SOUTH ORANGE — Casey Holstein gives much credit to a New Jersey woman being honored as a CNN Hero of the Year for the mental health of his family, and for giving him a new mission in life after losing his wife to a five-year battle with breast cancer. The South Orange resident said the support group Mary Robinson founded changed his life, and because of her he devotes himself to helping others.

Robinson is the founder of Imagine, A Center for Coping with Loss, a Mountainside, NJ support group for families grieving the loss of a loved one. When Holstein’s wife died in 2007, he and his daughters, then ages 6 and 8, went to Robinson’s first family support group within a month of her passing; there they met peers struggling with the same pain. “At the support group we realized we weren’t alone.  The kids could see others living the same nightmare and Mary brought peace and calm to a turbulent, emotional time,” said Holstein. “It takes a village alright and this was our village.” They attended the group for three years, and were even a subject in the Sesame Street video guide, When Families Grieve.

 

Read more: Meet Mary Robinson

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He said his other village was his actual one, South Orange. He has lived in the town for 20 years and said the support of friends and neighbors was crucial to raising his daughters. “The essence of why people move to this community is the ‘village’ and the togetherness,” he said. The diversity of demographics in the town binds people together, he noted. “It’s an incredibly welcoming community; you can be straight or gay, married or divorced, whatever whatever, just don’t be an…” well, a jerk, but he didn’t say jerk.

It was because of this experience that Holstein, a businessman who helped lawyers process lawsuits, changed his career path. He wanted to help others as Robinson’s group had helped him. He opened Parsippany-based SYNERGY HomeCare of Metro NJ, a service of caregivers who help the elderly live comfortably in their own homes. He and his caregivers, so far, have helped more than a thousand families deal with their aging loved ones through sickness, dementia and death. 

“Mary’s support group gave me the ability to truly listen and have compassion for people grieving the loss of their loved one,” said Holstein.  “Whether it’s a senior whose spouse is sick or dying or drifting away in dementia, I understand the pain,” he said.

Holstein said he’s looking forward to watching “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” on December 8. Robinson is one of ten heroes CNN will honor during the live broadcast.