“You need to suck it up” – words, spoken to me by one of my older cousins about a week after my son died, that rock me now as much as they did two years ago.  Pain is weakness leaving your body!  Real men rise above the pain!  Men don’t cry, they water their beards!  All of these sayings are nothing more than euphemisms that hide the truth about men and our “strength”.  The reality is that many men’s greatest weakness is the facade they build to demonstrate their “strength”; a paper armor that cloaks weakness yet offers no protection.

I am done hiding my feelings behind the paper veil.  It is only weighing me down and keeping me from truly healing.  The truth is I am weak.  I cry, a lot.  In fact I am crying right now.  I cry myself to sleep at night when no one is awake to hear my sobbing.  I cry in the shower where my tears are but a drop in the torrent.  I weep in the middle of the day only to feign a yawn or blame it on an imaginary irritant.  It happens in plain sight, yet my mastery of the art of camouflage conceals it perfectly.  I know the facade works – every comment regarding my apparent “strength” confirms its effectiveness.  I don’t want to hide behind that veneer anymore.  I am tearing off the armor.

Two years later and I am still broken into little pieces and no, I am not “over” it.  It hurts more than I can possibly describe.  There are times where the pain of losing my little boy literally causes me to stagger, forcing me to right myself.  I sometimes want to run away and hide – and often do by distracting myself with mindless activities like playing video games or watching movies.  My ultimate distraction?  The foundation that Samantha and I founded in Rees’ name.  The more I do with the foundation, the less my mind focuses on Rees.  It’s ironic that something we made in his name is the very vehicle I use to escape his memory.  I am constantly on the run from my feelings.  I don’t want to run anymore.

I am jealous.  Every story shared by friends about their son’s milestones is a reminder of moments I will never have with my little boy.  Every birthday party, communion, graduation, wedding, or other milestone event reminds me of what I will miss out on with Rees.  Seeing fathers smiling with their sons invariably causes me to wonder what those moments would be like if only Rees was still here.  The truth is it hurts more than you can imagine, but the only way I can avoid the pain is to avoid being with the people I love.  I can’t cut myself off from others and I can’t help how I feel.  I am stuck being jealous for the rest of my life.  I don’t want to be jealous anymore.

I am angry.  So many things that used to be mild irritants now cause a rage to boil within me.  Hearing people complain about the minutiae of life’s little annoyances now stirs something primal in me.  The perspective forced upon me by Richie’s death makes hearing people complain about things of no consequence almost unbearable.  I often find myself wanting to shake people and tell them to get a grip and think about the things that really matter.  I find myself ignoring things that I should do, but I just don’t want to be bothered with because I feel those actions have very little consequence.  This of course affects my relationship with those around me, as they cannot wrap their heads around the fact that no, I am not going to drop everything and do X, because in the long run, it really doesn’t matter.  I don’t want to be angry anymore.

I am lonely.  Losing a child isolates you in a way that is difficult to describe.  People are put off by grief, especially if it goes beyond the arbitrary expiration date we often seem to place on the grieving process.  Friends and family try so hard to get you come back to a “normal” that is simply out of reach.  These attempts are concentrated in the beginning, but wane as time goes on and eventually dropped all together.  Friends and family eventually just settle back into a belief that time will heal this process and eventually believe that you are “ok”.  I am not ok.  I never will be.  I wish I could say that “I’m over it”, but the truth is that will never come to pass.  My love for my son was limitless, and the pain of losing him is commensurate.  I completely understand why others think that I am fine, or that I should be over it – but the fact remains that I never will be, and I know this alienates people who simply cannot understand it.  I don’t want to be lonely anymore.

I am restless.  Losing Rees shattered my unfounded belief that the world follows a specific set of rules and orders.  Children are supposed to outlive their parents.  Children spend a lifetime coming to grips with the eventuality of an empty chair where their parents once sat.  I saw this play out this weekend as I watched my family say goodbye to my Aunt Carol.  Her four children were at her side as she slowly succumbed to the cancer throughout her body.  In talking with my cousins I saw the realization of that fear of the inevitable coupled with the acceptance of the natural order of things.  Even though she was only 66, there was an air of acknowledgement that this is what we as children spend our whole lives preparing for.  Children build a natural foundation designed to bear the burden of that loss because we expect it to happen.  Losing a child affords the grieving parent nothing on which to buttress our distress.  The loss of a child upends the natural order and calls into question every other aspect of life we assume to be a given.  This disruption permeates every decision, every action and every emotion going forward.  It creates an acute awareness of threats lurking around us and makes you anticipate the dropping of the next shoe.  It is unnerving.  I don’t want to be restless anymore.

