Foundation supports efforts to tackle grief
Their paths are different, but Mark Tripodi and Denise Meine-Graham share a bond over something no one should—the sudden, tragic loss of a child.
Mark lost his three-year-old son Bobby to meningitis in May 2000, and Denise’s son Drey was 19 when he took his life in August 2012, a week before he was to start college classes. Their deaths catapulted both parents into a deep despair that eventually turned into a longing to make similar situations better for others.
Mark founded Cornerstone of Hope in 2003.
“Cornerstone was created out of personal need. We were struggling ourselves, we needed help, and we wanted to meet other parents who had lost children.” However, Mark and his wife were somewhat disappointed with the services available in their community in Northeast Ohio.
The initial goals for Cornerstone were to reach out to professionals in the community to provide education around death, dying, and grief—and to offer a connection for others who were struggling.
We wanted to bring those who have lost loved ones together to let them know they are not alone, and they are not crazy because they cannot function.
— Mark Tripodi, Founder, Cornerstone of Hope
The community response was very positive, and in 2011 the nonprofit expanded to include a location in Columbus. Today, it offers counseling, art therapy, youth camps, education for the community, and a variety of professionally led support groups for children, teens, and adults after the death of a loved one. Cornerstone of Hope offers specific groups in local schools to serve grieving students, as well as families affected by suicide, drug overdose, and military loss.
Denise could relate to that inability to function. In the days following Drey’s death, she felt lost.
“I honestly thought I was going to die. I didn’t think somebody could carry that level of pain and live for any sustained period of time,” she said.
An acquaintance who also lost a son to suicide reached out to Denise and a critical connection was made.
“Having somebody that I could engage with who had walked this same walk meant so much to me. She played a role in my grief journey and still does. Someone else couldn’t play that role if they aren’t a survivor of a suicide loss,” she said.
Today, Denise serves as the Executive Director of Franklin County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS), a postvention model where trained team members go to the scene of a suicide to provide support, resources, and hope.
LOSS officially launched in Columbus in November 2014. Teams of two or three respond after the coroner’s office calls and informs them of a suicide. More than half of the team members have experienced a loved one’s suicide, and at least one team member on site has lost a loved one to suicide.
It’s such a blessing to be able to serve people in this way. The most we can do is try to come along beside them and serve them in any way our team can.
— Denise Meine-Graham, Executive Director, LOSS
"It’s humbling when we are able to sit with someone in this very intimate, painful space and listen to them yell, cry, whatever it may be,” Denise said.
The Columbus Foundation has been supporting organizations like Cornerstone and LOSS, as well as others on the front lines of mental health issues. Between 2010–2015, the Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $1.2 million to support organizations serving a wide variety of mental health needs in our community.
“Whether we started Cornerstone of Hope or not, Bobby’s death changed everything,” Mark said. “We invite others who have experienced what my wife and I have gone through to create a shared legacy. Their loved one is just as important as our Bobby. We know we are not alone in this. Together we can make an impact.”
The Columbus Foundation was proud to join with other partners to support Silent Suffering, a community forum at The Ohio State University in December 2015 that was part of a public service project launched by The Columbus Dispatch about the suicide epidemic. An $8,500 grant from the Richard C. and Nanciann Kaufman Ninde Fund supported this event.
Those on the front lines of mental healthcare call suicide a public health crisis. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 64, the second leading cause of death for people under age 24, and the tenth leading cause of death for Americans overall.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.