Are We There Yet?

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Any time Robbie and Zachy were sitting in the back seat of my car and we were going somewhere that took more than 10 minutes, Robbie would start in with the classic annoying kid question: Are we there yet?

All these years later, I’ve been asking myself the same damn thing.

I’ve been trying to stay upbeat and view Rob in a positive light for the past few weeks, but the stupid sadness keeps getting in the way.

Sometimes it feels like I’m forcing myself to “snap out of it” and “get on with my life,” as if I’m racing against an imaginary grief clock. I somehow got it stuck in my head that after the longest and shittiest year of my life, things would lighten up and get back to semi-normal, as if that ever existed. There’s only four more months to go, and all I keep saying to myself is “Are we there yet?”

I know that’s not how grief works, and by this point, you do too. But the act of telling myself that I have some choice in how to deal with Rob’s loss—instead of passively allowing my feelings to come and go as they please—is really just that: an act. I’ve always been a master of self-deception, particularly when Rob was alive, so why should it be any different now that he’s no longer with us?

Lately I’ve been itching to get to the other side of the grief road (because I’m a chicken), where it’s all beautiful memory rainbows and sweet “missing you” lollipops. For Rob, just substitute four-leaf clovers, sunflowers, and a kiddie pail and shovel and you’ll get the picture.

But as much as I was thinking that I now have some say in how I feel, the truth is that, for the most part, I don’t.

I was looking at a bunch of adorable baby pictures of Robbie (is there any other kind?) that Caryn had sent me a few weeks ago, and they instantly filled me with joy. I couldn’t stop smiling at them. It was the same feeling I had when I watched home movies of the kids a few months ago. When I went through them again the other day while looking for a photo for this story, I just burst into tears.

A similar thing happened recently when Caryn sent me a mock-up of Rob’s headstone. Back when we brainstormed ideas for the inscription, it wasn’t fun exactly, but we were riffing back and forth and having a fairly pleasant conversation. This time I felt sick to my stomach.

Getting to the other side is different for every chicken—the grief road is pretty much all twists and curves—but I can’t stop the fowl voice in my head from asking “Are we there yet?”

As I tried to figure out where this angst was coming from, it hit me that it’s the whole tick-tock, time is precious, mortality of it all. I’m not getting any younger, who knows how much time is left, and what the hell am I going to do with it? I can’t possibly remain heartbroken forever, can I? (Don’t answer that.)

The other side of grief is just across the road, around the corner, across the river, through the woods, I can almost see it through the clouds. This would be about the time when Robbie would cry and yell, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? DADDY! ARE WE THERE YET?”

“We’ll be there soon, Robbie,” I’d say, “we’ll be there soon.”

Pillow Talk

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My sister Patti sent me a throw pillow that she had ordered online featuring Rob photoshopped as the Night King from Game of Thrones (you may remember it from here). Two of my favorite words that ever came out of his mouth (Rob’s, not the Night King’s) are at the bottom: Love You. Patti asked me to text her a photo when I received it just to see out how it turned out.

“Great smile! Hope you give it lots of hugs!” she wrote. “He looks radiantly joyful!”

He does. It’s the best photo of Rob smiling I’ve ever seen, taken last Christmas when he and Zach were at my house. That was the last time Zach ever saw him, and the last time I ever saw that smile.

But now I have it on a commemorative pillow forever! Some days I give him a big hug and kiss. Some days I punch the idiot in his smiley face, and other days I just put my feet up on him so we can comfortably watch TV together. It’s nice to have him back in my living room.

What’s also nice is that I’ve started talking to him again. In the months after his death, I talked to Rob almost every day. I said what’s up and cursed him out and asked him why and told him how much I missed and loved him. I can’t remember exactly when I stopped speaking to him out loud, but it was probably when I moved the Esquire photo upstairs to the bedroom. Thanks to all of this new pillow talk, we’re back to our old chatty selves.

Not coincidentally, Rob has been visiting me in my dreams again. He hadn’t shown up in them for quite a while (Zach, Caryn, Sarah, has he been hanging out with you guys?). He’s always little Robbie in my dreams, and I barely recall most of them other than us being together. A few nights ago, however, we were walking out of a movie theater and both badly needed to go the bathroom. And the only reason I remembered that was that’s what I did when it woke me up in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I jumped out of bed, showered, got dressed and went downstairs to the living room. And there was Rob waiting for me on the couch.

“Dude,” I said, “that was fun last night.”

