Sunday, December 26, 2010


I have been told by some in the mental health profession that I am "resilient." That comment normally accompanies some discussion about my progress in dealing with Casey's death. Only those that know me well , I think, dare to say that, as it is in essence a judgment. Making judgments about others seeming progress can be risky , even if the judgment is intended as a compliment. Appreciating that I was making progress, i.e. returning to some semblance of normal activities,did cause me some distress. It always made me question how could I go on with my life when Casey's was over. Did that reflect how much I loved her, the "ease" with which I could return to normal activities? It almost seemed to be an inverse measure of my love for Casey. For me i believe I did not really have a choice but to try to get back to my life and I have been able to do so. I have been changed by Casey's death . There have been a number of positive changes but there also some changes that are not so positive and I need to be quite conscious of those. At times, I think that others expressed problems are insignificant compared to the loss of Casey. Most are but that should not diminish the respect and attention that I can and should offer. Over time my initial reactions are not so comparative and judgmental as they had been. I still feel that way but don't show it-that is not at all being resilient.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Be strong" and "life heals all wounds"

After Casey's death and even past the funeral I was told to "be strong" more times than I could count. I did not know then what it meant to be strong under the circumstances and now still don't know what was inteneded.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Remembering that they lived

One of my partners sent me this quote from Elizabeth Edwards:

"If you know someone who has lost a child, or lost anybody that's important to them, and you're afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died, they didn't forget they died. You're not reminding them. What you're reminding them of is that you remember that they lived. And that's a great great gift."

It is a gift for me when someone remembers Casey.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is the loss of a child the worse loss imaginable?

Some have said that the worst loss possible is the loss of a child. I would not disagree but I can't and won't make that conclusion. I do know that when I go to comfort those who have lost parents or spouses invariably the family will say "but this is nothing compared to what you have been through." This has become a frequent occurrence for me. I almost feel like my presence carries with it the cloak of horrific tragedy and that, to some extent, others gain perspective on their losses by comparing them to my loss. I think it actually helps them deal with loss better.

It does not cause me to suffer more or make me realize the depth of my loss. I have thought about that every day for the last sixteen months. I attended a Compassionate Friends meeting and a mother who lost two of her children and a grandchild spoke. I did not feel better that my loss was "less" than hers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Common Language of Loss

I met with a family our firm is representing in an obstetrical medical malpractice case whose baby was profoundly injured during delivery. Their child is delightful but his limitations are obvious. We hope that he will progress as time goes on but he will have permanent limitations. I told the parents of my loss and we talked for quite a while. We shared the dreams that we had for our children and how those dreams have been dashed. We shared our anger at those responsible and our sense of isolation from others who had not suffered any tragedies to their children. As other parents complain about their children, or rather mundane events, we are bitter and angry and envious. I was ,for a moment, envious of these parents since they still had their child.

I am learning that with all types of loss-death of a child or permanent injury to a child, paralysis, amputations, career-ending injuries , illnesses, disability and so on- there are so many common threads, irrespective of the specifics of the actual loss. There is a common language of loss and a connection between all those who have suffered loss.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grief and the holidays

I have been asked, or others have commented this week, about how difficult it must be without Casey for the holidays. I actually don't think now that the holidays are as difficult for me as some might imagine . I miss Casey every day and on holidays her absence may be more palpable, but, at those times I am surrounded by family and friends and I think, perhaps, that by collectively shouldering the loss it is lessened somewhat for me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A dialogue of loss

I was asked to write about loss for a local charity that supports those who have received burn injuries. I agreed and then had second thoughts. My experience of loss is unique. It is even different from the experience of other fathers who have lost daughters. Could I really address the concerns of those who had received terrible burn injuries and survived in a respectful and helpful manner? So I thought about whether there were some aspects of loss, whether it is a death or life-altering injury, that were universal irrespective of the specific type of loss. Then it occurred that the focus could be on how all of us survivors receive support from others and what we can do to help the process. Here is an excerpt:

One of the variables that has been identified in studies of loss as predictive of the path personal suffering may take is our perception of the support we receive from others. If we believe that those around us are interested and care about us we are likely to do better. Mental health professionals speak of “being present” or empathic listening. This is the ability to listen to someone intently and convey through the process that you understand not only their words, but how they feel and what is like to be them and that you deeply care. Unfortunately many are not able to listen in a caring fashion when we need to speak about our loss. So what we need from others to help us is often difficult or impossible for them to provide. One of my clients, a twenty-one year old man who is paralyzed from the waist down, told me that he would welcome someone asking him what it was like to be sitting in a wheelchair. He could see their faces, their eyes looking down at him as he sat in the wheelchair and knew they were thinking about how awful his injury was, but they would not talk about it. What was now part of his life, his new story, was being ignored. Ignoring what had happened was the same as ignoring him. He desperately wanted people to listen to him, and to know that they cared and accepted him as he was. After my loss I have experienced the awkwardness and discomfort of others when confronted with a parent’s grief. I have learned over the past year that if I wanted to tell my story and have someone listen I would often have to lead the way , almost giving “permission” to the other to have a dialogue about what had happened. This is supported by preliminary results from an ongoing study concerning loss which indicates that nearly all of those surveyed desperately wanted feedback from the survivor about how to be supportive.

