Healing Tip of the Month – November 2022

COPE HEALING TIPS FOR HOLIDAYS

The end of each year, especially the holiday season, is often difficult for grievers. There is a focus on spending time with family or friends or participating in rituals and traditions.  For the griever, it is hard to think of ending a year without the person who died and/or feeling the deceased’s absence at special events. Here are some tips that grievers can keep in mind while trying to cope with the overwhelming nature of the holiday season.

  1. Be flexible with your plans

Your plan A or usual ritual may not be what you want to do this year. Some take comfort in participating in traditions but it’s ok to change plans or incorporate new activities into holiday observances or celebrations. Volunteering with an organization, donating to a cause your special person loved, and going away on a trip are just a few of the ways you can change your usual holiday plan.   

  1. Boundaries

Be honest with yourself and think about what you are willing or able to commit to during this season. There can be pressure to accept invitations to dinner, holiday parties, and outings. If accepting an invitation, it’s a good idea to let your host know that you may change your mind about attending the event or may choose to leave early. If you don’t feel supported in your plans, this may be a good indication that an event is not right for you right now.

  1. Incorporate your loved one when possible

Grievers can feel the hardest part of the holiday season is the ‘togetherness’ of family and friendship groups. The absence of a special person can loom large. It’s ok to honor your current feelings and the way in which you want to grieve.  Sometimes this includes cancelling holiday plans and other times it involves remembering the deceased through a variety of ways. Leaving a seat at the dinner table, lighting a candle in memory, and sharing stories about the deceased are just some of the ways you can honor your special person.  

  1. Self-Soothe and Self-Care

Coping with grief is necessary throughout the year. Self-soothing acknowledges our need for comfort, warmth, and pleasure, and self-care allows us to acknowledge our need for self-respect and self-connection. Whatever you choose to do, be intentional about pausing and taking care of yourself on any given day. Small things like a warm shower, cup of tea, or watching your favorite television show can help you feel more at ease. A long walk, turning off your phone for a bit, and fitting in a nap are just some of the things that can be good for the body and mind.

During this time, remember to be gentle with yourself. Whether writing your feelings and thoughts, allowing tears to flow, or meditating, remember to take stock of what is coming up in your grief. If you’re reading this to support someone grieving in your life, you can help by reminding the person of the above tips. You can also aid them by recognizing and supporting that the holiday season may be different this year, and likely for years to come. Help in the ways you can and allow the space to make changes.

Wishing you a holiday season of peace, hope, and special memories that bring you joy.

Rashida Sanchez, MA, LMSW, FT

A Note from the Camp Erin NYC Clinical Director

Our recent 11th Camp Erin NYC weekend exemplified how Camp Erin NYC has always been an amazing, emotional, and restorative weekend for our campers and their families.  This year was particularly wonderful as we were able to have a full weekend program after two years of COVID restrictions.

It is difficult to describe how transformative the experience is for so many of our campers. Many are reluctant to come to camp but do so with a nudge from their families. They arrive at camp nervous and uncomfortable, yet within an hour or so, become engaged and interactive. They, very quickly, get comfortable with their bunkmates and staff and participate in conversations about their loss. As kids, they need little encouragement to participate in fun activities, often challenging themselves with skills never yet tried.

As the Clinical Director, I have the opportunity to meet all campers and families before the weekend.  The contrast between having these initial nervous meetings, and then seeing our campers connect with one another, participate in activities, and address their grief, is incredibly heartwarming.  I can say, without hesitation, that this experience year after year, has been the most rewarding in my long career as a psychologist. 

So it is with a heavy heart that I have announced that I will step down from my position as Clinical Director of Camp Erin NYC.  While I am stepping down, I am not stepping away.  I will remain in our camp family, and resume my initial role as a Grief Chief….which I did the first 3 years we held Camp Erin NYC!   

I am thankful for these 8 years as Clinical Director, for the relationships I have enjoyed with an amazing staff of volunteers, and mostly, for my partnership with Ann Fuchs, our Camp Director.  Ann and I met working at a day camp, about a century ago, and I can’t imagine having done this work with  a better partner. 

So, to all the incredible COPE/Camp Erin NYC staff, families, and volunteers, I want to thank you for making this experience a treasure I will always cherish.  It has been my honor to work with all of you, and I appreciate all your support, friendship, and love.

Always the best,

Jamie Greene

Healing Tip of the Month – October 2022

Healing Tip of the Month – Janet Zimmerman, LCSW-R

This month I’d like to share some strategies for coping with grief that were developed by Donald Meichenbaum, PHD and Julie Myers, PsyD.

