Healing Tip – March 2022

The Legacies Our Loved Ones Leave Behind

Over the past two months, I attended the funerals and shivas for the mothers of two friends. I did not know either mother very well other than having met them through my friends’ weddings or having heard about them through their children and I knew that both had struggled with illness for many years. 

I was there primarily to support my friends, but even over Zoom, I found myself enraptured and moved while listening to their various loved ones speak about them during their funerals. I felt honored to hear about their vibrant and rich lives and their tenacity in the face of their illnesses. The stories were genuine and raw, filled with fond memories and deep heartache, encapsulating each of their spirits. 

As a child who went to many funerals of much older relatives, I was always surprised and intrigued to learn about their long lives full of interests and hobbies and quirky personality traits, as my limited childish capacity was only to have known them as “old.” 

It was something that resonated with me again when I worked for 8 years in a hospital and we educated the staff on recognizing that our patients were more than just sick people in a hospital bed. Outside of the hospital they were mothers, sons, CEOs, and world travelers, who were defined by more than their illness. Patients often put photos of themselves doing the things they loved in their rooms so that staff saw this upon entering and remembered that this was a unique individual, not just another patient. It called on us as providers to recognize the humanity in medicine, illness, and death even through our compassion fatigue or burnout. 

What struck me in ruminating on all of this after these funerals was how this impacts part of our grief process. Our journey might mostly feel like post-traumatic stress, but there can also be post-traumatic growth. Alongside our pain and mourning, part of our work in navigating our grief is finding that touchpoint that will allow us to remain connected to our loved one and recognize the impact of their life, no matter how short. The goal is not to get over our sadness or move on from missing our loved one, but to build those continuing bonds with them and find a new way to maintain or even grow that relationship in its different form. 

We are able to do that because in many ways they are still with us. They remain in the memories we have or stories we share. In their children and grandchildren. In the beautiful watercolor art they made or the perfectly curated record collection they kept. They live on in how we adapt to this loss and make meaning in supporting those around us, honoring them through pursuing higher education or trying to perfectly mimic their best recipes, planting trees or putting a plaque on a bench in Central Park, or starting foundations to fund research for cancer or support bereaved individuals. This connection, growth, and meaning making can be an important piece of our healing process and allow their life to continue albeit in a different form.  

Claire Sharkey, LCSW

Clinical Director, COPE Foundation
(516) 274-0540

Healing Tip – February 2022

Grief and Valentine’s Day

I read somewhere recently that in French “I miss you” is “Tu me manques,” which literally translates to “You are missing from me.” Assuming this translation is correct (and I have not let down my six years worth of French teachers), I think there is no truer way to express the love that remains after a significant person dies. Our love for them and the space left by the missing piece of us after their death takes the form of grief. This resonated with me especially as we near Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to the love we have for those around us and those this year that we might find are missing from us. 

Though many people choose to brush aside this day, for those that are grieving it might feel harder to ignore, and might feel especially triggering after having recently made it through the often challenging holiday season and into a new year with the difficult milestone of being another year they have not lived with us. 

If Valentine’s seems like it might be a difficult day for you and not one that you will be able to move through by distracting yourself or ignoring it entirely (which are acceptable ways to cope with the day should you choose) here are some suggestions to focus your energy and reframe the day if they are accessible to you:

  1. Reach out to the important people in your life. Connect with your other loved ones with phone calls or texts or meet up for a coffee or meal. Send a card or bouquet of flowers to someone who has been particularly there for you. Fill the day reminding yourself of the support people in your life and by reminding them of the love they have from you.

  2. Reach out to those you struggle to love. Perhaps there is a coworker that you find particularly difficult to interact with or a family member you have recently been struggling with because they have not been supportive of your grief process. Maybe this day is an opportunity to take the first step in mending that hurt or shortening that distance. Maybe it is simply avoiding negative thoughts about them or practicing patience when they frustrate you. Offering them grace and compassion will have benefits to your own wellbeing. 

  3. Reach out to strangers. Fill the day with small random acts of kindness like covering the cost of someone’s coffee or leaving a generous tip. Take the extra moment to smile or say good morning to the doorman or wish the checkout clerk at the grocery store a nice day. Look for opportunities to volunteer or donate to a cause close to you or your loved one’s heart. Fill your community with a little extra love.

  4. Reach out to yourself. Do not underestimate the importance of self-love and self-care. Lean into your grief and give yourself permission today to focus on you. Eat a meal you enjoy. Carve out time for your favorite exercise class. Buy yourself a small gift or get a manicure. Sleep in late or go to bed early. Whatever it means to care for and treat yourself, do that. Fill your cup. 

