I am now a resident of Colorado.  The last thing I did before I left New York was go to the cemetery to say goodbye to my son, Steven, at his gravesite on Long Island. It’s 13 years since we lost him. I think I should feel less sad. I think I should cry less when I think of him. I think it should have become easier for my family to talk about him. I think a lot of things that don’t seem to be true.

I knew about grief before my son was killed, but losing him was different. Well, honestly, having him, my first child, changed my life, too. Why would I expect less with his death? But packing up and moving meant I had to look at every photo, every album, every award from elementary school on. I had pictures of him spanning years of sports, of birthday parties, of endless precious moments with his siblings, his parents, his grandparents and his friends. The sheer weight of these now forty-three year old photo albums was overwhelming. I could not bring them with me.

I tried to strip photos out of their albums, some so stuck to the tacky paper that I quickly saw it was a futile task. I soon realized that I didn’t need to keep the dozens of photos capturing the first days and weeks of his life. I didn’t need all the duplicate photos of his first Little League team. The pictures that meant the most were of Steven at his milestones; the birthdays, the family events, graduations and holidays, where a young boy was being held by those who loved him and a young man was living his life. The pictures that captured the shared moments of Steven’s life are the ones that I needed to keep. In those photos, I don’t see static poses. I see loving relationships. I see our family and our history.

And yes, that made me cry more…….but also filled my heart. The shift from grief to gratitude has always amazed me, and it did again last week. I still cry because I will always miss him and mourn all that was taken from him, but I rejoice the love and connections that surrounded him. How lucky I am to have this bounty of love still with me and that goes with me wherever I go.

I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing community of bereaved families and thankful for the love and kindness that our families find and bring here, to COPE and to each other. Each one of us comes with the weight of brutal loss. I hope we all continue to remember that we carry the love with us as well. With this column, my last as board president of COPE, I am glad that I can share my gratitude with all who have kept me company on this journey.

Sandy Wolkoff