HEALTH

Nonprofit provides support for kids whose parents have died

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

We asked 12-year-old Marco DeCrescenzo what he liked most about his mom. We’d need more time than this short story to tell you everything he said. Marco’s mom passed away in 2016.

“I just think of her smile. She always touched people’s hearts,” he said. “She was very good at cooking. She was very smart. She always put people before herself and a lot of people liked that.”

He said it can be hard, but that Good Grief has helped. It’s a nonprofit that provides free support and resources to kids who’ve lost parents or siblings. Surviving parents can participate as well.

“It’s one out of seven children that will experience the death of a parent or sibling before the age of 20, so we’re talking about a tremendous need,” said CEO Joe Primo.

Kids ages 3 to 18 are invited to biweekly after school programs at a Good Grief center. During the summer, the nonprofit runs a free, weeklong camp where kids write poetry, take drama classes, paint and more.

“Our hope is that one of those tools will catch and a child will realize that this is a medium for them to help them express their grief and more importantly to mourn,” Primo said.

About 40 percent of children at this center lost loved ones due to a terminal illness, which is why Primo says a pretend hospital room is important to help children cope with their experience. The other 60 percent are now dealing with an unexpected loss.

“No matter how the death happens, we equip kids with the tools and the resources they need to navigate this very unique experience. And grief is unique to each and every person, so we help children find the tools they need to figure this out,” he said.

Five-year-old Peter lost both his parents. First his dad, then his mom.

“I really miss them a lot,” he said, adding it helps him to “… talk about feelings and how people’s parents died.”

Fifteen-year-old Catherine Farrell misses her father. She found Good Grief a few years ago. Now she’s a camp counselor.

“It helped me because there were people who understood me because I dealt with bullying and everyone would make fun of me, so here I can express my emotions in a positive way,” she said.

Good Grief’s programs are run by trained volunteers. They’re based in Morristown, but also have a center in Princeton and a satellite location in Jersey City. They’re opening another location in Newark soon.

We asked Marco where his strength came from.

“My mom was always brave so I always try to impress her,” he said. “I always want to have her be proud of me. I always want that thought, I hope my mom is proud of what I’ve done.”