20 years ago, I lost my older sibling, Sean. He was 25 and I was just shy of my 21st birthday. I missed out on those glory years where all my friends were off celebrating their 20’s in college.  I stayed home, trying to cope with this unimaginable pain and loss. I had lost who I was as a person. 

Shortly after Sean’s passing, I met Lillian Julien by fate. Something about Lillian drew me in immediately. It’s amazing how you could have never met someone and yet they feel so familiar. It was as if I had know Lillian for a lifetime. After chatting for about 5 minutes, I learned that she had lost her daughter a few years prior in a tragic car accident. Her family was feeling the same type of pain and lack of closure that I was feeling. Little did I know that this woman would set out with such determination to turn her greatest tragedy into something so beautiful and profound. Lillian would become one of the founders of COPE. This organization was game-changing for me and my mom. We were gifted a supportive community.

Being in the wellness industry for almost a decade and having time to cope with my own bereavement, I have been fortunate enough to connect with so many amazing charities and organizations, helping them bring awareness and supporting their causes statewide.  I have learned through the process of building my wellness center, DASHA® that creating a trust with every individual is extremely valuable. DASHA® provides a space where anyone can come to receive physical and emotional support in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Which is why about a year and a half ago, I decided it was time to introduce the COPE Foundation to DASHA®.

You see, after a while you get really good pushing your grief aside. For me, I only want to revisit the “box” of pain and memories when I know I have very little going on so that I give myself the proper time to be vulnerable and heal. Self-work has never been easy however, this past year I’ve been really focused on trying to build more “ME TIME” into my day to day life to work on myself. What I found was my passion for running and so I’ve been training for multiple half-marathons. It’s been a different type of self-work than the work I was doing with COPE but I feel as if it has finally brought me back to “me.” My original “core” that I felt like I had lost when my brother died is now back. 

On the Friday morning before the SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon that I ran last weekend in my brother’s honor, I got a series of txts from my bestie, Blake. She was telling me how she was getting all of these signs from Sean. In retelling this to my team, I jokingly complained and questioned, “that’s great, but Sean, where’s my sign!?”

Sure enough at 5:30 PM as everyone was packing up and about to leave the office for the weekend, I got my sign. My girl who works concierge that typically stays to keep DASHA® open as COPE runs their monthly group meeting had to call out due to a family emergency. I was the only one left at the office. I was the only one who could cover. Rather than cancelling the group, it dawned on me, “it’s time.”

Not going to lie, I was panicking. My mind was spinning. I called my husband to make sure he was ok with the kids and I called my mom to see if she wanted to join me. My mom didn’t feel up to coming, so it was just going to be me there. And looking back, that’s how it was supposed to be. This was Sean’s way of telling me I was 100% physically prepared for the race on Sunday, now it was time for me to get mentally prepared. This was my ME TIME.

Even though COPE has been meeting at DASHA® for the past year and a half, I have always felt reluctant to walk over and participate in the group myself because it’s my place of business and I tend not to open up emotionally like that in front of my employees. But once I sat down, I realized I was right back. These people all seemed familiar, just like when I met Lillian all of those years ago. It was as if I never left the circle.

It felt really comforting being able to share my story of grief and listen to others share theirs. About 6 of us had experienced the loss of a sibling which ranged from drug addiction to car accidents to infectious diseases. Interestingly enough, this group was all women. (Just like the half I was running on Sunday, another sign!) 

As the hour went on I realized just how much of a sign I was really given. These siblings were hurting so badly. My heart ached for them because I understood exactly what they were feeling. I never felt like I was an “expert” when it comes to dealing with my own grief, but in this situation I felt empowered simply because I had the TIME factor on my side. Most of these siblings experienced their loss within the past year. I first entered the circle of grief 22 years ago. This doesn’t make me lucky, it just means I’ve learned to cope. 

They opened up to me about how clueless and insensitive people are and I explained to them that people say really stupid things not because they want to be mean or unkind, but because they want to try and help but just don’t know what to say. 

I shared with them my personal experience of “ME time” and how after all these years I am finally bringin’ Sha back! I shared my passion for DASHA®; how important it was for me to develop a safe place where people can go to be seen, heard and find themselves and how I am now working on a new project where clients can find the wellness resources they need to fulfill their whole-self. I even shared with them how shitty and deeply sad I am that my baby boy will never get the chance to meet his Uncle Sean… that not only does my son carry on my brother’s name but also has his smile! 

I think I may have given them a glimpse of hope that evening. Life goes on but it’s up to us to keep “our Seans'” memories alive. My experience that night was so uplifting that it made me realize I’m never going to be “done” working on ME. I will definitely be attending more of these meetings as a way to make me better. I am so grateful that COPE has chosen DASHA®  as their safe haven for their members to come and share.

Xx, Sha

P.S. If you made it this far and you’re wondering about the race, I beat my goal of running the 13.1 mile trek through Central Park in under 2 hours! As I was struggling through the final push, my Sean song popped on my Spotify’s shuffle. “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince. He was with me as I crossed the finish line. After the race I found my husband and some of my co-workers and I released my SHA balloons into the sky for him.

Healthy Regards,

Shannon Russo-Pollack

Founder | DASHA® 

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