Co-Presidents’ Message – April 2022

“When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give to them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands
By letting
Bodies touch bodies
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away”

― Merrit Malloy

I remember sitting bored and drifting off in synagogue during high holiday services a few years ago. And I glanced down at the page and started to read what looked like a typical biblical meditation or psalm (preceding the kaddish prayer for loved ones who have passed). Except by the time I finished reading and digesting it in my head, my mouth dropped open, a lump formed in my throat and I might have whispered the word “wow” to myself. I re-read it several times making sure I acknowledged how this made me feel a little different. Better. And then, I snapped a picture of the page with my cellphone at this moment (not really considering the setting or the moment). What was it about this poem? Why did I and my co-president Jen (who I had never met at the time) both have this almost identical experience in temple during services (likely remembering our loved ones) while reading these words?  The poem, Epitaph written by Merrit Malloy, is actually a fairly popular one (after having been featured on a popular crime drama and circulated online) and is only a few decades old. Every line is a deep lesson and beautiful nugget of wisdom for those who have grieved. It contains universal truths. For me, the power and comfort come from the speaker telling the reader that they want their life AND death to do as much good for the world as possible. Use their love to better the world. Inspire the good in others. And in a way that we can understand today (following pandemic and now war), the reader is guided to cry and feel pain not for the dead, but for those that are still alive and suffering. Help those that need help. Sometimes, a suggestion of a different perspective is all that is needed in order to change feelings of pity, anger and despair into something better. And to redirect your energy. This is a selfless way of looking at death. One of my favorite ideas that these words suggest is that we can keep our loved ones alive after death by purposeful acts of love (and not just remembering). And that is what I’m going to continue to do to keep my angel alive.

– Larry Mergentime

I was at Yom Kippur services, three months after I lost my brother, somewhat mindlessly reading through random pages of the prayer book when I first read these words.  When I finished, I read them again; when I finished a second time, I knew I needed to have them.  I considered for a moment, “borrowing” the prayer book so I could bring it home, make a copy of the page, and bring it back, but I was a little worried it would look like stealing. And who steals something on the holiest day of the year for Jewish people? Right, nobody.  I realized I could simply take out my cell phone (not great, but better than stealing) and take a picture of the page- so that’s what I did.  The words spoke to me and my loss in a way I had not yet experienced, and maybe in a way I still haven’t experienced since then.  People say that our loved ones are always with us but what does that mean? For me, this poem taught me that the love for my brother will always be with me and it showed me how to feel and use that love so that he will always be with me.  When I read this poem, I almost pretend that my brother wrote it- that it is my brother telling me that the best way I can love him now is to love others, to look for him in our family and in his friends. There are pieces of ourselves in everyone we know and love.  My brother isn’t here physically anymore, and that will never change, but he was here for almost 40 years and he knew and loved a lot of people in his life. In the moments I am missing him a little more than usual, I look for pieces of him that will forever exist in me, our family, and his friends- and I always find him- because that love will always be there.

– Jen Schwartz

Co-Presidents’ Message – March 2022

The night of July 2, 2016, my brother and I were texting about the Mets (like every year, we had high hopes for them). Our conversation came to an end and he texted me “Good night! Love you!” Those were the last words my brother ever said to me. He died just a few hours later. A few weeks later, I had a problem with my phone and I lost all texts and pictures from the month of July. His last words to me were gone. 

In March 1997, I woke up for school and found a letter from my brother next to my bed. I guess we had argued earlier because most of what he wrote in that letter was an apology- he didn’t mean it, he shouldn’t take stuff out on me, and he was sorry for how things went down. The real point of his letter, however, was to ask me if I would wake him up the next morning- and he would even drive me to school! 