I am different. Losing a child creates profound changes in the heart and soul of grieving parents, but there is an almost imperceptible change on the outside that occurs as well.  Look at the eyes of any grieving parent and you will see it – especially if you have a photo of that person “before”.  The eyes are said to be the windows to our soul and when that soul is shattered, the eyes reveal the fissures.  Last night, as I was looking at pictures of my wife, I noticed it.  Her smile before losing Rees was different than after.  In almost every picture from the past two years her eyes belie the pain she is hiding within.  It stands out to me like a scarlet letter emblazoned on her soul.  It’s a look that is shared by almost every grieving parent and once you see it, you cannot ever “unsee” it.  I hate seeing the pain on her face, and I know she feels the same about me.  The hint of sadness behind her eyes is a reminder that we will never be the same again – and I hate being reminded about it.  I want to be same… I don’t want to be different anymore.

I don’t want to run, be angry, restless, different or lonely anymore but I have no choice.  My favorite movie told me I need to “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”.  I don’t want to die, but it is almost as if I am to afraid to truly live – that doing so would leave behind even more of Rees’ pieces.  I know now, perhaps more than most, that life does not ever follow the script we write for ourselves.  In fact, I don’t think there is script at all.  Life is improvised.  We never know what the next moment is going to bring and the past is something we leave behind every moment.  The only thing I have is right now.  Right now I was supposed to have Rees by my side, but that just isn’t possible.  If I can’t have him beside me I will simply move forward with the pieces that remain behind as reminders of what could have been.  I am what I am, take it or leave it.  In many ways I died along with Rees in that pond, but that was a different person.  I need to accept the new person I am, baggage and all.  I will not stop moving forward until the day comes where my body can no longer keep up with my soul’s will.  Until then, I will spend my remaining time making others lives better in memory of my little boy.  I will fight to prevent other children from suffering the same fate as Richie.  I will pick up the pieces along way and proudly make them a part of me.  I don’t want to be the person I was… he’s gone.  I just need to be the best me I can be right here and now.  I don’t need to adhere to some social stereotype that says I need to suck it up and hide how I truly feel.  I don’t want to be anyone else but me – and that’s a real man.

I would trade all the treasure in the world to hold my little boy again.

I would trade all the treasure in the world to hold my little boy again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FB

The ReesSpecht Life Foundation owes a great deal of its success to Facebook.  Facebook’s open platform and ease of use, combined with its almost universal appeal, gave our fledgling movement a chance to grow that would be impossible anywhere else.  From our first “pay it forward” card experience, to our early fundraisers, Facebook was there to share our ups and downs as my family came to grips with loss of our 22 month old son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht, in October of 2012.  Indeed, the foundation of our entire movement is rooted in the over fifty thousand people who hit that “thumbs up” button and decided to follow what we were doing.  Each month saw us growing by leaps and bounds thanks to the ease by which Facebook allowed us to share with our followers in a way that no other platform before or since could hope to match.

My love affair with Facebook grew on a daily basis as my family and I watched “Like” after “Like” pop up on our screens. It was a welcome distraction to see our like tally burgeon on a daily basis.  With each new “Like” our following expanded and so did our ability to help people.  The bigger our following grew, the more good we seemed to inspire and, up until relatively recently, facebook was the primary vector by which we accomplished it.  Not anymore…

For many pages like us, Facebook is a mere shell of what it once was.  I don’t want to be the person who immediately starts to complain about corporate greed, but it certainly feels that way regarding the detrimental changes Facebook has implemented in the past year or so .  Whereas once our posts used to reach the majority of those who liked our page, we now find less than 10% see our posts today… with that number rapidly declining on a daily basis. Of course it is not a coincidence that this lowering of our reach coincided with the introduction of the ability to “boost” our posts by paying to have Facebook share them with the people who already decided they liked what we were doing in the first place.  Now if I want the foundation to reach that same number of people I am forced to spend money to do so.  For a non-profit organization, especially a small one, this is simply not feasible.  The money we raise is meant to help others through adversity, to promote kindness, and reward the young men and women in our community who demonstrate a commitment to community, compassion and respect.  I understand the necessity of Facebook to raise revenue for their investors, but distributing the load equally among non-profits and big corporations alike is at best greedy, and at worst destructive.

