431722_4737461955428_110405206_nMemories are like a dream.  I know that for 22 months I dreamed about a little boy who took possession of a part of my soul that simply completed me in a way that words cannot adequately describe.  In my memories, Rees, born with a true knot in his umbilical cord – a cord wrapped around his neck twice, defied death and entered the world undaunted.  The more I recall this dream, the more detached I find myself from its narrative, a spectator, not a participant.  It’ s as though I see some alternate version of me, an avatar of my real self,  lifting Richie, singing to him, cradling him and telling him how much I love him.   From afar, I see little Rees growing from a plumpy, buddha-like baby into a skinny, yet solid, little toddler – filled with curiosity.  In these memories I witness the dream-like version of me lifting my boy up to the ceiling to play “spider-baby” and pushing him around on his toy truck – both of us grinning from ear to ear.   As the dream progresses visions of me singing to him, soothing him from his fears, recalls a memory of satisfaction and contentment.  My phantasmic doppelganger is happy and content and wants nothing more from life as the simple pleasure of being around his three children and wife completes him in every way imaginable.

My dream is fading, eroding into a fragmented collection of fleeting thoughts and notions that are indiscernible from fantasy.   The dream began vibrant and tangible, but grows more and surreal with the inevitable flow of time.  It’s as though I am stranded on the shores of reality watching the flow of time carry my dream towards the horizon and out of view forever.   I want so much to run along the shore, following the dream, keeping it in site, but find that the shore is impassable;  any attempt to traverse it resulting in pain and grief – a pain that is tangible and real.  It is almost as if my brain is telling me that since the pain is tangible it is all I have that physically connects me to the dream that was Rees.

I feel like if I push through the pain, keep it close, that it will prevent my memories of Rees from fading.  In my mind, losing my pain comes at the cost of watching Rees’ memory sail away into oblivion.  The grief and his memory seem intrinsically linked: severing one jettisons the other.  I already lost my little boy,  I don’t want to lose his memory as well.  How can I let go of the pain and not lose site of the dream?  I fear losing sight of my dream will turn the nightmare I wake into a permanent reality – as inescapable as the flow of time.

My solution to this problem has, and always will be, ReesSpecht Life.  It is my sincere hope that ReesSpecht life, and the good deeds that we can foster through it, will act as a bridge connecting me to the adjacent shore and giving me a vantage point from which to remember my little buddy for as long as I draw breath.  The foundation has helped change my perspective of the world and it is my fondest desire to see others perform acts of kindness in his name and in doing so, join me and my family in an eternal remembrance of his legacy.  I truly believe in the power of what we are trying to do, and I know that he was put here for a reason.  No matter how much my memories of him fade, I have all of you to help me remember him, piece by piece…


313035_2544139843746_1786228113_n 320669_2544137923698_619202173_nBack in the 1960’w My father and 4 of his brothers purchased 76 acres of property in upstate NY, simply referred to as, “the hill”,  to provide a place for them to practice their mutual love of hunting.  Though I never shared my father’s fondness of hunting, the beauty of the property and the seemingly endless natural wonders it possessed holds a special place in my heart.  Memories of walking through the woods with my father guiding my eye towards nature’s hidden spoils fill my heart with happiness – and a longing to have just one more opportunity to do that again.  The day my father died I remember one of my initial feelings was sadness that I would never again be able to enjoy “the hill” with him again, but also gratitude for the memories that I would forever hold dear.

The day my son was born one of the first images to fill my mind as I mentally charted his life was him and I walking through those very same woods with me passing on the knowledge my father had bestowed upon me.  I envisioned my little boy peppering me with the same endless “why’s?” and “hows?” that my father so patiently listened to, and answered from me.  The promise that the circle of life would remain intact, and burgeon helped give some closure to the intensity of the pain I felt from losing my father some 22 months before Richie came into the world.  In my mind, my little Richie would help me connect with my father in a way that had been impossible since my father left the mortal world.

I remember the first time I brought Rees up to “the hill”.  I thought his little head would explode when I first took him for a ride on our ATV.  He giggled so loud that I could clearly hear his elation above the deafening rumble of the un-muffled  engine of the quad.  I felt my father’s presence with me, and all was right in the world.  Subsequent trips up to our property were filled with Richie excitedly pointing his finger at every tractor he saw, and his constant prodding for me take him on yet another ride on the ATV.  Each trip upstate filled me with my father’s spirit, as I felt him smiling down on us repeating our past together and forging new memories between me and Rees.  “The hill” remained the happiest of places for me as it served as the perfect bridge between my past and my future…

This past weekend marked my first trip up to the hill since Rees died.  I still expected to hear “tractor!!” with every tractor I passed along the way.  I listened for his giggle as I throttled the quad through the woods, only to hear the rumble of the engine and nothing more.  I hoped to feel my father’s presence with me and instead was greeted with a disquieting stillness in my soul.  I looked up at the night sky, a sight that has always filled me with awe, and saw twinkles of light and nothing more.  The wonder was gone.  The awe was absent.  The place I could always count on to recharge the battery of my soul had lost its power.

