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.

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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 [email protected]

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.