Acceptance Speech from Sandra R. Wolkoff, Ph.D., LCSW-R, recipient of COPE Parent Recognition Award and COPE Professional Service Award at COPE Golf Outing May 21, 2018
I want to thank Lilly and the Board of Directors for this honor.
Honestly, I wish I had never heard of COPE. I wish I never had to call my children and tell them their brother was killed. I wish I could stop hearing the police banging on my door.
I wish there weren’t so many grieving parents, brothers and sisters, families and friends. I wish things were different.
My friend, Sherry Radowitz, also now a Board member, first told me about COPE and its services. We have known each other for 40 years. Our boys knew each other; they went to Hebrew school together and SUNY Albany years later. They died 13 months apart.
Seven years ago, when Lilly asked me to be a support group facilitator, I cried and said I couldn’t. I don’t know what impulse pushed out the words that had me offer to start a writing group.
I would like to think it was my grief leading me forward. I knew I wrote compulsively when I couldn’t sleep and those words became the snapshots of my life. Rereading them helped. Maybe if the words were outside of me, on the paper, I would be able to breathe.
I am grateful to all the mothers in the group who, in spite of feeling we were drowning, of dreading the dawning of the next day and terror of the night, knew that a new haircut, shared tears and the feelings contained in “three words, three sentences, or three paragraphs”, the group’s guideline, would never go unnoticed.
Some of the words they created when describing their grief included: love, tears, faith, sadness, heartbroken, connection, searching, yearning, memories, rage, sad, shock, resentment, wishing for strength; and perhaps my favorite: making meaning, making good.
To the group, thank you for embracing the truth that laughter doesn’t erase mourning, but it helps; that rage about loss is just there and exhausting, and that it is always better to wear make-up.
Thank you to my family and dear friends who came tonight. Thanks to those who wanted to be here but couldn’t, and to those who supported COPE tonight because I badgered them. And a special thank you to those who still carry Steven in their hearts, sharing in the pain of losing him and celebrating the joys that have blossomed in our family in the years since.
I am so incredibly grateful to have two happy, amazing children, my daughter Jessica and my son, Matt, who have their own families and love in their lives.
I have learned that gratitude can live alongside grief.
And for those of us who are mourning, who will always mourn, I am grateful that there is a COPE Foundation. The families of COPE know that our loss has led us to a new life: a grief life that has wrapped itself around our hearts and transformed us, vaulting us into a new world. We feel awful for every family that has suffered and joined us in a journey that sometimes feels more like an imitation of life than the real one we thought we would have. In spite of our sorrow for others, we are also grateful to not be alone.
For those who witness grief from a distance, don’t be afraid to reach out to a bereaved friend. Grief is isolating, but not contagious, and most of us are looking for an excuse to connect, or go for a walk, or share the hope in our new dreams and the warmth of our memories.
Don’t be afraid to advocate for kids—safer streets, safer schools, more services to help families. It took eight years of legal action but our family was able to make changes in laws and have a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway redesigned. Maybe no one else will die there.
So, as a wise mother said, make meaning, make good. And don’t be afraid to write just one more check for COPE before you leave tonight. Thank you.