In this way I have made it easier for others to be supportive and give me what I often need-a caring person who will listen. It is also a way to take some control over my situation and responsibility for what I need as a survivor. This does not always work, but when it does, and my story has been heard I feel connected and less isolated.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How is your wife doing?

Today I voted at the polling place I have been going to for more than twenty years. No less than four of the regulars-the poll workers-asked me how Di was doing. They all wanted me to tell her that they think of her often and especially when they see the pink tree. I was glad that they were so concerned for Di. After I left it occurred to me that not a single person asked me how I was doing. As the realization hit me I had a very strong emotional reaction--I started to laugh. It was , I am guessing, easier to ask me about Di than to ask me about myself. Perhaps they were more comfortable with a second hand story of grief than hearing about it first hand from me and not knowing how I would react to their question.

I do remember when Casey was about two and a half years old I took her into the same voting machine and let her flip the levers for the candidates that I wanted .

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

After the first anniversary

Di and I were talking about how it seems harder now, after the first anniversary of Casey's death, than in the months leading up to it. We were almost propelled and carried along in our grief during the first year by events unfolding around us-the funeral, return to work, Fordham memorial, fall 2009 establishment of scholarships and awards in Casey's name, the Pink Performance, spring 2010 New Jersey traffic safety initiative, West Chester University benefit concert, Casey's birthday in April, accepting Casey's diploma at Fordham and the day of service on July 17 th. I have been down , most days, much of the day for several months now as has Di. We believe it is the present absence of distractions that is making it so difficult. Once one gets down it is so much harder to find the desire or energy to actually do anything and a potentially self-defeating cycle begins. One of the tasks of mourning for completion is the establishment of an enduring, albeit, altered relationship with the deceased. I am still so focused on keeping Casey's memory alive by service and helping others discover the joys of service-this may not be the establishing of a new and altered relationship with Casey as much as it is about what I need to do for me right now but it is what feels right for me. I can see I will have to work a little harder to keep momentum going, new projects to remember Casey and to help others. But I have learned that I do get so much out of helping others and knowing we are making a difference in Casey's memory. One of the scholarship recipients at the University of Colorado , after spending her spring break volunteering ,wrote the following in a letter to us:

I am making a living, breathing difference in the lives of others that I am proud of and want others to take part in.

This keeps me going. I am not such a good anonymous donor.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Parents who carry the loss of a child

Brooke has been training for her first Marathon for about 6 months. After a training run of about 18 miles she saw a plaque on a bench . This is what she wrote to us:

When I finished 18 miles and felt really good, I started to stretch at the bench at the end of the path. I looked up and saw the plaque below on the bench. See the attached picture, but if it doesn't load, it reads, "To all parents who carry the loss of a child within their heats, you are in our prayers. - Love Neil and Karen." This really struck me and reminded me again of the heart of why I am running this marathon. No one expects a child to go before them, and no young person ever expects to loose a friend so early in their lives. I miss Casey so much, and think about her practically every time I run. I think about all the things I know she wanted to do in her life, and who she could have been, and how all that was taken away from her. This plaque was a striking message and a reminder of why I set out to do this marathon in the first place.

I have talked about needing to look for gifts every day as they keep me gong and remind me of all the good in this world. Thanks to Brooke for her many gifts .

Photos of Casey and the NYC Marathon

Di, Brooke and I were looking at photos of Casey. I still cannot do so for very long. There is something about all the life and joy and promise and hope in them-especially someone like Casey, that overwhelms me with a deep sense of sadness and loss. I walked away, outside and sat in the grass in the sun and it was warm on my face and dried my tears. I looked at the sycamore and maple and oaks and their fall colors, heard a flock of geese pass overhead and played with Luna. After a while it was ok. I am so thankful that I am able to get out of those deeply sad moments and can enjoy all the wonderful things this world has to offer. I so much enjoyed having Brooke here-her laughter, smile, tears and hugs. Brooke ran with the group Back on My Feet that has sponsored her for next month's NYC marathon that Brooke is running because of Casey. As Brooke talks of her new job I can't help but think that Casey would also be at a new job, starting her career and having lots of new stories to share. But the enormity of the loss seems somehow less with Brooke here and in our lives. How lucky Casey was to have her as a friend and how lucky Di and I are to also have her as our friend.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Compassionate Friends

