My little rainbow...

Melina Arya Specht. 22 Months old.

For 22 months and eight days I feared that my little girl would somehow not see this day. From the moment that our daughter, Melina Arya Specht, was born the date of 8/24/16 immediately stood out as a milestone that I would rather not think about. Yet, much like an onlooker to an accident scene, it was something I could never fully remove my gaze from.  The reason that particular date held such significance is because it marked the moment that my baby girl would be in our lives as long as her older brother, Rees.  Twenty two months, eight days.  My little boy’s entire lifetime…

They say having a child changes everything – and, to be honest, no truer words have ever been spoken.  Sadly, if having a child changes your world, then losing one only shatters it.  Our world was shattered on October 27th, 2012 when my  22 month and eight day old son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht (Rees), drowned in our backyard pond.  Like all of the bereaved parents before us, we have faced the painful challenge of trying to piece that world back together as best we can.  Try as though we might, no matter how well we pick up those pieces there simply remains pieces that are just not recoverable.  The result is that our reassembled world remains forever fractured and incomplete.

Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht. 22 months, 7 days old.

Richard Edwin-Ehmer Specht. 22 months old.

From the moment you lose a child you go about this reconstruction process.  Sometimes the pieces go back together so well that you can afford yourself the chance to smile at how well they fit.  Other times, most of the times, the pieces seem to not quite fit back together the way they did; leaving you frustrated and angry.  This is the life of a bereaved parent.  Some days are good.  Many are not – and ALL of them are forever changed.  The future, once so bright and full of hopes and dreams, becomes a reminder of what you have lost.  The past, on the other hand, becomes a painful reminder of a promise lost.

When I try to explain the long-term feelings of bereaved parents the best description I have is that future becomes intrinsically linked to the past. Parents who lose a child are constantly reconciling and comparing the future to the past.  Our relationship with time changes completely. The point at which they lost their child becomes a nexus that differentiates between the life they have now and the one they want back, more than anything. It is the genesis of what I like to call the “will be’s” and “would be’s”.

Every bereaved parent becomes well versed in the “will/would be’s”.  We constantly find ourselves looking at dates such as birthdays, holidays, life milestones and think about how things “would be” if our deceased child were still here.  It never, ever stops. We are almost four years out from when our son passed and I never stop thinking about what would have been.  What’s worse, is that when I am not thinking about what “would be”, I find myself constantly fixated on the “It will be’s”.  Bereaved parents constantly look at the future and see dates in this manner.  On October 27th of this year it will be four since we lost Rees.  On December 19th it will be five birthdays we have spent without him.  For parents who have lost a child, the pain is omnipresent, existing simultaneously in the past, present and future…

The first moment I held her...

The first moment I held her…

I vividly recall that on October 17th of 2014, after all the euphoria of Melina’s entry into the world had subsided, how betrayed I felt by my thoughts when I did the math to figure out when she would be older than Rees ever was.  From that moment on, August 25th 2016 became a “will be”.  As the date drew nearer and nearer I found myself obsessing over it more and more.  I found myself depressed as I realized just how short the time I had with her, and by extension Rees, was.  These twenty two months went by in what feels like an instant.  The past few weeks saw me trying to savor each hug, laugh and kiss goodnight just a little more than usual.  It was almost as if it was my chance to do what I never did with my little boy.  When yesterday arrived I found myself counting down the hours – again trying to savor every moment with her.  Before I knew it, the time had passed.  As of last night, Melina officially grew older than her big brother.  There are no more comparisons to make.  No more dates to look to in fear or apprehension.  The course ahead is uncharted, with clearing skies above…

