Spay Day and Mr. Handsome – “Yes, Mom and Dad, It’s Me!”

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

By Dianne Anderson*

Mr. Handsome managed to find this spot right away!

I grieve the loss of Casey every day, but through our Foundation work, find some solace. We are keeping Casey’s memory alive and are carrying on her legacy through our many programs and scholarships, including those that honor Casey’s love of animals.  It’s all bittersweet, since we are doing these things because Casey is no longer with us.  What I always long for is a sign that Casey’s spirit is alive and that perhaps, she is communicating with us. That sign came Wednesday at our Foundation sponsored Spay Day at Providence Animal Center (Providence AC) in Media.

It was the third spay event which our Foundation had sponsored and the second at Providence AC. Through our Foundation subsidy, cat owners were able to get their cats spayed and neutered for just $15. The event booked up at 80 cats within a few days of when we had announced it on social media.  We knew that Casey would be pleased with the success of the event and that we were working with Providence AC (the former Delaware County SPCA),  where so many of our family pets had been adopted.

It was great to see and greet the many cat owners with their carriers in tow at 9 am when the doors opened. Joel (my husband and Casey’s dad) and I also enjoyed seeing the staff at Providence whom we have come to know and love. We were given an updated tour of the facility and were impressed with the progress of the construction since we had last been there in July 2017 for Casey’s Day of Service.  We made a brief but warm stopover with the surgery staff and then visited the kennels, stopping to see Ralphie, who was the most recent dog occupying the kennel which we had been sponsoring in Casey’s memory.  After that, we went to one of our favorite places, the cat room, just to pay a call and admire the many beautiful kitties waiting to be adopted.

There were 50 or so cats and kittens and I loved looking at them all. They had a dozen or more adorable kittens, one more beautiful than the next. I asked to hold one kitten in particular that had lovely gray and black markings. He purred when I picked him up and I asked the staff his name. The response caused Joel and I to drop our jaws in disbelief. His name was “Mr. Handsome”!  Mr. Handsome was the name of Casey’s horse!  My instantaneous thought was that we were receiving a communication from Casey and that clearly, this 2 pound Mr. Handsome was destined to be ours. Casey was in fact with us and shouting, “Yes, Mom and Dad, it’s me!”

Was this all simply a coincidence? Was I grasping at straws trying to believe that I had evidence that Casey’s spirit was alive? I choose not to attempt to weigh the evidence one way or the other. In fact, there is no rational answer as we know it.  Neither I nor anyone will know what happens to the soul upon the death of the body until we too, leave this earth.

In the meantime, I will find solace in our experience in the cat room and adoption of Mr. Handsome, feeling that it was meant to be. I’ll enjoy our rambunctious, little kitty and know that Casey too, would have found great joy in this new addition to our family.

Casey (age 13) with Mr. Handsome

Joel and I in the cat room with Mr. Handsome

 

View the photos from our Spay Day.

Join us when we return to Providence AC on July 15 for a Day of Service to honor Casey’s memory.

_______________________________

Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.

Donating Casey’s Prom Dresses

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

By Dianne Anderson*

Casey’s senior prom, 2006

It’s been hard to let go of the many physical objects that represent our many loving memories of Casey – now her remaining prom dresses, which we just donated today.  We have the photos of Casey in those dresses and know that keeping them would not be something that she would want us to do. While in high school, Casey was part of a group of students who worked to donate dresses to less affluent school districts so that other girls could experience their prom, something they would otherwise have to forgo, because of financial constraints. Our donation is a small part in how we wish to carry on Casey’s legacy – to make this a world a better place.

We are grateful for the efforts of Philadelphia attorney, Maureen M. Farrell, a member of the Solo and Small Firm Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, whom we did not know and who did not know of Casey’s story until we heard of her efforts in gathering prom dresses. Casey’s dresses will be among the many of those donated to Central High School in Philadelphia where the young women will be able to “shop” in preparation for their prom.

It warms my heart to know that other young women will feel as happy and as pretty as we know Casey did on that momentous high school event and  that Casey’s light will be shining down upon them.

[Note: Visit our photo gallery to view the many photo of Casey in her various prom dresses.]

_____________________

Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

*Dianne Anderson  is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of The Casey Feldman Foundation.

