Henry Klein and I met about 20 years ago. We were living in the same town and met on a men’s softball team we played on together.
Henry is an attorney and a couple of years after we met him, when Marcie and I wanted to create wills, mostly to designate guardians for our children in the event we died while they were young, we asked Henry to do the work. He did a fine job.
Henry and I would run into each other around town from time to time. Then one day I learned that Henry’s wife, Phyllis, had passed away, tragically dying of cancer in 2002. She left behind Henry and their two then-teenage children.
Soon after that, I received an invitation to an evening of jazz at a local restaurant to benefit a new charity Henry created, Phyl’s Fund.
In the years since, Marcie and I attended a number of Phyl’s Fund events, donated items for the silent auctions, and bought some silent auction items.
Recently, Henry updated our wills to reflect changes appropriate for our now-older family. We got to talking and decided to have lunch. I wanted to learn more about the good work Phyl’s Fund has done. In addition, I wanted to know what Henry’s experience has been because I know helping other people is the single greatest secret to happiness. Not surprisingly, Henry’s experience provided more proof of that.
Henry explained Phyl’s Fund began because when Phyl was ill, while she did every imaginable protocol (chemo, radiation, meditation, Chinese herbs, and more), what sustained her most was a Monday night support group she participated in at a local hospital (not the hospital where she was receiving treatment.) Phyl became a leader of the group and continued to attend even when she needed an oxygen tank.
When Phyl passed away, it seemed obvious to Henry the best way to honor Phyl’s memory would be to help fund such support groups, which Phyl’s Fund has been doing since.
When I asked Henry about his own experience he said, “Twelve years later, what started as a legacy to Phyllis, is much more than that. It sounds trite, but the more you give the more you receive. It’s true.”
Henry has met some of the participants in the support groups and they have shared with him how much it meant to them to sit with other women, to share their experiences, and to vent about doctors, wigs, spouses, kids, and more.
But that wasn’t all for Henry. Six years ago he started a bereavement camp program called Hearts of Hope. Each summer, Phyl’s Fund sponsors four or five families who have had a loss to cancer for a weekend getaway. Henry told me of one recent experience.
On the first evening of the long weekend this past June, one of the women who came with her two very young daughters was barely able to say her name. By the end of the following day, after she was able to have some time to herself (the program took care of her daughters, freeing her from cooking, cleaning, and childcare), she said, “I feel like the weight is off of my shoulders. All of my focus has been on my daughters these past two years. I haven’t been able to express myself and my grief.”
He told me another story about a grandmother who came with her recently widowed son and his five-year-old daughter. As the weekend began, the little girl wouldn’t leave her grandmother’s side. By the second day, she was walking around with the social workers, hand-in-hand.
The following fall, at a “reunion” they hold for the weekend’s participants, the little girl made a drawing she gave to Henry. The drawing was of Henry with the little girl on his shoulders. Henry had never lifted up the girl at the camp. “You don’t have to be Freud to understand that picture,” Henry told me. “That’s the kind of gratification I get from doing this,” he continued. “That was a very powerful experience.”
Hearts of Hope can accommodate seven or eight families each June. They usually only get four or five families. Henry explained, “When you offer something for free, people look askance at you. They are cynical. Hopefully more of the impacted families will take us up on this wonderful opportunity.”
During our lunch, I was moved by what Henry told me. And when I went to write this post I got choked up. It’s hard not to be moved by the wonderful work Henry and others do every day to make the world a better place.
What wonderful favorite stories like this one can you share? Join the conversation with your comments…