I cannot tell you the number of fellow non-profits who have told me that they are giving up on Facebook because it just does not work for them anymore.  Unless they post a picture of a baby, or funny meme, their posts are seen by so few as to make the time it takes to put a post together with actual information worthless.  Why bother sharing about your fundraiser or charity event if no one can see it anyhow?  In fact, it was my own experience with trying to share information for our own fundraiser to raise funds for drowning prevention that inspired me to write this.  What good is having 52,000 “likes” if those people can’t see the posts I making in the first place?  It is incredibly disheartening that the very people who could stand to benefit the most from the potential of Facebook (and what it used to be) are giving it all up because of something that is easily addressed and correctable.

As of this writing, Facebook offers no discounts, benefits or other “perks” that help a non-profit reach their user base.  The rate Facebook charges our 501 (c)(3) charity to share a post about our fundraiser to prevent drowning (the cause of the death of our little boy) to 52,000 followers is the same they would charge the likes of Coca-Cola to advertise their newest soft drink.  Other social media outlets, such as Google, offer discounts/reduced fees to non-profits, but Facebook, it seems, cannot be bothered.  As the President of a foundation that is all about community, compassion and respect I find the apparent apathy on Facebook’s part regarding this issue particularly disturbing.

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” 
― Elie Wiesel

Facebook has the power to correct this.  With just a little bit of coding they can easily implement a system that alters their algorithm that artificially limits the reach of registered non-profits.  If I ‘Like” a page, especially that of a non-profit, it is because I am interested in what they doing and wish to be a part of it.  The people who like our page our interested in making this world a better place.  Others who like a page for a foundation battling diseases like cancer and alzheimers do so because they want to be a part of something that makes a difference in their lives or the lives of their loved ones.  We cannot make a difference if no one can hear our message.  Facebook, you represent a venue that can make it possible for those of us who dedicate our lives, with little or no remuneration, to making the world we share a better one.  It is my sincere hope that someone who is responsible for making the “big” decisions sees this.  Imagine a world where those who dedicate their lives to making it better are heard loud and clear and don’t need to break the bank to do it!  Facebook, you can make that happen.  The world is waiting…

Please share this post with others and ask them to share it.  The power we have in our collective will is something we often overlook.  Help us make a difference.  Request that Facebook consider changing its policy regarding non-profits.

ReesSpechtfully,

Rich Signature

 

 

 

 

Richard Specht

President.

ReesSpecht Life Foundation, Inc.

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Every parent I know would sacrifice all they are, all they have, to protect their children.  It is an immutable instinct ingrained in everyone of us.  From the moment our children come into this world we are both blessed with unending love and cursed with perpetual fear of losing that love.  When your child dies, regardless of the cause, a certain feeling of failure washes over you with the realization of that fear.

A little over two years ago I found myself realizing that fear.  The pain of losing my little boy is as acute today as it was on that fall day in 2012.  Some say the pain of loss and the accompanying grief is commensurate with the love.  I can confirm the accuracy of that statement: Unending love produces limitless pain.  My father used to tell me that “Pain is nature’s way of letting you know you are still alive.”.  Well I can definitively state that I am most assuredly alive… I am unwelcomely reminded of it nearly every waking moment of my life.

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

~Bernice Johnson Reagon

Rees’ death represents the ultimate challenge to me.  That challenge began the moment I held his lifeless body in that hospital, and grew exponentially when I returned home that night.  I remember seeing my best friend crying and blaming himself and I did what I thought was the right thing to do, what I felt in my heart:  I told him it was an accident and that I would never blame him for what happened.  I was half lying at the time…  a part of me did blame him.  I knew I could not say it to him, but so many “whys?” begged to be answered… Why did he think it was ok to leave a 22 month old in the driveway of my home?  How could he go back inside and watch TV?  Why didn’t I blame him?  Because part of me blamed myself, and the other part knew saying those things would only serve to make an untenable situation even worse.  Instead of asking my friend those “whys?”, I inquired with myself:  Why didn’t I just close those garage doors and go inside?  Why did I have to secure those damn doors?  Why didn’t I hear my little boy wander off and fall into the pond?  Those “whys?” were just as impossible to answer for myself as they were for him.  The reason I didn’t blame my friend is because, in reality it was nothing more than an accident and there was no one to blame…

