Monthly Archives: November 2014

All of a sudden

A lot of what I write about is what I hear and what we discuss in our bereavement groups.  I take in so much in these groups, I churn it, I digest it, think about it, and when I can, I let it out and write about it. Sometimes I use the person’s name who talked about it, other times so many people mention it that I just write.

BrokenIn tonight’s meeting, Pam talked about a drive to go shopping on Route 84. She passed a pretty bad accident – ambulances, airlift helicopter, police cars, and mangled vehicles. But what caught her eye and her mind was the covered dead body on the side of the road. Obviously, someone did not survive the accident. She could not see if the person was a teenager, or a senior, or someone’s son or daughter, or mother or father. She didn’t know if the person was a reckless speeder who caused the accident, an innocent victim that was just driving along and had his/her life ended, or merely a passenger in the wrong car at the wrong time. She knew nothing – but there lie a dead body.

What we all thought, and Pam verbalized it so well, was that in a few minutes someone’s life was about to change. Someone, maybe parents, maybe a wife or a husband, maybe a son or a daughter, was about to get a devastating phone call that would forever change their life. This person laying under the blanket on the cold blacktop could have been someone’s only daughter, or someone’s father, or a husband. And the person or people left behind were going to get a call in a few minutes that will be the worst call they will ever get.

“Hello, this is Sgt Smith from the CT State Police, can I please talk to….”    And that’s it.

Right now, that person can be playing tennis, or working in his office, or at school, or on vacation somewhere having an amazing trip. They are living day-by-day, very happy with their life. But that will all end very soon. With just one call their life’s path will forever be altered.

IFMost people who see this scene look at the body and feel sorry for that person who is dead. They probably died too young. He or she was such a wonderful person with so much to live for; they were taken from this world way too early. There are so many thoughts for that person. But they are gone. They feel no pain now.  They have no grief. They are somewhere else, wherever that may be. But they are no more – they will not cry for those they left behind, they will not grieve for leaving this earth. Wherever they were going, they will not get there, whatever they were doing, will never be completed. All of a sudden they are gone.

But those they left behind. As grieving parents, most of us have received that call. We may have been at work, or at home, in the middle of the night, or on our cell phones. We have received that call. The call from some unfortunate person forced to give us the news that our child is gone. Gone forever from our lives. Each and every one of us can tell you exactly what we were doing before that call. What we had planned for that day, plans that never got completed. We were happy, we were watching TV; we were enjoying ourselves and feeling lucky to have such great lives. We were just going merrily along looking forward to so much. Then we got that call.

DSC00677As grieving parents, yes we are sorry and feel for the person lying on the side of the road, bloody, covered, forever gone. But we feel for his or her parents, we connect with them. We feel for his or her wife or husband. We feel for the children left behind. We feel for that phone call. We relate to them so much more, we empathize with them – we are them. We are the ones who received that call which changed our lives. This call that devastated the happiness within our hearts. The call that forever changed the life path we were on.

All of a sudden.


Causes, Passions, and Foundations.

Causes, Passions, and Foundations.

nWe all have charities, causes, benefits that we like to support. It makes us feel good. Whether it be a center for the arts, a public school foundation, a food bank, or drug prevention – most people support some cause to some degree. I think this is great. Some people put in a few hours a year to work at a fundraiser one day, while others work several hours weekly for their causes. Some people can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars just by making phone calls to their friends and business acquaintances, while others raise money ten dollars at a time for their charity. No matter what you do, no matter how much you raise, it is important to be involved with something that is meaningful to you – for it is your emotional attachment to that cause this is your motivation.  It is not your friends or colleges asking you, not your moral obligation to do something – it is how that charity and cause has affected you that drives you do be involved on some level. It is almost a visceral reaction that causes your attachment to this cause.

Like many others, I have been involved with a few charities over the years. Attended meetings, helped at golf outings, raised some money, spread the word about a specific cause, etc. But was I passionate about? Not really. I guess that is why I was involved with them for a few years, and then moved on. Like most of us do. Our kids outgrow soccer, so we stop being on the board. Our kids graduate high school so we move off the educational foundation. We get a new job so we change our charities to be in line with our new company. But we move on because there was no emotional attachment to the cause.

Unfortunately, it is the traumatic and horrible experiences of our lives that forces us to change and re-evaluate this.

