May brings Mother’s Day so I googled “who started Mother’s Day” and learned that a
woman, Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, started Mother’s Day as a way of
honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children. I know certain holidays are just
so challenging for many people and this is a big one. The endless stream of scenes of
laughing, loving mothers and their children is just overwhelming for bereaved parents
and those who mourn the loss of their own mothers.
I just got off a Zoom workshop offered through the new partnership between COPE and
Pinelawn Memorial Park, entitled “How Long Does Grief Last”, presented by a journalist
and bereaved parent, Mark Henricks (ok, this transition is not as strange as it seems.)
Mark lost his 16 year old son, Brady, about five years ago, and maybe as a way to
manage his own grief, began to study the research on how long we grieve. I was afraid
he would tell me that I was supposed to grieve exactly four years and six months, or
something so specific and precise that I was sure I would fail “grieving”. He didn’t. He
did say many of us feel better, slowly and over time. Mr. Henricks said that the research
he reviewed reflects that some bereaved parents, over a four to nine year period, felt
70-90% better. By better I think he meant that we weren’t crippled by our emotions and
we could work and laugh and well, function. But, as you can see, it never goes away for
I remember the moments that I could begin to feel my life trying to push up through the
weight of the grief that followed my loss. Like the spring daffodils that just blossomed, or
the perfume of the lilacs that embrace us as we walk by them, my dreams, my
connection to those in my life, also began to blossom. I will always cry about losing my
son Steven, but I don’t cry every day. I will always yearn for one more hug and smile
from him, but my heart is full, in no small part because of the presence of my younger
son and daughter and their families. June 21, 2021, will mark the 13th anniversary of
the tragic accident that ended my son Steven’s life, but when I look back at the awful
first days, months and many years, I am stunned that I am so lucky to have some
simple joys of living grow in my heart as well.
This May, on Mother’s Day, I will think of own mother, very frail and near the end of her
time. And I will think of my children and grandchildren and the wonderful, amazing,
tireless mothers my daughter and daughter-in-law have been during this awful
pandemic year. I will also be grateful for my work with COPE and the laughter and tears
I have shared with so many of my fellow grief travelers—mothers, fathers, siblings,
This Mother’s Day, let’s remember to love all our children– the ones we can hug and
the ones that we wish we could. Let’s love all those whom we cherish. As my friend
Sherry Radowitz has said since she lost her son, Jesse: I am still your mother. Every
day really is a mother’s day. Let’s not be so afraid of it this year.
I am writing this while listening to the morning news, not on Long Island, but in Denver, Colorado, about thirty minutes south of Boulder. While the conversations barely a week ago were all about the potential three feet of snow in an historic snowstorm, the news today is the nightmare slaughter of ten people in a grocery store.
Let me correct myself. A nightmare is a dream where you can awaken and shake your head and get a cup of coffee. This is real. I hear the newscasters read the ages of the victims. When I hear about the younger ones, I feel my own loss in my heart and can’t stop the tears that always seem to live nearby. When the ages of those killed get closer to my own, I wonder what will happen to their children?
This year, there has been so much talk of many types of grief and loss. There is the loss of those we love, and alongside it, a heaviness and helplessness for those of us who lost our jobs and homes, who cannot see loved ones, live with extraordinary isolation, and the disruption of the schooling and development for a generation of children. I wish I could magically do something to stop the virus that has ended and upended the lives of so many, but I can’t. I wish I could shake up the indifference to mass murders, as so many others have tried. But I believe changes that help families, that protect and save us, can be done. We have to have the will.
We at COPE, who were taught a unique meaning of helplessness when we lost our children, our brothers and sisters, can work together to fight the grief and despair that so many of us are feeling. We can do it when we are kind to new members in our groups. We can do it by being there for others in our community when they face unspeakable loss. We can do it when we support COPE so we can grow stronger and help more families. Each little step of kindness, empathy, courage, support, is part of an active choice to do something. Maybe we can save lives.
Welcome to March! The vernal equinox is on the 20th, which marks the beginning of spring and by the 21st, the days get longer. Ok, maybe by a few minutes, but that means we are trending to softer days, outdoor activities, open windows and maybe more time with each other. Yes, we will need to wear masks (don’t assume that people are as careful and cautious as you might be), but maybe you feel a bit like I do: I have been spending too much in my home, with my grief for company. For anyone who knows what I mean, brighter days are coming.
Speaking of brighter days, last summer Adam (our ED) and I started talking about doing an “impact analysis” for COPE and our services and programs—what are we doing well, how much are we helping families, what can we do better, for example. I have been involved with COPE for about 12 years. As board president, I want to help the COPE community grow and thrive and be sustainable for the future. That means asking questions, and the first one was asking for help doing this impact study. The Harvard Business School Club of New York offers free support and consultation to nonprofits organizations like ours. These alumnae volunteers are using their own time to help us to design the best way for us to do this. This process will include: talking to board members and donors; talking with staff and volunteers, and of course, talking to our families.