The Night King just sat there and smiled.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Cry Forever

WHAT TO EXPECT

I didn’t know where to turn for help when Rob died, so I did what we all do nowadays and searched the Internet. I don’t even remember what I was looking for exactly, probably just something that would take away a tiny bit of pain or provide some semblance of an explanation or the slightest ray of hope.

I went down all kinds of rabbit holes (try googling “parents who have lost a child to suicide”…um, on second thought, maybe don’t). One of the first things I stumbled upon was something called “Grief Is a Process.” When I first read it, I thought it was generic bullshit, an obvious and cautiously optimistic roadmap kind of thing you might find in the waiting room of a low-rent shrink’s office.

The truth was that it was impossible for me to process anything at the time, least of all the process of grief. I was at the beginning of the beginning, and could barely read through my tears. Everything felt so empty and meaningless, especially words. All the mourners at Rob’s funeral who annoyed the hell out of me by saying “There are no words” turned out to be right.

But now that he’s been gone for more than seven months, I thought it might be time to revisit the words in that grief guide, and add some 20/20 hindsight words of my own.

***

Grief Is a Process

A better title would be “What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Cry Forever.” 

Here are some realistic expectations for your grief as time goes by:

Maybe the first thing they should have said here is “You can’t possibly comprehend what you’re about to read, so just give it a quick scan, then put it away and come back to it six months from now.”

–It takes time for healing to happen. Although the pain of grief often comes upon us all at once in a crushing blow, the pain gradually lessens over time.

The pain and crushing parts, as has been extensively covered here, are certainly true, and both abate eventually. But I’d tweak the first sentence to read: It takes a lifetime for healing to happen, and that’s if it even happens at all.

–You will find relief through expressing your feelings even many months and years after the death of your loved one.

So here’s the thing about relief: On a micro level, sure, there’s some solace in letting out your feelings rather than keeping them bottled up inside. But on a macro level, there’s no relief when it comes to losing Rob. There won’t be until the day I see him again. And, as you all know, I’ve been expressing the hell out of my feelings for many months now, and still mainly feel like shit.

–You cannot get through this alone, so find ways to seek out support.

Seeing a therapist, joining a grief group and talking about Rob with Caryn, Zach and Maura and a handful of close friends have all been incredibly helpful, and I couldn’t imagine enduring this without that wonderful support. But ultimately, we all go through grief alone. When I’m in the shower, or sitting in the car at a red light, or late at night after Maura has fallen asleep, I’m alone with my thoughts of Rob and how much I miss him and how much this world sucks without him. That’s when the heartache is at its worst. But I also know that somehow, someway, I’m going to get to the other side of grief, and will have to do it alone.

–The camaraderie and understanding of others in a grief support group will help to normalize your feelings.

I never imagined myself in a grief group. I’m pretty fuckin’ uncomfortable in just about any group setting, so I couldn’t see myself being any different with a bunch of strangers who I had absolutely nothing in common with other than that we had all recently suffered the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent. However, the moment I walked into my first meeting and saw the look in everyone’s eyes, I knew that I was in the right place. I knew because they all had the same haunted look that I’ve seen in the mirror every day since Rob died. I was with my people. We all understand each other in a type of shorthand that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a safe space where we can share whatever needs to be shared without any guilt or judgment. And I hope it will also be a space where we can all begin to heal. 

–It helps to continue to honor and maintain a loving connection to the memory of the person who died.

As I’ve said before, writing about Rob helps me stay connected to him like nothing else. For the first few months, I was compelled to document how I was feeling and dealing with his loss. And also, how those feelings might change over the course of time. But lately, I’ve become more aware of the “loving connection to the memory” part. In other words, focusing on Rob’s spirit more than just recounting all the fucked-up shit he got himself into these past few years. So good call, Grief Is a Process guide!

–There will come a time when you will go for an hour, a day, or a week without crying.

I didn’t believe this could be possible when I first read it six months ago, but of course it’s true. We can’t cry forever. We can’t grieve forever. We’re forever changed and I’ve since learned that grief is a shape-shifting monster, but as Amy Winehouse prophetically sang, “Tears Dry on Their Own.”

–When you are hit by a tidal wave of emotions, the duration will gradually diminish.

This is the ball in the box and the button theory. Grief sure does like its metaphors. It’s as if I’m the sand and grief is the water, or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, yeah, the tidal wave turn on the emotional roller coaster only lasts for a few moments now, and it’s the same deal with the airplanes flying into the Twin Towers loop-the-loop.