Donald H. Meichenbaum is an American psychologist and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is a research director of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment at the University of Miami.

Dr. Myers is a licensed clinical psychologist, who specializes in teaching self-regulatory strategies for coping with addictive behaviors and substance use, procrastination, mood disorders, panic, phobia, attention, and sleep problems in adults, adolescents, and children. 

Drs. Meichenbaum and Myers created a “Strategies For Coping With Grief Checklist”. They write: “The process of grieving is like going on a “journey.” There are multiple routes and people progress at different rates. There is no right way to grieve, no one path to take, no best coping approach. These grief coping strategies list some of the pathways that others have taken in their journey of grieving. It is not meant to be a measure of how well you have coped or how you should cope, since there is no one way to manage the pain following the aftermath of the loss of a loved one, no matter what the cause of his or her death. Rather, the strategies listed are suggestions of things you might consider doing to help you on your journey.”

“This list is intended to help you discover new ways that you can move forward on your journey through the process of grief. If one doesn’t work for you, hopefully another one will.”

Sought Comfort And Help From Others

  1. I examined the thoughts that kept me from seeking help from others, such as the beliefs that “I am a burden to others”, “no one can help me, no one understands,”, “I have to do this on my own,” “I should be stronger,” “Listening to the grieving stories of others will make me feel worse,” or “People are tired of hearing bout my loss.”
  2. I reached out to family, friends, elders, or colleagues for comfort and companionship, but gave myself permission to back-off when I needed time alone.
  3. I took the initiative to reach out to folks from whom I might not normally seek help. I looked for new friends in church groups, social groups, work, school, or I went on the internet to find others who experienced a similar loss. I made a list of these supports to our t when I was struggling or experiencing pain.
  4. I forced myself to be with people and to do things, even when I didn’t feel like it. I put something on my calendar almost every day, with back-up plans.
  5. I hugged and held others but felt free to tell people when ai did not want to be touched.
  6. I leaned to grieve and mourn in public.
  7. I shared my story with others who I thought would appreciate and benefit from it. I told anyone who would listen the story of the deceased, even if they had nothing to say back.
  8. I gave and received random acts of kindness.
  9. I connected with animals and nature, for example,, the deceased’s pet, a beautiful sunset, hike, or garden.
  10. I cared for or nurtured others. For example, I spent time caring for my loved ones.
  11. I found my faith or religion comforting. I participated in religious, cultural, or ethnic mourning practices, such as attending church services, sitting Shiva, participating in a Wake, celebrating the /Day of the Dead, visiting a memorial shrine, etc.
  12. I read books written by others who have coped with the loss of a loved one. I read about the grieving process, loss, and advice books about other issues that arose.
  13. I made a list of all the professional resources that I could use in a crisis, such as suicide hotlines, mental health crisis lines, mentors, clergy or man, or mental health providers.

Took Care Of Myself Physically And Emotionally

  1. I examined the thoughts and feelings that kept me from taking care of myself physically and emotionality such as guilt, shame, sense of lost self, and loss of the will to live.
  2. I established routines of daily living. Although things were different, I made new routines and did not berate myself when I was not “perfect.” I maintained personal hygiene, medical care, health nutrition and regular sleep.
  3. I reconnected with my body through exercise, yoga, Tai Chi, or expressive arts, allowing myself time to get stronger.
  4. I recognized that my brain needs time to heal and for things to improve, so I forgave myself when I made mistakes, became distracted, couldn’t remember or understand.
  5. I avoided the excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs, and caffeine as a coping mechanism.
  6. I relinquished avoidance and learned to face my fears by engaging in life. I participated in activities that had meaning and kept me occupied, such as work, hobbies, crafts, singing or dancing.
  7. I allowed myself to pursue and feel positive emotions, such as compassion toward myself and others, expressions of gratitude, and emotions of love, joy, awe, and hopefulness.
  8. I recognized and labeled my feelings, viewing them as a “message” rather than something to avoid. I accepted and dealt with these emotions, understanding that the less I fought them, the more I was able to handle them.
  9. I regulated my strong negative emotions using slow smooth breathing, coping self-statements, prayer, or other mood-regulating techniques.
  10. I allowed myself time to cry at times and gave words to my emotional pain. I distinguished feelings of grief from other feelings such as fear, uncertainty, guilt, shame, and anger.
  11. I expressed difficult feelings through writing and talking to supportive others. I used journaling selective writing, letter or poetry writing, or other expressive arts of scrapbooking, dance or music.
  12. I engaged in gratitude activities, such as telling other how much I appreciate their love and support, reminding myself of the things that I am thankful for, and being grateful that I knew the deceased.
  13. I established a safe and comforting space for myself, either physically or through imagery.