A friend of mine was the victim of a road side bomb in Iraq and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He has thankfully fully recovered and now runs a foundation for injured warriors –  a foundation that has raised and has invested over $20 million (yes million) to benefit our warriors returning home. This is an amazing feat. I am sure he was involved with many other charities before the accident – but now he and his family are passionate about this cause. They were personally touched by it.

Another friend of ours, Stephanie, lost her son to a drug overdose. The family spent tens of thousands of dollars sending him to rehab facilities, sending him to the best doctors and trying everything to help their little boy. Unfortunately none of these facilities were prepared to deal with a teen with co-occurring disorders. This is where the a person has a psychological disorder (ADD, ADHD, Addictive personality, etc), as well as a drug dependency.  Hence co-occurring issues. There is no real government position on this, the doctors are ill-equipt to properly help these children, and the medical/rehab facilities are at a total loss. Stephanie now spends countless hours every day and every week educating others, giving talks, raising money, and she even finds time to talk to other parents who children are going through this to give them advice and support. She is an amazing person who has found a cause that will help so many others families deal with this disease. She knows, and we all know, that what she is doing may prevent other families from facing the tragedy that she and her family has to deal with for the rest of their lives.

Tragically, Debbie’s son was struck and killed by a NYC transit bus while he was  standing on the curb waiting to cross the street. He was just standing and waiting when his life was cut short by a bus driver – one who should not have even been on the road. Since that horrific day, Debbie has been relentlessly working for NYC Safer Streets and was a major force in reducing the New York City speed limit to safer 25 MPH.  Her volunteer work with Safer Streets will save many mothers, fathers and families from receiving that terrible phone call that she and her husband received a few years ago. I am sure her work is not done yet. Although the speed limit has been reduced, there is so much more to do, and so much more that I am sure Debbie will do, to prevent the senseless deaths caused by motorists each and every day.

For Dorothy, Nicole and I, we are not trying to save someone’s life, or help our returning warriors, or make people drive safer. There are so many other people who have undertaken these worthy causes.  We have a different passion, that’s all. A passion that Andrew started many years ago. We are trying to help underprivileged children. We are trying to positively change their lives and help them be part of the team – whatever team that is for them.  We are trying to make sure that kids who want to play sports are given that opportunity. For those kids who want to play a sport but can not afford the equipment or the special clothes or the cost of a mouth guard, we want to make sure they can still participate. We don’t want to see children not play soccer because they cannot afford sneakers, or not play hockey because their stick is broken, or lack a baseball glove or lacrosse stick.

So many grieving parents that I see have taken up a cause. Many other people who have been profoundly effected by some tragedy have taken up a cause. And these causes are all worthy.

But why does it take this grief to make someone want to help others so much? Of course there are people who work just as hard at their cause who have not lost someone, or who have not been profoundly effected. They do it because they love it and they want to do it.

Nicole’s first high schools motto is “Not for Self, but for Service.”  Nothing about learning, or making money, or getting ahead in life – but service to others. I think that is great.

The  point of this entry? Get involved. Find something that you want to do. Don’t sit back and let the opportunity to help others pass you by. Talk to your friends and ask them what they do. Find something that makes you tear up or you can make a connection to. Help at a food bank (on a day other than Thanksgiving), walk dogs at a local shelter, help socialize stray cats at a cat rescue, collect coats for the homeless, help set up computers or build homes for returning vets. But do something. Get out of your chair and step up to life. Don’t rely on others to do it.

If someone was not passionate about breast cancer and started to raise money for research, do you thing the survival rate from breast cancer would be in the nineties?  If someone was not so passionate about not throwing away food every night, would City Harvest save some 136,000 pounds of food each and every day? And there are dozens of other examples of people getting involved to help others.

Don’t sit on the sidelines and let the opportunity to get that feeling of helping others pass you by. Sit up, take responsibility, get involved – it will change your life.


Regrets of what Andrew missed out on…

I am sitting here on my flight from NY to Phoenix in row 7, just a few rows behind that infamous opaque curtain that covers the elite first class. I gaze up there where they get to eat Caesar salad, herb steak, and cheesecake for lunch, while I munch on the chicken I took from home and a bag of grapes I am traveling with. I don’t mind it. I have been upgraded to first class a few times, and while it was enjoyable, I don’t miss it.

Andrew in cockpitWhat does come to mind is a regret. I see the people up there smiling, sitting comfortably in their wide seats, and getting pampered by stewardesses that are actually nice. It bothers me that Andrew will never have that experience. It bothers me that my son will never have the chance to be one of those who are pampered in first class. I know he would have enjoyed it.

