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“Time heals all wounds”…  If I had a penny for every time someone has told me that I would most certainly be very wealthy right now.  I certainly do not know who was the first to utter those words, but I would be willing to wager my unseen earnings that the person who coined that phrase did not lose a child.  Two years and four months after losing my little boy I can most assuredly state that my wounds are not healed.  Not only are they not healed, but in many ways the wound is just a fresh as it was on that fall day.  I still find my breath taken away by random visions of my little boy’s motionless body floating in that pond.  Those images have no no periodicity that I can discern which makes their unwelcomed visits all the more disturbing.  Time has not eased the intensity of the ache that manifests as a persistent pressure in my chest that boils up towards my jaw, always threatening to erupt, but never quite reaching the critical mass necessary to do so.

That ache that feels so palpable to me is apparently undetectable to most everyone else; an invisible wound that only people who have felt this loss can comprehend.  It feels so exclusionary to say this, but it’s true… the only people who can understand the turmoil that child loss creates in your soul are others who have lost a child themselves.  The death of a child places us in an fraternity that we never wanted to be a part of – and can never, ever cancel our membership in.  The dues are paid on a daily basis, with no hope of ever remunerating the full price of admission.  The more I speak to parents who have lost children, the more I understand that no matter how much time passes, the pain is always there – It never, ever leaves.  The river of time cannot wash this pain away – at least not all of it.

Parents who lose a child always experience the loss.  People often feel the urge to put that loss in the past tense, but those of us who know the pain can truly understand why it should always be placed in the present.  More than two years after losing Rees we are still experiencing it – and will continue to, in perpetuity, because losing a child robs you of your future.  That is why child loss hurts so much.  Your children are the promise of life after your inevitable death.  Our children are the present, tangible, manifestation of our eternal lives.  The loss of a child is the loss of life eternal…

Eternity is a long time.  Actually, it’s the longest time.   Almost every parent that I have spoken to that has lost a child has pointed out that time itself becomes something of an adversary to them.  To understand the adversary, you must understand its nature – and time has a very distinct nature.  Time flows like a river, with the past left in your wake and the future shrouded in a mist that obscures the destination.  The only part of the river we can navigate are the waters we are in at the present.  From our vantage point in the present we can see our wake and anticipate the future, but we are absolutely powerless to affect either. Therein lies the ultimate, 3 pronged, cruelty of time:  First, while we can see the wake of times past we cannot go in reverse to undo that terrible moment.  Second, the essence of time makes you equally as powerless to speed up it’s flow so that you can put more distance between your present and that awful moment.  Third, here in the present,  you can see the empty spot on your raft of life that should be occupied by your child.  The empty seat hurts the most.  No matter where you look, aft, stern, port or bow that empty seat is always right there and there is nothing you can do to avoid it.

It would be nice if you could simply look past that empty spot, but you can’t.   The only option is to start to embrace time and experience everything you need to experience.  Feel every feeling that pulses through you.  Don’t suppress the pain, or the sadness… Rather let it flow through you and you will find that the river of time will erode away the edges of the wound, softening it, diminishing it. The river of time will gradually slow the ebb and flow of the pain to a point where you can navigate through the troubled waters of life with confidence.  It took me a while to figure this out.  My first instinct was to try and damn up the river – and that was the mistake I made.

You can’t stem the flow of time, or the pain it carries with it.  When you try, the damn you create merely holds it until it reaches it’s breaking point and bursts through. When that damn bursts there is nothing you can do about the collateral damage it inevitably causes, which only then creates more pain.  Left to this, a vicious cycle keeps going, destroying you – and maybe those around you in the process.  There is only one way, at least that I have found, that can stop the cycle: Feeling everything.  When that pain hits you, let it flow through you.  If you feel like screaming, scream!  If you have an urge to punch something, do it (I punch and scream into a pillow – two for one!).  I found ways to let the pain flow creatively too.  I started to write.  I started this blog, which started a movement in Rees’ name, which put my wife and I on a path we would have never have guessed we would find ourselves…

Through it all I made sure to feel that pain, get to know it, and lay claim to it.  A friend of mine, who is an author and has experienced a similar loss, said that his pain made him put up a wall to try and block it.  He realized that the wall was never good at holding it back, so he decided to push the wall over and turn it into a raft.  That is what you need to do in the case of child loss.  Turn that wall you want to put up into a raft and ride it out.  The river runs forever and given time, it will erode away that intense pain to a more manageable one.