Stayed Connected To The Deceased And Created A New Relationship, While Recognizing The Reality Of The Loss

  1. I examined the feelings and thoughts that kept me from forming an enduring connection with the deceased, such as the fear of what others would think of me, guilt, shame, humiliation, disgust, or thoughts of anger, revenge or being preoccupied with my grief
  2. I participated in practices, such as visiting the grave or memorial site, celebrating special occasions, prayer and candlelight vigils, public memorials, or commemorative services.
  3. I commemorated the deceased’s life with words, pictures, things, or created a small place of honor for the deceased, which I could visit any time I chose.
  4. I created a legacy such as planted a tree, started a scholarship or charity in the deceased’s name, started an internet blog, or launched new family or community practices.
  5. I allowed myself to talk to the deceased and allowed myself to listen. I wrote a letter to my loved one and asked for advice.
  6. I asked for forgiveness, shared joys and sorrows, and constructed a farewell message.
  7. I accepted that sadness was normal and learned how to be with my grief. I learned how to contain my grief to a time and place of my choosing. However I understood that intense upsurges of grief may arise unexpectedly and without warning, and I developed coping strategies to handle such events.
  8. I used imagery techniques, shared stories and photos of my loved one, or purposefully used reminders such as music or special routines to recall positive memories. I cherished and hung onto specific, meaningful possessions (objects, pets, etc.). I actively reminisced, holding onto our relationship in my heart and mind.
  9. I reached out to help and support others who are grieving for their loved ones. Helping others is a way to reengage in life and combat loneliness and tendencies to withdraw an avoid social contacts.

Created Safety Dnd Fostered Self-Empowerment

  1. I examined the thoughts that fuel my fears, avoidance and the belief that I cannot or should not feel happy and that things would never get better
  2. I took a breather and gave myself permission to rest knowing that grieving takes time and patience, with no quick fixes.
  3. I identified memories that trigger or overwhelm me and disengaged and/ or established boundaries by limiting people, places, or things that cause me stress or overwhelm me so that I could address them one by one, in my own time. I learned to say “no” to unreasonable requests.
  4. I began to think of myself as a “survivor,” if not a “thriver” of my own story, rather than as a “victim”. I reminded myself of my strengths and of all the hard times that I have gotten through in the past.
  5. I wrote out reminders of how to cope and put them on my fridge, cell phone, or computer. I looked at them when I was struggling and reminded myself of ways to be resilient.
  6. I created a plan about how to cope with difficult times. I learned to anticipate and recognize potential “hot spots” of when things are most difficult. I rated each day on a 1 to 10 point scale on how well I was doing. I asked myself what I can do to make things better and increase my rating. I worked on increasing the number of good days compared to the number of bad days
  7. I avoided thinking “This is just how it is,” realizing the I have choices no matter how hard life is. I came to recognize that emotional pain can be a way to stay connected with my loved one
  8. When I was overwhelmed by negative memories of the past, I avoided “time-sliding” into the past. a) I “grounded” myself to the present by refocusing my attention on the environment around me, b) I changed my self-talk by telling myself “I am safe and that this will pass”, c) I controlled my bodily reactions by slowing down my breathing, and d) I oriented to people’s faces, voices or touch or called for help from a friend.

Moved Toward A Future Outlook And A Stronger Sense Of Self

  1. I examined the thoughts and feelings that kept me from moving forward, such as “I am dishonoring the deceased by getting better,” or “I am leaving him/her behind,”, or “Feeling happier means that he/she is no longer important to me,” or that “My love for him/her is fading.”
  2. I regained my sense of hope for the future. I worked to reestablish a sense of purpose, with meaningful short-, mid-, and long-term goals. I am creating a life worth living, taking control of my future.
  3. I worked on regaining my sense of self-identity knowing the my life had changed but the I am still me. I focus on what is most important. I developed new goals and action plans, consistent with what I value.
  4. I created purpose by keeping the memory of the deceased alive in others. I kept others aware of the circumstances of the death, so that some good can come from the loss. I transformed my grief and emotional pain into meaning-making activities that created something “good and helpful”, for example Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention.
  5. I use my faith-based and religious and spiritual beliefs to comfort me. People hold different beliefs, such as “My loved one can continue to influence the lives of others in the world” or “My loved one is no longer suffering and is in a safe place,” or “We will be reunited in the future.”
  6. I examined the reasons why some of the actives that have been helpful to others in the grief process were not helpful for me and what I can do to help myself further in the journey through grief.

I hope that some of these coping strategies that were developed by Meichenbaum and Myers will be helpful to you on your own grief journeys.

