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

 

 

 

Co-Presidents’ Message – October 2022

Seasons exist no matter where in the world you live.  Some people, like those who live in South Florida, are usually only aware of a new season when their calendar tells them.  Other people, like New Yorkers, are pretty aware of when the seasons change, whether we’re looking at our calendars or not.  Our idea about seasons might not always line up with the calendar dates others rely on, but there’s something to be said about knowing from experience and knowing because learned about it at some point in your life.  

I’ve always appreciated living in a place that lets me experience the changing of the seasons.  I remember when I was younger, we had family friends who lived in Florida, and they had never seen snow or even felt cold weather before.  I felt intrigued (how did they know when it was winter time?), confused (do they know what cold feels like at all?), jealous (how come they get to be warm and play outside all the time?), and excited (I’ve seen snow and you haven’t!) all at once. 

I love (and can’t stand) each of the four seasons equally but for very different reasons.  You can’t compare any of them to each other, they’re so different- it wouldn’t be fair.  Sure, the Summer sounds like the most fun- warm weather, bright sun, and swimming at the beach…but I can’t stand the humidity, I hate sweating, and the air conditioning in my 26 year old Jeep isn’t always the most reliable.  

A lot of people here will quickly tell you how much they can’t stand Winter- it gets dark too early, it can be bone-chillingly cold, and the snow- don’t even get them started on the snow.  I love winter- it feels more peaceful to me than any other season and I love wearing boots!  But I also have a wacky allergy- cold urticaria- it causes me to break out in hives when my skin gets too cold- it’s a bummer.

Fall and Spring are usually the least controversial.  I happen to love Fall.  Crisper and cooler air, boots, the colors of the leaves.  The mornings start cold but by the afternoon, I feel kind of hot.  I never know how to dress.  And the leaves are pretty but they pile up and I don’t really know what to do with them.  

People seem to love the Spring- after all it’s what rescues us from winter and all that snow.  Our lives shift from seemingly neverending shades of gray back into vibrant colors, the air starts to turn warm again (although that’s relative because 55 degrees in September feels torturous, 55 degrees in March feels glorious), and of course, if Spring is here…then Summer is right around the corner.  But all those colors coming back to our plants and trees, well, you know what that means…sneezing, coughing, watery eyes.  

Those hypothetical people I mentioned earlier, the South Floridians who only “know” about seasons because of their calendars or because they learned in school?  If you ever talk about the seasons with them, they’ll probably have very different thoughts and feelings than we do.  It’s easy for us to know we’re “right” because we’re the ones who experience them, feel them, and live through them. People don’t know what they don’t know.

But what about us?  Who’s right and who’s wrong when you’re talking with someone who has also experienced the seasons, who has also felt the changes in temperature, who has also lived through the changing of colors…but thinks and feels and perceives all of those things so differently from you?  

I don’t think any one of us is wrong.  I think we’re all equally right even if we never have the same thoughts or feelings about our experience.  I think what’s most important to me is being open to the idea that different doesn’t mean wrong and a willingness to listen and understand all of the thoughts and feelings that have created the shape of someone else’s perspective to be so different from the shape of my own. 

 

 

 

Co-Presidents’ Message – August 2022

Greetings, I hope this summer brings you the calm, energy, and renewal that you may be seeking (I know I always am). As I often try to sit and remember the fine details and specifics of a life taken from my family way too soon, I’m reminded of the things we carry with us – whether literally/physically; emotionally/psychologically; spiritually or any other way.

Those who have lived with grief for a while, know it never goes away, you will always carry your loved one through life with you, in some way. It could be the signs we seek out; it may also be trauma/healing that we’re still dealing with or it could be something as simple as an article/essay that you’ve kept with you and read from time to time (copy attached to my message) – which in my case happened to be written a month before my daughter Samantha passed away in 2009 – and was given to me by a mentor a month after she passed away together with words of comfort/encouragement.