What else has he been cheated out of? What else do I think about that he never got to do or see? Where didn’t he get to go? What did he forever miss?

He never got to Israel or Italy – and I know he wanted to go to those places. I know he wanted to go with Todd and Jeff to Israel – he talked to Jeff often about going with him one day. He wanted to see what so many people had so much faith in. He talked about going to Italy with Dorothy and Nicole – he wanted to see Bonefro, where Grandma is from, and share in her memories of her times there. He never got to go to either place.

He loved snowboarding. He went every chance he had when he was at school. He went to Vail more times in three years than most skiers go in a lifetime. He boarding every mountain there as well as the back bowl – where only the most skilled boarders dare to go. He loved Vail, and I got to experience it with him many times as well – it is some of my best memories with him in the recent years – especially the times Nicole went with us. When we were there he talked about going boarding in the summer up in Canada. He talked about going boarding in Italy and the Alps, maybe being dropped at the top of a mountain from a helicopter. Again, these are things he never got to experience – he only got dream about them. And those dreams are gone now.

As we all know, he loved to drive. He loved to drive his Jetta and absolutely loved to drive his six speed RX-8. Windows down, sunroof open, stereo wailing away, wearing his cool Ray Bans and his ski cap. He would have Eminem or some rap artist playing, but not too loud – he liked to hear the motor running and the sound the tires made against the pavement. Thanks to one of my closest friends, Andrew also got to experience driving an amazing Porsche. What a smile he had and exhilaration he felt. In that instant he knew he wanted one. He could feel that was in his future. All of a sudden he had a goal he wanted to achieve. We also talked about going to driving school in CT together – where they teach performance driving – emergency handling, high speed turns, handling spin outs, learning how to corner better and to really take advantage of what his Mazda could do.  But once again, he was cheated. We both were.

We were also supposed to play in an adult hockey league his last summer. But his broken hand prevented that. It took away our father and son time – it cheated us both. Luckily we did play in a few games together the prior summer, and I will cherish those memories. Andrew said I was too slow on the ice, and I couldn’t shoot – like I needed my son to tell me that. He said if I stand in front of the net, he would pass me the puck so I could score. I am not sure if that worked or not, but at least he tried. I see so many other dads from my adult league playing hockey with their kids, and I know I am being cheated out of that. I see the pictures of them together on Facebook, huge proud smiles on their faces. And I will miss that. Maybe Nicole will let me play on her team one day.


Making ice cream at the Farm

I look in his room at what he did have. Bracelets he made at the farm. Wrist bands from the cruises we took. An armrest from his high school auditorium. Some broken hockey sticks, trophies too many to count, and I smile at those things. I smile at what is there, what he left behind of his experiences.




Playing shuffleboard at the farm

I know he loved going to the farm. He had such good farm friends that meant so much to him. He kept everything he ever made at the farm to remind him of the good time. This past summer, our farm friends made Dorothy and me a scrapbook of pictures of Andrew, and notes from those who knew him at the farm. It means so much to us to have that scrapbook. We know how long it must have taken them to make it, and we appreciate it, we look at it all the time.

He loved to spend time with his friends in town, by the woods, or in a parking lot nearby. Just hanging out. He would sit out there with the same people for hours and hours and talk about the same stuff over and over again – all the while with no shoes on. I guess the no shoes was an Andrew and Wally thing.

I see his paintball markers (guns). He had pods, and masks, and bags, and all the other accessories that he needed to play for hours. Back in school, he and a bunch of his friends would go to Park Lane, where there were dozens of unexplored acres and they would play all day. They would break for lunch and grandma was always glad to make something for him and his friends, or we would have pizza brought in, then back to the paint.


Some of our closest friends with us on a cruise

He also has the ticket board I wrote about before. How many kids his age go to experience The Who in concert – not once but twice.  We all go to see an unforgettable evening with Meatloaf in the front of a very small venue. He went to numerous Jets games, Rangers games, playoff games, World Series, NBA Finals, and so on. He was a certified Scuba diver at thirteen and we dove all over the Caribbean – together – especially with his sister and mother.

There are so many things to smile at in his room. I have to learn, as so many others have, to treasure what he did get to see and do, to treasure what he treasured, and to know he had a great life.

So I look up in first class, and I know he never got to experience that. But what he did experience was amazing. What Dorothy and I were able to give him during his lifetime makes us happy. Now I can close my eyes, take my nap, and know that for the few short years that I had him, I gave him whatever I could.