I attended a Compassionate Friends meeting tonight. About a dozen parents who had lost children. Some could speak freely of their child and their grief while others could not. Anger, pain, loneliness, depression, fatigue and also some humor. If that room is a barometer time does heal wounds. Those 8, 10 or even 16 years into the process had regained some joy in their lives and allowed for the possibility of a hopeful and promising future. That realization came first to me intellectually--that things would get better and I would not feel so down and lonely all the time. I also now know it on an emotional level. "Fake it until you make it?" Borrowing from another support group's sayings. Let's also not forget "one day at a time."It was so hard to hear all the individual stories of loss but after it was all said and done I felt better for going and it allowed me to continue to see a happier future.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

College savings accounts and expectations

When Casey was about 6 months old I opened a college account for her. After she died I had to transfer what was left out of that account. It was incredibly hard to do so. That was about a year ago. Yesterday I was asked for more information from the accountant for a tax filing. I opened up the folder and started to look at the statements and the list of contributions made almost every year from when she was a baby until she entered college. I fell apart and could not do it. It was as sad and empty and grief-stricken as I have felt in a while. The process focused me on her entire life span- a baby, toddler, entering elementary school, middle school, teen years and what I had expected would happen with college graduation and starting a career and family and all of that now will never take place. What I expected , Casey expected and what will never be . The cruelness and unfairness of it was magnified somehow and really hit me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What can you do for me?

I attended a dinner honoring one of my partners and saw for the first time since Casey's death many attorneys I had known and practiced with for many years. Several came up to me and apologized for not doing anything more than sending a card . There was such a sense of helplessness- the inability to do something for me that troubled them greatly. I am convinced that those in my profession, so used to giving advice and solving problems, are at such a loss because they cannot see how they can "fix" my "problem." It is true they can not solve my problem and if that is their preconceived notion of what support and comfort is all about they will be awkward and uncertain and will "fail."It also struck me that many attorneys are not very good listeners--of course some are, but to a large extent they are not. Sometimes I will come right out and say what I need or what I expect from a person who is well-intended and other times it is too much of a burden to do so.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sharing stories of your living children with me

I was asked today if it was unkind for other parents to share their living children's accomplishments and successes with me? Did it make me think about what their child had-a life and a future and what the parent had -the promise of a future with their child consistent with all expectations? And what Casey did not have and what I no longer have? When I hear about some one's living child, especially if the child is a contemporary of Casey, I occasionally do drift into "what if" and "what would Casey be doing now?" Yes, it does sometimes cause me to well up . But what is the alternative? To have that person who is a parent purposefully not talk of their child for fear of upsetting me? To treat me differently because of my loss and pain? That would be worse by far because it is not real and it adds to my perception of being isolated and different as a result of losing my daughter.

Each day I try to look for gifts I have received from others. My gift today was that a caring person thought to ask me how I wanted to be treated instead of making an assumption about how I wanted to be treated. To be asked is empowering and comforting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I can't imagine ...

"I can't imagine what it is like ... without Casey." Someone I have known for quite a while who only recently learned of Casey's death said that to me. That was after they sent me an e-mail expressing their condolences, saying they just heard and they "dreaded" sending the e-mail but knew that they had to do so. What they did not say and which I infer is that they were afraid that sending me an e-mail about Casey's death would result in me becoming emotional or ruining a day when maybe I was functioning well and not thinking of my loss. I do have days that are ok-I do laugh and smile-and I can do so even with Casey on my mind virtually all the time. I used to say when I was emotional that I was having a bad day. I quickly learned that there is a difference between a bad day and an emotional day. So I stand firm that I, and all the other parents I have spoken with who have lost children, welcome becoming emotional if that is as a result of others' communications that refer to our children and that does not at all equate with "having a bad day." Some days I can imagine what it is like without Casey as I live that every day.... but I still can't imagine not having her around for the rest of my life, Di's life, Brett's life and what should have been her life.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Finding meaning in the lives of those we have lost

I received an e-mail from one of Casey's middle school teachers who just found out about Casey's death. The e-mail was very supportive. It was good to receive it and one of my gifts for today.The teacher was so kind to tell me her memory of Casey and also, at my request, to elaborate on the circumstances of the specific occasion. It did cause me to have a very emotional reaction--speaking of Casey's love for animals and people and the hope that the teacher and her young children would become more like Casey in terms of compassion for others and service. It has been a while since I thought about the unfairness of losing Casey-someone who had so much life and promise as any young person, but someone who was also kind, generous and compassionate. Yes I did in the past and today thought why couldn't it have been someone "less deserving to live," someone who was selfish, self-centered, etc. It was the loss to me, to my family, to Casey and the world that I was feeling when I broke down. I have not reacted this way in some time. Some of the articles and books I have read on grief speak of finding meaning in the death as necessary for moving through grief. I find no meaning in Casey's death and do not look for any. I cherish all everyone can tell me about my little girl, my wonderful young lady and I continue to find meaning in the way she lived and the example she continues to set for so many.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anniversary of death

The first anniversary of Casey's death was July 17 th. We were surrounded by friends and family. Some had ventured to approach me before the anniversary of her death trying to find out what that would be like for me, assuming it would be horrible. After the anniversary many told me that they"did not want to intrude" on that date or around that time so they did not reach out. We spent the anniversary of Casey's death doing service at a no-kill animal shelter in her memory. It was a beautiful day that I, and I am sure, many of those who participated will never forget. For some of the students it was their first experience with performing service and they were inspired to do more.

