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Forever my Super Hero…

The enduring pain of child loss is the daily realization that, even though the event happened in a singular point in time, the loss continues every day. There is no past tense when it comes to your child’s death…  You are always losing that child over time.  Time robs the grieving parent, an imperceptibly small amount everyday, of the smells, feelings and emotions of what it was like to have them in your life.

There is so much about Rees’ brief life that I have already forgotten or tucked deep away in a corner of my mind.  It pains me to think that everyday finds myself losing just a little bit more of those memories of what it was like to have him with me.  I have tried so hard to hold onto everything I can of slightly less than two years worth of memories I have of him.  I have failed.  I am failing.

The dam of time has too many holes poked in it, and I cannot possibly plug them all.  I have been trying so hard to cover each one, that I failed to recognize the bigger picture:  I need to go with the flow…  I need to let the river of time do what it is supposed to do and carry me forward.  Plugging all the holes just isn’t possible.  I realize now that I am not supposed to remember everything.  In order to heal, I need to let go of the small stuff.  It never dawned on me, until relatively recently, that the healing process is all about letting go…
I need to focus on the big picture now.  I know there are moments in Rees’ life that I will simply never forget.  Those are the moments I need to hold on to and embrace.  Moments like the night before he died…  I remember almost everything about that night.  I remember his excitement in putting on the Superman costume for “Safe Halloween” at my wife’s school that evening.  I will never forget how it was almost impossible to get the costume on him because he wanted to just fly away the second he saw it.  I used to play “Super Baby” with him all the time, flying him around the house – zooming around up and down, Rees squealing with glee.  He was more than familiar with Superman, my favorite super hero, than just about any other figure outside of Mickey Mouse.  His eyes lit up when he saw that “S” shield and I think he really thought he was Superman when the costume finally found its way on him.

A Superboy...

A Superboy…

I remember placing him on the counter to take that now famous picture of him.  I had to keep bracing him, as he kept moving towards the edge like he could literally fly off the counter.  I had taken several photos of him that came out blurry due to his motion and found 2 out of the half dozen or so that came out ok.  Even after I took him off the counter, I kept taking pictures of him, including a picture of him in his car seat.  I couldn’t get enough.  My little boy dressed up like my favorite hero was just a perfect moment – and I wanted to remember it forever…

I swore he was in that seat again...

It may sound silly, but I was so proud to be his Daddy that night…  seeing him wearing the costume of my favorite hero, and his obvious joy at doing so, just made my heart smile.  I remember walking around with him on my shoulders;  Rees with his arms stretched out like he could fly, just like his Daddy’s favorite hero could.  If I had to choose a last moment of happiness with him, I really could not have come up with a better way to spend my last night with him.  My little boy dressed as Superman was pure joy; Plain and simple.

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This is the last picture ever taken of my little Super Hero…

“What is with your fascination with Superman?” – I get asked that question a lot now.  Why is Superman my favorite hero?  The answer often surprises people.  It’s not his strength, his ability to fly or the other powers he has that fascinates me.  The reason Superman is my favorite is because of what he chooses to do with that power.  In reality, Superman could have anything he wanted in his world.  He could take anything he wanted and never face any repercussions.  Someone with Superman’s power could dictate to the world his vision and enforce it with impunity.  Superman could easily do all this and more, yet, despite his great power, he chooses to live a life as a mild-mannered reporter and use his powers for good.  Superman is the ultimate figure of true kindness:  He gives and gives and never expects anything in return.  Why Superman?  Because he represents the best of us.  He represents what we can all be if we try.  Superman isn’t super because of his power.  Superman is super because of his restraint.

In many ways my little boy is really just like the costumed alter ego of Clark Kent.  He is larger than life, represents something bigger than himself, and is a source of inspiration.  The reality is that Richie is now a symbol of the power of kindness and his legacy is something that will inspire others to hopefully keep cultivating it worldwide.  Like Superman, he only exists now in the hearts and minds of those who his story has touched.  He is a symbol of the power of love to conquer the finality of death.