It is often stated that children born to bereaved parents are called a rainbow babies.  What better way to describe everything me and my family have been through.  Rees was taken from us in the shadow of Hurricane Sandy.  His passing was the figurative storm that I found myself navigating through until this day.  The thing about storms is that they don’t remain stationary.  They are constantly in motion.  What I realized this morning is that I haven’t been navigating past the storm – I have been navigating with it.  Focusing on the “will/would be’s” keeps me in the same position relative to it.  They say rainbows come after the storm.  It turns out the rainbow has been there for twenty two months and eight days; I just didn’t see it because I was trying too hard to keep up with the storm.  It’s time to chase my rainbow and let the storm move on…

another rainbow, another sign

another rainbow, another sign

 

headshot squareRICH SPECHT is a father of four who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Mary Washington and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Stony Brook University.  Prior to embarking on his career as a public speaker and advocate for kindness, Rich was a science teacher for 15 years at Great Hollow Middle School, in Nesconset, New York.  In addition to his speaking, Rich is also the published author of the award winning children’s book  A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness.  Rich and his wife, Samantha, are the co-founders of the ReesSpecht Life Foundation which they formed in the wake of the loss of their only son, Richard Edwin-Ehmer (Rees) Specht at 22 months old.  The acts of kindness that the family received after Rees’ passing inspired them to “pay forward” that kindness; which the foundation does in the form of scholarships for High School seniors who demonstrate a commitment to their community, compassion and respect, as well as the distribution of almost four hundred thousand ReesSpecht Life “pay it forward” cards.  The themes and characters from Rich’s book(s) are currently slated to become an animated children’s television series produced by Safier Entertainment.  The book and television adaptations of A Little Rees Specht Cultivates Kindness represents the culmination of Rich’s goal to help make this world a little better, one Rees’ piece at a time.  Rich currently resides in Sound Beach, New York with his wife, Samantha, daughters, Abigail, Lorilei and Melina as well as his angel above, Rees.

shouldbeThis past Father’s day I was presented with a gift pictured to the left. Nothing brings more joy to my heart than to see my children together, smiling and enjoying each other’s company.  When I think of being a father, my mind’s eye paints a picture very similar to this.  The problem is this moment only exists in my dreams…

The image you see is the closest I will ever get to seeing all of my children together. It’s an illusion. Bittersweet is the only word that I can think of that describes it: A representation of the world as it should be, yet a reminder of what I will never have.

The feelings that washed over me when my eyes gazed upon this scene were a unique mix of pure joy, wish fulfillment and utter sorrow – all wrapped up into one beautiful moment.  How could something elicit such feelings yet be considered a positive thing?  It’s simple; it is a microcosm of my life since losing my little boy on October 27th, 2012. Joy and despair coexist in my heart at all times.  This picture is my life sketched into one frame that encapsulates everything I feel all the time.  Joy and pain standing side by side, holding hands forever.

This picture could serve as a constant reminder of what I lost.  Somehow I don’t think that was the artist’s intent though. If it were, an empty space would occupy where Rees is standing.  Not including Rees in the picture would be a manifestation of every grieving parent’s fear that their child will be forgotten.  The parent will never forget, but there is a very real fear that others will. Rees isn’t standing there with his sisters as a reminder of what I lost. He’s standing there as a reminder of what I will always have.  No one can take his memory away from me and from others.  No amount of time can ever diminish my love for him.  This picture is not a reminder of loss – it’s an affirmation of love.

The duality of pain and love that coexist in a grieving parent’s soul is something that I thought those who have never lost a child could ever understand.  I have struggled to put into words what it feels like.  This picture has changed that for me.  Everyone who has seen the picture has had the same reaction to it; mixed feelings of overwhelming sadness and pure joy.  Hope and despair coexisting at one time.  Bittersweet, but beautiful. I realized people were experiencing, albeit briefly, how a grieving parent feels perpetually. That bitter-sweetness that never fades, never rests and never, ever goes away.  If you know our story you simply cannot look at this picture any other way.  That feeling is the feeling a grieving parent faces every waking moment (and even many asleep) of every single day.

