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. Continue reading

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!

teacher2

 

 

 

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. Continue reading

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.

100_7142

To say I was a proud papa is an understatement…

img_0771

A little boy, being a little boy…

img_0811

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”.

img_0805

100_4800

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…

photo 2

Here’s looking at you, Kid.

photo 1

This is my good side…