Co-President’s Message – March 2023

I lost my older brother. I’m not sure those words will ever feel real to me but I know they are. During my sibling group the other night, I realized it will be 7 years in July. It blew my mind. That’s a long time. Well, it’s a long time for me.

Banks, lawyers, accountants, school systems, even doctors and hospitals are free to dispose of an individuals’ records after 7 years. Right? In some cases it’s the law, in others it’s the rule of thumb. Whichever it is, it seems that 7 years is the magic number in terms of something no longer being relevant or no longer needing proof that something existed. Shred it up, get rid of it, and you can pretend it never existed or happened- because after 7 years it doesn’t matter anymore.  So I guess it isn’t just me who thinks 7 years is a long time.

There’s something to it though. It’s sad and hard to admit this but I’m having a hard time remembering my brother’s face. It’s like my brain is starting the process of shredding my memories and waiting until it’s time to get rid of them completely. I don’t want that but it’s getting harder and harder to see him. There are pictures of him in our house- it’s not like I don’t recognize him. I don’t look at a picture and ask “hey who’s that guy standing next to me, Matt, and my parents?” It’s more so when I actively remember experiences and memories with him, the guy in my my memory is the guy from the picture I just mentioned. I can remember the events and the moments of the memory but his role in my memory is either shadowy or he’s wearing a tux from Matt’s wedding. I can’t remember him so I insert the pictures I see daily into my thoughts. Honestly, it’s kind of weird- there was this one family dinner years ago that cracks me up every time I think about it but now my brother is standing there in a tux instead of sitting around the table cracking up with me and Matt. There’s another picture I see daily in my house- it’s from my Bat Mitzvah and he’s in our back yard. He must have thought he was having a. Glamour Shots photo shoot because he nailed the poses and the head tilts perfectly. But when I close my eyes to try and see him, he’s 17 and posing in my backyard with a weird haircut that he probably thought was very cool. (I’m not so sure it was)

I don’t want to think about or remember my brother based on the pictures I have but I’m not sure there’s another choice. There aren’t going to be new memories or updated pictures. I think all I can do is remember to remember the moments and look at the pictures I have and burn them into my brain so no matter how many years pass, the memories I have with him don’t get shredded or disposed of because “enough time” has passed.

Curious to know what other people do and how you experience the passing of time.  Send me an email, I’d like to try something new. I can’t stop time from passing but I don’t have to let my memories leave me behind. I can’t be the only one who experiences this. Reality, tell me what you got- I’ll try anything.
You guys are the best and I appreciate all of you.


Co-Presidents’ Message – February 2023

I think Rob Delaney has been a sensitive, thoughtful, and influential figure relating to grief and loss since he lost his son a few years ago.  I haven’t gotten myself to fully read his new book, but I’ve read and watched multiple interviews and articles about him and the book.  There’s some genuine wisdom and frankness in his words.

“A heart that hurts is a heart that works” (a derivation of his book title)

From his book: “That is one thing grief does to me. It makes me want to make you understand.”

From an NPR interview: “I would just say other people can help you, and your salvation will come through the embraces and charity and kindness of other people. There remains beauty and love and light in this world. Even though you’ve been through something that will leave you changed forever, there are still smiles out there for you to have and laughter and joy. And other people who’ve been through what you’ve been through can help you with that.”

From his book: “That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to unhappiness. You don’t have to be afraid even though you will forever miss this person, you will forever ache for them. The grief will weave into your life and will be a part of your tapestry. It’ll leave and it’ll come back, but the sooner we get hip to that the sooner we’ll be able to be happy, in snatches, here and there. And that’s OK. That’s life.”

From a USA Today interview: “I know I’ve benefited from my bereaved parents’ groups that I go to,” he says. “So, if I am honest about my experience with somebody whose kid died three weeks ago or six months ago, that’s going to help them.”

From a NY Times article and interview: “It’s a sort of mantra that I developed early in the acute grief process. I would tell myself, ‘It’s OK, you’ll be sad forever.’ I found that very freeing because then it was like, oh, I don’t have to do this all right now? I don’t have to march through this expecting and desiring an end? I can put it down for a minute and come pick it up again. I can relax.”

From a Guardian article: “Now he describes grief as being ‘weaved into our lives’. He uses the metaphor of a rainbow: colour remains, but now there is an extra band, of black. ‘We have a new capacity for something painful,’ he says. ‘We have a new vocabulary.’”