I have carried it all of these years because it tells of possibilities; of hope/promise; also, of the pressure created by loss; and most significantly of the influence and mark our loved ones have made on our lives, in some lasting way, shape or form. For me personally, I also hoped that my (then infant) son and then his brother would be able to understand this one day and feel Sammi’s influence and legacy (like his brother did in the essay). I’m hopeful that the things we have chosen to carry with us have left my children able to find endless joy in life while still being able to carry their sister with them and keep her close.

At COPE, our hope is that we can help families living with the loss of a child or sibling connect and learn to navigate their grief to allow for healing. And to be able to live purposefully with the things we carry.

I invite each of you to help us do the same.

Much love, Larry

College Presidents Pen Admissions Essays

Co-Presidents’ Message – July 2022

This month will be six years since my family and I lost my older brother, LB.  July 3rd is the day he died and July 6th is the day we said our goodbyes to him at his funeral, but in between those dates, our family also has reason to celebrate. July 5th is my younger brother’s birthday.  Matt has never been a big birthday celebrator, it’s just his personality, but in 2016, I don’t think any of us knew what to do or how to celebrate.  I remember feeling more strongly about celebrating Matt’s birthday than usual because we had all just been so harshly reminded that these moments won’t and don’t last forever.  I don’t want to put words in Matt’s mouth, but I remember how guilty I felt on my birthday, two months later, because why did I still have a life to celebrate and not LB?  

I cannot imagine how Matt must have felt that year, or how Matt might still feel, every single year when the calendar flips to July and those dates stare back at him.  On July 3rd, he’s painfully reminded that he lost his big brother and his best friend and on July 5th he is expected to celebrate his own life.  The extreme emotionality of it is never lost on me and although I text him “Happy Birthday!!!” as soon as I wake up, and FaceTime him when my family is home together, I know there’s nothing anyone can say or do to make him understand it’s ok to celebrate his life and it’s ok to let others celebrate him… even though two days before, all of us, in our own way, spent the day remembering and feeling the loss of LB a little bit more than we do every other day. 

He has told me he doesn’t see a point in celebrating his birthday because it’s just another day.  I realize he has the right to feel that way but it doesn’t mean I have to feel that way.  It doesn’t mean our parents have to feel that way. And I will speak now for myself, and my parents, by saying we don’t feel that way. 

Matt, on July 5th, 1984 you gave me the best gift: a younger sibling to pick on, tease mercilessly, and blame things on. Ok ok, you did more than that- you made me a middle child- thanks a lot. In all seriousness, you made me an older sister to the best younger brother I could have ever asked for.  You’re absolutely hysterical (sometimes a little gross, too), you love dogs and the NY Mets as much as I do, you’re quirky (not quite as quirky as Dad but you’re getting there), you gave me another sister when you married JoJo, you’re terrible at decoding vanity license plates which has become a fun game to play with you, you’ll forever be my favorite Outback and Taco Bell eating companion, but most importantly, I know that if I ever needed something or someone, without hesitation you will be there for me.  I hope you know that works both ways and if you don’t, I’m telling you, and a lot of other people right now, that if you ever need anything, call your big sis… or maybe text me first because the family joke about me never answering my phone is completely true (but I promise I am trying to be better).

I know how painful life is after we lose someone- we all know that too well, but I also know that after we lose someone, we are all still here.  Nothing may ever relieve that pain and nothing may ever fill the hole our loved ones have left, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate each other or allow others to celebrate us, our lives, and the love we have for each other.  If you want to help me celebrate my brother Matt and his birthday this year, send me an email (jen@copefoundation.com) with a message for him and I promise I will send every single one to him. 

As for July 3rd, I will likely find myself at Citi Field, watching the Mets play, remembering all the times my whole family went to Mets games, the times LB and I went together, and the times Matt and I went together.  I think it’s the best way I can honor the memory of LB and celebrate my family as it exists in life today.  On July 5th, I’ll wake up and send Matt a birthday text, Face Time with him later in the day, and hopefully bombard him with a bunch of messages from my COPE family to show him how much he is celebrated and to remind him that nobody will ever come up with more ways to annoy him than his big sister.