Many friends and colleagues still ask me "what can I do for you?" I used to not request anything. That has changed. I now ask others to consider reaching out to someone who suffered a loss on the anniversary of the death, or the birthday or any other date that is significant. All that is needed is just to let someone know that you have not forgotten them, their loved one and their loss. That is what others can do.

Related Links:

A Day of Service and Remembrance on Casey Feldman’s First ‘Angelversary’ -July 17, 2010 (Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation news article)

Photos from the day

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Optomism, Coping Skills and Social Support

The research on parental grief is voluminous. Most of the articles contain a statement to the effect that the loss of a child is the worst loss any person can suffer. Other research tries to predict based on a number of variables how a parent will progress over time. Some of the research points to tree variables as rough predictors of future recovery/adjustment:

1. Optimism for life
2. Coping skills
3. Perceived social support

The first two are set by the time the loss occurs-not that we do not learn how to cope after our child's death but the skills that existed at the time of the loss are the focus. So if we have been beat up a little in life and had to overcome some difficulties and in the process learned some coping skills we may be better prepared for this most difficult of obstacles. But perceived social support is the variable that is not fixed at the time of our child's death. Does it appear to us that our circle of friends, family, co-workers and neighbors are supportive? If so , the studies suggest we will do better. With the awkwardness and confusion and ignorance concerning death where are we supposed to get this social support? There are some who actually can be helpful-knowing when to listen, how to be supportive, allowing us to proceed at our own pace and sticking with us , but unfortunately they are the rarity. It is not their fault-I was like them before this happened in many respects also when it came to death, particularly a tragic death. If social support is a predictor of a better outcome for those who are grieving what can we do to educate those around us to do a better job?

Monday, July 19, 2010

525,600 minutes

Rent was one of Casey's favorite musicals-Di and I saw it about a month ago-Casey would always sing songs from the show including -"525,600 minutes--How does one measure a year"Do I measure it by the tears, the pain, the emptiness, the anger and bitterness , the disbelief, the wondering of what Casey thought and felt in those last seconds --tormenting myself over and over again thinking of why Casey -why us-there are so many other 22 year olds and so many other families--why Casey and why us? Continually running through my mind of all that Casey was cheated of and we who loved her were cheated of as well-- Graduation, profession, love , friendship, support, understanding,marriage ,children and the chance to experience all the good and bad that life has to offer-the joy and the tears- and the support of friends and family. All of these are and will be how I measure this past year.But I also measure the year by the incredible gifts I have received-from Di and Brett and my family(many of us who do not find it easy to share our thoughts and emotions), my friends, Casey's Fordham friends, Springfield friends, those extended families , the Colorado family, all those who have joined the network and continue to join and the countless strangers who have and continue to reach out to me after learning of my loss. All of the gifts I receive--seeing a pink bumper magnet on a car whose driver I do not recognize, receiving a kind and caring note, hearing a new Casey story, a because of Casey I will or a because of Casey I have and seeing another pink tree. Knowing that so many are thinking of us and Casey and so many will keep Casey's memory alive through words and deeds-- realizing that we can and we have collectively make the roadways a little safer for all of us, that we can and we have helped others perform acts of service, that we can and we have reached out to those less fortunate, provided greater comfort to those who are suffering losses -care more for people and animals-and have been better friends ,family members and people as a result of our tragedy. So the tears still come and go, the questions of why linger and may never be answered but there is much hope and promise and joy and love and some laughter as I look forward to the next 525,600 minutes and all the millions of minutes after... that "Casey's family" has to live life more fully, richly and generously .

One year later

Shortly after Casey's death I was so comforted by all of her friends for staying in touch with us as we grieved. The influence that Casey had on her friends and the influence that her friends had on her was evident-such kind, supportive, caring, generous people. When I prepared the 14 minute DVD for Casey so many of her friends gave so much of themselves by lettting all of us know how Casey had positively impacted their lives. That started the process of getting to know Casey's friends much much better. We collectively grieved , sharing Casey stories when we could talk and just looking at each other and hugging when we could not talk so easily. Tuesday nights at the Feldmans, events honoring Casey locally, Springfield and West Chester and staying in touch through the network site, e-mails and texting. I worried about how long Casey's friends would stay in touch, continue to care and involve us in their lives.One year later we still text, e-mail and gather for Tuedsay night dinners. We still share Casey stories and come together on special occassions to release pink balloons upward to Casey. Casey's friends are still, and will always be, Casey's friends but they are our friends now also. We have created our own relationships with Casey's friends that will endure into the future. These new and evolving relationships are so important to Di and I and enable us to look into a future without Casey's physical presence not as one of anger, despair, longing , emptiness, unfullfilled dreams and loss , but optomistically as a future filled with hope and promise . Hope and promise for us, for all who knew and loved Casey and all who did not know Casey but have learned of her life. We have been given an extraordinary gift by all of those who knew Casey-the greatest gift they could-allowing us and welcoming us to become part of their lives .