 

 

Parent Column – September 2022

Bridges from a loss

My son Adam took his own life 13 years ago. Adam was a loving, caring soul that always helped whoever he could. Immediately after Adam’s death I did what I could to stay connected to his spirit, his unique caring energy. Although mortally wounded I did what I could to help myself and those around me with the gift of Adam’s essence. 

I realized shortly after his passing how people would open up to me about their own experiences with depression, loss and suicide.  It became very clear that life is difficult for most and it does help to share our experiences. 

In many cases once I shared my pain to other people, they would tell me all sorts of things. I guess they felt if I can share my pain and loss that they were safe to share their own difficulties and tragedies.  I never hid the reality of my son’s death with anyone I met. In return many sad stories were told to me. Heartbreaking stories that were difficult to hear, especially since my soul had experienced immense pain and was raw to extreme emotions. 

It was important for people to hear about Adam. I wanted to share what an amazing person he was. I also wanted to hear the stories of other people for the sole reason of connecting in the deepest of ways. Perhaps we could help each other. 

Two people with open and broken hearts sharing their pain is intense but unites those who allow it. It was challenging for me to cross the emotional bridge to another suffering heart, but I forged ahead with faith. 

In that tender, intimate connection is where I found Adam. Yes, Adam’s spirit was with me when I connected to another human in pain. Adam helped people when alive and together in his death we are united in trying to help others. 

Just sharing life’s pain connects people but there was more. A way was found to give others hope.

There is a reason to live. 

I felt Adam would want me to live a happy meaningful life. I shared this thought with those who suffered in a similar way. “Honor the departed by being happy and productive in their name” is what came out of my heart and mouth. 

Through loss I found many bridges to connect one broken heart to another. 

When I did, Adam was there. Sometimes we could not be of help, but we tried. 

The credo of the bereavement group Compassionate Friends states the following: “We need not walk alone. We are The Compassionate Friends. We reach out to each other with love, with understanding, and with hope”.

These lines are the material my bridges are made of. 

After 13 years since Adam’s passing, I realize how through loss I’ve crossed many bridges to connect to people. 

With love, understanding and hope a bridge is crossed hopefully bringing comfort to someone in need. 

I was never alone on this journey as Adam was with me every step of the way. The experience has transformed me, and I know Adam’s spirit has made me a better person.  He does live on in my soul and in everyone who knew him. He was a true blessing beyond measure and led by example. 

I wish there were less bridges to cross but if I need to do it again, I will not be alone. 

Rick Jacobs

8/4/2022

Column and photo courtesy of Rick Jacobs

 

Co-President’s Message – July 2022

A lot of people are wondering if we will ever experience the world the way we did before COVID-19 disrupted it.  If I am being honest, I wondered that too for a little while, but I haven’t in a long time.  How do we go back to the way something was after something so significant has happened? I don’t think we do.  I think we remember what we had then, we acknowledge what we have now, and we create something new as we look ahead and plan to move forward.  This is what COPE has been doing since March 2020. 

Our mission to help parents, siblings, and families living with the loss of a child, and the importance of doing so never changed; if anything, we saw the importance of that mission through a new lens.  What changed was how COPE carried out its mission to provide the help and support needed.  People were struggling, in perhaps more complicated ways, because of the impact COVID had on them- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.   COPE adjusted and remained a constant in people’s lives in a time of chaos.  COPE’s support groups continued, grief and healing programs continued and evolved, and we expanded our connections to reach people and communities in new ways.  All of that allowed us to continue to thrive as an organization. 

Although we are reminded daily that COVID is still here, it feels as if many of us are truly beginning to reacclimate into the world… even if this world is different than the one we once knew.  I’ve always believed that different does not mean better or worse, it simply means it’s not the same.  As we move forward in 2022, COPE is doing things differently, too.  Sandy Wolkoff, COPE’s past President, has completed her three year tenure after fiercely and compassionately leading the organization through the most uncertain of times.  While we are all so grateful for, and appreciative of, everything Sandy has done for COPE, her shoes needed to be filled and those shoes were mighty.  Instead of trying to replicate someone who we didn’t feel could be replicated, COPE looked in a different direction.  In the spirit of a new and different world, we are excited and proud to lead COPE together, through our Co-Presidency, and we are honored and grateful for the confidence shown, support provided, and the true partnership we share with the entire Board of Directors.

To everyone in the COPE Community, thank you for supporting COPE as an organization, but more importantly, thank you for the never-ending support and compassion you show each other.  Each and every one of you are the reason parents, siblings, and families will never have to experience their journey alone.