Lessons learned in the Face of Tragedy

Friday, March 6th, 2015

casey with dates (2)By Joel Feldman*

At the time Casey was struck by a distracted driver I was with a legal client in northern New Jersey. When the call came in to rush to the hospital he would not let me drive there alone. He insisted on having a neighbor drive me the 90 minutes to the hospital and he followed, driving my car. He was there at the time Casey died and he came to the funeral. He was the first to show me how kind and caring people can be after a tragedy.

I was representing him because a diagnosis of his cancer had been missed and he was not given a very good chance of survival – he was 40 and had a wife and two young children. I was filming a video for his case that would tell what he was experiencing and what his family was experiencing. I interviewed his parents, asking them to consider what it was like to know that you would be burying a child. I was interviewing his parents at the time my child Casey was dying.

Since then, we have talked often of the irony of me losing a child on that very same day.

When tragedy strikes, losing a child or contemplating one’s likely untimely death, we are caused to think about life differently. And that was certainly the case for my client.  He described how he would look at his wife and children and “take them in”, making a mental picture and holding them as close as he could because he did not know what the future held for him.  He explained that he had a new appreciation for all those he loved, was grateful for the time he had with them and the time he would have in the future. He was not angry or bitter about what he was losing but appreciative of what he had. It was as honest, raw, painful and eloquent a description of gratitude in the face of an incredible challenge that I had ever heard. I learned something from him that day that would help me in the following days as I buried my daughter and which still helps me today.

My client was cancer free for 8 years and all of us felt he had “beaten” it. I learned a few days ago that he recently died.  The cancer had come back. So I have been thinking about him, his children who lost a father, a wife who lost her husband, parents who lost a child and about that day when my daughter died.

I have been thinking how I have been able, as I continue to mourn the loss of my daughter, to be grateful for  so many things – the 21 years I had with Casey,  all those who love me and who I love and my client, for teaching me  about how we can choose to look at what we have and not what we have lost.

____________________________________________________________________________

Joel & Casey, Christmas 2008

Joel & Casey, Christmas 2008

*Joel Feldman is the father of the late Casey Feldman and founder of the Casey Feldman Foundation and its sponsored project, EndDD.org. He has been a practicing attorney for 30 years and a shareholder in the law firm of Anapol Schwartz in Philadelphia. He received a masters in counseling in 2013 and speaks throughout the U.S. and Canada to teens and adults, changing attitudes and behaviors through the science based, EndDD program. Joel can be reached at Info@EndDD.org.

Helping me to find gratitude from pain and loss – “She had the same habit as Casey, twirling her hair with her left hand”

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

By Joel. D. Feldman

Casey, Christmas Day 2008

Casey, Christmas Day 2008

I gave a distracted driving talk Tuesday at The Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. One of the students was blonde and she looked a little like my daughter, Casey. And she had the same habit as Casey – twirling her hair with her left hand. Following the talk, the school was getting out for Thanksgiving and many were leaving directly with family to travel for the holiday.

As I drove home I thought that if Casey were alive she, like all the girls at the talk, would be coming home to be with us for Thanksgiving. I would always pick her up at the train station in Philadelphia as she came home from college in NYC.  I would see her before she would see me and  I would look forward to that instant when she would first see me and smile – a smile just for her Dad.  I was really feeling down and missing Casey and thinking about how our Thanksgiving would not be so joyous. I thought about how I missed so many things about Casey, including her smile and how she twirled her hair.

Often when I finish a talk and am alone in my car I get emotional but, it was more so on Tuesday. I got home and continued to be deep in thought about how much I missed so many things about her. I thought of all that Casey had lost out on and all that we had lost. It was hard to feel thankful.

Then I received an e-mail from a father of one of the students at the school and it turned everything around for me emotionally. The father’s e-mail included the following:

My daughter just texted me that she found your presentation at her school to be a real eye-opener… she doesn’t text me often to comment on speakers she hears in class, but I think she was deeply moved by your experience, and so I write to you now.

I knew about your upcoming visit from an announcement, and at dinner last night I encouraged my daughter to be receptive to you. I got the usual rolling eye response that she’s heard it all before. She is a senior, and immersed in the more pleasant aspects of her life.

Thank you for making distracted driving an issue that we are all now concerned about. From your own unspeakable personal loss, I am sure that you are preventing many other tragedies. Your work is not only in the highest tradition of the lawyer, but the epitome of a human being who improves the lives of his neighbors.