I can honestly say that my waters are calmer now, but the ride and it’s pain keeps going.  I still have those moments where the pain feels fresh and new.  The sharp edges of my pain have yet to erode away completely.  I know it will never go away completely, but that is understandable… afterall it was borne out of the purest love there is.  The pain and my love for Rees are inexorably tied together.  Since my love for him will never die, neither will the hurt.  I think the key to appreciating my present more is learning how to reconcile that dichotomy.  The key is accepting you can’t alter the flow of the river, you can only float along with it and go wherever it takes you.  I still see that awful moment in the wake of my journey – but every day gets me closer to where I want to go and further from that moment.   I know we will be together again one day. Hope is knowing that each day brings me a little closer to my little boy, even though time takes me further away. Happiness is trying to enjoy the ride, one little piece at time…

How can I not enjoy the ride with this little girl by my side?

How can I not enjoy the ride with this little girl by my side?








rees1The picture you see to the left is a picture of my little boy, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht.  He will never grow up to experience any of life’s great adventures. He will never kiss a girl.  He will never ride a bike or fly a hang glider.  My little boy will never throw a baseball or catch a football.  Why?  Because he was taken from us two years ago in a tragic accident that was a result of a simple miscommunication.  My little “Rees” will never do any of those things I mentioned, but that doesn’t mean his brief life wont make a difference and change the world…

By now I am sure that many of you have seen the Nationwide Insurance commercial depicting a dead boy recounting all the things that he will never get to do that aired during the SuperBowl yesterday and have your own opinions about whether or not it was tasteful or not.  To be perfectly honest, it was extremely traumatic to my family and I.  Why?  simply because it hit a nerve – and I am sure that was the intent all along: To strike a nerve.  The problem lies in the fact that for grieving parents and siblings, that nerve is raw and exposed and even a slight brush against it causes distress.  When that nerve is struck forcefully, and with purpose, the pain is overwhelming…

I have written before, several times, that parents who have lost a child need no reminder of their loss; they live with it every second of every day.  The problem I, and many others, had with the commercial from Nationwide was not the message that parents need to be vigilant about household safety.  Indeed, that message is so incredibly important I simply cannot stress it enough with words alone.  Parents do need to be made aware of the seemingly benign dangers that lurk around their homes.  To be honest, my wife and I were naive about many of the facets of drowning and drowning prevention.  Things I have learned in the wake of the loss of Rees may have prevented this tragedy to begin with.  We have shared what we learned in the aftermath with others and even forged a relationship with the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force (www.lidptf.org) to help educate parents and children about the importance of water safety.  Education about the dangers in our homes is the only thing that can potentially prevent the accidental death of a child. 

Nationwide Insurance attempted to convey that message to the over 100 million people watching the game last night.  It appears, like us, most of the viewing audience was put off or hurt by the ad in question.  A small number of parents reached out to me on our facebook page (facebook.com/reesspechtlife) to express that while the commercial was difficult to watch – and maybe over the top, it did serve an important role in opening up people’s minds to the dangers to their children that lurk within their homes.  I do not take issue with Nationwide opening up meaningful discourse about child safety.  What I take umbrage with is them sensationalizing it for a shock factor that makes people lose site of the actual issue…

I really feel as though Nationwide lost a tremendous opportunity to get people talking about child safety.  Instead, I find that on the morning after, people are debating the appropriateness of the spot and not the message itself.  It seems like in this day and age the only way to get people’s attention is to be abrasive and “edgy”.  Our society is littered with pop-stars and celebrities who pull outrageous stunts to get attention at all costs – attention that rewards them monetarily.  Television is littered with ‘Reality” tv that portrays people on the fringe of society and depicts them as though they are the norm, all in the name of garnering the viewership of people who advertisers can sell their wares to.

