NJ’s ‘Good Grief’ helping adults and kids weather pandemic deaths
MORRISTOWN — Saying goodbye to a loved one has perhaps never been harder than during the coronavirus pandemic, with family and friends largely not permitted in hospital rooms and funerals socially distanced.
And especially during this time, children can be particularly impacted if they are not taught in healthy ways how to process a loss.
The New Jersey nonprofit Good Grief, which has footprints in Morristown, Princeton, Jersey City and Newark, has been running virtual programs such as yoga and other types of enrichment over the last few months, but CEO Joe Primo said the organization's true purpose lies in its support groups. Those are usually offered in person, but they have also now transitioned online.
Among a series of COVID-19 resources the group has curated on its website are a downloadable tip sheet and a 10-part podcast centered on funerals, with one of the primary goals being the introduction of children into the grief process.
Primo said American culture has the wrong idea about funerals, and should not view them as events of closure, but rather the commencement of life without a loved one.
Good Grief aims to help kids build resilience should they experience a death during the pandemic, because Primo said the inability to mourn traditionally right now will stay with all of us for many years.
"Who do we want to become on the other side of this? And perhaps even more importantly, who do we want our children to become on the other side of this pandemic?" he said.
What families should be considering, Primo said, is how to memorialize someone when a funeral is not possible: lighting a candle, baking a favorite food or watching a favorite movie of the deceased, or making a playlist to make a musical reminder of that person.
All of this is designed to have the end result of making children mindful, empowered, and empathic through the development of family-wide coping skills and emotion regulation.
Without this work being done, Primo worries that we may try to distance ourselves further and "sterilize" funerals — or worse, that families may simply say they can hold a remembrance over Zoom and not show up to grieve together.
"What's so important to us is that we don't sweep this adversity under the rug, and that in all the environments where kids currently are living, learning, and playing, that we are addressing it today," he said.
Good Grief's family support centers primarily serve North and Central Jersey. Its school programs, though concentrated in New Jersey and New York state, are available to any district throughout the country.