Monday, May 18, 2009


The sign read:


Every day those words would flash into my memory as I went through my endless list of things to do. They would burn brighter and literally shout in song as I drove anywhere near the vicinity of the shop where the sign hung on the wall of the Riverdale Dry Cleaners.

As I searched the hidden zippered compartment in my purse for the odds and ends that were important enough to be stored in its company, my fingers would often brush against the bright pink dry cleaning receipt and I'd again be reminded of those haunting words.

Every now and then I would grab the wrinkled, thin, fading pink paper and unfold it to read it.

December 20th, 2008.

The ritual would be repeated again in January.

And February.

And March.

And as April came closer and closer and March 20th came and went, the words on the sign that echoed in my head during my daily routines began to haunt me now as I slept.

I would wake up in the middle of the night startled as I grabbed for my phone and check the date.

March 21st.

March 22nd.

March 30th.

April 5th.

April 20th.

April 20th... It came and went.

So did May 1st.

I would find myself those last few days intentionally avoiding traveling anywhere near the dry cleaners and yet every time I cleaned out my purse, I made sure that the receipt was safe.

"I'll pick it up tomorrow."

I told myself time and time again.

I had promised my mother that I would take her to the eye doctor's that Monday morning. I had completely forgotten about it as I went through my morning routine of emails and tasks. Around noon when she called again, I jumped up and hurried to pick her up as my heart raced when I neared her neighborhood.

The particular dry cleaners that haunted my days and nights was close by, but I managed to pick her up and get her to the doctor's in time that afternoon.

On the way back to her house, I took the late turn off of Route 23.

"I have to go home and pick up the car to pick up your sister after work!"

"I know. I have to pick up my jacket at the dry cleaners!"

"Oh, okay."

As I said the words and turned onto the main road, I could feel my heart racing.

I parked the car, grabbed my purse and pulled out the familiar
wrinkled, thin, fading pink paper tucked away in the hidden zippered pocket and unfolded it to give to the attendant at the shop.

As he turned away to search for it, I looked up at the sign


and felt my stomach turn in knots and my face turn red as my heart raced.

I watched him holding the faded piece of paper looking down as he paced up and down the lines of clear plastic wrapped dozens of police uniforms, prom dresses, dress shirts.

He would steadily look up at the rack and then down at the paper causing the hangings to rustle as he scurried up and down the lanes, at first looking determined and after awhile appearing noticeably frazzled.

He walked back to me empty handed as I began to lose my composure as he went to the computer. He looked up at me as I spit out quickly,

"It's a leather jacket.


It's a leather jacket!

It's camel-colored and has four buttons!

It's a leather jacket!"

I cried out as I could feel the tears start to form in my eyes and he turned back around to continue the search with the new information. The sign that haunted my days and nights stared back at me as I looked back and forth from the sign, to my mother in the car, to the frustrated man searching for my camel-colored leather jacket!



I gripped the counter tightly as I turned back to the attendant who echoed,

"A leather jacket..."

I watched him go to the rack closest to me, right in front of me in fact, as he grabbed the arm of a jacket and pulled it towards him so that I could see it.

It's a leather jacket!

It's camel-colored and has four buttons!"

I felt dumbfounded that I continued to repeat the same words as if my ability to produce my extensive vocabulary had somehow left me.


I cried out.

As he grabbed it off of the carrier and stepped towards me, I clutched the counter tighter.

He placed the jacket in its plastic wrap on the hanger over the counter nervously as I unsheathed it.

I closed my eyes as I looked down towards the pocket.

"You weren't able to fix the cuts on the pocket."

I sighed to myself more than the attendant, as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders - four months and 15 days of weight.

"No. I'm sorry. We can have the entire pocket replaced if you like. We were able to secure it closed so that it doesn't continue to tear and got most of the stains off but it will look better replaced."

"NO! NO," I answered as I paid.

"It's perfect!"

I gingerly touched the v-shaped cut and scratches of the beautiful soft leather in a trance, as I covered it back with the plastic wrap and rushed out to the car.

"What took you so long! I'm going to be late picking up your sister from work!"

"I'm sorry! He had a hard time looking for my coat!"

"Did they get it fixed!?"

"It looks good. They want to replace the pocket but I like it the way it is..."

"Why don't you go ahead and replace it! It will look better! It's an expensive coat!"

"No... Cody scratched it and it tore when I went to see Tom and Cheryl last time I was there..." I whispered.

"Who's Tom and Cheryl?" she asked as my eyes instantly filled with tears.

"Oh... Tom."

"It's perfect. I don't want it fixed." I replied as I dropped her off...

...For the last several years a large portion of my “job” consists of giving a “quantitative, monetary value” to the life of a person – how ridiculous is that thought

– Life Insurance…

I can’t insure one’s LIFE – how do you replace a father, a mother, a husband or a wife?

I can’t put them in a little plastic bubble for their monthly premium and protect them from life’s uncertainties… I can only protect their “income”

The concept I’ve always understood, the role as a family’s financial guide and the comforting hand to help them through the financial difficulties that seem every day to intensify; part financial advisor, part marriage counselor. Each acts that I’ve committed my life to – a kind of service that I never imagined I’d be doing.