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death Notification Class

Last week I participated in the MADD Death Notification Class held in Montgomery County, PA. The class was open for all first responders-police and EMT's and was very well attended. The executive director of PA MADD spoke and requested input from those of us who had lost loved ones. Three MADD volunteers talked about their particular losses and the specifics of the notification to them that their loved one had died. Practical pointers were provided , including suggestions of what to say and what not to say. I provided input concerning my "notification." I remember that night and what was said to me and how it was said vividly and will remember those details for the rest of my life. The doctors who told me that Casey had not survived surgery are now part of my "new story." I reminded those in attendance to remember that each of them, when they notify of a loved one's death, will also become part of that family's new story and that they can provide and incredible gift by starting the family's journey with kindness and compassion and understanding. The lessons I learned from my own experience as well as those learned from the class will help me as I try to comfort others, including my clients who have lost loved ones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

My life sentence

Casey will not be creating any new memories-she will not be speaking new words or be having new relationships. I have learned about death and continue to learn about survival and recovery. I need to keep Casey's memory alive. I need to speak of all the things Casey was and did and receive positive affirmation of what a wonderful young woman she had become. I have a hunger to hear how Casey positively influenced other's lives. I well up with emotion when someone who did not know Casey tells me they will change their life in some small way because of Casey.

Casey has been cheated and I have been cheated and I have to get on with life and do the best that I can.What am I doing and who am I doing all this for? It has almost been ten months since Casey died and I can't believe it. Every day I miss her and in some ways it is worse now than several months ago. The nature of my life sentence is growing clearer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Who am I following Casey's death?

I have been struggling with my identity since Casey was killed . I am realizing that much of my concept of self- worth was based on being a father to an incredibly talented, gifted and generous young woman. I had always thought that part of my worth as a person and father was in the legacy I would create as a father through my children. Casey and Brett--I have incredible children. Very different but similar in their kindness and caring for others. After losing Casey am I less? Less certainly for not having her in my life and all the promise of the continuing relationship I would have had with her, with her and Di and her and Brett and all of us together. But also less for her not being here after I die. the number of different areas in which I have and can continue to contribute to the world beyond being a father to a child who has died. I think I now can do so much more effectively as a result of the course and focus on many other areas of my life in which I do and can add value to the lives of others. I am also able to look at the legacy my daughter has left, and continues to leave, in the wake of her death-scholarships, benefits, the activities of the Foundation created in her name and , most recently ,changes in pedestrian safety laws in New Jersey(you may have read about these last week). Similarly, I felt isolated at work because I went from being someone who was asked by his colleagues to help on their cases and solve difficult problems to one who was not consulted and left alone/ignored for fear of overloading me or adding to my burden. My colleagues, and a number of others, have been less adept at providing comfort than they could have and I have felt like a lost another piece of me after Casey died-my professional identity. I will also be better able to focus on what I need with respect to approval, and the belief that I am a critical cog in my firm’s success-I am able to look and see that while I am a good lawyer, the firm can get on without me in a number of areas and I have actually been able to have some additional non-lawyering time to pursue other activities that interest me, including counseling. Coincidentally, there will be an Op-ed piece in the Inquirer tomorrow, Monday, which I authored which discusses what has helped me in my grief process and what has not. It is very abbreviated and if you would like to see the full version let me know and I will be happy to send it to you.
I have heard so many times since Casey died that there are no coincidences. Perhaps that is why I did elect to take your course. Thank you very much.

Champagne and pink cupcakes

Will others remember Casey? So short a life and so many more years she should have lived and loved and been loved and experienced and grown and ..........

I pulled in to the cemetery and approached her site. I saw some people at her grave and was annoyed-I was her father and on her birthday wanted to be with my daughter not some other folks. I saw it was Casey's college roommates- Kelsey, Janine, Christina and Cassie. They each had a champagne glass and were gathered around Casey's monument. They had a tradition of celebrating each other's birthdays with champagne and cupcakes from their favorite bakery. They had not forgotten Casey. After hugs and kisses and tears I realized that Casey would not be forgotten. I will always remember the ladies with their champagne glasses and pink cupcakes on Casey's twenty-second birthday.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Casey's gift to me on her birthday

