By Rich Klein
We are the typical Westchester family who moved up from the city 27 years ago, raised three beautiful sons, and loved them with our whole hearts. If someone told me I would one day lose a child to suicide, I would have laughed and said there was zero chance of that ever happening. My wife, Carey, and I were going to be the best, most devoted, loving parents a child could ever ask for.
And, apparently, we were. On November 9, 2010, our firstborn son, Jeff, at 23 ½ years of age, began his suicide note to us by writing:
“You were the best parents a son could ever ask for.”
When people from town learned of Jeff’s death, a good friend told me that many were frightened because they felt if this could happen to our family, it could happen to anyone’s.
They say love conquers all, but love was powerless in preventing the catastrophic chemical reaction that occurred inside Jeff’s body and mind after ingesting his first antidepressant recklessly prescribed by a local psychiatrist after one 45-minute introductory session. Eight days later, Jeff confided to Carey he was having “bad thoughts.” Two months in and two more antidepressants added, he was dead.
Jeff’s life came crashing down with terrifying speed. On July 4th weekend in 2010, Jeff partied with his best friends in Newport and was on top of the world. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2009, he worked as a paralegal at a major New York law firm. He spent weekends in Manhattan with his amazing friends and had an adoring family at home. He was also writing his own sports blog, Talkin’ Sports. Life was more than good. In fact, the first seven months of 2010 were arguably among the best in his life. Four months later, instead of being on top of the world, Jeff was on top of the Bear Mountain Bridge. He jumped to his death.
The chronology of events leading to his demise is clear. He was assigned to a high-profile case in late July. When the attorneys heartlessly demanded he return to work one night, despite knowing he was attending his Aunt’s wake, Jeff’s outlook turned sour. Over the following weeks, his hours increased. The pressure mounted. Unable to withstand it for another second, Jeff walked out on the job without warning in mid-August. He was deeply shaken but okay and prepared to take a step back and regroup.
Jeff thought it might be a good idea, however, to see a psychiatrist to determine if antidepressants might help take the edge off. Instead, the meds were debilitating. By mid-October, Jeff wanted to stop taking them. Given his adverse reaction, we were advised he should be carefully weaned off under medical supervision. When that process ended on October 26th, I made an egregious error that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
On October 27th, I went to work…like it was another ordinary day. I drove to the station, took the 7:22 train, and went about my day.
Jeff needed to be taken far away from his environment, and I was the guy who needed to take him. Instead of going to work that day, had I told Jeff to pack his bags, we’re heading to a beach in Florida to rejuvenate and devise a plan of attack, there’s not a doubt in my mind my son would be alive and thriving today. Jeff would have returned with a clear head, rejuvenated spirit, sense of purpose, and a plan. I live this illusory week in my mind repeatedly and wrote about it extensively in my blog. In late October, Jeff was completely salvageable, and I blew a golden opportunity to save him.
I hope to enlighten others struggling with these issues by sharing how I’ve coped over these last four years. The answer begins with my wife, Carey. The loving, impenetrable bond we’ve formed over 29 years of marriage has sustained us. We’ve drawn great strength and love from our boys Drew and Brett, who are 23 and 20 respectively. I don’t know how we could have recovered were Jeff our only child. Drew and Brett have been strong, resilient, and tolerant of my manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder.
My greatest fear, in the aftermath of this tragedy was that people would forget my precious son who died such a senseless death. One of Jeff’s friends, Elon Rubin, created the Kleinsaucer blog to serve as an eternal repository for friends to share their memories of him. After Jeff’s friends authored the initial posts on the blog, I decided to give it a crack and write my own entry. I haven’t stopped writing since.
At first, I wrote for purely selfish reasons. Writing became an effective form of therapy. I could unleash my raging emotions and ensure that, for at least the time it took someone to read a blog post, people were thinking of Jeff.
To further preserve Jeff’s memory, I created a Facebook page, Friends of Jeff Klein, where I share my new blog entries. The group has over 600 members and has become an online support group for me while also raising awareness for suicide prevention. The incredibly kind, encouraging messages from group members have lifted me up during my lowest moments.
I will never again have complete serenity in my life, but I have regained my ability to enjoy things. I get pumped when I win tough tennis league matches or go see the Knicks with Drew and Brett. I enjoy my evenings out with Carey more than ever. Before Jeff’s passing, Carey and I loved to dance. After his death, we avoided events with dance floors, but I reminded myself that Jeff loved us and would want nothing more for us than to be happy again. Carey and I finally danced again at our nephew’s wedding in 2013. That dance was a symbolic milestone in our recovery, and we no longer fear the music.
There are a few takeaways here. Tune in to the emotional health of your kids, especially through the pressures of high school and college when they spend more time with friends and less with you. Talk openly about their issues. Treat the decision to take antidepressants seriously, and consider their potentially life-threatening side effects. And, think twice before heading to work when your child is struggling. It could be a crucial, lifesaving decision.
Rich Klein is a Chappaqua resident and a Managing Director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. To read his moving blogs about his son, Jeff, go to www.kleinsaucer.wordpress.com and join his Facebook page, Friends of Jeff Klein.