Arts and Culture

Father’s story of loss reinforces bonds of love

I was nearing the end of my interview with writer Barry Kluger. The media executive, whose columns often run in the Scottsdale Republic and occasionally in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, had just published his first book, “A Life Undone: A Father’s Journey Through Loss.” Kluger lost his daughter, Erica, in a car accident nine years ago.

The book landed on my desk, and then in my travel carry-on, a couple of weeks ago. With Father’s Day coming up and a June column due, it was timely. It might provoke some reflection, heck, maybe even inspire a few hundred words.

I read it, then e-mailed Kluger to set up an interview.

The book opens with Kluger’s moving eulogy to his daughter, then stretches backward in time, tracing Erica’s 18 years as a daughter and Kluger’s as a father. I struggled to comprehend what Kluger himself describes as incomprehensible, a parent losing a child.

When we meet over coffee a week or so later, we spend an hour or more talking about grief and pain and anger. And how Kluger has managed to move forward, finding comfort in the memories of his daughter and his life as a father.

“I’m still a father,” he says simply.

We talk about the process of writing the book, of how he hopes it will provide some solace for others confronting the death of a child, of how he hopes that in some way he has taken something so very tragic and made it a force for good.

And then we talk about loss and what our response tells us about the quality of our relationships.

Of how it is really lives lived that count, not lives lost.

We talk about ourselves as children losing parents, the other end of life’s continuum. And then he tells me about his father, who, after Erica died, started ending phone calls to his son with the words, “I love you.”

“Did he do it because he knew you needed it?” I ask, assuming his father was acting as any parent, trying to soothe the hurt, to diminish the pain.

“No,” replied Kluger. “He needed it.”

An “aha” moment.

But, of course, the love between fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, is reciprocal. And so is the pain. That’s what makes the bond so strong, so irrevocable, yet so in need of constant reinforcement.

I ask Kluger about the photos in the book, so many of daddy and daughter, at home, at Disney World, at graduation. I’m particularly taken with the one he’s chosen for the cover, with Kluger and toddler Erica puckering up for a kiss.

Kluger pulls out his wallet and then a laminated copy of the cover photo, worn around its edges. Erica carried the same one in her wallet.

He turns it over. On the back, a list of phone numbers, family, those to call when you need to talk. When you need to say, “I love you.” Or you need to hear it.

It doesn’t have to be Father’s Day.

Pick up the phone. Send a text. xo.