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


Looking for a Playstation 5 for the Holiday season? The Foundation was lucky enough to secure the bundle you see in the photo and will be giving it away to a lucky ticket holder for our virtual fundraiser. Ticket sales will go live on Monday 11/16. Tickets for this fundraiser will be $50 and there will be a limited number available. As we expect demand to be high, we are going to grant anyone who shares a story of how they paid it forward on our website ( http://www.reesspechtlife.com/card-stories/ ) early access to the fundraiser! After you share on our site, comment below “Done” and you will get the link before the general public does! Thank you for helping us make the world a little kinder, one Rees’ piece at a time.

If you want to get a headstart on getting tickets for the fundraiser (and a chance to win the PS5), you have to join our fundraiser group on Facebook.  Here is the link to request access: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3130749553695521

Families in our community need our help now, perhaps more than ever before…

Sadly, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our drop-off locations are unable to physically collect toys this year.  In a year where we expect the need for donations to increase exponentially this could be potentially devastating.  Fortunately we have a solution that we think could help offset the loss of physical locations:  Contactless donation through online retailers!

The easiest way to do it is to click on our Amazon wishlist (HERE) This will set up shipping and allow you to choose from the gifts our experience tells us are the most needed.

If you do choose Amazon, we are preferably asking any/all of Rees’ pieces to go to smile.amazon.com and choose the ReesSpecht Life Foundation as the non-profit you will support (doing this will ensure that a portion of proceeds will go directly to the foundation!).  

You don’t have to go through Amazon either. 

Another option is to click this link to Discovery Toys: https://bit.ly/CultivateKindness.  They will take care of the shipping address, you just need to pick what you want and pay. 

Finally, You can choose an item at any online retailer and simply choose the foundation as the shipping address!  Our address is listed below:

ReesSpecht Life Foundation
25 Crane Neck Drive
Sound Beach NY 11789

It’s that simple! 

We are in need of toys for all ages and especially items for teens.

Please know that NO donation is too small.  We are in desperate need of toys this year.  Our hope is to fill our garage even more this year with your help.

 

 

I haven’t written a blog post here in over two years.  It’s not out of a lack of will, or time – it was out of a lack of necessity…

After I lost my son Rees in October of 2012 I started writing right away (well as soon as our power was restored after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy).  I consistently updated the blog for many years, sharing our family’s journey through the grief that brought us down and the kindness that lifted us up.  My feelings and experiences were laid bare to the world – raw and  unfiltered.  

With every post, so many people reached out to me thanking me for lifting their spirits and reminding them that there is a pervasive goodness that permeates our society that too often goes unnoticed.  In reality, I always felt undeserving of their thanks as the blog was my outlet for my feelings.  It honestly felt self-serving; and the fact that it helped others was lost on me completely.

I often got asked why I stopped writing and I really didn’t know the reason.  I would often just say that “I’ll get to it, just not right now”.  The urgency just wasn’t there anymore and I never really stopped to think why.  I honestly didn’t know the answer until this past week that found the world I thought I understood turned upside down.

Just one week ago I was going about my normal life as was, I assume, most of the world.  Being a biologist with a background in genetics I was aware of the potential threat of COVID-19, but I wasn’t too concerned.  I did however sense a growing fear in my friends and family and tried (and failed) to provide some perspective for them in a few sentences. A cousin of mine reached out and asked me to try again and really explain things to help alleviate the fear of others and I resisted (I did eventually come around and you can read the post here) . 

I wasn’t ready to write again.  It had been so long since I had really written anything that I simply felt my writing was no longer relevant.  I rationed that I wasn’t really a writer now anyhow, I was a speaker.  I still shared my story, except now it was in person,to schools and over 300,000 students all over the country.  I didn’t write anymore because the need was no longer there…

And then, in a blink of an eye, it all changed.  Schools started closing everywhere and the cancellations came in.  School programs that were booked more than a year prior were cancelled –   and even if they re-opened this year they wouldn’t have the time for the assemblies.  I couldn’t share Rees’ story anymore and it felt like I was losing him all over again.  I remember feeling like my voice was ripped from me.

It was in that moment that I realized why I had stopped writing:  My voice.  In the past four years, as I spoke to more and more people, my voice allowed me to share Rees and our message directly.  I stopped writing because I was speaking.  The message was still getting out, just in a different (and what I felt was a better) way.  

Well that’s gone now.  At least for the time being.  Like so many of us, I face an uncertain immediate future.  No school shows means no work for me, which means no income for the foundation.  No income means there will be a time, very soon, where we may not be able to pay the bills.  Couple this realization with the nebulous threat that COVID-19 poses and you have the recipe for fear.  It’s reasonable and understandable to be afraid right now.

I am not afraid.

That’s not to say I am ok.  I’m not ok.  Uncertainty abounds.  Like many of you, I don’t know how I will make ends meet if this continues.  The world pulled the rug out from under me and that’s painful.  No, I am not ok with that –  it hurts, but I’m still not afraid.  Why?  The answer is simple.  I’ve been here before…

The world pulled the rug out from under me when Rees drowned in that pond as I prepared for Hurricane Sandy.  A single moment is all it took to rip my future from me.  I most certainly was not ok and I was afraid.  I recall thinking how could I possibly make it back from the worst loss one can experience?  All seemed lost.  I was ready to give up and let the darkness swallow me, like that pond had swallowed my little boy.

The darkness didn’t win.  The kindness of others in our time of need was the light on the path my family and I found ourselves on.  Our community rallied around us to collectively lift us up.  Others who experienced this loss reached out and shared their perseverance (and pain) with me. For the first time in my life I realized that I was not alone on this dark path.  Even though I was most certainly not ok, I need not fear for I had someone to lean on and guide me through that darkness.

That is why I am not afraid today.  Yes, that darkness is back but, just like before, I know I won’t be navigating it alone.  I may be isolated here in my home, but I’m here with my family.  Together.  Rather than focus on what I have lost, I choose to focus on what I have gained. The world has granted me time to be with my family with literally no distractions.   Where others may see a punishment I see a gift.  It’s a perspective I don’t think I would have if not for the experience of losing Rees.

And the truth is you are not alone either.  It’s ironic but this experience which has literally isolated us all has figuratively brought us together.  A stronger, more cohesive society will emerge from this shared experience.  For those afraid, please take some solace from someone who has faced the darkness: it’s ok to be afraid, but don’t let that destroy your hope. Fear arises from the unknown whilst concern comes from understanding.

No, I am not ok.  But what I understand, from experience, is that’s ok.  The light eventually pierces the darkness.  The darkness is needed to appreciate the light.  If there is no light in your world right now, be the light for someone else. We will persevere.  Those aren’t hollow words – they are facts.  That’s why I’m not afraid. We will get through this.  Separated together. 

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some family fun time to partake in.  My family is my light.  What’s yours?