MORRISTOWN, NJ - Each year, one out of seven children experiences the death of a parent or sibling by the time they are 20 and while each person deals with loss in their own way, children are often isolated when mourning. In order to help kids cope with death, a nonprofit organization called Good Grief started five years ago in Morristown and has grown to become widely known throughout the state.
Thursday Nov. 15, was National Grief Awareness Day and Executive Director Marissa Bolognese and Associate Executive Director Joe Primo sat down with The Alternative Press to talk about their company. The facility is dedicated to children who have lost a parent or sibling and while there are no social workers, their goal is peer support.
“I don’t think anybody would describe coming here as depressing,” Bolognese said. “Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to stop death. Our business doesn’t stop.”
They are located on Elm Street and there are two buildings; one for children and another for teenagers. Additionally, because of the growing need for help, they are opening a new one in February in Princeton. They serve over 100 communities throughout the state, have four full time employees, five part time people and close to 100 volunteers. Since its inception, they have grown through word of mouth and by speaking at schools, conferences and seminars.
Both Primo and Bolognese have backgrounds in working in hospices and both understood there was a need for Good Grief.
“Really this has been a community effort since day one,” Primo said. “The community is investing in it because they see the need.”
It is a bright and colorful place where children can open up and share feelings that they either can’t or won’t at home. Primo said kids react differently after losing a loved one and try to protect the surviving parent. Also, because each age group reacts differently to death, the children are divided by age.
The buildings have rooms for expressing feelings, games so the kids can unwind, boxes where they put memories of their loved ones, arts and crafts, a hospital room and a wall with pictures.
“Most people say this is a place you never want to be part of, but when death comes they’re there for you,” Bolognese said. “Everybody knows someone who’s died. It’s relatable for anyone.”
Working in a place like this is rewarding, he said. Seeing children enter distraught, angry or sad and leave with some clarity makes him and his staff feel good, Primo said. At Good Grief, children don’t feel alone and they are happy because there are other kids like them, he said.
“The respect and the passion the kids have for each other is remarkable,” Primo said. “We get to witness the rebuilding of lives.”