.00
  • 2 signed copies of the book and 20 ReesSpecht Life Pay it forward cards for $45.00
  • 3 signed copies of the book and 30 ReesSpecht Life Pay it forward cards for $60.00
  • A silver pendant and necklace that has “ReesSpecht Life” on one side and “Love Cures” on the other and 10 cards for $75.00
  • 3 signed copies of the book with a personal message and 30 ReesSpecht Life Pay it forward cards for $75.00
  • 1 signed copy of the book, 1 car magnet and a “I’m one of Rees’ Pieces” t-shirts for $100.00
  • 10 unsigned copies of the book for $150.00
  • a perk designed for schools/libraries:  Six signed 1st edition copies to use in school classrooms and libraries. Thank you mention of SCHOOL NAME in print forever and on our website for $200.00
  • 6 signed 1st edition books + custom author Messages + THANK YOU mention in the book. YOUR NAME in print. Forever for $200.00
  • Pay it forward to your school with 20 signed copies of the book, 200 “Seed of Kindness” children’s pay it forward cards and a free skype session for the class with the Author for $500.00
  • Receive 2 signed copies of the book and your company logo and contact info (website, phone #) will be listed as a sponsor in the book and on our website for $500.00
  • Pay it forward to your school with 30 signed copies of the book, 300 “Seed of Kindness” children’s pay it forward cards and a free skype session for the class with the Author for $700.00
  • Be a character in our next book: Receive 2 signed copies of the book, your name listed as a sponsor in the book and our website AND you or your child will become a character in our sequel book: “A Little Rees Specht goes a long way” for $1000.00
  • Partnership: Your company name and logo along with contact information will be listed on our page as a partner and supporter of ReesSpecht Life. Your Company name and logo will appear on promotional materials at our fundraisers such as our upcoming 5k, concerts, golf outings etc. Your company name and logo will also appear in our book listed as a donor/supporter: $1000.00
  • Get our program for “Kindness Week” and the “Kindness Games”, including lesson plans, 1000 “Seed of kindness cards”, and 30 books for $1500.00
  • Author will present “ReesSpecht Life: How kindness can change our perspectives” to your school or group. Includes enough “Seeds of Kindness” cards for each participant up to 3,000 for $1750.00
  • Receive 30 copies of the book, 3,000 kindness cards and the author will come to your school/orginization and present “ReesSpecht Life: How kindness can change our perspectives” plus a book signing for all students with a copy of the book for $2500.00
  • Your Organization is guaranteed top billing as a sponsor/partner of ReesSpecht Life for Life. Your company/organization will forever be linked with us. You will get signage and sponsorship credit at all fundraisers and your logo and info will get top billing in this book and all of our sequel books for $5000.00

As you can see, the perks really do range quite a bit.  As of now only 1 of the higher tier perks have been claimed, so if you know any generous individuals out there who wish to help out, please share the campaign with them.  Also, since the school year is winding down, the school based perks will most likely be for next school year.

As I wrote before, even if you do not make a monetary contribution, please take the time to share our campaign with your friends and family on email and social media.  The book really came out better than I could have ever envisioned, and I personally promise that you will not be disappointed with it.  Please help us make our dreams our reality.  Thank you so much for your support and for being one of Rees’ pieces!

The final cover

Click Picture to support our Indiegogo campaign.

The Friend you never knew…

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The Fab Five

This past weekend was a microcosm of the emotions I have experienced over the past 19 months.  Exuberant highs, followed by sullen lows, inconsistently oscillating back and forth in quick succession leaving me in an apprehensive state not knowing when the switch would occur.  While my emotions seem to be leveling out as of late, I find that certain situations throw off my balance – and this weekend was a perfect example of that.

It actually all started several weeks ago when we received an invitation for our dear friends, Lisa and Mike’s son’s 3rd birthday.  We received a similar invitation a year ago, but we respectfully declined feeling that the timing was too close to our loss of Rees and we just did not feel ready.  This year we decided we were going to face our fear and be with our friends as they celebrated the third year of life with their little boy, Sawyer.  Sam and I had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into, but nothing can totally prepare you for something you have never really experienced before…

Before I go any further, I need to provide a little background: Lisa was Samantha’s college roommate for three years in college.  They hit it off almost immediately in their freshman year, and were basically inseparable for their entire stay in college.  Mike was Lisa’s High School sweetheart who found his way to a college in Virginia near Lisa in much the same way I “happened” to attend a college that was near Samantha.  Upon my first meeting with Mike I knew this was someone who I would call a friend for life – and indeed my earliest inklings were correct.  For the past 19 years the four of us have shared a friendship that I believe is special and rare.  Together, we have shared almost all of life’s ups and downs together, never letting the 16 miles of Long Island Sound that physically separates us keep us apart in our hearts.

We were in each other’s wedding parties.  We suffered together through the sudden loss of Mike’s brother, Dan.  Our teaching careers all started around the same time and we subsequently celebrated the purchases of our first homes.  Every year around Memorial day, we always got together to camp on my property in upstate NY.  The four of us seemed to be locked into a mutual beat of life whose music we enjoyed making together.