Losing a child changes the way you see the world in profound ways.  It has granted me a perspective that forces me to focus on what I have as opposed to constantly feeding the twin beasts of “what could have been” and “what was”.  I have three beautiful daughters who fill my heart with indescribable joy.  I have the most amazing companion and soulmate who has remained by my side through the darkest of times.  I have a roof over my head.  I have my health.  I am alive.  Life is the greatest gift of all and, ironically, the one that I never really stopped to appreciate all that much until I lost a big part of what I live for.

The loss of my little boy forced me to think about life in a new way.  Recalling that last embrace of Rees’ lifeless body contrasts an eerie similarity to the first time I held him.  A nurse handed him to me, wrapped in a blanket, for me to cradle in my loving arms. Whereas my first embrace filled me with the hopes and dreams of a happy future, the last served as its dark reflection filled with despair, hopelessness and anger.

As I held him that last time I kept thinking how he looked like he could just open his eyes at me and smile at any moment.  He looked as perfect on the outside in my last embrace as he did 22 months earlier in my first.  The only difference was the absence of the spark of life leaving me holding an empty vessel.  It made me realize just how tenuous our connection to life really is.

As much as I really don’t want to admit it, losing my little boy made me realize just how much his life, and the lives of all of my family and friends mean to me.  They say you can’t really appreciate something until it’s gone.  It sounds so shallow for me to write that, but it is the truth.  It’s not that I didn’t care about life before my son’s death, it’s simply that I never truly appreciated how important each moment is.  The death of my son forced a perspective on me that was impossible to shake. Life is a gift and there is no promised future.  The present is all we have, and if we want to make our lives count we need to make each of those moments matter as much as possible.

Making the most of the world you have…

It was just this realization that inspired my wife Samantha and I to start our foundation in Rees’ name.  We wanted to share our experience with others so that, hopefully, they could get a little bit of this perspective without experiencing the same profound loss. There is a reason why we chose the name “ReesSpecht Life” for the foundation.  Respect is treating others the way you wish to be treated and life is that precious gift that we often take for granted.  We just want people to take just a few moments to remember why life is important – and why helping to make other’s lives even a little bit better is the ultimate form of respect for it.  It’s when we take the time to do the little things that make other’s lives a little better that we start to make a difference in the world.

The knowledge that we possess the power to make our own, and other’s, lives better makes the picture of my children a source of happiness for me.  I choose to see an undying love for four beautiful souls that mean the world to me.  Just because my little boy isn’t physically here doesn’t mean he is not a part of my life. His soul is always here and that picture is a reminder of that. I can complain that life dealt me a bad hand. I prefer not to.  Life is all about the choices we make and I choose to celebrate the world as it is rather than lament what could be. Sure, my figurative and literal world are not perfect, but it’s the only one I have – and I have the rest of my life to make it even better, one little Rees’ piece at a time…

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How does one turn inspiration into action?  This is the problem I have been wrestling with for quite some time, and frankly I am still at a loss as to how to do it.  I have recently found myself overwhelmed with the feeling that our movement, although inspirational, is not making a real change.  I find myself growing increasingly frustrated by the number of people I hear complain about the state of the world around them.  I see posts all the time about the way things used to be, and how we are going in the wrong direction, blah, blah, blah.  I can’t help but wonder if those same people are posting these things while they are busy trying to keep up with the Kardashians…

These days my facebook news feed is nothing more than a constant reminder that we focus on things that simply do not matter.  When I am not being bombarded with memes about the latest indignation/insult supplied by _____________, (please feel free to fill in the blank with any of the following: President Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, et. all) I’m seeing thumb warriors saving captive Gorillas, feeding hungry children, and changing the world one “like” at a time.  It’s as if social media has become a communal wishing well that instead of seeing discarded coins at the bottom, we see snippets of our hopes and dreams left for others to see, yet, like those coins, left behind and forgotten.

When I look at the bottom of a fountain littered with coins I do not see the hopes and dreams of others.  I see waste.  I see the manifestation of the ironic truth about our wishes:  They have no inherent value to others so we attach them to something that does and then we simply leave them behind.  Forgotten.  Abandoned.  Left to someone else who will come along one day and scoop them all up and exchange them for something of “real” value.  Simply wishing for something to happen is the ultimate exercise in futility.  Left to themselves, wishes accomplish nothing.  Ever.