–There will be more time between those tidal waves.

I haven’t had one for several months, but I recently got slammed by two big waves and knocked around by the undertow. (There are those pesky metaphors again!) The first was when I heard in the span of a few days from two of Rob’s friends from Long Beach who had just found out about his death. It instantly brought everything back to the painful beginning of this shitshow. The second time was a few weeks ago during an EMDR session when I told Katarina about calling Zach with the terrible news about Rob. Both waves were washed away with my tears.

–You will be able to talk about your loved one without feeling an overwhelming sadness.

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, the takeaway with almost all of these milestones is that in the beginning of grief, you just can’t imagine that anything will ever change, and certainly not for the better. Remember, it’s a process: “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result.” So yes, the sadness slowly loses its adjectives and just exists unadorned.

–You find yourself laughing or enjoying yourself.

The guide has obviously never met me.

–You are able to smile as you think of tender memories.

It took seven months, but right again, Grief Is a Process asshole!

–You find yourself wanting to spend time with others.

See answer to “You find yourself laughing or enjoying yourself.”

–You begin to once again engage in activities that gave you pleasure in the past.

This is the “you need to get on with your life” speech, and I thought it was ridiculous until I had the recent epiphany that this was even possible and that it’s something I have some control over. Now I just need to remember what those old pleasurable activities were.

–You develop new interests.

Since moving to L.A., I’ve often fantasized about becoming friends with a celebrity. I came close when we had Wallace, and I’d take him to the dog park and hang out with Steven Weber, who used to be on Wings. But I really don’t want to get another dog.

–You begin to see and feel a possibility of hope for a meaningful life ahead.

So how does it feel to be mostly right about all of this stuff, Grief Is a Process jerkface?

About a Boy

ABOUT A BOY

A few months after we first adopted Robbie, his birth mother sent a letter to her father and stepmom, who lived on the same floor as us in an apartment building in Forest Hills, and who were primarily responsible for how we got our baby boy in the first place. Amy, the stepmom, who is still our dear friend, shared it with us a bunch of years ago, and then again (she had forgotten that she had sent it before) a few months after Rob died. Here it is:

Dear Dad and Amy,

Hello! How are things going? I really miss you guys. I’m starting to get my life back on track.

The first week after Caryn and Larry left was really hard on me. So many thoughts were going through my mind, and I really didn’t know what to do with myself. The thought of never seeing little Robbie again made me sick and I wanted him back so bad. I didn’t want to give him up. But I know what Caryn and Larry went through to have a baby, and I really got close to Caryn and didn’t want to hurt them.

Every time something reminded me of him, I broke out in tears. I’ve never been more heartbroken in my life. I’d go to bed crying and I felt this empty place inside of me, and I never thought I’d get over it. But every day gets better and better.

I’ll never stop loving him and I’ll never get over it, but now I realize I did the right thing. He’s the most important thing that has ever happened to me in my life. Caryn and Larry are great people, and I know they will raise him better than I could at this point in time. I’m glad that I did give him up to them now because I wouldn’t be able to do half of the things I do. And he wouldn’t get half of the things he deserves.

I’m giving you guys a picture. A couple of weeks ago when I was supposed to write to you, I wouldn’t have been able to give you one because I wanted to keep every one of them, and I was afraid to give just one up because I thought…I don’t know what I thought. I think I was going crazy.

Love you guys.

Love,

Tisha

Fast forward to Father’s Day 2015. I had posted a story on Facebook about my father that I wrote many years ago for a magazine called Dads. It received a fair amount of Likes and positive comments, and as I was scanning the list of names, one in particular jumped out at me—Tisha.

By mutual agreement, I hadn’t had any contact with her since we last saw each other in Joplin, Missouri, when she was all of 19 years old, and I had no idea how she even came to see my story. I immediately checked out her profile page and saw that she was now a beautiful woman (who must be—unbelievably—in her mid-40s) with a family of her own. In photo after photo, I saw Rob’s smile on her face.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I sent her a friend request, which she readily accepted. I then sent her the following message:

Hi Tisha, I think it’s been about 25 years, as amazing as that sounds, since we last saw each other. Hope you’re well. If you don’t already know it, Rob turned out pretty great. In fact, the last time he came to visit me in California, we went over to see Amy and Edwin, and that was one special day. If you’re ever in Los Angeles, I’d love to see you.

