Beach Buzz

Struggling to cope after shocking loss of loved one

 <span class="cutline_leadin">First date: </span>Debra Leibowitz and Richard Sharpstein at an Overtown Music Project event on Nov. 9, 2012.
First date: Debra Leibowitz and Richard Sharpstein at an Overtown Music Project event on Nov. 9, 2012.
Gesi Schilling

Special to The Miami Herald

I began writing Beach Buzz in Neighbors in January 1999 to promote positive, interesting people and events in our community. For the most part, it has remained rewarding in a karmic (if not financial) sort of way. I have rarely missed a scheduled column in 15 years – until this past December. Since then, I have been paralyzed with grief.

As many of you know, on Dec. 10, my boyfriend, Richard Sharpstein, a well-respected criminal attorney — and longtime Miami Beach resident — died as the result of suicide. He was 63.

Richard was beloved by many people for many reasons: his huge heart, razor-sharp mind, incredible sense of humor and the desire to help as many people as possible. More than 800 people attended his funeral service, which was live-streamed online around the country.

It remains inconceivable to everyone – including myself – that Richard took his own life. I realize that I will never understand the exact reasons why. I do know that I miss him more than words can say.

Richard and I connected during a difficult period in our lives. We were both going through tough divorces after longtime marriages. Neither of us was seeking a serious relationship – but as fate would have it, we fell in love, almost immediately.

It’s difficult to open your heart after you have known hurt and sadness. But we decided to go for it. During our year together, Richard and I enjoyed many wonderful times and created many beautiful memories. We spoke often about growing old together.

I am angry he is not here – and that he took away a big part of my life – and future – without asking. While many people miss Richard, most have now returned to their lives. Richard had become the epicenter of my life and it’s difficult to know what to return to.

I am deeply saddened that I, and many others who loved him, did not realize the depth of his pain. I – like many others – have reviewed Richard’s last days in my mind a million times. I wish I could turn back the clock and re-live those days. But I can’t.

I am equally saddened by the pain that he left in his wake.

And now I must learn how to cope with my profound grief.

Unfortunately there are no “magic pills” or easy answers. I’ve had conversations with friends, relatives, medical doctors, therapists, a grief counselor and clergy members. I’ve done yoga, exercise, medication, hypnotherapy and meditation. I attended a bereavement group and connected with suicide survivors through the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention.

I have two wonderful sons and I need to be strong for them – and live to see them become happy, productive members of society, and maybe, to become a doting grandmother one day.

In the meantime, so many people have reached out to offer their condolences and ask how they can help me. I have come up with this list of seven suggestions:

1. Take me out to eat or bring food and sit and eat with me. I have been uninterested in eating since Richard died and have lost too much weight.

2. Take a walk with me or invite me to play tennis or attend an event.

3. Accept the fact that I cry a lot. I can’t help it. I am sad and so many things remind me of Richard.

4. Allow me to feel sorry for myself, but not too sorry.

5. Don’t ask me if I “feel better.” I don’t have the flu that runs its course in two weeks.

6. Be patient with me and keep reaching out, even if I don’t reply right away.

7. Consider making a tax-deductible contribution (of any amount) to the Richard Sharpstein Humanitarian Fund, which I have co-founded. We will host an annual food drive where friends will gather to reminisce about Richard – and deliver food and cheer – to homeless individuals in our community (something Richard often did). Make checks payable to Temple Beth Sholom (memo: Richard Sharpstein Fund) and mail to: TBS, 4144 Chase Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33140. Please provide an email address to be notified about the food drive.

Thank you for supporting me and Beach Buzz all of these years. I hope to continue promoting positive, interesting people and events in our community.

Beach Buzz runs every other Sunday in The Herald’s Miami Beach Neighbors, and focuses on people and businesses throughout the Beaches, Aventura and Miami. To reach Debra K. Leibowitz, call 305-531-7887 or email, or become a fan of her Beach Buzz page on Facebook.

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