Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas caroling

Dear Dan,

Remember when you, Mary Lou and I would go Christmas caroling in the neighborhood? Mom loved to open the front door and listen to our voices floating through an otherwise "silent night." We weren't allowed to go in to the houses. We could sing on the front steps and we were allowed to accept cookies if offered.

The only problem we ever had was Mary Lou! All she had to do was sing "5 gold rings" during the 12 Days of Christmas. She was so busy craining her neck looking at people's homes she would forget to sing. We'd have to nudge her for the "5 gold rings" - every friggin' time!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Past

Dear Dan.

I went past the old house today. Mom and I went there shortly before you died. The guy who bought it gutted the place and totally redid it. He wasn't quite finished when he showed us around.

 As I went past I had flashbacks of lovely Christmases past; back when our little family was safe; before things happened. I had flashes of visions of the Christmas present going on in the house now.

I had visions of us running down the stairs in the morning. I had visions of us sneaking out of bed at night to see if we could see Santa and his sleigh. I remember waking in the middle of the night and listening for the reindeer. I wonder if the kids in the house now did the same. I wonder if there are even kids in that family.

I think of Christmases past and I wonder where it all went wrong.

I love you Danny. And I miss you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Star of Bethlehem

Dear Dan,

I've been thinking about the Christmas dad took us out for a ride shortly before midnight. Astronomers were saying that there was an event in the night sky that could have been the star of Bethlehem. So dad took us around out in the country so we could look for it. We drove around for probably an hour. The night was pretty cloudy but we caught a couple glimpses of it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wave to Santa!

Dear Dan,

One year shortly after Thanksgiving you, mom dad and I went to have dinner at Howard Johnsons. I think you were already in high school and I was still in Jr. high. We both might still have been in Jr. high; I don't quite remember exactly. We were going past College Heights and the Alphas were driving around with Santa on the fire truck. Mom got all excited, started waving and yelling to us, "Wave to Santa! Wave to Santa!" She turned around and looked at us sitting in the back seat. We just sat there, looking at each other and at her. All of a sudden she realized SHE was Santa and WE had known that for quite a few years!

We all laughed so hard; the tears were running down our faces. I think dad even laughed out loud. THAT was unusual. His biggest laugh was usually a smile.

We got to Howard Johnson's and mom was laughing and staggering; she could hardly stand up straight. She had one of those purses that had one strap and a clasp on the top. The clasp wouldn't stay closed. As she brushed the tables, her open purse was knocking the silverware off the table and - of course - it was all landing in the purse. Mom kept digging the silverware out of the purse and resetting the tables. The hostess and the other customers were all slackjawed, looking at us. That made her laugh harder and stagger more. We just kept shaking our heads and laughing all the way to our table.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas at Camptown

Dear Dan,

Since it's the season I've been thinking about Christmases past.

One year we spent Christmas in Camptown with Grandmother and Granddad. Scott was in the Army in Germany and wasn't able to come home. All the presents were sent up to Camptown. Santa was going to deliver them there.

Uncle Don, Aunt Betty, Judy, David and Barb came to Christmas Eve dinner. There was a "children's table" where we sat and discussed the wrapped presents. You and Judy decided we should have a petition and all us kids should sign it. "We the undersigned are asking to be allowed to open one wrapped present this evening" or some such. I remember you signed nice and large like John Hancock - and then put your thumbprint like Cosa Nostra.''

The adults laughed and made comments but since we had all been pretty well behaved we were allowed to open a gift.

That night you slept in what had been Dad's room. It was next to Grandmother Snyder's room where I had always slept with mom. This year I got to sleep in Grandmother and Granddad's bed because they were downstairs.

Christmas morning we went downstairs. Scott had sent you a cuckoo clock for Germany. We thought that was so cool and couldn't wait to get back home to set it up.