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Before we knew it, the four of us became the six of us.  Only one month separated the birth of Lisa and Mike’s first son, Aidan and our Abby.  2 years later we both welcomed our second children, Calla and Lorilei, and the 6 became 8.  Four years later we seemingly capped off a trifecta of synchronization by both welcoming the birth of our third child.  December of 2010 blessed us with Rees, and May of 2011 blessed them with Sawyer.

Most of our friends were excited for me when Rees was born, but none more so than Mike.  He knew, more than others, how much having a boy meant to me.  The night I spoke to him about my early experiences with being the father of a boy for the first time his excitement was palpable.  He kept telling me to just wait and see – that it only gets better.  I never doubted him.  For the 22 months that Rees was with me Mike was spot on.  It always got better and better.

When Sawyer was born 5 months later I remember my excitement at the idea of our two boys playing together.  In my mind’s eye Rees and Sawyer would continue the friendship forged by their fathers and the connection between our families would remain long after we were gone.  It was the perfect book end to our experiences as fathers and friends.

The times we got together in the 17 months Rees and Sawyer shared was a joy to behold.  With each new visit I would observe quantum leaps in their interactions as each one developed new skills and their personalities emerged.  I specifically remember one trip to Connecticut where Rees was walking, but Sawyer was not yet.  Sawyer was sitting in a bumpo on the ground and he was playing with a ball.  Rees came over to him and just swiped the ball from Sawyer and walked towards me holding it up as if he had acquired some rare artifact that he was proud to display his acquisition of.  Sawyer sat there dumbfounded for several seconds and then began to wail over the theft of his ball by the more mobile Rees. I remember being mortified that Rees would “steal” from his friend and I accosted him.  His look of triumph immediately morphed into one of confusion and sadness as he too began to wail.  I told Rees to bring the ball back to Sawyer and he immediately pursed his lower lip, turned defiantly from me and proceeded to throw the ball back at Sawyer (I recall feeling guilty about noticing how well Rees the threw the ball and his impeccable aim- and the pride I felt at how well he threw it!).

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All Six…

To the best of my memory that was the last trip they ever saw each other.  The realization that there would be no further opportunities for Sawyer to play with Rees hit me hard.  Every time I see Sawyer now I see what could have been for my little boy.  Each milestone he achieves is something I will never experience with my own son. I feel jealous.  I feel envious.  I feel ashamed for feeling it.  It’s the ultimate catch 22, with my emotions stuck in the middle.  Mike was wrong, it doesn’t always get better.  Sometimes it gets worse…

Worse happened this weekend.  While friends and family of Sawyer sat around singing “Happy Birthday”, smiling and laughing the whole time, I spied Samantha on the other side of the room from me.  I saw her trying to smile, her eyes welling up with tears.  I knew she was feeling the same thing I was:  Rees should have been sitting in his own chair 5 months ago, and we should have been singing it to him.  She didn’t have to utter the words to me, I know what she was thinking.  There might as well have been an empty chair next to Sawyer during the party, because in both our minds’ eye, there was.  I was angry; not at Sawyer, not at my friends… but at life.  I just wanted to run away and feel nothing.  I can’t describe the mix of emotions that was going through me at the time.  It was all in one, sadness, anger, resentment, joy, and hope.  Emotions that had no business co-existing were present, all at once, and my mind just could not handle it.

After the singing was over I couldn’t find Sam.  I asked another college friend who was there where she went, and she told me she was in the restroom.  I knew exactly why she was there.  She couldn’t escape anymore than I could, and the restroom was her only place to release the emotions welling inside her away from everyone else.  She came out of the restroom a few minutes later, eyes swollen and red – but with a smile.  It was the smile every parent who has lost a child has learned to master: the I’m totally fine now, no need to worry about me, nothing to see here, move along please smile.  I know because it was the same smile I was wearing.

Sam and I have gotten really good at that smile in the past 19 months.  I admit, she is better at it than I am.  Mine still has a slight curl to my lip that belies my true feelings.  Sam, on the other hand, almost pulls it off.  In fact, if it weren’t for her swollen eyes, I may have even fallen for it.  I just held her and kissed her and we both must have looked ok because people offered us cake and talked with us like nothing was wrong – and that is exactly what we want.  We don’t people to know anything is wrong because we don’t want to bring them down.  Score one for fake smile.

I can honestly say I did not fake smile the rest of the weekend.  I don’t think Sam did either.  Once everyone else was gone, and it was just us and our good friends, there was no need to hide.  It was like old times.  Our children were playing, laughter was plentiful and all was right in the world – with one exception.  Every time I saw Sawyer I saw Rees.  I saw what Rees would be doing.  How tall he would be.  The toys he would be playing with.  It wasn’t all sad though:  I also saw hope.  I was able to pick up Sawyer and play with him.  He calls me “Uncle Wich”… and it just melts my heart.  In those quieter moments I found I was able to see my little boy through his eyes.  During many of those moments I imagined a parallel universe (that likely exists according to current scientific understanding) where Rees never died.  I wondered what is he like?  How has he changed?  Does he like Star Wars and Transformers?  Or is it something else?  Does he still love tractors?  Is he playing with Sawyer?  Are they best buddies?  I would like to think so.  I would like to think they are the best of friends in this place.  I only wish this place didn’t just exist in my mind.  I wish I were there right now, if only for a moment, so that I could tell our Sawyer all about the friend he never knew…