For whatever reasons, I kept the letter. It was dated 3/11/97 which my brother noted “hey, it’s 311!” (at the time, one of my favorite bands). My brother loved to draw and exaggerate. He drew an intricate spider web, next to which he wrote “the web!” He talked about the internet a lot and told me he liked to think of it as a giant web. Not much later I learned that “the web” was not his analogy; it was literally the internet’s nickname. His handwriting was beautiful, every letter was a work of art, and I admired it my entire life. This letter was an entire page of the very handwriting I would later work so hard to emulate.  That letter was my brother: creative, fun, smart, beautiful, sometimes a little sneaky, and always endearing. 

In March 2017, as I was going through some old pictures and cards in my nightstand, I found the letter. I started to laugh, remembering how mad he was when I tried to wake him that morning, when I noticed something about the letter- it was signed “Good night! Love you!” His last words to me before he died, which were lost forever in that damn “web” he loved to talk about, were now staring at me in his beautiful handwriting from a random letter he wrote me in 1997. 

It’s March 2022- almost 6 years since I lost my big brother and 25 years since that letter was written. I think of him every day and miss him all the time. Sharing him with you keeps me feeling connected to him but it also connects me to all of you- and to me, that’s what COPE is all about- connections. 

We all have the shared experience of loss but I bet we share more than that. So let’s connect- send us an email, share a story, show us your favorite picture. It may help you in your journey and you may help someone else in theirs. The next level of healing is helping. 

To each of you in the COPE community, it is an honor to be Co-President with Larry.  An important piece of our vision is to ensure that COPE continues to be available and accessible to everyone who needs the support- we cannot do that without you. Help us to grow COPE and make it stronger.  To Larry, thank you for loving Phish and reminding me so much of my brother. And to my brother- good night, love you!

– Jen Schwartz

Co-Presidents’ Message – January 2022

The concept of a new year and new beginnings has almost always been lost on me.  I feel the same way about birthdays.  I remember when I was younger, I would wake up on my birthday and my parents and relatives would ask me if I felt a year older.  Of course I didn’t feel a year older, after all, I was only 10 hours older than I was when I went to bed the night before.  It can be difficult to really experience the passing of time, for ourselves, when we only acknowledge the accumulation of our time, on our birthdays.  One night I went to bed and I was 9 years old.  When I woke up this morning, I was 40 years old. I feel older this morning than I did 31 years ago, but all the days in between? I don’t know if I was actively keeping track. 

I remember this time last year, people seemed so excited for 2021- for no reason other than it wouldn’t be 2020.  But what did that mean?  The difference between 2020 and 2021 was quite literally the passing of 1 second.  Did we all really think that the passing of one second on a clock was going to undo everything we experienced in 2020?  Did we believe that when we woke up on January 1, 2021 we would all feel differently?  I think we wanted to believe that.  I think we hoped for that.  More than anything, really, I think we all hoped life would just be better in 2021; maybe even go back to feeling, dare I say, normal? 

That concept isn’t specific to 2020 heading into 2021, but it really does highlight how much we glorify looking forward to something- even if we don’t know what it is.  Or how much we unknowingly look to the future to deliver us something better.  Or sometimes, how comforting it can be to look anywhere else, for anything else, as long as it’s not where we are, what we have, or what we feel right now.  I think it might be impossible to experience ourselves moment to moment all the time (I say “might” because I don’t believe in impossible), and even if it is possible, I’m not sure that’s the best thing for any of us.  A little bit of balance can go a very long way. 

We all woke up this morning to a new month in a new year, but remember, yesterday, last month, and last year are only a few seconds behind us.  We will never be able to control time- it will continue to pass whether we experience the minutes and hours of our days or if we only really happen to notice when the calendar flips from one month or year to the next.  What we can control is what we do with and how we spend our time.  I’ll be honest- I want to be way better at that.  I deserve (we all deserve) to feel like I am living my days and not just existing on auto-pilot.  I also have to keep in mind that one day I’ll see my older brother again and will have to explain to him why I didn’t do so many of the things I wanted to do with all of the time I was given. He was a big guy so it’s a conversation I’d like to avoid if I could.

So it’s January 1, 2022 and I wish all of you a happy and a healthy new…day. 

– Jen

Larry Mergentime and Jen Schwartz are COPE Co-Presidents