With all due respect to Walt Disney, more often than not, a wish really isn’t a “dream your heart makes” – it’s a lie your brain tells yourself to make you feel better about something you really don’t believe is going to happen.  I wish I was a Major League Baseball player.  I can’t hit a t-ball.  I wish I was an astronaut.  I hate flying.  I wish I wasn’t stuck in the house that my little boy died in.  I can’t afford to leave.  I wish my little boy were here today.  I can’t change the past.  I wish the world was a better place…   I wish, I wish, I wish.  Wishing to change the past is impossible.  Wishing for things in the future?  I don’t get the point.  Why wish for something to happen when you can actively work towards making it happen?  Wishes make good song lyrics and sound good in stories, but when you really break it down they aren’t worth the coin we toss into the fountain.

Now that I have crushed your perception on wishes, should you stop wishing?  Absolutely not.  But you just said that wishes are worthless!  Yep.  They are.  Think of something that I think everyone would agree is worth something: A million dollars.  Imagine having that money right now.  Imagine what you could do with that million dollars; buy a dream home, pay off your debt, send your kids to college (well maybe).  That million dollars has a tremendous value to most of us, but not all of us.  “Bring me my money so I can hold it one last time before dying!” – Those words were spoken by no person ever.  When our time is at and end we have no use for money at all.  What do people who are dying ask for – almost universally?  Their family.  They want one last embrace, or one last “I love you”.  “Worth” is a relative term.  Something’s worth is relative to what it means to the individual at any given time and can change at a moment’s notice.

Wishes if left unfulfilled, are always worthless.  What is it that fulfills our wishes then?  A genie?  God?  Nope.  The only thing that can fulfill your wishes is your actions. Wishes are the inspiration for our dreams, but without action to fuel them our dreams will always be left unfulfilled. So yes, I do think that wishes are a good thing – so long as they serve as a jumping off point for our dreams.  Sadly I find that, more often than not, wishes become a dead end instead of a destination.

Samantha and I started our movement in Rees’ honor with one goal in mind: Make this world a better place.  I never said I wished to make the world a better place in Rees’ name because it wasn’t a wish – it was a mission. We set out to make it happen.  Lately I have found myself struggling with this goal.  It is amazing that 360,000 kindness cards have made their way to every continent on earth – but even if those cards represent just one kind act (I know they potentially represent many, many more but I’ll defer to the actual number of cards out there…) that number represents a statistically insignificant number of people.  When I look at those numbers and then realize that Kim Kardashian can get millions of people to go out and buy a blouse by simply taking a picture of herself wearing it I get discouraged.  We have worked so hard to spread the seeds of kindness that when I compare the relative ease by which others can do things (that really don’t matter) to what we are doing I get an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

I wish more people followed us and hung on to every word we write.  I wish I could take a picture of myself handing out a pay it forward card and get millions of people to go out and do something kind.  I wish I had an impact like that.  I wish, I wish I wish.  Wishing isn’t going to make that happen.  Ever.  Just yesterday I let those numbers get me down and I found myself clinging to those wishes.  I got lost in them and felt their weight crushing me and dreams.  And then someone told me that I made a difference to them.  One person.  That one person’s life was changed by our mission and now sees the world in a different light.  It was then that I realized that by changing their world, I accomplished what I had been wishing for all along.

We may never see a following that we can count in the millions.  We may never make a real, tangible change to the world.  Would I like to be able to say we did?  Sure.  Do I wish that we can accomplish that?  Yes.  The thing about that wish is that it is entirely dependent on the actions of others.  We have no control over that.  I can only do what I have been doing – actively working to make the world a better place, one kind act at a time.  I wish more people would join me – but that’s out of my hands.  We will keep doing what we are doing, and leave the wish fulfillment up to you and all the rest of Rees’ pieces.  Stop wishing for a better world and start making it one.  Kindness is the difference maker; so let’s go out and make a difference and turn “I wish” into “I did”.  When we do that we will make this world a better place, one Rees’ piece at a time…

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Order Hot Sauce from Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce and help Cultivate Kindness and the ReesSpecht Life Foundation!