Santa brought you a space helmet and a tape recorder. I think the space capsule mom built was at home because it was just too big to take with us in the car. You interviewed mom on the tape recorder. She was the first woman astronaut into outer space. There were some great "outtakes" that were never spliced out. I wish I still had that recording. You two were so funny!

Dan, you had a great voice for radio. I think you would have been brilliant as a DJ or newscaster.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas ornaments

Dear Dan,

Mom has a favorite Christmas story about you that she likes to tell. You were born with a stomach ulcer and cried for food all the time because of it. When you learned to crawl you hunted for food, eating  everything in sight - whether it was edible or not.

It was probably your second Christmas when mom went into the living room and found you sitting there with your mouth bleeding. On closer inspection she found the remains of some glass ornaments that had been hanging on the tree.

Mom decided then and there something had to be done or a) there would be no ornaments left and b) you would bleed to death. She took all the ornaments and put them away.

Mom enlisted Scott's aid in baking several dozen Christmas cookies. They then decorated all the cookies. They hung all the cookies and mom realized the tree was a little crooked. Scott was about six at the time and very tall for his age. Mom had Scott hold the tree while she loosened the screws in the tree basin. She stepped back to look at the tree and give direction to positioning the tree.

Standing there she made comment on how beautiful the tree looked. Scott said "Let me see" and stepped away from the tree.

Down goes the tree and smash go the cookies.

Once again they baked and decorated dozens of cookies. Once again they decorated the tree. This time mom made sure the tree was secure before anyone stepped away.

You, Dan, added your special touch. All the cookies on the bottom row had bites taken from them in your quest for food.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas cookies

Dear Dan,

I love the picture of you picking the cookies up off the floor. It makes me laugh to think I was talking to you on the phone at that time. It's almost like there was a connection and I didn't disappear from your life. It was a bit of a shock and yes, it hurt, that no one in KC even knew you had a sister.

I guess you kept all the different parts of your life separate from each other.

One year when I was in college I was so depressed one Christmas. I couldn't really have our usual tree because Scott had recently married Cathy and Nikki was a very young child. I was living upstairs and they were living downstairs.

You didn't want me to be depressed so you went out and bought me a tree that I could have in my room. I thought that was the most wonderful thing ever! I just wonder why you never let me try to help you.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Dear Dan,

I was talking with mom about you and Sinbad. Sinner was a big, smelly, male cat. He started as a cute kitten and then it all went horribly wrong.

Not really. Sinner was a fun cat. He used to sleep on my feet but he often slept on top of your pillow, right against your head. Occasionally he would lay in such a way to give you the full effect of his smelly cat self.

Sinbad also liked to sleep at the edge of the stairs. You wore a knitted cap in the winter. As you would walk down the stairs and Sinner was sleeping on the edge, he'd reach out and snatch that cap right off your head. There you were - no cap. There he was - curled around it.

Remember how he used to jump up on the town layout? He'd jump up and lay down in the middle of a street, wiping out everything in his path. We made believe he was a monster like Godzilla or Koronus.

And the train layout? Sometimes the train would go into the tunnel and not come out until the tunnel was disconnected and upended. Then out came a cat, followed by a train!

One night Sinbad went out during a bad snowstorm and he never came home. I didn't find out until years later that you and Fifinella found him dead at the back of the house. I guess he tried to come home but got bogged down in the snow. You didn't want me to know. You could be so sweet at times.

Monday, November 24, 2008

UFO sighting

Dear Dan,

Remember our UFO sighting? We were down at a neighbor's yard. I remember it was after dark in the summer. We were both still in grade school or maybe you were ready to start 7th. I don't know why I looked up but I did. So did you. And we both gasped.

We both saw a "star." Three lights came away from it, circled around quickly and went back into the "star." One other person in our group saw it as well.