But I had never experienced the personal loss that I help families prepare for.


I had never had anyone I’ve ever known die.

Imagine that!

- Thirty year old funeral virgin! (Talk about great theatre!)

I’ve had friend’s loved ones pass and their family members die, but I’ve never had a family member, grandparent, or friend – seriously – no one pass away.

I had never felt that void, the pang and heartache of loss, the sense of mortality and longing for that “one more day, one more time” with someone who I loved.

And then this summer I delivered my first death claim with my regional vice president.

I sat in front of a family and handed them a check representing the “quantitative, monetary value” to the life of a person they loved.

That day I sat mourning with a mother and father and EIGHT brothers and sisters.

The client wasn’t someone who called me up one day ‘cause they realized that no one would be able to pay for their funeral if God forbid something happened to them, or a man with a family to support, or someone with a lot of debt who didn’t want to burden his family with it…

He believed in “buy term and invest the difference".

He believed in planning for and protecting his future and the life and family he wanted to have some day.

He believed in US.

He was my teammate, my friend.

He was just 23 when we met.

Tom was that young man that walked into the room, tall and dashingly handsome with dark hair and shockingly, striking eyes, and a smile that lit up the world around him. His dark suit and bright shirts never seemed quite right – there was that “country boy” about him that screamed “jeans and t-shirts”!

Children naturally were attracted to him. In my favorite memory of him, my two year old nephew was nestled inside his arm while sitting on his lap as the two of them and a group of our coworker's children sat watching Finding Nemo in my boss' basement during an office party.

He still asks fondly about "Uncle Tom..."

For the last couple of years we had shared a certain kinship as we both struggled with illness. He was suffering from a heart problem, while I was going through my initial cancer screenings and intercepting treatments and even though we always shared our most positive cheering selves with one another, there was a silent mutual understanding of fear and anxiety through our illnesses.

He and I became our office’s poster children for the importance of protecting your insurability.

Younger agents would often brush off our encouragement that they secure their life insurance policies now while they were young and healthy. Like most young people who have their whole lives ahead of them, they see themselves as completely invincible.

It became a theatrical performance for Tom and me, as we hung out in meetings with these young immortals. There would always be that perfect break in their cheerful, indestructible, and naïve justifications when he and I would look at each other with that knowing glance.

He would stand up, so proud to have this innate purpose among us and introduce himself.

“Hi, my name is Tom. I’ve been with the company for almost three years. I was 23 when I started working here and bought the base policy for a preferred insured, and I pay $23.00 a month because it was part of my own personal financial foundation. Have to practice what you preach right?!”

You could see the eyes of those new agents rolling, looking at that devastatingly handsome man-child – a vision of strength and health and youth.

“I thought it was a great deal! And it IS ‘cause last year I was diagnosed with a heart condition that makes that insurance policy the only coverage I will ever qualify for, for the rest of my life. I am now uninsurable and it is all the insurance I will ever leave my wife and children some day because of my illness. I’m thankful that I at least have something to protect them with.”

He would then smile that crushing smile as if he had just reached the top of Mount Everest!

There were several mornings in the past year that I had awakened to calls from my Tom letting me know that he was in the hospital. All I had to hear was, “Dorana, …” and I would quickly scramble prepared, ready to see where he was and if he needed me. He never hesitated in assuring me that he was alright and that he would be home soon.

That morning when I got the call, I was barely out of bed. I remember hearing Janis’ voice and looking at the clock puzzled for a brief second, before I jumped up and started getting dressed sensing that this time, it was different.

It started the same, the words echoed so familiarly,

“Dorana, Tom…”

“Where is he? I’m on my way!”

“No, honey, I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t worry it’s not too early. I’m already getting dressed. I’m closer than anyone else. Where is he?”

“Dorana, I have some sad news my friend.”

Patience has never been my strong suit and I remember this feeling of annoyance that she wasn’t spitting it out – WHERE WAS HE!?

I was putting on my shoes and grabbing my keys when she said,

“Dorana. He was on his way home from work last night from Krogh’s…”

The words echoed as she said them and I was digesting each word individually feeling them vibrate through my conscience, “Krogh’s, Krogh’s,” I thought to myself.

“Last night was Thursday. Thursday is our meeting night. Why was he at Krogh’s?”

I closed my eyes at that crushingly surreal moment as I steadied myself, “We meet on Tuesday nights now...”

“…He was on his way home from work last night from Krogh’s…on his motorcycle and he was hit, head on by a drunk driver. He didn’t make it, honey. I’m so sorry…”

I was in the car already when Janis repeated herself again in response to my silence.

I sat looking at the steering wheel not fully understanding, still waiting for her to just TELL ME WHAT HOSPITAL HE WAS IN!

If she could just tell me, I would go and we would hang out and laugh and tease everyone who looked at us sternly, and maybe we’d get a client or two while we were there… That’s what we always joked about doing, but he would always call me as I was on my way there to let me know that he was okay and on his way home, that I would see him at work; but now I just needed to know WHAT HOSPITAL HE WAS IN!