From his book: “Life involves a lot of suffering – as elucidated by the Buddha.  Better to acknowledge it. Let it in, let it hurt, so you can work through it. Because to say, ‘I don’t want that. I’m not going to let that happen. I’m going to lead a life where I keep pain and suffering at bay…’ Well, then you’re in trouble…One thing I would say with confidence is that we don’t do grief, grief does us. It’s going to come through you if someone you love desperately dies, and it’s not up to you when it strikes. But if you understand that a storm is coming, and you feel it beginning inside of you, it’s a real waste of time to fight it. Let the weather pattern emerge. Cry if you need to.”

Co-Presidents’ Message – January 2023

2023. For some of you, this is the start of the first new year you’re living with the loss of your loved one. For others, this may be your twentieth new year. I remember the start of 2017 – that was my first new year without my older brother. I was so afraid to say goodbye to 2016 because it felt like I would be saying goodbye to my brother forever and as time passed, I worried he would be forgotten. There would never be another year that we were all here together and I didn’t know what that would look or feel like, I didn’t know what to do with the uncertainty, and I didn’t want to find out. Fortunately (though at the time, I would have said unfortunately), I had no control over one year ending and the next one beginning, and so ready or not, it happened.

“Happy New Year” is something we say without giving it a second thought. It’s an expression but expressions are made up of individual words; when I hear the word happy, I think of true joy and excitement and when I hear the word new, I think of something shiny, better, and more desirable. “Happy New Year” can be a really hard sentiment to hear for someone who’s grieving. I’m not suggesting we cancel “Happy New Year”, and even if I was, let’s face it, I don’t have that kind of pull. What I’m asking is for us to maybe take a beat before wishing someone a Happy New Year over the next few days and weeks.

Earlier this week, I was writing a holiday card to a friend when I realized I was wishing her a happy holiday season and a happy new year. She and her family experienced a significant loss this year and I immediately regretted what I was writing- so I started over. Instead, I acknowledged how this time of year was likely very different than previous years and instead of telling her to have a happy anything, I told her that my hope for her and her family was that they were able to experience moments of peace and love. Was it short and sweet like ‘happy holidays and happy new year’? No, definitely not. Was it a helpful thing to say? I have no idea. All I know is that taking the extra three minutes to acknowledge her family’s loss, and intentionally not using the words happy and new, in that instance, felt right to me.

When people wished me a Happy New Year in 2017, I really tried to not overthink it but I couldn’t help it. All I could think was that I didn’t want a new year and I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t blame anyone for saying it because it wasn’t about them. It was about me. I’m a firm believer that we all have more in common than we realize so if I felt that way, I think others have, too.

There’s so much we can’t do.  We can’t stop people from living with loss, we can’t prevent one year from ending or a different year from starting, and we can’t change the popular opinion that the holiday season is happy and cheery and bright and perfect. But what we can do is remind someone that not everything has to be happy and merry in order for it to be meaningful and you can remind someone that you haven’t forgotten. It might just be the best gift you could give someone.

Co-Presidents’ Message – December 2022

Greetings –

After a fulfilling Thanksgiving weekend with family and an amazingly impactful #GivingTuesday COPE fundraising drive, I find myself reflecting on the year that is winding down. My first as Co-President of COPE’s board.  The organization’s first year with Co-Presidents. And the path that COPE has taken to weather the pandemic and come out stronger on the other side.  

I think of the critical services that COPE offers to our communities.  And I think ahead to next year with excitement, when COPE will be expanding its footprint and services in new ways.  And the strongest feeling I have is pride. I’m proud of what this organization does on a daily basis to support parents, siblings, kids and teens living with loss.

I’m reminded that it takes a literal village of people – especially for a nimble, fiscally-responsible nonprofit foundation like COPE to be successful around the year. 

So, I’d like to end the final president’s message of the year by expressing my deep gratitude and appreciation to the village that makes COPE work. 

I am thankful for having an Executive Director and a Clinical & Program Director with tremendous vision, conviction, compassion, and energy.  Thank you, Adam and Claire!  

Special thanks go to my Co-President Jen Schwartz, the rest of the board of directors (especially to our departing board member, past President, and my mentor Sandy Wolkoff) and to the following important members of the team:

Support groups facilitator team:

  • Janet Zimmerman, LCSW-R
  • Lauren Jukofsky, LCSW
  • Marilyn Kohn, LMSW
  • Mary Ann Stein, LMSW
  • Michelle Graff, LCSW
  • Natalia Echeverri, LMSW, C-ASWCM
  • Rashida Sanchez, MA, LMSW, FT
  • Rhonda Ryan, LMSW

Camp Erin NYC team:

  • Ann Fuchs – Camp Erin NYC Director
  • Jamie Greene, PhD – Camp Erin NYC Psychologist

Management team:

  • Adam Rabinovitch, Executive Director
  • Claire Sharkey, LCSW – Clinical & Program Director
  • Marianne Bujacich – Financial Officer
  • Patricia Cocchiarelli – Financial Administrator
  • Michaela McBride – Community Outreach & Marketing Manager
  • Isabella Floro – COPE Intern

Fundraising consultants:

  • Laura Hull – Grants Consultant
  • Erika Carley – Individual Donors Consultant

Wishing you peace, health, and happiness in the new year.