When I read the email I realized just how much I did have to be thankful for: for my family and friends; for the support of so many wonderful and caring people; for the incredible 21 years I had with Casey;  for that young blonde student whose hair twirling prompted great memories of Casey;  and, for being able to tell Casey’s story everywhere to teens who are passionate, compassionate, energetic and so receptive to my message about distracted driving.

I am also grateful for that father’s email, as it prompted me to count my blessings on this Thanksgiving day.

 

A Veteran’s Expression of Patriotism and Love for His Country 96 Years Ago (Casey’s Great-Grandfather)

Monday, November 10th, 2014

By Joel D. Feldman

World War I, described as the “war to end all wars,” ended with the signing of the Armistice. The Armistice took effect on the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month in 1918. Following World War II we now remember veterans from all wars on Veterans Day, November 11th. On November 11th, 1918 my grandfather Louis was 23 years old, an army corporal and was in France fighting the Germans. Like many veterans during his life he talked sparingly about what he saw, but one sensed that it had to have been awful and likely beyond our ability to comprehend. He did describe what it was like being in trenches and subjected to mustard gas-blistering of skin, coughing and retching and worse. What would my then 23 year old grandfather have been thinking and feeling as he learned the war was ending?

He, like others, must have been overjoyed to hear that the war was over and that he would be able to return home to his family and that he had survived and that Germany had been defeated. Being an artist he celebrated by carving both sides of the lid of his mess kit. On one side he carved the date and time and what had been our nation’s motto until 1956—“E pluribus unum,” meaning, “out of many one,” referring to the creation of a single nation from many colonies. On the other side an image of Mother Liberty. My grandfather could not have chosen any images that would have better symbolized one’s love for country and American freedom.

The top of Grandpa's mess kit lid

The top of Grandpa’s mess kit lid

The inside of the mess kit lid

The inside of the mess kit lid

My grandfather’s mess kit has been in my possession for many years and will always be one of our family’s most precious possessions. I was 23 when my grandfather died-the same age that he was when World War I came to an end.  I have often looked at the carvings on his mess kit and wondered about the moments of their creation.  As I have grown older, when holding the mess kit,  I tear up thinking of him. I know that it is not because he is dead as he lived a very long and full life and I know the pain of losing someone who was far too young to have died. I have come to realize that I become emotional because I did not get to know my grandfather as well as I could and should have and, like others whom I have loved and are gone, it is too late to do so now.

I never thanked my grandfather for many things, including his service to our country.

Thank you grandpa.

Simple acts ease great pain, by Joel D. Feldman

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Posted on Mon, Apr. 5, 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer – Opinion                           

Joel and Casey - Dec. 25, 2008

Simple acts ease great pain 

By Joel D. Feldman 

My lovely 21-year-old daughter, Casey, died about eight months ago on a beautiful summer day in Ocean City, N.J. She was struck by a car in a crosswalk while on her way to a boardwalk restaurant where she worked. How she died and, more important, lived her short life was reported in various newspapers. 

Casey’s death is the most difficult thing I have faced, and going on without her is the most difficult thing I will face. 

But in the immediate aftermath, I would not have expected to be doing as well as I am now. My progress has been possible because of supportive family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. 

But I have found that many people, however well-intentioned, simply don’t know what to say or do to comfort the grieving. Awkwardness, anxiety, and ignorance surround death and mourning. So although grief is different for everyone, I offer my thoughts on what has and hasn’t helped me. 

“How are you doing?” So many people asked me this question and then quickly tried to retract it, saying something like, “How stupid of me to ask! I know you must be suffering terribly.” 

Even before Casey’s death, I was ambivalent about this expression, which often doesn’t indicate real interest in another’s condition. It’s better to ask someone who is grieving, “How are you doing today?” That communicates a genuine desire to know how someone is doing at the moment. A person can answer as fully or briefly as he wants, comforted by the knowledge that someone is willing to listen. 

“What can I say?” You can’t really lessen my grief, certainly not with a phrase. You can comfort, but not cure. Just be present. “I was thinking of you and your family” is the kind of sentiment that helps. 

“I know how you feel.” Please don’t ever say this. Many of us have lost loved ones, and some have even lost a child, but your loss doesn’t tell you how I feel about mine. (Presumably you are not as clueless as the person who told me she knew how I felt because she had recently lost her 18-year-old cat.) 

Listen; don’t feel compelled to talk. Casey was an award-winning reporter and editor at her college newspaper, and one of her colleagues told me Casey had taught her that everyone has a story – that one just has to listen. That is perfect advice for anyone trying to comfort someone in mourning. All I want is to be listened to – to feel you are trying to learn what it’s like to stand in my shoes and are there when I need to talk. 