Just a weird bit that happened. I remembered it because of CNN's story about UFOs this morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bad day

Dear Dan,

Today is a particularly bad day. I was scanning a photo of you last evening.The one with the Christmas cookies. This morning I drove to work and parked in the parking garage on Pugh Street. I never park in a parking garage that I don't think of you, of course, but today all I could think of was "What were Dan's thoughts in planning this?" "What was Dan thinking as he walked to the garage?" "Did Dan use the elevator or climb the stairs?" "What was Dan thinking as he climbed over the retaining wall?" "Was Dan crying?" "Did he change his mind after he jumped?" "What was his last thought?"

This line of thinking on my part is the worst thing I can do. It doesn't honor your life and it sends me into a downward spiral.

And then I cry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What a dream I had

Dear Dan,

Last night I had a dream about you. We were in NYC. I heard that you were intending to jump off the Empire State Building. People were panicking and I told everyone to calm down. I said it was your decision but 1) there is fencing all over the top floor 2) you might try a lower floor than the Observation deck so 3) call the police and alert them plus 4) let's get there now!

I think this was quite a combination of things. I've been thinking of you, of course. A day hasn't gone by that I don't think of you. We're getting closer to closing on the apartment. I think the trip to Sam's Club with Ruth had something to do with it as well. There was the combination of her brother's suicide, the cameras and computers plus, as I said, a day doesn't go by that I don't think of you.

And I smile, mostly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Organ donation

Dear Dan,

I know you wanted to donate your organs. I got a call from the organ donation group in KC the day after you committed suicide. The woman on the other end was very nice. She was very delicate in describing the organs that could possibly be "harvested," depending on the damage done when you landed.

At that point I was so hopeful that something good could be salvaged from the situation. She mentioned the type of testing that would be done before the organs were donated. Of course I thought AIDS testing was a good idea. At that point she asked if you were gay. Apparently the FDA does not allow transplant from anyone with a history of any homosexual activity. None at all.

That's when I asked Brian point blank. I told him we always "knew" but   that you hadn't "come out" to us. Of course not. No more than you would have "come out" that your eyes were brown.

I called the woman back  and told her we had confirmation. That I was sorry but we could not donate your organs. One or two people would not see because they would not have your corneas. Two people would have to wait for other heart valves. You would not be donating bone marrow and helping someone with leukemia.

I understand the problem. My head tells me that the AIDS tests cannot tissue. My head tells me that you can test negative for viral load if you are on certain cocktails.

However, my heart tells me that they were rejecting my dear, now dead, brother. His last wish would not be granted. Almost as if he wasn't good enough!

As if your death was not heartache enough.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Big News!

Dear Dan,

I got an email from our lawyer today. Your estate has been registered in PA. That means mom and I will (hopefully) be able to own the apartment outright!

Gary sent the deed to be approved and looked over by Harley. As soon as Harley sends it back we can get the contract signed and the property paid off.

Mom and I already paid off the mortgages to avoid foreclosure so both lawyers say we essentially own the apartment except for the paperwork.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lincoln Center

A friend and I were talking the other day and it reminded me of Dan in NYC.

I was living on the Upper West Side and working for Hertz at the time. Dan was driving a U-Haul truck into Manhattan to help friends of his close out their aunt's apartment in Tudor Village. As luck would have it, it was April 1, 1980 - the first day of the NYC transit strike.

I was supposed to meet Dan at Tudor Village and we would all go to dinner. The guys were all sleeping on the floor of my "studio" apartment. Let's be very clear. The apartment was a furnished one room, a bathroom and a small closet with a refrigerator, a hot plate, cabinets wall-to-wall with a stainless counter. There was enough room on the floor for three guys but only if the all rolled over as one unit and I didn't have to get up in the middle of the night.

I get over to Tudor Village - luckily my boss was going to the East side and dropped me off. I go in and ask for Dan. The man at the front desk has no idea who I'm talking about. I explained who the were and what they were doing and the man said "They went to Woodstock. George took them to Woodstock."

