Sibling Column – October 2021

From Katharine Heaton
 
The other night I spent a moment with my sister in a dream and it bothered me more than anything. She’d never want me to be upset by her presence, but the thing is I haven’t seen her in over 2 years – at all. In this dream she was healthy because I recall thinking to myself, “wow, she’s healthy and she has all her hair”.
 
One thing I lived for since I was little was to make her laugh, and it took hardly any effort to make her laugh in general, but especially at me. I still always wanted to perfect it though, find new ways, new cynical/dark phrases or new dance moves to surprise her with just to hear the sound of her laugh. On the phone, in person, even over text she would crack up at me.  I even chose this photo to share with my column because she’d laugh so hard at it and say “remember that picture where you’re like holding me?!”  Back to the dream, I can’t remember what I did, but it was the way I was saying something and she was just laughing so hard at me and it felt so good! That was it – in a flash it was over, and I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. So many reasons ran through me, but mostly because it hit me that I have not seen or felt that feeling in over 2 years. Many people thought it was great that she “finally visited me,” but as grievers we often hear comments we don’t align with. In my life now I have the ability to find new versions of ‘happy,’ and I certainly still have my quirky way of making things funny, but as I said before – I lived to hear Maureen laugh with me, at me, and I have not felt that. It shocked me when I woke up.
 
Someone in my brain tumor group recently asked us when was the last time we felt happy, and I said without even thinking July 27, 2017 – the day before Maureen had a seizure at the gym 3000mi away. He said ‘yea my life ended on _____ date and then my new life began’. That date was when his wife was diagnosed, and we all just knew what he meant.  I know the COPE family may have the same view of life ‘before and after’.
 
I say the day before she was diagnosed rather than the day she died because, putting it mildly, brain cancer wreaks havoc on everything anyone ever once knew as normal.  Maureen was never sick a day in her life, and in the blink of an eye, it immediately began to take everything away from her that she could once do. Throughout her illness though, her laugh thankfully still remained and I could feel happy. Losing this feeling from this amazing person is in itself the greatest loss.

Parent Column – April 2021

From Karen and Jim Hom
 
Brian Hom
 
As we reflect on the loss of our son, Brian James Hom we cannot seem to grasp the reality that time is passing us by, while we feel that Brian just left us yesterday. It’s been 10 years since we lost Brian in a car accident where he was an innocent bystander. None of his friends wanted to sit in the back seat of the dirty car, but Brian volunteered, and the driver went through a stop sign. With the passage of time, the sharpest part of the pain lessens to a small degree, but the devastation and grief continues with us everyday of our lives. At an early age of 18, we lost Brian. He was completing high school and had just been accepted into an elite college when the accident happened. He was a high energy, intelligent, fun loving and sport minded young man who loved his family and provided support to his community.
 
While we are in this world, Brian will always be loved by his brother, sisters and- most of all by his mom and dad. At some point in time, we will be all back together, but until then our hearts will continue to miss our beloved son. It has been the love and support from COPE that has helped us grieve and heal. With the dedicated help from this community, we have been able to express our grief and receive attention and commitment to help us on this unforeseen journey.

COPE Welcomes our Board Member Jen Schwartz

Jen Schwartz graduated Long Island University at CW Post in 2007 with a Master’s Degree in School and Mental Health Counseling and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Psychology from Lehigh University. During her graduate school internship, Jen co-facilitated a bereavement support group for middle school students who had expressed a need for a space to talk about their losses and the impact it had on them. 
 
In 2008, Jen started working as an educational advocate for the Long Island Advocacy Center, assisting students with disabilities who were involved in the juvenile justice system, to obtain the appropriate educational services to be successful in school. In 2012, Jen co-wrote a youth-centered curriculum and co-facilitated groups for teens with behavioral and/or emotional difficulties. LEAP (Learning, Exploring, Advocating, and Persevering) focused on helping teens to become more self-aware and to develop helpful communication skills so they could become self-advocates. In 2014, Jen started a second job as the Youth Engagement Director for the North Shore Jewish Center where she creates and implements programs for the synagogue’s youth groups. In 2015, Jen started jGAY! (Jewish Gay and Allied Youth), the first support group on Long Island for Jewish LGBTQ+ youth and families. 
 