The ad in question seems culled from that same school of thought.  I have no doubt that Nationwide Insurance wants to help protect families.  On the other hand, I am acutely aware that as a for-profit corporation they have a bottom line to adhere to.  No company forks out 4.5 million dollars for an advertisement without at least some thought as to how it will effect their bottom line.  Am I to believe that Nationwide made this ad thinking that everyone who watched it would divine the higher meaning to the ad and nothing more?  There had to be discussions about this advertisement’s effect on their profits, and I just cannot believe that they would have approved it if they thought it would have the deleterious impact it appears to be having.

I do believe that those who conceived this “Make Safe Happen” campaign did so with the grandest of intentions.  What concerns me is that appears that nowhere in the process did anyone stop and think about what effect this ad for that campaign would have on families who have already suffered this loss.  Were there any conscientious objectors who said “maybe this isn’t the best way to get this important message across?”?  What may be even more frightening is that there were indeed many people who objected, who in turn were overruled by the zealousness of a few, powerful individuals.  I don’t know which idea is more disturbing…

There are some who completely disagree with my personal take on this issue.  They have argued that if the ad serves to help even one family save a child then it was worth it.  How can I argue with that?  It is true, this ad may very well have saved some lives.  The problem is, a more thoughtful, less traumatic ad could have done the same and would not have caused the distraction from the message that this particular ad did.  For every child they may have saved, there were children and families that their delivery of the message traumatized.  My wife, whose smiles are something I cherish now more than ever, was devastated by the ad.  Our pre-commercial jocularity was replaced with remorse and pain.

To me, the real damage was that Nationwide blindsided families that are suffering EVERY day with this pain during a time when our families are together celebrating a national pastime. What should have been joyous occasion was ruined by their poorly executed ad that could have gotten the same message across without being so traumatizing to families that are all too aware of what they are missing out on.  The ends do not justify the means.

So what does Nationwide do now?  I have a feeling they will only double-down on defending their ad.  According to Yahoo News (link) Their CMO, Matt Jauchius, issued a pre-made defense that stated:

The purpose of the ad is to, in a way, stage an intervention on this issue. We’re serious about it and we wanted the ad to reflect that. The question was, what level of intervention did we want to stage? If you go funny or lighthearted with this topic, it might offend people, but beyond that it might not be effective in breaking through and creating awareness of this problem. We chose a more serious tone precisely because it will be so different than most commercials during the Super Bowl. We went that way to create awareness in consumers’ minds [emphasis added] that this is the number one killer of children in the US. Most people don’t know that.”   (Yahoo News)

I find it interesting that they were afraid that taking a light-hearted approach would offend people, but they apparently did not think the way they presented it would.  The unfortunate irony that they were so afraid to offend people that they really offended isn’t lost on me.  Irony aside, my biggest issue is that he acknowledges that this was being made for consumers, not parents.  Consumers?  Really?  Consumers of what? – oh yeah, the insurance you just happen to sell that could at least provide a financial band-aid to your family if you are unlucky enough to be one of the unfortunate few parents who have suffered this tragedy.

I guess what it really comes down to is that overall I find the ad to be disingenuous in its overall aim.  If Nationwide were ONLY interested in promoting safety they could always find a non-profit organization like the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force and support them in their efforts.  The $4.5 million they could give to those agencies that are truly about only serving the greater good could go a lot further to save a lot more lives than the divisive campaign they have engineered.  Nationwide can’t take back what they did last night, but they can make it better.  An apology for their insensitivity to the countless parents who lost children to accidents who were subjected to that ad would be a nice start.  A better notion?  Support foundations that are already educating parents on the dangers that lurk in their homes.

The ReesSpecht Life Foundation is a relatively small foundation that serves to enrich our community by cultivating kindness in children and adults alike.  In addition to our goal of making this world a kinder place, we have partnered with the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force to help fund their education programs to teach parents and children the importance of water safety.  This spring we will be unveiling our joint effort called “ReesSpecht the Water” that will look to raise awareness about water safety all over Long Island and beyond.  I invite Nationwide Insurance, and any other corporation that claims to be about promoting safety, to put their money where it truly makes a difference and support groups like these.

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My little boy will never grow up.  I will never get to hold him again.  I know what I am missing out on – but I also know that it is possible to take the worst that life can throw at you and turn it into something good.  Nationwide Insurance made a misstep with their advertisement, but it is within their reach to make something better from that.  Let’s make this world a safer place for children, one little piece at a time…