Our foundation has seen a tremendous amount of support from so many individuals and companies in the past three years, but none have gone so far as to make the gesture that the Hell’s Kitchen Hot Sauce Company has made…  I am humbled to announce that they have decided to make a commemorative sauce in honor of our mission to Cultivate Kindness!  A portion of the proceeds from the sales of this special “Sweet ReesSpecht” sauce will go directly to support our foundation!  Right now the sauce is ONLY available through their Kickstarter campaign which runs until May 16th.  Right now there are 500 commemorative bottles available, and it is our goal to have Rees’ pieces purchase every last one of them.  Of course we would love for you to support us by ordering the “Sweet ReesSpecht” sauce, but the other six sauces are also amazing, so you may find yourselves hard pressed to just get one…

Please be sure to check out their Kickstarter campaign HERE

Remember, your contribution to their campaign is another way to help support our mission to:

  • Provide school assembly programs to promote Kindness character education programs in k-12 schools
  • Provide $1000 scholarships for High School Seniors who have Cultivated Kindness in their lives
  • Support our “ReesSpecht the Water” drowning prevention water safety assemblies in conjunction with END Drowning Now!
  • Provide meals and sundries for families suffering a hardship through our “Pay it Foodward™” program.

Learn more about Hell’s Kitchen Hotsauce

Even the oceans had to fill one little drop at a time...

Even the oceans had to fill one little drop at a time…

The past twelve days since the Today show did a segment on our foundation  movement has been an interesting lesson in cause and effect.  In reality, everything my wife Samantha and I have done since Rees’ passing continues to remind us of the elegant simplicity, yet profound power, of action and reaction.  The effects of the Today show piece simply represent a microcosm of the much larger picture I stare at every day.  Considering I have so much experience with the process, I still find it perplexing that I am constantly surprised by just how powerful it can be…

After the piece on the Today show aired over one thousand people ordered a total of 45,350 of our “Pay it Forward” cards.  As of this writing, the total number of cards that we have distributed worldwide is now at a little over Three Hundred Fifty THOUSAND cards.  It is truly difficult for me to wrap my head around that number.  If even only 10% of those cards have been used, it’s still a tremendous number of people that have passed on kindness in Rees’ name.  With those numbers I should be content in the knowledge that we have met our original goal of remembering our little boy in a positive way.  I should be able to look at these incredible numbers and be content with the job we have done.  It would be reasonable to assume that if I decided to walk away tomorrow I could do so with no regrets.  I should be able to do these things, but I simply cannot.  The reason why is simple:  I constantly feel like I am not doing enough.

No matter how many cards go out, I always feel like we could send out more.  Regardless of the number of students I share our story with, I always feel like I can do a better job of getting our story across.  The foundation has distributed almost 10,000 copies of the children’s book I wrote, yet I feel like that number would have been even higher at this point if I had done a better job of tightening up the narrative.  If I let my mind wander, I can pick a thousand little things that bother me; all while conveniently ignoring our accomplishments.  I should know better than to do it, yet my mind constantly betrays me at almost every step.

It’s incredibly frustrating that my mind’s first inclination is to focus on my failures.  Up until very recently, I constantly questioned why I incessantly focused on my deficiencies, rather than my successes.  It wasn’t until this past week that I realized the reason I was doing this is because it is simply human nature to do so.  Doubt exists so that it can serve as the motivational anchor for future success.  It’s simply cause and effect – The answer was always there, right under my nose yet I never realized it until an alien pointed it out to me… (No, I haven’t lost my mind!)