When Jen’s older brother passed suddenly in July 2016, she attended her first COPE sibling support group. She remembers feeling more connected to a group of strangers than to anyone else in her life at that time. She continues to attend the Long Island sibling group monthly, not because of her individual ‘need’ to attend, but because she knows there will always be someone new starting the group and if people stopped attending once they felt they didn’t ‘need’ it, then who would be there for the next person to show up? Jen currently serves on COPE’s Family Advisory and Program Committees and became a COPE Ambassador in December 2020. 
 
 
The next level of healing is helping. To learn more about the COPE Ambassador program, serving on a committee, board membership and other volunteer opportunities to get involved with COPE, contact us at info@copefoundation.org.

Parent Column – February 2021

The voice heard in my silence – 

The pandemic we are all facing is challenging but allows for some rare opportunities of self discovery. I have taken many walks by myself where I contemplate the events and meaning of my life. My future seems uncertain. There is concern as to whether the company I work for will stay in business. Do I retire or find another job if that is even possible? The feeling of isolation from family, friends and a normal reality weighs heavily upon me. I worry about loved ones getting sick and possibly dying. From this train of thought it is a short leap to thinking about my entire life. What have I done, where am I now, and what do I want for my future? My honest contemplations of life led to a deepened desire to examine it all. What stands out the most in my life review is my son Adam’s passing and the emptiness it has created.

Quarantine, six feet of separation and social distancing are the terms dominating our consciousness in 2020 and continuing in 2021. Feeling isolated is natural under present circumstances. When Adam passed away eleven years ago I felt isolated in my grief and pain. I was surrounded by many loving people but their love could not penetrate my numbing hurt. There was a numbness that encased my heart and caused an emotional paralysis. I was alone within myself. My thoughts were foggy, my feelings were numb and a sensation of a surreal reality permeated my consciousness. Looking back I realize how similar things are today to what I experienced eleven years ago. I was socially distant from all people and quarantined within my own essence.

Because of the pandemic I spend a great deal of time by myself. Self imposed isolated is difficult and I need to frequently think of the long term goal. Stay healthy because a grandchild is on the way. Stay healthy because you have potential to live for many years and can be productive. Stay healthy to honor Adam’s spirit.

Isolation is challenging but offers the opportunity for self contemplation.

With a new year beginning and relocating to Long Island,new goals have been set and a new chapter of my life Is beginning to unfold. This past May 21st was the 11th anniversary of Adam’s passing and a broken heart dominated all I thought and felt. I was deep within myself that day and the several days leading up to the dreadful anniversary. I found myself adrift within my own inner silence.

Within that silence I heard a voice coming from my heart. This voice was saying “I’m hurt and I yearn for comfort, for peace of mind.. Even after 11 years of healing I’ve come to realize that I’m still in a state of convalescing. Perhaps this is the way it will always be. I cannot imagine ever being complete after Adam’s death.

I was very connected to my son. It would be accurate to say there was a spiritual bridge from heart to heart that linked our souls.

I can dance, travel and be funny but there is still a gaping hole in my heart that is ever present. From that broken heart a voice can be heard. Ironic how suffering and joy can coexist. It was this realization early after my life changed forever that enabled me to resume some level of normalcy. There was no chance of avoiding the pain but perhaps I could infuse some happiness into a horrific reality. My inner analysis and perseverance to regain my life were largely successful. With all of my efforts I realized that I will always be a work in progress. I will never totally heal. They are so many times since Adam’s passing where in my inner world of isolation I hear another voice coming from a world of silence, “I’m hurt and I miss my son”. The voice continues to say “It’s been too long since we’ve been together, laughed, acted silly and talked about life. I can remember your smile and feel the joy in my heart as we connected but all of this is just a memory. I miss you.”