This morning, after three days of trying to find what I had been missing,  I visited my father’s grave and cursed him for not protecting my little boy.  I asked my Dad why he couldn’t have been a whisper on the wind that October day, telling my little boy to move away from the edge of that damned pond.  I was angry.  I was resentful.  I was exactly what I never am on the hill: unhappy.   My happy place was anything but happy this weekend.  This weekend reminded me that the loss of a parent is a loss of your past; a past that is etched perfectly in stone, immutable and permanently resolute.  The loss of child is a loss of your future;  a future filled with promise, but promised to no one – the blank slate capable of great works of art, or of being shattered into infinite pieces…

I will return the hill sometime this summer.  I will return again this fall.  I will never stop listening for my little boy’s giggle.   Someday, I will be able to look back on our past, as brief as it was, and smile.  I will never know the future that I envisioned on the day of his birth but I know that my happy place will be happy again, sometime in the future when I can start a new slate from the old, putting it back together piece by piece.

me and my sisters

Tonight I was reminded of yet another change wrought by the loss of my little boy.  While out at our local deli with my girls, Abby and Lori, Lori accidentally closed the sliding door of the freezer on her sisters hand.  Abby’s immediate, and deafening response stopped me dead in my tracks.  I instantly felt the same fear I had upon my discovery of Rees after the accident… memories and feelings of helplessness instantly flooded me and paralyzed me.

Before Rees’ accident I was always very level headed with my children concerning injuries and pain.  Sam counts on my measured response in those situations, and up until Rees died I always kept my cool when things went wrong.  The day Rees died, in one terrible moment, my imperturbable nature instantly eroded and I was a frantic mess.  I knew CPR, but couldn’t remember the timings.  I couldn’t remember where my phone was.  I was completely and utterly helpless.  I literally lost the one thing I counted on the most in every other situation: my composure.

It happened again.  Seeing my little girl, wailing in pain – her left hand gripped around her wounded finger like a vice, stopped me cold again.  I dropped the ice cream I had in my hands.  I looked around, maybe hoping to find that composure that seemingly has not returned since Rees died to no avail.  When I finally “came to”, after what felt like minutes but was more likely no more than a fraction of a second or two, I pried Abby’s hand from her finger and I saw a large, bright,  purple spot already formed and I immediately feared the worst. I ran her home and told her Daddy was going to take care of it, and we fix her right up.  I thought for sure a hospital visit was imminent – the specter of which I feared as I hold a dread of returning to the very place where my world was changed irrevocably.

When I walked through the door I saw Sam, told her about the immediate bruising and grabbed some ice and heard a sound I shouldn’t have: laughter.  Sam questioned Abby as to which finger hurt and Abby pointed to her finger and there was no bruise, nothing.  Completely and utterly clear – not to mention hardly swollen.  Upon closer inspection she found the offending purple spot; a patch of purple marker ink that Abby had gotten on her hands an hour before while doing her homework…  The only real bruise that existed tonight was the one on my psyche.  I literally have so much fear about my helplessness to protect my children that it factored into my reality and I confused a blotch of magic marker for a contusion.  Tonight was a valuable lesson that cost me nothing more than my humility, but reminded me that in the new reality that is my life*, I now know I need to factor that fear into the equation.

We can all be Superheros!

We can all be Superheros!

Over the past couple of months one of the most frequent questions I have been asked is “What can I do to help?”.  Well the answer is simple:  Pay it forward. We have been sending out ReesSpecht Life cards all over the country (and internationally too) – with the hope that each card represents a reminder to people who recieved a random act of kindness to pay it forward themselves.  In order for this to work people need to believe in the power of paying it forward and the chain reaction it can create.

Unfortunately, a chain is only as strong as it weakest link, and there are many cases where the card is passed on, but the chain is broken – and that is ok.  The act of kindness is what matters.  Don’t be discouraged if the card ends up in the trash if you pass it along, because for every card that gets discarded there is one that get passed on, helping someone else.

