Dealing with Loss

Life is filled with ups and downs. When you are growing up, it’s a lot more up than down. There is so much to look forward to as a kid. Birthdays. Celebrations. Holidays. All are uplifting times we have experienced with family and friends.

I think what I always loved was being with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Whether it was at our home or theirs, those get togethers truly lasted a lifetime. As someone who’s older, I have been without grandparents for over a decade. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since my father’s side of the family passed.

One thing I can say is I have a photographic memory. So, I can always freeze time and see them watching down proudly on me and Justin. They were caring and loving. I really enjoyed the holidays. We are Jewish. So, we celebrate Channukah. I just wish we still did it together as a family. I feel like since my parents divorced, the caring part has stopped. But the most memorable were always at my grandparents. Whether it be a Passover seyder or Rosh Hashanah get together, that was always great.

I guess I just miss my extended family a lot. Such is life. As you grow up, we learn about death and tragedy. The first time it really hit me was back in November 1992. I was a high school junior attending Staten Island Tech. At the time, I was running Varsity cross country track. My favorite sport as it turned even though I was better at tennis. I always found running fun. Especially in the autumn with the unique elements and scenery and unpredictable nature of the courses.

My grandfather on my mother’s side had been let out of a hospital in Florida. The truly sad part is they made a mistake and he had a heart attack and passed away. Because he lived in Florida, I didn’t see him as frequently. But I still recall the times we shared including at my Bar Mitzvah in 1989. He was a tall, thin and proud man who loved his grandkids. I can still remember my Dad telling me as we drove up to Van Cortland Park for the PSAL City Champs track meet:

“Run for your grandfather today.”

That really hit home. On what was an ice cold day with temps in the low 30’s, there I was in my McKee/Tech gold and green running tank with a long sleeve shirt underneath and gloves on. Yes. It was bitter outside. Not ideal conditions. But what you’d expect for early November in New York City.

Our school had a good team led by junior classmates Jason Goldberg, Josh Kantrowitz and very talented sophomore Patrick Keegan. There were a few other teammates who were ahead of me. What I recall is the top seven who finished became your team total. I was on the fringe. I also remember Jeff McGooey and Sean Leckie. I hope I spelled it right. Some of us were just better at long distance. Others can fly and are much more equipped for 100, 200, 400 and even 800 meters in indoor or outdoor seasons. The true athletes can do hurdles, high jump and long jump. Those are quite challenging.

Getting back to the race, I definitely was inspired. Not that I wasn’t motivated already. I loved running for my high school. I wasn’t the best runner. But I always gave it my best effort. I looked up to my friends who were more consistent and better runners. The hard work paid off for them. I did the best I could in my comeback year. Unfortunately, I suffered from plantar fasciatis. A debilitating injury that affects the growth plate in the heel. It basically ended my career. Though I did do some indoor and outdoor before being relegated to inactive as a senior.

As much as I wish I could’ve participated, I don’t have many regrets. I did run a good time at the city champs up in Van Cortlandt Park. That was a nice reward for the practices and all the commitment I put into it. I do feel I should’ve stuck around more and supported the team even though I couldn’t run. But we all have stuff we could’ve done differently.

I think what I’m most proud of is that race because of what it meant. This wasn’t just about me personally. But rather about my late grandfather. I ran well for him. I’m sure he was smiling down on me standing tall with that grin of his.

So, why do I tell this story? Because as you grow older, it isn’t gonna get any better. Sure. There will be exciting moments in our lives that make us happy. Whether it be a school award or graduating college or landing a new job in the field we majored in. Something I was lucky enough to have happen to me back in ’01 and ’02. Whatever it is, those are the moments we should cherish.

The same echoes for good friends who you would give your left arm for. I’ve lost a couple of friends recently. It doesn’t get any easier. It’s already been six years since we lost Lindzay “Futuristic” Richburg. I only knew him for about a year. His family resides in Atlanta, Georgia. But his wonderful Mom Patty had him come live with his uncle in our development. He truly was the kind of special individual you don’t come around too often. A uniquely skilled and savvy kid with so much potential, he was dedicated and hard working.

No matter how bad the situation, Futuristic always saw the best in things. I remember we talked once at our friend P’s about myself and my family. He told me something I’ll never forget. That I was lucky to have two loving parents and a great brother who all cared about me. I don’t recall the particulars of what had me down. Maybe it was due to my anxiety. I didn’t have a job back then. But what he said really made a lot of sense and it stuck with me.

Sometimes, we don’t appreciate what we have. I don’t take anything for granted. Every day is truly a blessing. I know from experience. If we wind up feeling sorry for ourselves, then it’s pointless. There are so many others who are less fortunate and don’t have it as good. I’m talking about kids without fathers growing up in urban poor neighborhoods, etc.

I think when we are not feeling well, it’s never as bad as it seems. I might be having a bad day due to work or some other crap that’s on my mind. However, I am still here. So are our friends. Well, most of them. I used to be real shy when I was younger. But as I’ve grown up, I am not afraid to speak up when such tragedies occur. I did at Lindzay’s wake. I just felt obligated and wanted to share my memories and put smiles back on the faces. Let them know how great a kid he truly was.

I refer to him as a sunshine star. Most don’t understand what it means. To me, my definition is someone who was a special person who made people smile and laugh when we were with them. They are the kind who make our days shine brighter. The kind who are always there for you no matter what. Only a true few are always with you and understand that life isn’t perfect. There are challenges.

We lost another one too soon. Her name was Chris “Shorty” Schuval. She was only 31. She was a nice person with a good heart. It had been a tough year for her. She lost her fiancee this past summer. For her, it didn’t make any sense to stick around and live here. So, she relocated to Georgia and took a new job.

I always saw her posts on Facebook remembering the great times they shared together. I could tell she was going through a difficult time. Only nobody knew that she was suffering. On the outside, we can act normal and seem fine. But nobody knows what’s going on inside. I know about that kind of suffering and mental pain. I go through it but never to that extent. I suffer from panic disorder. Basically, it’s like a black hole which can cause panic attacks. It’s a fear of fainting or dying. It really sucks.

In thinking about Shorty, I just wish she would’ve reached out. I wish I could’ve told her everything would be alright. But how can we relate to what she experienced? A fiancee who died tragically. I guess she must’ve been really depressed. All the photos she shared were a sign. But nobody recognized it. She was reaching out for help. She lived in another state at the end away from family and most friends.

Patty was nearby. She is such a strong person. She could’ve helped her had she known. I know P-Dube would’ve because she’s so caring, so affectionate and wonderful. I still can’t imagine what it’s like without her outstandingly gifted son Lindzay. He was a month away from turning 21. It just kills me.

I don’t think you ever truly get over death. Especially when they die young. I can’t. But somehow, I keep going. Through the good and bad, I have to. Chris was very nice and someone who deserved better. Maybe this was her way of saying goodbye and being with her love forever. It hurts for those who knew her and cared about her well being.

When we say goodbye these next couple of days, we will do it by showing strength and compassion. It’s never fun being at wakes. I’m definitely tired of them. But it’s part of life. Everyone has a different way of grieving. I believe in the grieving process. By being surrounded by family and friends, it’s our way of paying tribute.

It’s hard to deal with. But something we all go through. Love and hugs to Chris and her family. <33333 😦

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Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.

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