So speaks the voice of my heart in the silence that encases by entire being.

In my silence I hear a voice.

– Rick Jacobs

Giving Back from COPE

So many families at COPE have lost children and siblings, and the holidays are always so difficult for people. Many of the siblings in my group have talked about how their parents ‘canceled’ Christmas after their loss.

So many families on Long Island are in need – they may not cancel Christmas but the priority is a roof over their heads and food on their tables. Kids can’t understand that, and they shouldn’t have to.

This year has been especially hard on so many families, regardless of any existing socio-economic factors;  as much as it has sucked for each of us, there is always someone out there who has had a harder time than I have had, than you have had, than all of us have had. I know that is hard to remember in the blur of life, but it’s true (as cliche as it is, and I hate cliches).

COPE’s mission is to help parents and families living with the loss of a child. COPE is more than an organization – more than the staff, the Board, the volunteers and donors.

We’re individuals – so what’s OUR mission?

I know individuals don’t need to have missions (actually, I think everyone should have a mission but I meant it’s not required in order to be a person), but we’re individuals who have been supported and guided by complete strangers during a time in our lives when we needed that most.

And wouldn’t it just be so great to support someone else, a complete stranger, during a time in their life when they may need it most?

– Jen Schwartz, COPE Ambassador

Click here and add your generosity to support kids in need this season.

Sibling Column – December 2020

I’ve had conflicting thoughts throughout my life about what happens when we die.  After my brother, LB, died, a friend told me about a recent experience she had with a medium. Since then, I’ve had two readings from different mediums; but really, I’ve had two hour-long conversations with my big brother.

During one reading, my brother said something which the medium responded to aloud. I reacted to the medium’s response by muttering to myself and rolling my eyes (both trademarks of my dry sense of humor).  At the same moment, the medium laughed out loud and told me the last thing my brother said which caused him to laugh.  In that moment, I thought of all the other times my brother and I shared the same quick-witted response to situations- those were times I laughed to myself while he caused an entire room of people to crack up. Even in his death he can make people laugh more than I can.

My brother talks to me about things most people wouldn’t know. I drink too much coffee; the hazelnut flavor I enjoy is too sweet for him, but he appreciates my routine. He knows I always use the same mug and that I don’t need to look when I pour or add things to my coffee. I fill the Keurig with water after every time I use it even though it’s always empty when I go to make my coffee.  He can’t believe how long I drink coffee when I am at work, but he wants me to know that he sits with me every time I “power it up” at the office.  An “interesting choice of words to describe making coffee”, the medium tells me, but the words made perfect sense to me. I don’t make coffee at work, I only reheat it in the microwave; the medium didn’t know that but my brother did. 

LB talks to me about things I don’t even know. He told me he spent Halloween with one of his nieces who did something “gothic”. That meant nothing to me. A week later in a video text from my daughter, I noticed something on the inside of her wrist. I asked her about it and she told me she treated herself to a new tattoo, on Halloween: a symbol representing Freemasons, a secret-society whose roots trace back to the Gothic Period and whose symbols are prominent in gothic cathedrals.

My brother told me I live a good life; he knows I can laugh, and often do, with my family. He knows because he sees it every day; he also sees me when I am driving in my car listening to “that” song and sobbing uncontrollably- and he’s sitting there next to me.

Is my brother really standing next to me in my kitchen when I make my coffee or watching me at work when I heat it up?  Did he really go with my daughter on Halloween when she got a tattoo?  Does he really sit shotgun when I go for my crying drives to nowhere? I’ve started listening to podcasts while I drive and I use different coffee mugs every day; in case he’s here, I want him to see I’m trying new things again.

What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife?  How much can we believe in or trust an idea- something we can’t see or touch?  There’s no good answer to those questions because there’s no way to prove if a concept exists or doesn’t. It isn’t lost on me that my brother, or perhaps just the mere thought of my brother, in his afterlife, which I know may only exist in my imagination, is helping me relearn the concept of living my life- one cup of coffee at a time. 

– Jen Schwartz, COPE Ambassador