If they are old enough to love, they are old enough to grieve. Children are resilient, but they need help expressing and sharing their grief after the death of a loved one, says Mark Tripodi, who along with his wife, Christi, founded Cornerstone of Hope in 2002. The nonprofit bereavement support center recognizes Children’s Grief Awareness Day, observed the third Thursday in November, this year on Nov. 21. The holiday season is a tough time for anyone holding grief close to their heart, especially children who may not get the support they need and deserve.
Cornerstone of Hope is headquartered in Independence, where its “healing” campus features comfortable and welcoming spaces, art therapy rooms and a therapeutic treehouse. Additional centers are located in Columbus and Lima. Cornerstone acknowledges a number of grief observances throughout the year, as well as special memorial services, including a Spring Butterfly Release. The annual Christmas Candle Lighting and Remembrance Service in December is a tradition for some families.
But Cornerstone also helps people cope with loss on a daily basis with support groups, counseling, education, retreats, youth summer grief camps and resources. Tripodi and his wife, who have nine children (six boys and three girls ages 8 to 25), founded the center 17 years ago after they lost their 3-year-old son, Bobby, to bacterial meningitis on Mother’s Day 2000.
“We desperately needed help. Our world seemed to stop, but the world we lived in continued on,” says Tripodi.
Monthly grief support meetings at a hospital were not enough for the devastated couple who knew others were also barely coping after their loss of loved ones. After extensive research and commitment, the couple opened Cornerstone of Hope to provide professionally led grief support.
Today the center offers quarterly support groups who meet for 10 weeks each quarter, including:
ADULT: Overdose Loss; Adult Grief Support; Child Loss; Complicated Loss; Murder Loss; Perinatal/Infant Loss; Suicide Loss; TAPS/Military Loss; Young Adult and Spousal Loss
TEENS, CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: FLIGHT/Families Living in Grief and Healing Together; and Teen Support Group
SPECIALTY SUPPORT GROUPS: Bible Study; Transcending Grief Series; and Stepping Stones, a 6-week educational series on suicide and overdose loss.
If the death of a loved one is within the past 12 weeks of when the center is contacted, the Stepping Stones program is usually initially recommended. This group meets twice a month.
“Support looks different in the first three months than it does in six months or 12 months,” Tripodi says. “In that acute, raw, first three months of grief, the Stepping Stones program offers a lot of information sharing and education.”
Cornerstone of Hope programs and services are offered at a very affordable rate. Cornerstone’s Compassionate Care Program ensures “no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay,” says Tripodi, whose organization is funded by individual donations, corporate sponsorships, grant funding, program fees and special events.
Individuals who are wishing to participate in a weekly support group are asked to complete an Intake Assessment to be matched with the most appropriate service.
“Our faith is critical to us to provide help to someone who is struggling,” says Tripodi. “We are a Christian-based organization, but we welcome all people of all beliefs in a safe, trusted environment.”
In addition, Cornerstone of Hope’s Bereavement Training Institute provides grief and loss support and training to companies, schools, churches, community agencies and hospitals. Many of the bereavement training programs include continuing education units (CEU) for counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists. In October, Cornerstone held a Suicide, Self-Injury and Violence in the Schools symposium.
“We are seeing an increase in suicide rates among high schoolers,” says Tripodi. “But we are able to offer help.”
Cornerstone offers grief support groups to a school district that identifies at least three students who could benefit from the opportunity. The organization also trains crisis intervention teams for local schools and can provide custom, as-needed education and training to a school district.
“Sometimes when school districts are affected, you need to bring in someone who is not emotionally attached,” says Tripodi, adding that in most cases, people should not hesitate to talk with grieving individuals about the loved one.
“We wanted people to ask us about how we were doing when we lost our son,” says Tripodi. “You don’t have to have all the right answers for grieving people, but you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about approaching someone. You just acknowledge the loss with a handwritten note, a meal or flowers. And you can say, ‘I don’t know how you are feeling, but there is a great organization, Cornerstone of Help, that can help you.’”