This was her reply:

Larry Carlat,

How do I express my gratitude for you? You have not only raised two amazing boys, one of which is our common link, but you have allowed me to read about moments of his life, and the love that was shared between his family. I know your intent was to help other families and Robbie, however, it was one of the greatest gifts that I have ever had. Your articles have eased my heart, mind and soul in knowing that my son was in good hands. There could have been no better dad than you. Happy late Father’s Day.

I am so happy to hear about Robbie’s visit to see Amy and Edwin. Maybe one day he might want to meet us too. He has a brother and sister who want his presence in our lives.

It’s great to have you as a friend and hope to one day see you too.

That was the one and only time I ever heard from her. Shortly after Rob died, Caryn had tried to contact Tisha to tell her the terrible news. After a few attempts, she received the following text message:

Hi Caryn,

My name is Courtney. I am Tisha’s daughter. First off I want to say that I am so very sorry for your loss. We will never know the devastation you have had to endure as Rob’s mother but we are all grieving over his death. My mom is beside herself; we are all beside ourselves. Do not mistake our seclusion as not caring, we are very thankful that you took the time to reach out to us. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss details or anything further so my mom will not be contacting you. Those are matters for you and your family to work through. Our prayers are with you and your family during this hard time.

On the Beach with Meryl, Harry and John

ON THE BEACH

I’ve been in and out of therapy for more than half of my life, and used to joke that I’ve made several shrinks rich beyond their wildest dreams. I’ve mostly sought treatment in times of crisis—when my mom died, when my marriage was crumbling and most recently, well, you know most recently. I’ve always liked the process of talk therapy, and also liked that for 50 or so minutes, it’s The Larry Show starring Larry, featuring tonight’s special guest—Larry.

But this time I thought I’d try something different. I’m still fond of the chatty part of The Larry Show, but dealing with the loss of Rob just didn’t feel like something I could talk my way out of. I interviewed a bunch of different therapists before I found Katarina, and the first thing I said, in a somewhat challenging borderline asshole-like tone, to each one of them was, “There’s nothing you can do to make me feel any better right now, so what the hell am I doing here, and how the hell are you going to help me?”

I liked Katarina’s answer the best. “I’m here to listen and to get to know you,” she said matter-of-factly, in an accent I couldn’t quite place until she told me that she’s from Croatia. It was at the end of our first session that she introduced me to the idea of EMDR.

EMDR is an acronym for the mouthful that’s Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a nontraditional therapeutic treatment primarily used with people who have experienced some horribly fucked-up shit (which is Larry talk for “trauma”), and it’s supposed to work a lot faster than the more conventional gabfest.

The short explanation is that you’re basically reliving your trauma in small doses while being distracted by doing specific eye movements and/or something called “bilateral stimulation.” There are several theories on why it’s effective. It’s not worth getting into details other than to say it’s kinda like rewiring your emotions, but without feeling like you’re going to become a creepy Scientologist.

Despite the knee-jerk skepticism built into every New York Jew, I was open to trying it because I’m open to anything that may somehow relieve any of my pain and sadness. Enough talk, it was time for action.

So a few weeks ago, we sat under a jasmine tree in the backyard of Katarina’s office because I’m now a New York Jew doing woo-woo therapy in L.A. After the usual pleasantries, she handed me two small green paddles, one for each hand. A mild, vibrating sensation began to bounce from one hand to the other (that’s the bilateral stimulation, which I first thought sounded like an old George Carlin joke), and after a few minutes, I didn’t even notice it. This is where the reprocessing of traumatic memories comes in. It’s supposedly a more natural way for the brain to deal with those memories…either that or total bullshit where nothing really happens other than me paying $150 to hold two joy buzzers that I once ordered along with X-Ray Spex and Sea Monkeys from the back covers of comic books.

Katarina then instructed me to close my eyes and imagine myself somewhere safe, tranquil and beautiful.

“Where are you?” she asked after a few moments.

“I’m on a beach in Malibu right before sunset,” I said, instantly aware of what a cliché that was.

“Okay, good. Now I want you to imagine someone who can comfort you, like a maternal type of figure,” she said. “It could be a fictional character from a book, movie or TV show. Or someone you know, someone who can take care of you.”

I had to think about it for a minute. “Okay, got it,” I said.

“Who is it?”

“Meryl Streep…but not from Big Little Lies. I just figured that she can play anybody.”

“Good. Fine. Okay, so now I want you to picture someone who can protect you. Someone who is strong and able to fight for you. A defender or superhero. Again, it could be anyone, fictional or real.”