Our consulting team is amazing. Yes, there are all really smart and thoughtful. They are also compassionate and kind, aware of the impact of grief on our families, and believe in us, in COPE, and our mission. Not a bad way to start this process.
They have already started some of their interviews, getting to know some of the staff and board. They were all impressed with the depth of pride and commitment that seems to be present everywhere. That is a great way to begin, but we need to do more. I will keep you posted. But if you have something you want to share, let me know. Looking forward to hearing from you.
It is hard for me to avoid reading or watching the news. Yes, I know that it’s not always the best thing for my sanity, and yet I can’t stop, or perhaps I just don’t want to. Maybe I think, magically, that if I stay on top of the flood of information, I will be prepared and safe. But, we are living in very worrisome times. If we are lucky, we can pay our bills and feed ourselves and the ones we love. If we are lucky, we have not suffered great losses and are managing to stay safe and healthy.
The events of this past year will leave a large swath of trauma in our families, our communities, and our country. Even though, as a social worker and therapist, I have had training in trauma and worked with families and communities through many of the crises we have had over the past 45 years, I still did a quick search for a definition of trauma. The first entry on my screen was: “ 1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” The example given was, “a personal trauma like the death of a child.” To the COPE community, I can only say, “YIKES!!”
Many of our COPE families came into this year of crisis and pandemic aggrieved, vulnerable and anxious. Some of us were already feeling we were living on the edge, raw fingertips keeping us holding on to the normal signposts of everyday life. We are all in a chronic state of stress, and this relentless weight of stress will leave its mark. And the normal connections that sustain us are limited or jeopardized. Quick cups of coffee with friends are too infrequent. Visits with loved ones take place with coats and gloves on, on benches in the back yard, if at all. My kids don’t want me to travel the hours of a drive or flight, worrying that I might get sick. I don’t want them to come visit with babies because I don’t want them to get sick. This limbo, even with hours of Zoom calls, is a challenge. We are all vulnerable, but for many in our COPE community, the weight just may be a bit heavier.
But I am who I am so I have to tell you something positive, in this case, my new favorite thing. My reading of periodicals is not limited to scary stories. Hidden below the headlines, way past the front page, is my new favorite thing: The New York Times Cooking section. A thousand recipes, the columnist tells me, are waiting for me. I have to pace myself, knowing that I have already read about 200. And I have even printed some, creating a special file that sits on the kitchen counter, each recipe awaiting its turn. I don’t know half the ingredients, and my old stomach is ridiculously picky, but each recipe is a promise and invitation. Come to my house for dinner and look what we can eat, my recipes say. Or, when we get together again, a new twist on your favorite dish will be on the table. Whether spicy meals with ingredients I have never tried, or practical soups that make good use of the potatoes and wilted kale I forgot I had, or vegan recipes that I will use to greet my kids, each one is worth the read. And I swear, I can smell their deliciousness each time I read them.
I hope that we can all still find some deliciousness in our lives.
Please stay safe and healthy.
Happy New Year! Doesn’t it seem odd to say that? Perhaps the best we can say about 2021 is that is not 2020. With the rest of humanity, we, the bereaved families of COPE, are starting 2021 in the midst of an almost universal shared grief and fear. Yet, I find myself already making promises to myself: I will use my stationary bike more, I will clean out my closets, I will have more Zoom calls with friends and family, I will continue to wear two masks, I will continue to give COPE my all. But I think there is more to resolve to do during this very long winter of our lives.
I was in the middle of my course work for my doctorate when my son was killed. Although I went back to work a couple of weeks later, when I went back to school all I could do was show up at class, cry, and feel the weight of my sorrow on everyone in the room. I took leave for the year and when I began again, the following fall, I felt much stronger. That is, until the end of October, when I was hospitalized for 12 days with a dangerous infection. It took weeks to recover at home and it was months later before one of my doctors told me how dangerously sick I was. I wondered if my grief, having overtaken my life, had hijacked my body and health as well.
I was a researcher and I looked for information on the impact of grief on the body. I thought I had the “effect on the mind” part pretty clear, but what happens to us physically? Was the rest of my body screaming for help?
Yes, our bodies do grieve. From the perfectly named “broken heart syndrome” to our stress responses, our grief can take a toll on our health. This awful pandemic has given the media permission to talk about bereavement, opening the door to larger discussions about the impact of grief, trauma and stress. This year, we may need to pay more attention to ourselves and those we care about. Make your resolutions and join us for our virtual Zumba classes, or meditation and stress reduction groups, and art and writing workshops. Join so you can meet new people. Sign up so you can help someone else. If nothing else, our generation and those to follow, have been reminded just how interconnected we all are. We need each other.
2021 is a year where our planet may need to rebuild itself. Let’s do a bit of our own rebuilding, getting safer and stronger. Let’s do it for our families, friends and those we love. Let’s do it for our neighbors and communities. Let’s do it to for COPE.
Stay safe, stay connected, and may we all have a new year filled with safety, happiness and health.