“I didn’t want to remind you.” Many people said they were afraid to talk to me about Casey for fear of reminding me of her. But I think of Casey almost all the time, regardless of what others say to me. 

I am afraid people will forget Casey. I’ll always appreciate it when people speak of and remember her. 

Don’t judge my grieving. I struggled, and still do, with whether I am grieving enough for Casey. I know my grief is not a measure of my love, but when I would laugh or find pleasure in something, I would often chide myself for being happy too soon. 

As I returned to normal activities, people would say things like, “I don’t know how you are going about your life as you are. I would never get out of bed.” This was probably intended as a compliment, but it made me question whether I was grieving enough. No one can know what I’m going through, so no one should try to characterize or judge my progress. 

“I didn’t want to intrude on your grief.” I often heard this from friends trying to explain why they didn’t reach out to me sooner. But whether they did nothing because they didn’t want to intrude, didn’t know how to offer comfort, or just didn’t care, they still did nothing. I had no way of knowing the difference. 

There was not a single person who reached out to me whom I saw as intruding. Surviving a tragic loss is a struggle. I feel different as a result of my loss; don’t compound that by making me feel isolated. Do something, lest your inaction be construed as insensitivity. 

When is it too late to send a card? The answer for me is never. The bulk of the support I received came in the first month after Casey died. As time went on, there were fewer and fewer cards, phone calls, and deliveries. 

Some studies show grief symptoms may actually worsen several months after a loved one’s death as a result of the gradual lessening of support over time. Put a reminder in your calendar to make a call, send an e-mail, or plan a lunch. It will be most appreciated. 

My expectations – that Casey would graduate from college, find a satisfying career, marry, have children, live a full life, and one day mourn my death – have been shattered. In struggling to put together the pieces, I have learned that a tragic death can paralyze kind and caring people. And I have been helped by those who, whether they were comfortable doing so or not, tried to offer support. 


Joel D. Feldman is a lawyer in Philadelphia. He can be reached at jfeldman@anapolschwartz.com. For more information about Casey Feldman and what her family is doing in her memory, see www.caseyfeldman.com

[Note: Read  and follow Joel’s blog, “Recovering From A Tragic Loss” – http://tragicloss.blogspot.com/. Also, the photo of Joel and Casey above, was added for this copy of the article on the Foundation site and did not appear in the Philadelphia Inquirer.]

“Grief in the Age of Facebook” by Dr. Elizabeth Stone, The Chronicle of Higher Education (March 14, 2010)

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Dr. Elizabeth Stone, one of Casey’s professors and mentors at Fordham University, published the following article in The Chronicles of Higher Education, on March 14, 2010:

Grief in the Age of Facebook

By Elizabeth Stone

After the death of Casey Feldman (right), many of her friends changed their photographs of themselves on their Facebook profiles to a snapshot of them with Casey. Above, Kelsey Butler's Facebook photo, with Casey.

On July 17 last year, one of my most promising students died. Her name was Casey Feldman, and she was crossing a street in a New Jersey resort town on her way to work when a van went barreling through a stop sign. Her death was a terrible loss for everyone who knew her. Smart and dogged, whimsical and kind, Casey was the news editor of the The Observer, the campus paper I advise, and she was going places. She was a finalist for a national college reporting award and had just been chosen for a prestigious television internship for the fall, a fact she conveyed to me in a midnight text message, entirely consistent with her all-news-all-the-time mind-set. Two days later her life ended.

I found out about Casey’s death the old-fashioned way: in a phone conversation with Kelsey, the layout editor and Casey’s roommate. She’d left a neutral-sounding voice mail the night before, asking me to call when I got her message, adding, “It’s OK if it’s late.” I didn’t retrieve the message till midnight, so I called the next morning, realizing only later what an extraordinary effort she had made to keep her voice calm. But my students almost never make phone calls if they can help it, so Kelsey’s message alone should have raised my antenna. She blogs, she tweets, she texts, and she pings. But voice mail? No.

Paradoxically it was Kelsey’s understanding of the viral nature of her generation’s communication preferences that sent her rushing to the phone, and not just to call boomers like me. She didn’t want anyone to learn of Casey’s death through Facebook. It was summer, and their friends were scattered, but Kelsey knew that if even one of Casey’s 801 Facebook friends posted the news, it would immediately spread.

