My dear brother Jeff passed away suddenly Sunday morning, October 31, 2021 after struggling with mental health issues.
Those of you who knew Jeff know that he was a kind and gentle soul. Jeff was so good at so many things, and growing up I was always jealous of his athletic prowess, whether it was on horseback or dirt bikes, or on so many fields and courts, or when as a young adult he decided one June that he didn’t like his 20 handicap in golf and so by August he had it down to a 12.
It is still so soon and the thoughts and memories are still swirling, of kids playing king of the hill in the hay mow of the barn, of riding bikes and making jumps from old barrels and boards of wood, of tying a rope onto the saddle and dragging each other behind a horse through the fields on the new skis we got for Christmas.
There was swim team and little league baseball with our father as coach, Jeff on the mound pitching to me as the catcher. White water rafting in Idaho, skiing in Vermont. Parties and trouble in high school, more parties and more trouble in college. Road trips to just about everywhere.
And still the thoughts and memories are swirling. It did not have to be like this, to end this way. Jeff was suffering inside. To imagine his pain I cannot do just yet, I don’t have that capacity. Can anyone really?
Despite his challenges Jeff accomplished so much in his life, most notably his camp for children with Type I Juvenile Diabetes, Camp Possibilities in Darlington, MD.
Jeff was a life force. He was a vibrant person when he was healthy- full of energy with a constant twinkle of mischievousness always and forever in his eye. I have decided to share on this public forum because Jeff was open about his struggles. He confronted them head-on, he sought help, he read books, he tried different medications and all manner of things to try to cope better. But when his camp couldn’t operate per usual because of Covid, Jeff missed the interactions with the kids and volunteers, he missed talking to people and he missed helping them. He had too much time to spend inside his own head and he couldn’t figure out a way to deal with his troubling thoughts.
My heart is broken. My life is truly blessed and I am so grateful for so many things, and in this life I have been through business and personal failures, divorce, and death of a parent, death of friends and extended family, and I have not been through any more or less than any of you, but this one stings. Maybe it’s just the feeling of helplessness. Knowing that there is nothing we could have done, but still doubting that maybe if we had tried a little harder.
When my daughters were little Jeff loved playing with them and showering them with gifts. Jeff loved roughhousing with Stephen’s boys Joseph and Ryan, riding bikes and tossing the football and baseball with them.
After my oldest daughter was diagnosed with Type I Juvenile Diabetes at the age of 5, Jeff wanted to make a difference. He was inspired to raise awareness for the disease, and in August of 2001 Jeff embarked on a cross-country bicycle ride from San Francisco to Delaware, completing the 3,000 mile journey in under a month. Jeff’s ride generated significant awareness through media coverage in cities across the country and raised thousands of dollars that Jeff donated to diabetes research.
In 2004 Jeff founded Camp Possibilities in Darlington, Maryland, with the mission to give children with diabetes the youthful experience of summer camp. Jeff found his true calling in establishing and running his camp, able to blend his love for humanity with his passion for helping the most vulnerable, often subsidizing their attendance with money garnered through tireless fundraising.
Jeff is survived by our mother, Jan, my daughters Allie, Meredith, and Emily, my brother Stephen and his sons, Joseph and Ryan, and me.
In many ways Jeff is also survived by the many children, parents, and volunteers who through the last 17 years adored Jeff and his infectious passion for helping those like his beloved niece come together at his camp to learn that they were not different, that there were many others just like they who were dealing with the same challenges every day.
Jeff’s heroic ability to battle and overcome his struggle with mental health was realized in his efforts to establish his camp. Jeff taught himself grant writing, fundraising and the myriad other skills necessary to run a complex operation that served so many. To oversee the magnificent and wonderful work that so many affiliated with camp have achieved through the years is a legacy that can be celebrated.
Jeff did not leave a note. I think he hated the way he was lately and as such a competitor that he was he was probably disgusted with himself that he couldn’t beat it. And he was so tired and worn down and he felt that he couldn’t take it anymore. But he is not suffering now and I am grateful for that.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, you are not alone, and you are loved. Call 1-800-273-8255.
Dave Dietz is the owner of BBC Tavern & Grill in Greenville, DE.