“Hmm…Lemme think on it a moment. Oh! Yeah! Okay!”

“Who is it?”

“Harry Potter! He’s perfect to deal with ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’!”

“Ha! Good! Now think of someone who is very wise, someone with a lot of wisdom who can give you sensible advice.”

“That’s easy,” I said. “My friend, John Birmingham!”

“Alright. So now I want you to picture each one of them coming to sit down next to you on the beach. First, Meryl, then Harry, then John,” Katarina continued. “I want you to sit together and just enjoy the sunset with them. Really, whatever you want them to do is fine. Just breathe naturally and take pleasure in their company. I’m going to leave you there and not say anything for a while.”

And that’s pretty much what I did for the next 20 or so minutes, until I sensed that our time might be up and opened my eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Katarina asked. “What was that like for you?

“Um…it was interesting. They were all on the beach, but Harry Potter was too hot and had to take off his robe. Meryl and John got along famously, as I knew they would,” I playfully answered. “But really, since I’m a word person rather than a visual thinker, I imagined each of them saying something different, and then I started to repeat what they were saying like a type of mantra.”

“What were they saying to you?”

“Well, Meryl was saying, ‘I love you, little boy!’ Harry was saying, ‘Nothing can ever hurt you!’ And John was saying, ‘Just be you!’ And that’s what I was hearing in my head the entire time I had my eyes closed, over and over again. And the funny thing was that the sun never set. It just stayed in that soft, yellowish-red light, and that’s sort of the way I felt.”

“Wow! I’m impressed! You’re a natural at this,” Katarina said. “Next week, we’ll focus on the moment you got the phone call about Rob.”

So next time, tune in for a very special episode of The Larry Show with special guest stars Meryl Streep, Harry Potter, John Birmingham and He Who Shall Not Be Named.

An Ounce of Prevention

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Today’s the last day of National Suicide Prevention Week, so I have to ask myself—is there anything we could’ve done to prevent Rob from doing what he did?

In the days after his death, the answer seemed obvious: YES! For God’s sake, I was with him the day before he killed himself. Shouldn’t I have picked up on warning signs? Shouldn’t I have asked him if he was depressed or how he was sleeping or if he was still going to AA meetings? Shouldn’t I have offered to give him money or get him meds or take him to the emergency room like I did a year before? Shouldn’t I have done something? Anything?

Shouldn’t we have been able to nip his mental illness in the bud when he was a little boy and get him on the right combo platter of drugs to smooth him out? Shouldn’t we have thrown him into rehab where he could’ve received proper treatment and then maybe he would’ve turned his life around? Shouldn’t we have done more? How could we have let a thing like this happen? Did we fail as his parents?

Seven months later, the definitive answer to that question is NO! In my heart of hearts, I know we did everything we could’ve done. Woulda, coulda and shoulda can go fuck themselves. We couldn’t save Rob because Rob didn’t want to be saved.

He took his own life, accidentally on purpose, in an impulsive moment, and if it didn’t happen then it would’ve likely happened in the future. With all the close calls he had in the past, it was kind of amazing that it hadn’t already happened.

I get that this week is a big awareness thing for a very important issue and it’s great to shine a light on how to better understand this national crisis. I also get how this week represents an effort to remove the stigma attached to suicide and to support those who survived a suicide attempt. I get all of that and wish everyone well.

And maybe reading this blog might help someone who struggles with some of the same demons Rob struggled with, and he or she can find some comfort here. That would be wonderful and my greatest wish.

But I don’t think we could’ve prevented Rob from taking his own life. Nobody could’ve. He had made up his mind. He was determined. He wanted the pain to stop. He was out of here. End of story.

Benjamin Franklin or whoever said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” never met Rob, and therefore didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

An All-Around Pain in the Ass Who Was Deeply Loved by Many

AN ALL AROUND PAIN IN THE ASS

Yeo,

It’s been a while since I dropped you a line, so I thought it was time to say what’s up again.

What’s up again?

“Haha, what a lame joke, Dad!”

That’s what you’d say if you were here to say it. Then again, you kinda are.

I was thinking about you the other day when I saw that your shitty Bills beat the even shittier Jets 17-16. And all day yesterday when I was editing a story that Caitlin wrote about you (btw, she says hi and misses you so much).

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately and you’ll be pleased to hear that they’ve been mostly happy thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss the hell out of you and will occasionally get bummed out, but for the most part I’m trying a new approach, something a little lighter. Whenever I think of you, like when I see an old photo or talk about you with someone, I choose to picture your spirit, soul, energy, I don’t know what you guys call it in Ghost World or wherever you are.