  5. Reach out to your loved one. Even if your loved one is not physically with you, you can still take the opportunity to connect with them that day. Visit the cemetery, share happy memories with family and friends, enjoy pictures and videos of the times you had together, write a letter to them expressing the love you still have for them and the moments you miss. Honor them through the ways you reach out to those listed in suggestions 1-4 above. Remind yourself that your grief is their love persevering.

Healing Tip – January 2022

As we enter a new year, exiting one that for many was filled with challenges, disappointments, and many losses, we also look back on the moments we were able to come together with our COPE community for connection, support, tools, and resources. So many people are living with grief and no one needs to face this journey alone. 
The beauty of this community – this family – was clear at our December Worldwide Candlelighting Memorial Service. In concert with many other organizations, we remembered the children gone too soon by lighting our candles and sending a wave of light across the world beginning at 7PM local time. 
We honored them by sharing their names and stories and inspired and moved one another with poems, lyrics, quotes, and prayers. A number of times after listening to someone share a reading, another participant expressed thanks for the comfort the words had provided. I am including here some short poems from that night and in doing so, I hope to share some of that comfort with each of you. May it support you as we move forward into 2022. 
“On the Death of the Beloved” 
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
“Blowing Kisses”
I blow your kisses to the sky
And off to you I let them fly
Each one a wish I wrap in love
Then send to you so high above
I feel you watching as I do
And know you hear each “I love you”
So everyday I’ll send them high
These kisses I blow to the sky
“Until We Meet Again”
Those special memories of you
will always bring a smile,
if only i could have you back
just for a while.
Then we could sit and talk again,
just like we used to do.
You always meant so very much,
and always will do too.
The fact that you’re no longer here,
will always cause me pain,
but you’re forever in my heart
until we meet again.
Claire Sharkey, LCSW
Clinical Director, COPE Foundation
(516) 274-0540

Healing Tip – December 2021

Gratitude Practice

As we move past Thanksgiving into the winter holidays and the new year, this is often a challenging time for grieving individuals. It can be difficult to find joy when the loved one we want to celebrate with is not there in the way we want them to be. It can be hard to look forward to a new year when that will just be another year they did not get to live in. 

Be gentle with and have compassion for yourself during this time. Join the holiday celebrations if it feels right for you, whether as a way to distract yourself, surround yourself with other loved ones who you can find comfort in, or as an opportunity to have your loved one still present in some way – a conversation about a happy memory, a stocking still hung for them, or a prayer for them watching over the family. If the holidays need to look different for you this year and you need it to pass more quietly or with fewer people around, allow yourself that as well, even if it might be difficult for others to understand. 

Whatever you choose, set aside time for yourself and your emotional well-being. If joy feels inaccessible, consider a gratitude practice. Practicing gratitude can have incredible benefits for your physical and mental health, including strengthening our immune system, improving sleep, feeling more optimistic, and feeling less isolated – all important factors for those processing their grief. Purposefully taking time each day to identify even the smallest thing to be thankful for can be one moment that day that feels a little lighter and a little more hopeful. 

Today you might be grateful for the good weather so you can take an invigorating walk to start your day. Or perhaps you are thankful for the rain as an excuse to stay in bed later and calm your mind. You might be thankful for your neighbor who checked in on you or your sister who accepted without question that this year, your family needs Hannukah to look different. Perhaps you are able to spend time being thankful for the positive ways your loved one continues to impact your life in how you view your other relationships or the work you do in their honor or maybe you are grateful for the people who have shown up for you in your grief. It might simply be that there were two matching socks on the top of the laundry pile, which saved you an extra minute of searching or the traffic light that always seems to be red, today was green. Big or small, finding a moment (or moments!) of gratitude each day will help in healing. 

Some tips for a meaningful gratitude practice include beginning by observing the times in your day that you say “thank you” or “you’re welcome” even just out of habit as this primes us to notice them more often and makes it easier to recall things we are grateful for.  Set aside a specific time each day to reflect on even one moment or interaction from the day and call on your five senses as inspiration and to allow yourself to re-experience the feelings you had in that moment. You can keep a gratitude journal to reread when feeling dejected or hopeless or share your gratitude with others to acknowledge the roles you play in each others’ lives in providing goodness. In the beginning, it is OK to feel like you are just “going through the motions,” as even this practice will trigger emotions of gratitude and allow you to build from there. Lastly, remember that gratitude is not about being only optimistic or positive and looking on the bright side. Part of gratitude is acknowledging the more difficult things and darker times we have experienced as this stark contrast is the foundation for gratefulness.   

Today and every day, we are grateful for you, our COPE community. 

Claire Sharkey, LCSW
Clinical Director, COPE Foundation
(516) 274-0540