My first thought was that it sounded like the giant from Bugs Bunny saying "Take them to the basement, George. Tie them up in the basement." My next thought was "What the hell is he doing up at Woodstock and why didn't he tell me?"

At that moment Dan walked in and I found out I wasn't all the far off. Woodstock was Tudor Village's storage area - essentially it was the basement.

Once we get into the van and drive to the West Side we start trying to find a place to park the sucker. Because of the strike no one was allowing vans to park. We finally found a place in a lot parking area instead of a parking garage. As luck would have it, we were right across from the Landmark Tavern. After dinner we got a cab to my apartment.

There we were, three young men and one young woman, standing on the curb in NYC, hailing a cab. Dan asked how this was done; did they come to a cab stop or what? I stepped off the curb, threw my arm in the air and yelled "YO!" A cab pulled right over but the guys had all jumped back, startled.

As we were going up the avenue Dan asked if that was Lincoln Center. The cabbie and I laughed. He said "It said 'Parking for Lincoln Center'." And it was - a parking garage for people going to Lincoln Center two blocks east.

Dan and his buddies decided to walk to the Empire State Building and look around the City; did I want to go along? I was so beat I declined but gave him my number in case he had any problems.

Later I got a call. Dan was near Rockefeller Center but couldn't find the skating rink and Atlas. I found out he was across 5th from St. Pat's. I knew the bank of phones there. I told him to turn with his back to St. Pat's and walk until the railing stopped them. He turned around and started to laugh pretty hard because there it was!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Dear Dan,

I have been reflecting on yesterday's election and those of years past. There are several reasons I'm sorry you aren't here for this moment in history.

First for the obvious - you aren't here and you should be. Period.

Second - for all the work you did for the Democratic party. All the work you did for Joe, Clinton, McGovern, all candidates, local and national.

Third - you were a supporter for Jesse Jackson back in the day. You had the right idea but the wrong candidate. Jesse was in the crowd last night, weeping for joy. Even though Jesse and Barack had issues, there is still so much for Jesse to be proud of in his fight along the way.

McCain was gracious in defeat and I can see the attitude and spirit that made me respect him even though I don't agree with him.

Barack, Michelle and the children are going to be an amazing representation of our country.

And Dan, when you talk to Toot, please tell her how much mom and I adore her grandson. Please tell her we're sorry she isn't here as well.

I love you, bro.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today's the day!

Dear Dan,

That vote was for the both of us. Too bad you couldn't be here to cast it on your own. I miss you and I love you.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicago '68

In August of 1968, the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. Walter Cronkite was god in the house at the time if for no other reason than dad was making trips to Viet Nam for his company.

Long story short - the police were tear-gassing, beating and arresting peace protesters. Dan was sitting on the edge of mom's bed, watching Walter report this on TV. Dan cried and asked mom why the police didn't do something. Mom said "Honey, those ARE the police."

Dan celebrated his 14th birthday late September of that year.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Black Hand

Dear Dan,

I was talking to a co-worker today about how her daughter gets wet in the grass while playing outside in the morning. None of the other kids have the same problem.

I remembered something I haven't thought of in ages. When we were kids mom always knew when you had been somewhere. There was always a black hand print. No matter how clean your hands looked or how often you washed your hands, there was always a black hand print. Our own little bit of the Cosa Nostra was what mom said.

We would send birthday or Christmas cards to the cousins or Grandmother and Granddad. We always signed our names. You always put a black thumbprint and there was never any question that you had given your stamp of approval.

Speaking of Christmas and birthday cards, you always had me rolling on the floor with the cards you sent. I looked forward to the cards or a postcard when you travelled. You always found something hilarious.

You have no idea how much I miss that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Dear Dan,

You loved politics so much and were so involved from early on. I remember you turned 18 the year 18 yr. olds were first allowed to vote. You got up early to get to the elementary school library and be the first in line. Those ballots were paper and they would tear off the corner with the ballot number on it, You wanted to be number one for your first vote.