So as Kelsey and her roommates made calls through the night, they monitored Facebook. Within an hour of Casey’s death, the first mourner posted her respects on Casey’s Facebook wall, a post that any of Casey’s friends could have seen. By the next morning, Kelsey, in New Jersey, had reached The Observer’s editor in chief in Virginia, and by that evening, the two had reached fellow editors in California, Missouri, Massachusetts, Texas, and elsewhere—and somehow none of them already knew.

In the months that followed, I’ve seen how markedly technology has influenced the conventions of grieving among my students, offering them solace but also uncertainty. The day after Casey’s death, several editorial-board members changed their individual Facebook profile pictures. Where there had been photos of Brent, of Kelsey, of Kate, now there were photos of Casey and Brent, Casey and Kelsey, Casey and Kate.

Now that Casey was gone, she was virtually everywhere. I asked one of my students why she’d changed her profile photo. “It was spontaneous,” she said. “Once one person did it, we all joined in.” Another student, who had friends at Virginia Tech when, in 2007, a gunman killed 32 people, said that’s when she first saw the practice of posting Facebook profile photos of oneself with the person being mourned.

Within several days of Casey’s death, a Facebook group was created called “In Loving Memory of Casey Feldman,” which ran parallel to the wake and funeral planned by Casey’s family. Dozens wrote on that group’s wall, but Casey’s own wall was the more natural gathering place, where the comments were more colloquial and addressed to her: “casey im speechless for words right now,” wrote one friend. ” i cant believe that just yest i txted you and now your gone … i miss you soo much. rest in peace.”

Though we all live atomized lives, memorial services let us know the dead with more dimension than we may have known them during their lifetimes. In the responses of her friends, I was struck by how much I hadn’t known about Casey—her equestrian skill, her love of animals, her interest in photography, her acting talent, her penchant for creating her own slang (“Don’t be a cow”), and her curiosity—so intense that her friends affectionately called her a “stalker.”

This new, uncharted form of grieving raises new questions. Traditional mourning is governed by conventions. But in the age of Facebook, with selfhood publicly represented via comments and uploaded photos, was it OK for her friends to display joy or exuberance online? Some weren’t sure. Six weeks after Casey’s death, one student who had posted a shot of herself with Casey wondered aloud when it was all right to post a different photo. Was there a right time? There were no conventions to help her. And would she be judged if she removed her mourning photo before most others did?

As it turns out, Facebook has a “memorializing” policy in regard to the pages of those who have died. That policy came into being in 2005, when a good friend and co-worker of Max Kelly, a Facebook employee, was killed in a bicycle accident. As Kelly wrote in a Facebook blog post last October, “The question soon came up: What do we do about his Facebook profile? We had never really thought about this before in such a personal way. How do you deal with an interaction with someone who is no longer able to log on? When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of ‘memorialized’ profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.”

Casey’s Facebook page is now memorialized. Her own postings and lists of interests have been removed, and the page is visible only to her Facebook friends. (I thank Kelsey Butler for making it possible for me to gain access to it.) Eight months after her death, her friends are still posting on her wall, not to “share their memories” but to write to her, acknowledging her absence but maintaining their ties to her—exactly the stance that contemporary grief theorists recommend. To me, that seems preferable to Freud’s prescription, in “Mourning and Melancholia,” that we should detach from the dead. Quite a few of Casey’s friends wished her a merry Christmas, and on the 17th of every month so far, the postings spike. Some share dreams they’ve had about her, or post a detail of interest. “I had juice box wine recently,” wrote one. “I thought of you the whole time 🙁 Miss you girl!” From another: “i miss you. the new lady gaga cd came out, and if i had one wish in the world it would be that you could be singing (more like screaming) along with me in my passenger seat like old times.”

It was against the natural order for Casey to die at 21, and her death still reverberates among her roommates and fellow editors. I was privileged to know Casey, and though I knew her deeply in certain ways, I wonder—I’m not sure, but I wonder—if I should have known her better. I do know, however, that she would have done a terrific trend piece on “Grief in the Age of Facebook.”

Elizabeth Stone is a professor of English, communication, and media studies at Fordham University. She is the author of the memoir A Boy I Once Knew: What a Teacher Learned From Her Student (Algonquin, 2002).

http://chronicle.com/article/Grief-in-the-Age-of-Facebook/64345/#comments