I had spoken at a continuing legal education seminar last Tuesday-Casey's birthday. I had talked about Casey and how, as a result of being a grieving father, I realized that I had not really listened well to my clients who had lost loved ones over the years. I was nice enough but there is a difference between being nice and really listening in a way that the person speaking knows you are listening and that you get what they are feeling. I suggested to the attorneys that we could all do better and that it was really more about the clients than it was about us. I walked out and saw a man who had lost both his legs seated in a wheelchair. Thinking of Casey I stopped , gave him some money and smiled at him. I walked around the corner to the flower store where I pick up flowers ,wanting flowers to drop off at Casey's grave on my way home. I picked a bouquet of pink roses and brought them to the counter. The owner looked at them and since one or two were starting to brown said he would get me a new bouquet. He returned with the same pink bouquet as it was the last one in pink and also a beautiful bouquet of white roses. He said to take both--a gift from him. My present from Casey on her birthday--Thank you Casey.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Simple acts ease great pain

This article appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday April 5th 2010. I am grateful for its publication and the incredible response it has generated. I have received hundreds of e-mails and most are from parents who have lost children and many of them more than ten years ago. All of these parents still have a need to tell their story, their child's story and a need to be heard.
The e-mails were incredible-very emotionally draining for me-some of the stories of children who had died years ago and the intense continuing grieving scared me. I guess somehow I imagined it would continue to get a little better with time. Maybe you reach a place, a plateau, and it does not get better. Do we still need to tell our stories because we have not found the right people to tell them to?

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 For more information about Casey Feldman and what her family is doing in her memory, see

Simple Acts Ease Great Pain, by Joel Feldman, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Let's not write any new pedestrian death stories

The grief I suffered and my family suffered after Casey's death is something that is being used to try to get drivers to be safer, to try to focus drivers on what can happen with a moment's distraction. There is also the other side-imagine you are the driver who, through distracted driving, was responsible for killing someone's child. How would that feel for the rest of your life? At the New Jersey press conferences I wanted to point out that there were two sides to the story of every pedestrian fatality. No one wants to be on either side of that story and it can happen to all of us whenever we drive.

I pray that no new pedetrian death stories will be written for both sides.

More information can be found at

Sentencing Hearing Press

Following the sentencing hearing reporter Tim Logue from the Delaware County Times wrote a story that discussed the sentencing issues, but, more importantly, focused on the charitable events that are being done in Casey's name. This is a a part of the article:

Feldman and Anderson have poured their energy into a foundation created in their daughter’s memory. The Casey Feldman Foundation “supports individuals, groups and institutions whose interests and goals align with those of Casey,” according to reached Wednesday, they were in New York City with students from the University of Colorado and Fordham helping to feed people with serious illnesses at a nonprofit agency.“We are with 12 students from Colorado who are spending their spring break doing service instead of partying and two from Fordham, which is not on break right now,” Joel Feldman said.

Here is the link:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sentencing Hearing Yesterday

I attended the sentencing hearing yesterday for the motorist who struck Casey. The hearing had been scheduled and postponed many times and that itself took a toll so we agreed to the plea bargain on one of the two traffic violations. That is really all that was available under New Jersey law. I did talk about Casey and how good hearted she was and how she would have liked to have seen a kinder and gentler world and how those who knew her, and even strangers ,were trying to do service or just be kinder to others in her memory. It had been troubling to us that the motorist and his family had not reached out to us and even sent a sympathy card. I had been informed that was due to the advice of the motorist's lawyer. I had thought about that advice quite a bit before the hearing.After the hearing the motorist's wife came up to me and spoke with me about how they had wanted to reach out but kept being told by the lawyer that they should not. the wife of the motorist told me that she looks at Casey's site often and has had us in her prayers. I was deeply moved . As a result I sent a letter to the editor of The Atlantic City Press hoping that it would be published and perhaps that lawyers could think before giving the advice not to reach out to the victim's family.

Related Links:
Lawyers, let clients express sympathy to victims, by Joel Feldman, published in the Press of Atlatic City,3-26-2010

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Being there to simply listen

After Casey died I was not very comforted by those who told me that God had a plan or that time heals. Those who tried to tell me what path my grief would take or predict how long I would grieve just raised my anger and resistance. It was tantamount to lecturing and I did not want to be lectured. As a result I did learn what was helpful for me-to allow me the dignity to grieve as I needed to and provide support without the unsolicited advice. In thinking about it it seems that everyone really wants that whether grieving or not--to be respected and permitted to find their own way knowing that there are others who will support us on that path and will simply listen. So I thank all those who did so and also thanks to those who could not just listen-they have helped me as well in figuring out what I need and how I can approach others and be there for them in the future . I have also come to realize that I do not need to put the pressure on myself to "solve" others problems through my advice as I probably cannot...but I can act in a fashion to support others by allowing them to find thir own way and in doing so strengthen the relationships that really count. Thanks to Tess for listening so well this weekend and to so many others these last 7 months.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Loss of identity following the death of a loved one

