Grief may not be good, but an NJ group helps kids face it head on
MORRISTOWN — Before turning 20, 1 in 7 children will endure the loss of a parent or sibling. But virtually every child or young adult will experience some sort of grief by that age.
That rate of losing a loved one may be a lot higher than most people would think. Joe Primo, CEO of the nonprofit Good Grief, which has centers in Morristown and Princeton, said that because adults don't talk about mortality often, they are frequently ill-equipped to respond to grieving children. That can have far-reaching implications for kids.
So, Good Grief, which supports 600 children a month in New Jersey, provides free programs to Garden State children and families after the death of a relative, including equine therapy, "Chill & Chat" nights for adults who have lost spouses, and urban youth initiatives launched first in Jersey City, and then expanding into Newark this fall.
The group advocates for families and offers education in schools, with a curriculum that teaches not only about grief, but also the resilience that comes from it.
"Bereavement promotes, and is an opportunity for, resilience," Primo said. "So even though this bad thing has happened in the life of a child, it doesn't mean that their life or their childhood is over."
Primo said that children especially look to their communities to give them support in going through grief, and listed (in order), Essex, Mercer, Middlesex, Camden, and Bergen counties as the top five in the state in terms of their numbers of grieving children, according to U.S. Census data.
But grief requires longterm, consistent support, according to Primo, who said our dysfunctional "culture of lasagnas" doesn't help — meaning, when a family is hit with a sudden illness or death and neighbors bring trays of lasagna to the family's home, eventually that cooler on the front porch won't have any more food in it.
Good Grief has already been contacted to lend support to East Brook Middle School in Paramus after the school bus crash that killed a student and teacher on May 17. Primo said that this is a group of children who saw two people die before their own eyes, and he is concerned these kids may become "forgotten mourners" as others around them start to move on.
So, he's interested in how the children will be coping six months or a year from now, in a society that expects them to soon act like their old selves again and assumes that unless a child presents like he or she is in crisis, then that child is just fine. But that's not always the case.
"When the summer comes, that's going to be a milestone for them," Primo said. "When the holidays come, that's going to be a milestone. When the year anniversary comes, that's going to become a milestone."
Good Grief's next big community event is the 5K Run and Walk for Hope at Giralda Farms in Madison, on Sunday, June 3. More information can be found on Good Grief's website.