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Liam Cunningham at the interactive wall of dreams and memories. (TOP-RIGHT) Good Grief Princeton headquarters on Mapleton Avenue.

At the Ribbon-Cutting Celebration to officially open the Mapleton Avenue Good Grief Center—(LEFT TO RIGHT) Plainsboro Deputy Mayor Neil Lewis, Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu, Emma Legacki, Erin Legacki, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert.

“Grief is often not something that requires treatment,” Mr. Primo says. “It does memories or pictures, a letter writing desk and mail boxes for letters to lost family require psycho-social support.” members, a play theater, a large sand tray, musical instruments, a play hospital room “There are losses no family expects to face,” Good Grief’s introductory brochure with a real hospital bed, an adult group discussion room, and a communal discussion states. “After the death of a parent or sibling, it can be hard to find a way forward. No room, a blue lounge, a tree house room for 10-12-year-olds, and a colorfully painted matter how someone died, Good Grief provides a community that understands the volcano room with padded mats on floor and ceiling—a safe space for kids to journey towards finding a ‘new normal.’ physically let loose with nothing breakable and nothing that can cause injury. “Good Grief is a safe place for a grieving family to remember, share experiences, Program directors plan activities and discussion for facilitators for each session, and know they are not alone. Our programs offer peer support, not and the facilitators ask questions, keep the conversation going and counseling or therapy.” “make sure the space is safe,” according to Ms. Attar. “This is a Nights of Support, twice monthly for most grieving children very loud place on Nights of Support,” says Mr. Primo. and their families, start with a pizza dinner in the center’s café Ms. Attar adds that on Nights of Support “you see humanity area. The opening circle, one of the most important activities, at its best. Teens—the stereotype is selfishness, but I’ve never follows dinner. One at a time the children standing in a circle seen a more empathic group in my life. You see somebody else say their names and who they’ve lost. “It really normalizes the who is hurting and it doesn’t matter what their religion is, what conversation around death,” Ms. Attar says. “In our culture there’s their background is, you are just there as a human being. They’re a stigma attached to talking about loss. People avoid dealing with really united by this universal experience of loss. It doesn’t have it. Kids sometimes feel they have to suppress that memory and that to be scary. It doesn’t have to be negative. It just is, and we’re feeling. When kids and family are in a room together talking, it there for each other.” normalizes that conversation. So having an opening circle allows Eighteen-year-old Mackenzie wrote down some of his thoughts them to state a fact and to take away the weight of that reality.” about his father’s death and the process of mourning, “Grief is what After the opening circle, the children and parents divide up can tear a person apart. I’ve experienced grief first hand. My father into different age groups: 3-5, 6-9, 10-12, teens, young adults (up loved summer days filled with the smell of BBQ. He was the biggest to age 30) and parents. The Mapleton headquarters provides a guy to head over to the grill, spatula in hand and stay outdoors all day. rich carefully designed environment for many different activities. My mother, sisters and I are not the same people we once were. We There’s a teen room with a pool table and game center, but for have all been through a lot after my father was taken from us. When teens, Ms. Attar says, “a lot of it is just having conversations— he passed away, days like those became our gloomiest. We weren’t ‘What’s scary for you?’ ‘What do you worry about?’ ‘Let’s talk able to be filled with the joy many thought we should have been.” Malena Attar, development coordinator of about it.’ It’s like when you’re little you think there’s a monster Mackenzie’s family participated in Nights of Support and under your bed and when you turn the light on you see it’s just a pile Good Grief. other programs at Good Grief. “Good Grief has allowed us to open of clothes—much less scary when you talk about it, bring it to light.” our minds to a different way of thinking,” he says. “Hearing stories from people in our The 3-5-year-olds’ room is called “Enchanted Forest,” with beautiful sylvan age groups that have encountered similar situations eased how we felt about our own murals. There’s an arts and crafts room, a splatter room (where aspiring Jackson loss. We don’t have to feel alone anymore because Good Grief has made it apparent Pollocks can let loose with the paint brush), “interactive” walls to write on or post that we aren’t alone.

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PRINCETON MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 2016

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Princeton Magazine, February 2016  

Witherspoon Media Group

Princeton Magazine, February 2016  

Witherspoon Media Group