I had lost my twenty-one year old daughter and I was not sure how I or my wife and son would go on living. As time went on it became clear that life does go on but it is and will always be different for me. I saw how kind and caring people did not know what to do to offer comfort(perhaps I did not know how to receive what they offered) and as time went on some of those I knew were trying to be so protective of me, especially in the office. They would almost apologetically ask me to do something, tell me to take my time or even that they did not expect anything of me for quite a while. This did not sit well with me and I was not sure why at that time. I have come to realize that I felt that I was losing something else-my identity at work. I had lost Casey and now I was losing the identity that I had as a trial lawyer representing consumers and being a partner in a center-city law firm where I had been employed for twenty-eight years. Too much had been lost and more was being taken away and it was as a result of well-intended acts of colleagues and friends. They and I did not understand that the loss I suffered had torn apart my belief that I had some control over my life and being too solicitous and protective was taking away more. I realized this when one of my partners asked me to look at a truck accident case that was coming to trial. He just asked me to do it-did not say "when I was able" or anything else except that he would appreciate my help. I felt empowered and grateful to be "seen" as my former self. That simple act did more for me than many gestures of protective concern. I am not being critical-people just do not know what to do under these circumstances. It really is a matter of respect and affording someone the dignity of making their own choices and finding their own way after a tragic loss. Support does not have to be in the form of protection. Just a thought to consider when a death occurrs and one wants to be helpful.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Philadelphia Inquirer Article: Tragic Turn For Plaintiff's Attorney

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer was published on January 7 th , 2010: Tragic Turn For Plaintiff's Attorney. The article described my practice of personal injury law-and specifically about how I prepare settlement DVD's for the larger cases that I handle. I have done settlement DVD's for death cases, cases involving amputations, cases involving brain injuries and cases where the client had become paralyzed. All my clients and their families had suffered losses, as now I had, and I began to see how my loss would affect me as a personal injury attorney. I personally felt (and still do) different as a result of losing Casey, but rarely made a connection with a client as a result of understanding and communicating personally about their loss. I was able to describe and explain their loss in a legal sense and to obtain good results for clients, but , looking back , I could have done more. I had not been an unkind person , but I just did not know how to offer comfort to those who had suffered losses-I offered my legal experience but that was all. There is so much more that I can offer now that I have some experience with a tragic loss. I can and will do more in the future. Hundreds of people communicated with me as a result of publication of the article. Many said they had heard that Casey died during the summer but had not reached out since they did not know what to say. They did not know what they could do to lessen my grief. One person even sent an e-mail titled "my lack of courage." The awkwardness surrounding tragic loss prevents many kind and caring people from helping and supporting others. It is so difficult for those grieving and those who want to help but just do not know how to do so.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My counseling class and the "tasks of mourning"

I had been enrolled in a counseling class as part of my Master's Program at Villanova and was to start a class in August of 2009. I had mixed feelings about attending and came close to dropping the class and taking the semester off but decided at the last moment to go ahead and take it one day at a time. The first class was very difficult-many of the students in the class knew of my loss and expressed their condolences. I was close to tears for much of the class. What would Casey want me to do I kept asking myself? She would want me to be in the class and keep on with my plan to get a degree in counseling so I stayed. I wanted to do a project on grief and recall the other students questioned why I would want to do a project on grieving and loss so soon after Casey's death. One actually said "Are you crazy?" With three other students we decided to look at the grief process for parents who have been told that their children have terminal diseases. The grief that is experienced prior to death is called "anticipatory grief." I knew that I needed to explore my own grief and thought I would be able to do so with the help of my fellow students. Much has been written about the so-called stages of grief first set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her classic book On Death and Dying. These stages are denial,anger,bargaining,depression and acceptance. Others in the field have referred to "phases" of mourning. There was something that was a little unsettling for me as I read about these stages, or phases. I knew that any given day I would have "symptoms" of one or more stages or phases and , quite frankly, did not like to think of myself as being "in " anything. I like to be in control and I was not in control if I was stuck in some stage of grieving. My sense of control and perceived ability to control what was happening in my life was shattered by Casey's death. As I did more and more research for the project I found an article by J. William Worden, a psychologist with a great deal of grief counseling experience, who has written extensively on the subject that resonated with me. He preferred to speak of "tasks" of mourning as opposed to "stages" or "phases" of mourning since the latter implied a degree of passivity. On the other hand tasks are something we can reach out and do to accomplish our grief work.

Worden's Tasks of Mourning are as follows :

1. Accept the reality of the loss
2. Process the pain of grief
3. Adjust to a world without the deceased
4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

Worden,J.W. (2009) Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. Springer Publishing Company. New York.

I suspect that with me jumping head first into the charitable work with the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation we established, all the scholarships and even this blog I am doing a lot of work on Task four and will need to go back to the other earlier tasks-but this is comfortable for me and has been working . I am a task oriented person-from my practice of law , to involvement with outside charitable organizations and even around the house-I like lists and I am restless when not working on something. I have had difficulty looking at too many pictures of Casey or when I think of the future and what she has lost and what I will lose as a result of her death. It is hard for me to adjust to a world without Casey and when the emotions get too close to the surface I tend to change my focus -avoiding processing the pain of grief?

