While some 81 year olds are playing Bingo at their local senior center or knitting tea cozies at home, Patty Copp is taking “selfies” with her cell phone and iPad. She likes to send them to her great grandchildren, Henry, Tristan and Mia, just to make sure they don’t forget her before she sees them again.
“I want those babies to know who I am,” she says, instructing the parents to tell the wee ones, “This is your very favorite great-grandmother.”
When her children upgraded to the latest and greatest iPad, they offered Mom their old one. Patty didn’t hesitate to accept. Then she accidentally discovered that her iPad took photos.
“I called my daughter and said, “Oh my God, I just took a picture of myself!”
She said, “Mom, that’s a selfie.”
And so a photographer was born. Now Patty is out and about taking pictures of the world around her, a creative outlet that is bringing sunshine to others, and, in one click of a button, helping her deal with her own grief.
Webster and Patty Copp were married in 1952. They had known each other slightly as kids growing up in the same town, but their first real encounter occurred when Patty was 15 and they both attended Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, Connecticut. She saw Web across a crowded room and, according to her, “It was all settled.”
He went on to the University of Connecticut while she finished high school and later attended Endicott College in Massachusetts. As he graduated and prepared to go into the service, they got married, and later raised four beautiful daughters. He became an attorney and they settled in the area around West Hartford, Connecticut.
In the early 1970’s, as Justices of the Peace, Web and Patty as a pair began marrying people, an extraordinary practice that lasted more than 30 years. When it was time to retire, they moved to Mason’s Island in Mystic, Connecticut, where they had summered as kids. They enjoyed a fairy-tale life together filled with more love, support, and adoration for each other than most people can hope for in a lifetime.
“He was my raison d’être,” says Patty, with her eternal optimism and bright spirit. But the fairy-tale ending of “happily ever after” was not to be. After more than a year of making the best of a no-win battle with pulmonary fibrosis, they never felt the need to say goodbye to each other. But on December 27, 2010, her bright life dimmed when Web passed away. They had been married 59 years.
It has been difficult for Patty to rekindle the spark ignited by the love of her life. But Patty Copp is a strong and venerable woman. She continues to move through the heartbreak of loss by reaching out to others to brighten their day. Actively involved with Calvary Episcopal Church in Stonington, Connecticut, she serves on its prayer committee, is a minister of communion, and a lector. She also sends notes to those who are experiencing loss or need support in some way.
“One day I thought it might be nice to send a dozen roses with my note,” says Patty. “But I can’t afford to do that with every note I send. So I send pictures of flowers (and sometimes other things) with my notes. They don’t require watering or any attention whatsoever. They are there to enjoy and make people smile. I get quite a reaction.”
“What it did for me was not only give me a positive activity to focus on, but it taught me to look and see. A lot of people look but don’t see. And, . . . I’m having tremendous fun!”
Patty‘s faith has been strengthened as well, as she experiences divine guidance in many aspects of her life. “My faith has helped me tremendously in my struggle to handle my husband’s death.”
She hates to sound clichéd but says, she is “living in the moment.” Her notes and photographs lift the sadness and elicit smiles from their recipients. Her photographic subjects are often the scenery, flowers, sunsets, and skyline of Mason’s Island, but she is always on the lookout for something to shoot, no matter where she goes. That is the part of her new vision which helps her to see past pain and suffering and recognize the beauty around her. She looks for images that might make someone happy, and she is shocked by how good her photographs are.
Afraid of missing an opportunity to capture a beautiful sunset, she once took a photo right through a window screen, creating a look filled with texture. Of the result, Patty says, “Sometimes you have to take what you are given.” And she does, with grace and style and a never ending love for the man who continues to inspire her.
Family and friends are also the recipients of her creative works, including eleven grandchildren who keep her pretty busy. She shyly admits that perhaps bringing joy to others could be a ministry, not unlike another she has been doing for 35 years. Many years ago she had been given a small cross that she kept in a special place. When a friend lost her son, she hung the cross around the woman’s neck and said, “Let this cross absorb your pain as best you can. Put it in your pocket or bag and let the cross do its work. When you’re ready, give it back so I can pass it on with your healing within it.”
Now she keeps small wooden crosses made of olive wood on hand to give to those in need from all faith traditions, hoping to help relieve their pain. Sometimes she gets the crosses back filled with healing from an experience; other times they don’t return, and that’s okay too. “Whatever helps is what’s important,” says Patty. Occasionally someone is not receptive to her kindness and that’s okay too. “At least they know someone cares about them.”
Just ask all the brides and grooms married by Patty and Web, who took their obligations as Justices of the Peace seriously, getting to know each couple, many of whom still keep in touch with Patty. Patty even wrote a book about the many encounters they’d had. It’s called What Do We Say When We Say I Do?
Web was a quiet and thoughtful, balanced man, “a true Libra with a lot of fun in him. He taught me a lot,” says Patty. “I thought the day we got married was the happiest day of my life, but I was wrong. It got better and better and better. As a couple we were so polite with each other. My life was happy with him.”
After Web died, Patty felt very, very lonely and found it difficult to leave her house. What helped most was her family. “I needed time to grieve. I’m usually very outgoing but not then. I was healing. We never said goodbye, didn’t need the words. But the conversation continues. I talk to him all the time and I carry him around in my heart.”