“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

 

 

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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…

10413377_10205292989505197_5220862969213638785_nToday would have been Richie’s fourth birthday. Instead of wrapping gifts, purchasing balloons and baking a cake, I find myself staring at the pictures of my little boy who will never grow up. Meanwhile, messages are pouring in from our website about all the acts of kindness people are performing on a day set aside in New York State and Suffolk County celebrating Kindness in his name. As I sit here writing this, I feel one thing: overwhelming sadness. Why? Well the reason may surprise you…

My sadness is fueled by the realization that I am selfish.  I want nothing more than my little boy back, and I would trade every kind act, ReesSpecht Life card, book, toy drives, meals, “Kindness Days” and scholarships to do it.  If I ever had a chance to make that impossible decision, I would not hesitate to erase it all and be with him again – and I know Samantha feels the same way.  Armed with that knowledge it makes me feel disingenuous about our mission and what it is my wife and I hope to accomplish with the foundation.  How can I be sincere if I would be willing to throw it all away just to be with him again??  I realize that I will never actually even have the chance to make this choice, but the fact that I would be willing to sacrifice everything we have done in his name just to hold him again vexes me and leaves me feeling incredibly empty…

I wish I could adequately express, in words, what the emptiness of losing a child feels like.  After the initial shock wears off, the pain becomes a thin veil that casts a pallor over everything in your life.  Even after more than two years after the loss, its presence remains; a persistent, dull ache that takes permanent residence in the heart.  There is nothing you can do to shake it off.  Nothing. The only recourse is to try and counter the pain with happiness. Unfortunately, for the most part, those happy moments rarely bring you to the euphoric highs they did before the loss; instead merely countering the pain and “leveling you off”.  Of course, engaging in these activities takes energy – and the irony lies in the fact that the pain saps that away too.  It remains a constant struggle to try and keep the pain masked and all that work takes its own toll.

I know that my few close friends recognize the toll it is taking. I can’t tell you how many people commented that, after looking at the pictures of me after Melina was born, I looked truly happy for the first time in two years. Those precious few are the ones who know me best and know how much of my perceived “strength” is really just a facade. People tell Samantha and I all the time about how “strong” they find us to be. The reality is that neither of us are really strong. We are merely struggling our way through an unimaginable experience for most parents. Every parent with whom we sadly share this sad connection with, and with whom I have had the chance to speak, tells me that others echo similar sentiments to them. It is not strength; its merely the perception of it framed from a point of view that one can only understand by experiencing the loss.

My own reality is that I am not strong at all. I am weak. The weakness is readily apparent to anyone who looks at pictures of me. Since Rees’ passing I have gained a considerable amount of weight. Every pound added when I look down at the scale becomes a tangible reminder of my weakness. What makes it sting even more is that I was losing weight and getting into shape (well a shape other than round) for several months before Richie passed away. When he died, it all stopped. Recession of the numbers on the scale were quickly replaced by ever burgeoning numbers that seemed to quantify the pain I was storing, and continue to store, inside. The proof that I am not strong stares back at me every morning when I look into the mirror…

I have always struggled with my weight. Food has always been a comfort to me.  Not just eating it, but preparing it, sharing it – enjoying it with others has always been something that made me happy.  I know that in my subconscious search for joy to counter the pain, I have turned to food more and more to compensate.  I wake up every morning lately disappointed about my size, but finding the will to do anything about it sapped away by the pain.  This vicious cycle continues, day in and day out and I feel powerless to stop it. That powerlessness serves as a catalyst for the pain – and vice versa. Each day I find the snake eating its tail; self consuming and never ending…

I see the weakness in Samantha too – it just manifests itself differently in her. Sam is much better at putting up the facade of strength than I am. Sam’s laugh is so infectious that it fills all those around her with joy. I know that the laughter is sometimes a defense for her. I think she feels like if she can keep others smiling they can’t, or wont, notice her own pain. I wish I could just fix her pain somehow. If only I could just take it away from her and just pile it on to my own. I’ve already piled so much on, why not hers too?

I think that is what hurts the most. In reality both Sam and I are unable to actually stop this process from playing out. We can only be there for each other… ready to prop the other up when they fall. The fixer in me so wants to stop the fall, but it isn’t possible. In so far as I was helpless to save Rees, I feel the same helplessness when it comes to her pain. Sam rarely shares her feelings to others, but last night she posted these words that I think sums up exactly what we are both feeling today:

On December 19, 2010 my son was born. I was so excited to have a little boy. He made me smile from ear to ear and made us all happy every day he was with us. He woke up smiling and went to sleep in his crib each night with a smile. He loved Mickey Mouse, jake the pirate and tractors. I am so glad we went to Disney world the summer before we lost him. He was so happy and you could see the magic in his eyes.
There is not a day that goes by that I wish I could see that smile again and hear his voice and giggle, to feel his arms around me and receive a kiss from my sweet son.
I wonder what he would be into now. What would he be hoping to get on his birthday? Who would be coming to his party? How would we being celebrating? What would be his favorite meal that we would prepare for his special day? He would be turning 4. Where has the time gone. We were so robbed. We only celebrated 1 birthday with him. I have “celebrated” more angel days instead. It’s not fair but I can only hope that he knows how much we love him and miss him.
Look out for your birthday messages tomorrow on your balloons. We love you sweet baby boy. To the moon and back my love.
Do something kind for someone for my son’s birthday tomorrow.

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Sam is exactly right.  We were robbed.  Robbed of a lifetime of experiences that were supposed to bring us joy only to be replaced with sadness over the “what if’s?”.  I was robbed of a best friend who turned his back on me when I needed him most.  A friend who I stood by concerning the accident, but who cowered in silence when CPS hurled their accusatory slings and arrows my way, hoping to avoid any himself.  One day, ONE MOMENT, is all it took to rob Sam and I, and our entire family of a beautiful little boy.  I would trade just about anything to have that one day back – but I know that is impossible.  So now my “one day” takes on a whole new meaning.

One day I know I will see him again.

One day Sam will smile a smile that conceals no pain.

One day I will hold him again.

One day I will be able to forgive my friend for abandoning me when I needed him most.

The problem with my “one day’s” is that they are all in the future.  I can’t think about the future.  I need to worry about right now.  I need to make sure that I make this one day that I am here, right now, count.  We all do. There is nothing I can do about the past.  I can’t control the future.  The only day we can ever control is the one we are in.  Today just happens to be my little boy’s birthday – yet it is also now something bigger.  This one day… December 19th, 2014 is now officially “Kindness Day” in New York. I can’t have my little boy back, but we will all have this one day to remember him and spread kindness in his name.  This one day will not erase the pain, but it goes a long way towards us achieving our goal of making this world a little kinder.  Today I can appreciate what I have, where I have been and have hope for where I am going. I hope that when that last day comes I can look forward to reuniting with my little boy and be content with what we accomplished in his name.  Moving forward I am going to do my best to not hide the pain anymore.  I need to own it, use it, feed off of it.  The pain is a part of who I am now. Today.  I think I am ready.  I just need to take it one day at a time…

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