Casey Will Not Be Forgotten

In the days after Casey died and leading up to her funeral I started to realize what a positive impact she had on so many people. Some of her colleagues at the Fordham Observer wrote me and told how Casey had influenced them. One told me how Casey had shown her that everyone has a story and if you just take the time to listen you will hear that story and can communicate that you value what the other has to say. Another told me that Casey was dogged in her reporting, fearless when it came to getting the story, but also honest and fair. Another admired how Casey was able to work so hard but also have a good time. Another that Casey took the extra effort to welcome others and try to make them feel comfortable. Many of these "Casey stories" were told at the funeral. Following the funeral there were more and more letters and e-mails which touched me profoundly and gave me hope that Casey would be remembered and that many people would carry a little bit of Casey with them. One of the associates at my law firm , after attending the funeral, wrote the following:

I feel compelled to write to you and your family as I was never so touched by anything like I was yesterday. While I did not know Casey personally, and felt like an intruder at first at the service, I left with an overwhelming feeling of her spirit and love and I now believe that one person can make a difference toward making a kinder more gentle world. The words from you, your family and Casey’s friends were beautiful and made me feel like I should work toward becoming the best that I can be, as it was clear that Casey did herself.

I pray that her wonderful spirit and the celebration of her life, and how it has touched even the remote of persons, can assist your family in this difficult time. My best to you all …

Another dear friend recalled how Casey, then age 10 or 11 had comforted her 5 year old son at our firm's Bring Your Child To Work Day and stated that she had not been aware of Casey's accomplishments in her short life but wondered whether many of the older folks in attendance at the funeral had done as much for others as Casey. She felt that Casey had "lived big, enjoying life fully, but also given big to others." She questioned what she was waiting for and said that she believed that not a day would go by where she would not think of Casey and, as a result, would try to do better in her life.

I recall feeling that it was so unfair to Casey and to all that loved her that she had been taken from us at such a young age. I had always looked into the future and thought about Casey , and my son Brett, growing up and how lucky I was to have them and was looking forward to a changing relationship with them. Casey was gone and what would would be left? All the cards and kind words kept saying memories-that's what you will have -wonderful memories-but it really was not much solace for me then. I wanted Casey to be alive for Casey and for me and she was dead. Slowly it came to me that through Casey's influence on others, her love for others and their love for her, Casey would live on. She would not be forgotten-my biggest fear. Every time someone told me how Casey had influenced and changed them for the better, or every "because of Casey I will..." gave me the hope that she would live on.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Message to my co-workers

Several weeks after Casey died I was considering trying to return to work at my law firm and wanted to let everyone there know just how much I appreciated the support that I had received. I was at times overwhelmed by my loss and at other times able to think that perhaps life could resume and we could all go on. I had represented many people who had lost loved ones and was beginning to get a sense of what my clients, those family members , had actually experienced following their loss. I began to realize that not only would I be changed as a person but also as an attorney representing families who had suffered tragic losses. I sent an e-mail to the firm which contained the following:

With what we do we encounter death and tragedy on a daily basis. We have achieved great results for families mourning the loss of a loved one or suffering from the effects of a devastating injury. While I may have said over the years to a family member that I understood what they were going through I clearly did not and doubt anyone could who has not actually lived any one of a number of nightmare scenarios themselves. I will be a better more compassionate person and lawyer as a result of what has happened.

Di , Brett and I will miss Casey very much as I know many of you will too. We are beginning to see that from tragedy there can be growth and an opportunity for fuller, more rewarding lives and relationships-- that is a direct result of the love and support we have received as we have learned more about our wonderful daughter and sister and how she so positively affected the lives of others. We will be closer as a family and will have a greater appreciation for what is important in our lives and the lives of others . Yesterday at the funeral I said that Casey would want us to work hard and achieve but to also take time to be kind and compassionate.

The first of many acts of kindness

I found out that my twenty-one year old daughter died at about 9:30 pm on July 17 th 2009-the doctors had given my wife and I periodic updates during surgery and then came out and looked at us with expressions that conveyed as much as any words could. They simply said “Casey did not survive surgery.”

After getting the call at about 5:00p.m. that Casey had been hit as a pedestrian and was being transported to Atlantic City Medial Center I was rushed to the hospital by an off-duty New Jersey state policeman who, after hearing that I planned to make the approximate one hour drive to the hospital alone, took my keys and told me to get in his car and that he would not allow me to drive. I had never met him until that moment. Driving through rush hour traffic my mind started to wander to the “what-ifs” that I had on occasion imagined with respect to the health of my wife or children. “What if Casey was crippled, brain inured or dead?”. The state policeman talked calmly to me telling me that we could not know anything until we got there and that we would just have to wait and see. After arriving he waited several hours with me and my family and was with us when we were told that Casey had died. The police officer’s kindness would be the first of many , many acts of kindness from that day to the present.