It was then I learned that the people working there were allowed to vote before they let the public in. You had to settle for number eight. lol!!

When I turned 18 I was a higher number than that.

You worked for our national congressman. You asked me to go to a frat party for the opponent and "find out whatever." I ended up talking to the guy for about a 1/2 hour. I came back and gave you my report. You admitted you were impressed.

That was also around the same time I baked some rye bread. You had a piece and said "Do you mind if I give some to Joe?" You took a loaf. I was gob smacked when I found out "Joe" was the Congressman! I knew you must have thought it was good. You wouldn't have poisoned your boss!

I think you would have enjoyed this election very much.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From my "myspace" page on July 26, 2007

"Daniel, My Brother
Current mood: gutted, devastated
To my dear brother:

I miss you. All the color has gone out of the world; the music has stopped and all laughter has ceased. My heart has been shattered. I know your pain is over. I wish you peace.

My pain has just begun and will have no end."

Dear Dan,

I wrote that the "day after." I still feel that way. There are days where I almost forget that you're no longer in this world; when I feel like I can pick up the phone and call. Then it all comes crashing back.

I used to call for advice. Since I can no longer do that I think back to the time I did and then ask myself "What would Dan say about this?" I fee calm come over me and then I can look at the situation with reason and logic.

Other days it's still completely overwhelming. I can't help but wonder how we got here.

I love you. I miss you. I pray you find peace. I hope you have already.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Thanks to my experience with Vocation Vacations in 2005, I am pleased to report I have taken the plunge and now work as a full-time professional photographer!"

Dan Chaffee, Kansas City, MO Photographer Vocationer
Dear Dan,

This is a little something I found on the web not too long ago. Along with your bequest notes that were found after you died, you also left a release form for the site/the book. I want to get the book and look it over.

You was so excited about VocationVacations finding a photographer in the KC area that he could work with. You got the opportunity to go on a fashion shoot and look over the photographer's shoulder more or less. The assistant would set up the shot. Then you and the photographer would discuss it. You said you were allowed to look through the lens to see exactly what the photographer was seeing. You also used your own camera to take some shots along with the professional.

I saw you had listed your occupation as photographer. I wish I had been able to attend one of your shows in KC. I love the shots you took during the on a photo safari in the Costa Rican rain forest. Here's the photo that won second place in the Kansas City Star contest:

I still want to work on the project we discussed briefly around Thanksgiving 2006. I'd like to do photo transfers of some of your work to fabric I sew and maybe do some collages. I thought too of matting the photos with some of my fabrics. We'll see how it all goes now that I have a printer that will handle the work.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The back story

On July 25, 2007 Dan had a friend drive him to a bar in downtown Kansas City. At about 10:30 PM local time, Dan got out of the car, waited for the driver to pull away and walked about 15 minutes to a parking garage. On the top level - the seventh floor - Dan climbed on the wall and jumped.

At 5:00 AM the police came to mom's door and notified her. She called me and said the police were there looking for Dan. I lived at the back of her condo building so I told her I would be there right away. I grabbed my phone, called Dan and got his voicemail. I left a message saying the police were there, please call ASAP and asking "What the hell are you into? Let me know what I can do to help."

There was a knock on my door. A police woman was there. I told her to come on in while I grabbed my shoes. She came in and told me she had something to tell me before we went to mom's. That's when she told me Dan jumped. I looked at her and waited. She didn't say anything. I asked "Is he alive?" I was expecting to hear he was in the hospital in KC and in my mind I was already making plans to take care of him. The police woman said "No."

And that, my friends, is when the world crashed to a halt.

It still amazes me that no one else heard the crashing sound. No one else felt the earth slam on its brakes. How is it that people were still asleep and didn't know the world ended?

For the past 14 months I've been dealing with this loss and all the emotion and legal issues that accompany death. Sometimes well and sometimes not.

This is my life with and without Dan.