As you may or may not be aware, I am a huge fan of Superman.  I could write a novel about the significance of Superman and what he stands for in my life, but I’ll spare you that here.  Being the fan that I am I of course was at the first showing of the newest Superman movie.  I was not a big fan of the previous movie, “Man of Steel” mostly because I felt that movie got Superman all wrong.  I went into this movie fearing the same thing, and as I watched the film I found that same disappointment creeping in.  Gone was the Superman who was the unflinching bastion of goodness and hope and in his place was a good, but dour man who tries to be that but can’t stop letting doubt get in his way.  As I continued to watch the film I was all but ready to echo the sentiments of all the critics who panned the movie, and in particular Superman himself.  My mental pitchfork was almost at the ready to storm the screen when one scene changed it all.

The scene that put all the pieces of the puzzle together for me involved a dream that Superman had of his adoptive human father telling him a story about how he and Clark’s grandfather saved their farm from a flood when Pa Kent was just a boy.  Pa told Clark how he worked himself to near exhaustion, piling up rocks and sand to divert the flood waters away from their farm.  His work paid off, and the farm was saved but at the unforeseen cost of the flood waters being diverted to the neighboring Lang farm.  Unbeknownst to Pa Kent, as he was eating the “hero cake” his mother had baked for him, the flood waters were destroying the livelihood of their neighbors.

It was in that scene that I realized that, in reality, there would never be any “winning” for a real life Superman.  Every action has a reaction and it is impossible to make everything right.  I couldn’t tell you if the Superman on screen learned that lesson, but I certainly did.  I guess in my hopeful mind I thought that 350,000 of our pay it forward cards would stop the flood of hate that I feel like I see everywhere now.  The reality is that in some ways, the doubting Thomas in me is absolutely correct: What we have done so far isn’t enough.  It’s not enough because Samantha and I simply cannot do it all.  It is impossible for two grieving parents to make the world a kinder place by themselves.  Even Superman couldn’t do it all – not by himself…

The good news is we aren’t alone.  Think of those numbers… 350,000 “Pay it Forward” cards, 10,000 books, 25,000 students (just this year), 67,126 facebook fans. Those numbers seem like a lot, but in reality they are represent only a tiny fraction of the 7 billion of us that share the Earth.  I could sit here and lament the fact that so far we have only achieved a few drops in the bucket.  The problem with that thinking was I only saw myself trying to fill that bucket, one drop at a time.  I failed to realize that each of you touched by our movement represents more drops in the bucket.  It’s not just me, or Samantha filling up the bucket – it’s all us collectively doing it, one drop of kindness at a time.  Each time we pour out the kindness we have inside those drops come together. One drop of water in one bucket is nothing, but imagine what 452,126 drops all poured together would look like?

It takes 90,840 drops of water to fill a one gallon bucket.  If someone asked you to fill a bucket of water one drop at a time, by yourself (assuming a rate of 1 drop per second) it would take you 25.2 hours to fill that bucket.  The notion of trying to fill a bucket in this way would stop any sane person from even starting the process to begin with – especially when they can go to any faucet and fill the bucket in seconds.  I bet you have never given a moment’s pause to filling a bucket of water in your life.  The reason: You never had to consider all the drops that were needed to fill that bucket.  In other words, we take filling the bucket for granted because of the simplicity the act engenders.

Every time we stop to consider our “failures” we are focusing on the drops.  It is then that our problems seem to become much worse then they really are.  Instead of focusing on each of the drops, we need to look at the buckets we fill.  If I look our numbers that way, then we have filled five buckets already… Wow.  5 buckets full.  Sure, it’s just five buckets right now, but what holds true for the drops, is also true for those buckets.  This whole movement started with just a few drops, and now we have five buckets full.  Imagine what will come when those five buckets come together?  A flood of kindness is coming – and it all started one little piece drop at a time…

 

 

 

 

The ReesSpecht Life Foundation is hoping to raise $100,000.00 to fund three very important programs.  Please watch the video below and then click on the link to head over to our crowd-funder at generosity.com.  We think you will agree that the donation perks we are offering are really great!

To find out more about our fundraiser click HERE

To find out more about our fundraiser click HERE