– Larry Mergentime


Co-President’s Message – November 2022

From COPE Co-President Jen Schwartz

“Time moved in two directions because every step into the future carried a memory of the past…he had accumulated enough memories to know that the world around him was continually being shaped by the world within him, just as everyone else’s experience of the world was shaped by their own memories, and while all people were bound together by the common space they shared, their journeys through time were all different, which meant that each person lived in a slightly different world from everyone else.” – Paul Auster

I started reading again a few months ago.  I used to read a lot when I was younger but as I got older, it became more difficult for me to read.  Time, attention, and interest were all factors; I once read 8 books in 6 days…and then years passed before I picked up another book.  For the last few years, I have only read non-fiction.  I started to despise fiction: made up characters, stories that were either completely predictable or so far-fetched and ridiculous that any ‘surprise’ twists or endings seemed to have the opposite effect any author would intend.  They infuriated me because they didn’t make sense.  When I would read, I leaned into non-fiction.  I decided even if I didn’t ‘like’ the book, it was real- it was someone’s story.  I read a lot about the brain, neuropsychology, genetics, mental illness, and dogs (never read anything about a dog I didn’t love).  Life fascinates me.  

About a year ago, I watched a one-season TV series that had just come out.  I loved it so much, I’ve watched the 10-episode series at least twelve different times.  It was a book before it was a TV show.  I was so fascinated by the show that I broke my no fiction rule and read it.  The author wrote a few other books- I read those, too. I read each of them three times actually.  When I finished those, I decided I should move on- I have a tendency to re-read and re-watch things instead of trying something new (I explore this with my therapist from time to time…I still don’t understand why she doesn’t love this TV show the way I do). I decided to Google books that were similar in concept to the trio I had finished and found 4-3-2-1 by Paul Auster.  The book is just shy of 900 pages- so far, I’ve read it twice.  When you have the luxury of doing something all over again, you see things you didn’t the first time, you already know what’s going to happen so earlier text takes on a new meaning, and like life, sometimes text can be confusing- having the chance to go back and reread can clarify things you maybe didn’t know you needed clarified the first time. 

The book is essentially four books in one.  There’s a main character who is the focus of the book. Each chapter is divided into 4 parts and each of those four parts is a “parallel” version of our main character’s life.  We meet him when he is born and by the end of the first chapter, he’s experienced that defining moment- it’s not the same moment in each version but you recognize it just the same.  We all have those defining moments in our life- the ones that make us wonder forever what our lives would have been like had that moment not happened…or if that moment had happened differently.  I often wonder what my life would look like if I hadn’t lost my brother.  I’ve played out so many different scenarios in my head and who knows if any of them are accurate, or would have been accurate.  It’s interesting, to say the least, to think about.  

There were so many sentences and even full paragraphs that I highlighted as I read- I wanted to share them all with you but there are simply too many.  I opened this with the shorter of the two; the longer one, my favorite passage, I will leave here at the end. I’ve read it dozens of times and it never feels any less powerful or meaningful to me.  I hope you feel the meaning in it, too. 

“There are only two choices, the main road and the back road, and each one has its good points and bad points. Say you choose the main road and get to your appointment on time. You won’t think about your choice, will you? And if you go by the back road and get there in time, again, no sweat, and you’ll never give it another thought for the rest of your life. But here’s where it gets interesting. You take the main road, there’s a three-car pileup, traffic is stalled for more than an hour, and as you sit there in your car, the only thing on your mind will be the back road and why you didn’t go that way instead. You’ll curse yourself for making the wrong choice, and yet how do you really know it was the wrong choice? Can you see the back road? Do you know what’s happening on the back road? Has anyone told you that an enormous redwood tree has fallen across the back road and crushed a passing car, killing the driver of that car and holding up traffic for three and a half hours? Has anyone looked at his watch and told you that if you had taken the back road it would have been your car that was crushed and you who were killed? Or else: No tree fell, and taking the main road was the wrong choice. Or else: You took the back road, and the tree fell on the driver just in front of you, and as you sit in your car wishing you had taken the main road, you know nothing about the three-car pileup that would have made you miss your appointment anyway. Or else: There was no three-car pileup, and taking the back road was the wrong choice.

What’s the point of all this, Archie?

I’m saying you’ll never know if you made the wrong choice or not. You would need to have all the facts before you knew, and the only way to get all the facts is to be in two places at the same time—which is impossible.” – Paul Auster