I have been so afraid of losing the memories of him that I failed to realize that there are some things I will never forget – and, perhaps more importantly, his story isn’t done being told.  Every little boy dreams of one day being a super hero.  I vividly remember 9 year old me having a conversation with my cousin that I thought that one day I was going to be a real super hero.  It turns out that 9 year old me was wrong.  I never grew up to be that super hero, but my little boy did. My little boy is an honest to goodness Super Hero to the countless children who are introduced to him through my book and our foundation.  While I may be losing some memories of my little Richie every day, the big picture will never fade.  The reality is that he will always be a hero to me and to others.  His memory is fueling a groundswell of kindness that is making a little difference in this world, one piece at a time.  What more can a real Super Hero ask for than to know they made a difference?

Kindness is the Super Power we all possess...

Kindness is the Super Power we all possess…

 

 

 

 

 

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In honor of this May’s National Water Safety Month, ReesSpecht Life and the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task force are teaming up to issue you a challenge to help raise awareness for water safety…

 Here are the rules for challenge:

  • Challenge your friends, co-workers, family to help promote Water Safety awareness!
  • Option 1:  Donate to the ReesSpecht the Water Campaign (We are a designated 501(c)(3) charity)
  • Option 2:  Apply any white cream to your nose (Zinc Oxide, Desitin, Beauty Cream, etc.) and take a picture of yourself wearing it.
  • Share your picture with us here below.  We will put your picture in the Gallery for the world to see you are a water safety superhero.
  • Try to wear the cream on your nose for the entire day.
  • If anyone asks you a question about why you are wearing the zinc oxide, or other white cream on your nose, explain to them that you are doing it to raise awareness for water safety and the ReesSpecht the Water Campaign.
  • Send them to our website (www.reesspechtlife.com) or the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task force’s homepage;  www.lidptf.org 
  • Challenge them to do the same.
  • Share on social media!  #RSW – Challenge your friends and use the hashtag to share!
  • We will hold a poll for the “Best” picture at the challenge’s end and those in the picture will be immortalized as characters in the second sequel to “A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness”.  Additionally, winners will receive signed copies of our first book and other ReesSpecht Life Swag <3

Help us spread the word about the importance of water safety.  Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children aged 1-4 and the second leading cause of death in children aged 1-14.  There are steps we can all take to prevent drownings – and awareness is the key to prevention.  Take our challenge, you may just save a life by doing it…

If you would like more information regarding ReesSpecht the Water and the Long Island Drowning Prevention Task Force please click on the following link for the ReesSpecht The Water Homepage.

RSW Picture

Bobby, Lisa, Caylee will start this awesome lifesaving challenge !

The Specht's accept the challenge!

The Specht’s accept the challenge!

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Abby and Lori Accept the challenge!

Saf -T-Swim swim schools completes the challenge

Saf -T-Swim swim schools completes the challenge

Saf -T-Swim swim schools completes the challenge

Saf -T-Swim swim schools completes the challenge

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Reporting for duty!

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Future ISR baby raising water safety awareness!!

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Avery post lesson sporting her white nose for ReesSpecht the Water Safety Challenge!

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Way to go Ben!

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Water safety rule number 1: always swim with a buddy, and look cute doing it! #isrbabies #livelikejake

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Lots of white noses at our pool today… and more to come!

 

reesIt would be an understatement to declare that the past few weeks have been a whirlwind for us…  My wife and I are still trying to come to grips with the idea that people, literally all over the world, know about Rees and our movement due to the incredibly generous act of one of my former students.  There are no words that can describe the feeling that we find ourselves washed in as people all over the globe share the story of $3,000 tip and the reason behind it.  All we ever wanted was for Rees’ brief, 22 month, life to have meaning – for him to make a difference.  In reality, all any of us ever really wants is to make a difference in this world.  Every person on planet earth makes a difference to someone… None of us are born in isolation and through our simple, day to day, human interactions we make a difference in other’s lives by default.

Some individuals make a difference to many people, others to only a few.  Some of us live long, quiet, lives, while others lives loud, short ones.  Most of us go through life making a difference to those select few whose live’s our own life touches.  If we are lucky enough to live a long life, and touch many people, I think most of us would count that as a life well lived.  Sadly, there are those few people like my little boy, that never get a chance to make much of a difference because their lives are cut short.