Sam and I are trying to work out just what we are going to do next.  So far ReesSpecht Life has made contributions to 3 area families who were suffering through tragic losses of their own.  We also donated money to Gavin’s trust (Chasing Rainbows)  and Brodie’s (the dog of our Logo’s creator, Adam Smith and his family) rehibilitation.  We will soon be awarding two scholarships to Seniors at each of the High Schools in our district and we have plans on the table for helping a very special little girl suffering a terrible illness in our community.

All of these things are possible because of the generosity of all Rees’ pieces.  So when you ask “What can I do to help?” – you are already doing it!  The support we have received in the past couple of months has been amazing.  All we is ask is that you keep us in mind when you think about doing kind acts.  Keep ordering those cards (remember that donations or completely optional!), send them out and let’s continue to make the world a better place, piece by piece.

Ebb and flowI wrote the other day about what I am now labeling the hurricane effect: the creation of something beautiful from a devastating storm – and thought about how appropriate a metaphor a storm is concerning the loss of a child.  Storms are intense, violent and destructive forces of nature that are indifferent to our seemingly insignificant lives.  Losing a child fills you with intense feelings that roil like the waters stirred up in the wake of a storm.  Much like a storm initially bellows with a surge of water, the loss of a child fills you with a deluge of despair, and anger.  And just as we are powerless to stop the tidal surge from a storm, a parent who loses a child is powerless to fortify themselves against the raw emotions that ravage their souls.  The turbulent, storm fueled,  wave of despair fundamentally disrupts the natural rhythm of our emotions just as a storm surge disrupts the natural tidal flow.

We all have ups and downs in regards to our emotions: a natural ebb and flow of happiness and sadness, elation and despair.  Many times this natural flow has no discernible cause leaving us with merely a recognition of the effect.  Tides are much the same: we clearly see them rise and fall, but we cannot discern the the pull of the moon’s gravity which lead to their genesis.  When you lose a child the natural ebb and flow of emotion is magnified exponentially and the loss surges through your very core like the flood waters of a storm.  The effect is powerful, raw and, at least initially, unrelenting.

Fortunately, just as the flood waters recede back into the ocean after a storm has passed, the emotional surge from this loss recedes as well, revealing the damage to the landscape.  For myself the damage has come in the form of an acute recognition of the ebb and flow of my emotions.  My high tides are no higher, perhaps less so, since Rees died, and my lows are much, much lower.  I used to be so even keeled that I never really noticed my emotional fluctuations.  The storm surge literally made me take note of the changes in my emotional tides.

Since the dawn of the recognition of the tides and their cyclical nature, mankind has harnessed that ebb and flow for its own benefit – and once again I will take my cue from nature.  I vow to ride the high tides to new heights that I never reached before, and I will take advantage of the lows – using them as a barometer by which to measure my own happiness.  The other night when I witnessed the beauty of families participating in games and events built around Rees’ legacy I was riding high on the tide.  I still am.   I know that the big wave that Rees’ legacy is creating is forming, somewhere out there right now.  I realize now that the high tides create the waves we can ride to shore, and though it may be more difficult to catch that big wave, I will be forever on the look out for it; ready to ride it all the way, knowing Rees will be right there with me when it comes my way.

IMG_0419Edward Lorenz coined the term “the butterfly effect” when he tried to explain chaos theory and the consequences of  small changes on an overall system.  He rationed that in chaos, it was possible that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings weeks before could set forth a chain reaction of events that eventually leads to a hurricane somewhere else on the globe.  This effect is  difficult to quantify and effectively impossible to predict.  The very nature of chaos dictates that we should not be able to witness the butterfly effect in action, however we can easily discern its result.  I always believed that Lorenz was right, until tonight…

Tonight as  my family and  I attended the First Annual ReesSpecht Life Kindness Games at Tackan Elementary school in Nesconset NY I looked at all the people present and could not get over the fact that every single one of those people was there for one reason: Rees.  As I watched children playing, and parents proudly watching – all in the name of kindness and compassion,  I could not stop thinking about what they would have been doing on this evening had my boy not drowned in our pond in the hours preceding the arrival of hurricane Sandy.  It was in that moment that I realized I had just witnessed the opposite of the butterfly effect.  Instead of a terrible storm spawned from the act of something beautiful, I saw something beautiful spawned from the maw of a storm.  The very storm that robbed my family of my beautiful little boy has created a ripple effect that has helped so many others.

Watching all of those children play, and perform random acts of kindness in Rees’ name, ushered a revelation unto me that it is possible to turn a great negative into something positive.  Tonight I witnessed the hurricane effect:  The storm spawned the butterfly in this case – and it has only just begun to spread its wings and fly…