It’s something that I finally have some control of—remembering the best of you. Just because things were sometimes bad doesn’t mean that they weren’t sometimes good. The pain of your abrupt departure and previous shitshows somehow overshadowed the fun and joy we shared together. Old, cranky Jew that I am, maybe that’s just the way I’m wired.

I’ve always been pretty black or white about everything, and these past seven months have been the darkest time in my life, so I thought I’d try to change things up, do a little rewiring. Maybe I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. For whatever reason, the sad balloon has finally popped, and it was you who stuck a pin in it, which is definitely something you would do!

“I’d probably stick a fork in it,” is what you would say here.

Speaking of forks, I was eating soup dumplings last week at ROC (yes, I asked for a fork so you can still make fun of me for never learning how to use chopsticks) and realized that I haven’t been back to Din Tai Fung since the day before you died. The main reason is that it’s a hike and I can get soup dumplings and scallion pancakes closer by, but also, I can’t imagine going there without you. As much as I liked pigging out together, the best part about those Saturday afternoons was waiting for our table and walking around the Del Amo Mall shooting the shit, goofing on people, talking about our lives and just plain being with you. That’s what I miss the most…and also Din Tai Fung’s pork chops.

It always gave me such pleasure to watch you eat! Isn’t that strange? Maybe because you were such a finicky eater when you were a little boy or maybe because you were such a skinny fucker and never gained an ounce and I wanted to fatten you up. But really it was because I love to eat so much and sharing that with you made me so damn happy, just the way it does whenever me and Zach chow down.

A few days ago, I was taking a walk after lunch and I saw this little blond boy who could’ve been you when you were three or four, happily running around the park while his dad chased after him. I immediately thought of us playing hide-and-seek at Syosset-Woodbury Park, where Zach broke his wrist when he was four, remember that? If I had seen this playful moment four or five months ago, I would’ve been a complete mess, but this time I was smiling from ear to ear. I almost cried, but they would’ve been tears of joy.

In fact, the only times I’ve been sad lately were when I heard from two of your friends from Long Beach a few weeks ago. It really threw me to hear from people all these months later. One guy worked with you at the casino and had just learned what happened. He sent me a Facebook message saying how sorry he was. The thing that made me cry was when he said how you used to talk about me with so much love and respect, and that he wished he’d known how much you were hurting. He sounded like a good dude who truly loved you.

So did the other guy who reached out. He said he loved you like a brother even though he didn’t know you for that long, and he takes comfort in reading these stories and looking at your photos. You always had the best friends.

As do I. I went out to dinner the other night with my pal Charlie, who I’ve known for more than 40 years. We were talking about you and he asked me what he thought might be a slightly uncomfortable question: Now that you’ve been gone for seven months, do I feel any sense of relief?

It’s a funny thing. The first thing I thought was that I feel relief for you. I feel the relief of you not struggling with all the things you struggled with and you no longer being in pain. I also feel the relief of not worrying about you and imagining the worst whenever the phone rings. The thing about relief, though, is that it’s usually associated with something good happening after something bad has happened. You know, like a big sigh of relief, a long, deep breath, out with the bad and in with the good. But in this case, I can’t seem to find the good.

I looked up the definition just to make sure I got this thing right and it says “a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.” So yes to the release from anxiety and distress and not so much on the feeling of reassurance and relaxation. There’s no relief when it comes to losing you. How could there ever be?

On another note, you’ll be happy to know that we came up with some sweet words for your headstone. Mom chose “Life Rolls On” and I know you’d be down with that. Right underneath those words will be: “And they loved a little boy very, very much, even more than they loved themselves,” which of course is true, and I’m sure you’d be okay with that too. I came up with something that I thought you might like even better: “An all-around pain in the ass who was deeply loved by many.” But Mom didn’t go for it. So the next time you leave sunflowers for her, maybe you can persuade her to change her mind?

Goddamnit, Rob, you were such an all-around pain in the ass who was deeply loved by many—you still are and will always be. You know it, I know it, everybody who knew you knows it. It’s what made you you, and I miss you and love you—all of you, the Good Rob, the Bad Rob and the other jagged pieces of you. Your voice is always in my head and you’ll be in my heart forever. And even though you’re not here, you’re right here and always will be.

And here’s what you’d say about all of that: “I love you, Dad.”

Love,

Dad