“I don’t understand. Where is he?”

“He’s gone honey. The accident site is still a crime scene. There was nothing anyone could do. Are you okay? Do you need me to call Heather or Todd?”

“No, no. I’m okay. Thank you, for letting me know.”

I hung up the phone and instinctively called his cell phone, it went straight to voice mail…

“Hi. You’ve reached the voice mail of Tom Klosterhoff…”

It was the last time I’d hear his voice…

And at that moment I felt it – that blinding explosion of agony that feels like your lungs are collapsing as you gasp for air, your heart is shattering while it’s beating out of your chest, and your head is burning from the inside out – uncontrollable and unlike anything I have ever felt before in my life.

I cried and cried. Sobbed while I clutched the steering wheel tightly feeling as if I’d crumble right there in the seat and melt into nothing.

“He was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work…”

I was trying desperately to comprehend the words as I repeated them.

“He was on his motorcycle.”

I hated that motorcycle, the racing bike that he was so proud of. I remember the way he ushered us downstairs from the office to see it.

We live over an hour away from our office and that was the top of the gas price peak. His truck cost too much to fill so he would ride in to work on his bike; his hair all disheveled which made him look all the more crushingly handsome - you couldn't help but swoon...

“He was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work…”

He worked as a bartender and was the most conscientious server. Always made sure to call someone a ride when they had too much to drink, he had the numbers of his regular patron’s wives on his cell phone to make sure they got home okay…

“He was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work…”

I was there for every moment that I could be.

I thought that there would be nothing that paralleled that initial insurmountable pain until I walked out of the funeral parlor during the wake for a minute of air when I saw her…

I closed my eyes tightly, painfully, I prayed in that instant for strength as a weakness swept over me and I grabbed the wall to steady myself, certain that I must have been losing my mind, as I opened my eyes again and saw her (A vision? Was it an angel?) as she smiled brightly, running with a friend through the hall of fifteen hundred mourners.

And there she was, I had never met her before, but she instantly captivated me – I would recognize her anywhere in the world.

Her hair, her smile, those striking eyes, so very familiar - Tom’s eyes, his youngest sister - the very image of her brother.

I’ll always remember that first moment that I saw her with her laughing, brilliant, sparkling eyes – Tom’s eyes.

... After the funeral I became obsessed with needing to have something to hold on to.

I'll never need anything to remember him by - he'll forever be a part of my life, but I needed something close to me everyday to remind me of how short of a time I was blessed to have had him in my life - a way to share his story with others.

I searched for days and found a wonderful artisan who created a custom sterling silver charm that read:

7.25.08 MADD

I attached the charm to my key chain and every day no matter where I go, I'm reminded of my obligation to never let someone I think may have had too much to drink behind the wheel, but most importantly, a reminder of the wonderful man that left us much too soon...

I thought that picking up my favorite leather jacket all fixed and cleaned from that afternoon where Tom's dog had jumped up excitedly and torn the pocket would somehow erase what little I had left to remind me of him, but now I realize that there is a moment in everyone's life where the reality sets in that every sunrise and set is magical, every moment is precious, and every friendship is a true token of God's love.

That moment came to me on the morning of July 25th, 2008, when I lost my good friend Thomas J. Klosterhoff.

I will forever miss him and I'm thankful that I will never be the same.


  1. an amzing heart hurts for your loss.

  2. my heart is with you and klosterhoff's family.
    ever since i created the disc for you ,i have been thinking of you guys.
    it is so hard to lose a friend,so sad...i feel that i know you guys forever, your pain- is my pain.
    "may his soul rest in peace"

    If I can see it, then I can do it
    If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
    I believe I can fly
    I believe I can touch the sky
    I think about it every night and day
    Spread my wings and fly away
    I believe I can soar
    I see me running through that open door
    I believe I can fly
    I believe I can fly
    I believe I can fly

  3. This is a wonderful memorial to your friend Dorana. I love your writing as always and am so blessed to have you as my friend.

    It really makes me wish I had the opportunity to meet him.

  4. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  5. thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my story of remembrance; (i know it was a long one!) it means a lot to me!

    i had the second part of the story written a long time ago and it didnt feel complete until i picked up the jacket a couple of weeks ago.

    thank you for sharing in his memory with me.

    all my love, siempre - dorana

  6. Wow thank you for sharing such a personal part of yourself. I am sorry for your loss.

  7. captured - thank you so much for your sentiment and taking the time to comment- means so much to me!

    siempre- dorana

  8. I finally had a chance to sit down and read this.....and now I am at a loss for words. My thoughts and prayers are with Tom, his family and you, his dear friend. Even though time will ease your pain I know he will always be a part of you.

  9. Thinking of you my dearest friend Tom, on all days big and small - Happy Birthday.

    siempre- dorana

  10. Forever in our hearts, happy birthday my friend.

    siempre - dorana

  11. I can't believe it's been four years tomorrow - feels like a lifetime ago. I am so thankful for the many blessings bestowed upon us - I only wish we could have shared them with you. I am comforted knowing that you are watching over us. siempre- dorana