Rees has been gone from our physical world for longer than he was with us and in many ways his life almost feels like a dream.  It pains me to realize that I honestly forget much of what life was like with him here.  Thankfully, the milestones that our baby daughter, Melina, are going through help to remind us of some of those things we simply forgot.  Still, I forget his smell.  I forget his voice.  I find my recollection of his mannerisms “fuzzy” at best.  A child only needs a nano-second to imprint themselves on your heart forever, but the brain apparently doesn’t operate under the same set of rules.  I don’t want to forget my little boy…

My heart still remembers him.  My heart still feels him.  My heart aches for him.  My brain??  My brain seems to be letting go while my heart holds on to everything it can.  It’s a cruel dichotomy that I wish I could alter, but find myself powerless to.  My memories of him fade with each passing day and, with him gone,  there are no new memories to replace the moments of days past.  My heart carries him on, but my brain is letting him go.  In many ways I find myself losing him, just a little bit, more and more every day.  I know he made a difference in our lives for those 22 months, but the details are receding further and further from my reach.  It may be inevitable that I will lose much, if not most, of the memories I have of him.

One memory I have of Rees isn’t a real memory at all…  not in a visceral sense at least.  I know this particular memory is one that will never, ever fade from my memory – or  my heart.  The memory I am referring to is actually one that took place about a week after Rees died.  I was driving to Lowes Home Improvement to see if I could find a gas can and other necessities which were needed in the wake of Super Storm Sandy.  I was almost at the store when something made me look in the rearview mirror.  I nearly slammed into the car in front of me as I was completely distracted by what I saw in the mirror…  I swore I saw Rees, sitting in his car seat smiling at me.  I swear he was there.  It felt so real, and I even had a moment of relief where I felt as though I finally emerged from the nightmare I was a part of that week.  And then he was gone.  Poof.  All I could see was an empty car seat.  A visual reminder my little boy was gone forever…

I swore he was in that seat again...

I swore he was in that seat again…

I remember the emptiness I felt at looking at that vacant seat.  It was a visual reminder of the missing part of my soul.  It was also the first time I realized that one day I would forget what it was like to have him in that seat behind me.  It was the first time I became aware that I would forget him to some extent.  It was also the moment I decided that I was going to do everything in my power to prevent his memory from fading completely.  The song playing on the radio at that moment was perfectly timed…  it cemented my resolve to keep his memory alive long after mine is but a whisper in the wind:

Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame

That song touched a part of me and lit a fire inside that will never be quenched.  I used to believe that everything was a merely a coincidence and that the universe was just a random series of probabilities and that nothing had any real meaning in the end.  This was the first sign of many from my little boy.  There is a greater meaning to things.  I am sure of it.  Everything that has transpired over the past two years has confirmed my newfound beliefs.  The universe sends us messages – we just need to be open to them.  I never heard them before because I was never truly listening.  It’s no coincidence that the first time I tuned in, my little Rees sent me a sign and set me on my current mission.

 

A former student of mine interviewed me the other day and asked me about the fallout from the tip story going worldwide.  I shared with her the story about the song and seeing the image of Rees for the first time.  Upon hearing that she asked me if I felt like I had accomplished my goal…  The world knew Rees.  Mission accomplished?  Not quite.  I merely kept a promise to my little boy.  My real mission has only just begun…

The world does know his name...

The world does know his name…

I believe in the goodness in all of us.  I believe that kindness is the difference maker we all have sitting inside of us – some more latent than others.  My little boy set me on this mission to cultivate kindness in his name.  I was wrong about his 22 months being his only chance to make a difference.  Rees is making a difference all over the Earth.  Only a few people can ever say they made a difference worldwide.  My little boy is one of those people.  Memories may fade, but love never truly dies.  I carry the love of my little boy in my heart, and the world knows his name through that love.  I thought his story ended on that fall day in 2012.  I was wrong; it merely started a new chapter…

 

 

 

 

 

Help us help to make this world a kinder place, one Rees’ piece at a time…

We have two weeks left on our booster campaign to raise funds to help us print our Pay it forward cards and fund our school scholarships as well as our other charitable endeavours such as teacher grants and meal deliveries to those suffering in our community.  We are about halfway to our goal of 150 shirts sold and we know, with your help, we can easily surpass that goal.  Help us make a difference in other’s people’s lives – and show the world you believe in cultivating kindness.  You can order by clicking on the picture below or clicking HERE.  The ReesSpecht Life foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.

With each shirt purchased we move one step closer to making this world a kinder place, one Rees' piece at a time...

With each shirt purchased we move one step closer to making this world a kinder place, one Rees’ piece at a time… Click to order yours today.

 

editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2014 but has been updated to include recent events.

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. Continue reading