Of course Child Protective Services felt differently.  That agency and their hierarchy needed to assign blame.  And so they did.  On me.  According to them it was my fault for not being aware of where Rees was after I closed those garage doors.  It was my lack of communication with my friend that ultimately led to my son’s death.  CPS completely exonerated my friend and decided it was I who was culpable. They were going to put my name on a child abuse registry and label me something terrible, simply because they needed to show results and I made the mistake of allowing them through my door.  They dragged my family and I down through an additional level of hell; all so that they could justify their existence.  

Sadly, my friend was not there for me through all this.  He abandoned me when I needed him most and, to be honest, that hurts more than any feelings I may still harbor about his potential “fault” regarding Rees’ death.  I forgive him for the accident.  It’s harder for me to forgive him for abandoning me in my time of need.  One of the last conversations I had with my friend was about why he would not help me with the case CPS was making against me.  I asked him why he couldn’t be there for me like I was always there for him.  His answer said it all:  “I want to have kids one day, and I don’t need this label hanging over me”.  His sense of self preservation meant more to him than our friendship.  He didn’t purposely let Rees fall into that water, but he had no problem pushing me into the fire…

Do you know how steel is made stronger? It goes through fire. Do you know how gold is purified? It goes through fire. The best and strongest things in life always go through fire.

~annonymous

I forgive my friend.  I realize that what he did was a reflection of his weakness, and to some extent, his guilt.  I can’t judge him for making a decision that I am sure haunts him and eats away at his soul.  In some ways I actually want to thank him for thrusting me into a position where I was forced to fight and take a stand.  The hotter the fire, the stronger the steel that emerges from those flames.  That life trial tempered my resolve to make a difference in this world.  Knowing I could withstand some of the worst life can offer and get back up again proved to me that I could see my goal of making this world a better place through;  no matter how difficult the path may appear.  A part of me still hopes to see a message from him on my phone, or have him show up at my door one day.  I think the first words I would say are “Thank you”.  As for the next words?   Well I have not really thought that far into the conversation – and to be honest I don’t think it will ever happen anyway.  (So if you are reading this, know that I truly forgive you…)

My mother and father both used to tell me this all the time...

My mother and father both used to tell me this all the time…

I still think about my friend.  A lot.  We were basically inseparable since first grade, so there exists a plethora of everyday cues that remind me of one experience or another.  I really don’t have another friend in my life like him anymore, and I miss that feeling of having someone who you can share just about anything with.  I understand why he did what he did – even though I cannot condone it.  CPS put him in the position of choosing himself over his friend.  I don’t blame him.  I blame the faceless bureaucrats who needed to excise their pound of flesh in order to show “results”.  Regardless of blame, the very simple truth remains that my family and I made our way through this trial and we are stronger because of it.  I truly believe that anything is possible now, and I know I am capable of paying the price necessary to achieve my goals.

What I wouldn't give to hold him again...

What I wouldn’t give to hold him again…

For everything there is a price… the cost of growth is adversity.  Pain and suffering can either debilitate you, or inspire you.  I choose inspiration.  I choose to take my endless love for Rees and channel that pain into something that will make a difference. I don’t expect others to understand it, or even accept it.  I just want to do what I feel I need to do.  My little boy gave me a mission that I will never stop pursuing.  My restless pursuit isn’t for fame, fortune or notierity.  My restlessness resides in my unending love for a little boy who I will never cradle again in my arms, but will hold forever in my heart.  I will continue to try and take the high road and be the person that I hope makes my little Richie proud.  I will continue to look out for my friend, in hopes that one day I can at least have a chance to tell him how I feel, face to face.  Until then, I will press on with my mission to spread kindness in Rees’ name, and make this world a kinder place, one little piece at a time.

manonbench

 

 

ReesSpecht Life is proud to announce that we are booking school shows (and other institutions)  for this summer and next school year (2015-2016).

If you are interested in having Rich come and share our message of kindness and how a change in our perspectives can make the world a better place, contact the foundation at [email protected] or call 631-353-9924.

Dates are filling up fast!

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