Nonprofit grows with the need for grief support
Posted on 02/07/2019
Leaves on a tree of hope contain messages to loved ones, memories and good intentions.
Grief is something that happens to all of us at one time or another. When it’s the loss of a dearly loved one, grief stabs like physical pain, waves of sorrow roll in and out, and life may seem meaningless. People often ask themselves, “How will I cope?

Some people become reclusive and want to nurse their sorrow alone. Others may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Those who seek help at New Hope Center for Grief Support find there’s another way – learning that grief isn’t something to get over, it’s something to work your way through.

New Hope has a process that works so well that referrals from bereaved clients have sparked the nonprofit’s recent expansion. In 2018, it doubled its space, saw a significant increase in the number of clients and offered more programs – both at its center and in the community.

“Our culture treats grief as a problem to be fixed or cured,” said New Hope Executive Director Rick Guttersohn, who is a social worker. “We are able to empower and educate the community through our programs. We help people transition from ‘Why did this happen?’ to ‘What can I do now because this happened?’ Healing takes acceptance and an ability to look for ways to find meaning and purpose after a heart-wrenching loss. We help them lay the groundwork.”

Their educational materials were developed internally to address the complexities that arise with grief. People who seek grief support are paired with groups of approximately eight people who have suffered a similar loss. Those who’ve lost spouses are paired with a widow/widower’s support group. Parents who’ve lost children are grouped together. There’s also a suicide support group. Each group is led by a facilitator who has also experienced a loss.

Staff and facilitators work with bereaved clients to help them learn how to navigate their grief, including processing feelings such as sadness, anger and guilt, and applying the lessons learned in support groups to their own lives. All of these beneficial behaviors enable them to make it through another day, another week, another month.

Education about grief is covered over the course of six to eight weeks. By connecting with each other and helping one another by sharing thoughts and performing acts of kindness, clients feel empowered and start to heal. Many make new friends and also get help from group members with chores, errands and babysitting to make it through a rough day or week.

Missy Collins

For Melissa (Missy) Collins, owner of Cassel’s Family Restaurant on 7 Mile in Northville (in the Highland Lakes Plaza), the loss of her husband, Liam, came unexpectedly. It was especially difficult because she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. While she was worried about her own health and mortality, she suddenly had to face a new reality: the man that she loved was gone forever. Her 7-year-old son, William, lost his father. Abruptly, she was a single parent, a widow and the sole support of her family. Within one month of Liam’s passing in June 2017, Missy contacted New Hope.

That fall, she signed up for the Circles of Hope program, a six-week session for young widows and widowers. Most, like her, have children. The program encompasses the whole family. They have dinner first, then have break-out groups – one for adults, who learn coping skills and share concerns with one another, and the other for kids, where they typically do an activity.

She’s completed three Circle of Hope programs and is still involved today. “It’s something that my son and I both needed. They give you the mental tools to deal with grief,” she said. “I will go back as long as I think I can get some good and give some good.”

During the program, Missy learned that having a good cry helps healing. “Grief tears are different than any other type of tears,” she noted. “They release toxins.”

Grief bursts were another hurdle. She explains: “Things unexpectantly hit you. A song comes on. A memory hits you. You could be cooking dinner. In the shower. It hits you and you just start crying. And then you wipe your tears away, pick yourself up and keep going.”

There’s a saying at New Hope – “You have to feel it to heal it.”

“As the months go on, you heal,” said Missy. “The physical pain is real. They (New Hope facilitators) remind you to take care of yourself physically. You’re grieving, they (your child/children) are grieving. Sometimes the child doesn’t want to talk about it because they know it will make the parent cry. Let them see you cry, then wipe your tears away.”

When she first started there, she said, “I didn’t know where I would be. I just thought, ‘I’m a survivor, a warrior.’ I didn’t know what to tackle first. I put myself on autopilot and did what my doctors told me to do. I’ve spent the last one and one-half years trying to stabilize my world and my son’s world.

“I’ve healed so much. You see your own progress when you meet someone who’s had a fresh loss,” she said.

Holidays and special occasions, such as birthdays and anniversaries, can bring a roller coaster of emotions. New Hope helps people cope with those special days.

“Holidays are always very bad,” said Missy. “The first year (after Liam’s death), I didn’t put up a Christmas tree. Santa came to Mom and Dad’s house instead of mine.”

This year, she opened a box of ornaments and told her son the story of how she and his dad acquired each one. One was purchased for their son’s first Christmas. Another was a special gift. After telling the story of each ornament, William would hang it on the tree. After he went to bed, she cried – tears of sadness and also of relief – she was learning how to do holidays differently.

Liam’s birthday was another hurdle. William wanted to go on a birthday hike, like he did when his dad was alive. Missy was dreading it. “My son would not let me forget it. He was the leader. He packed our backpack and put in two bottles of water and two protein bars for each of us, because that’s how his dad did it. He put in Band-aids just like his dad did. ‘I was dying inside.’ But the fresh air and his face and the memory that he had of his dad made it all worthwhile.” She thought, “This is what we need to do every year on his birthday.”

The term “no man is an island” is expressed fully at New Hope. The nonprofit was founded in 2000 by Cathy Claugh as a young widow raising three children. Meetings were initially held in people’s homes and the office was housed in the back of Scores barber shop. In 2009, the organization moved to the Griswold House, a historic home on Mill Race Village property now leased by the Living and Learning Center. In 2017, the nonprofit moved to 145 N. Center St., Suite E. (next to the Stamp Peddler). They expanded in 2018 by adding a large conference room from an existing office next to their suite.

There are a variety of programs offered by New Hope. Suicide support groups are held onsite weekly and draw an average 15 participants. There is a summer camp for kids and a full day session for kids who’ve lost parents called Finding Your Superhero Powers, with the depiction of Super Heroes. Many of their programs are held at area churches and schools. Their new conference room allows them to bring more programs in-house.

The nonprofit is making a difference in the community. It has touched the lives of more than 15,000 since opening and now assists 1,000 people annually through their programs and outreach at schools and churches. They want to change the stigma and culture of grieving from “Stay strong, move on,” to one where people understand that it takes time to get over a loss and are willing to apply educational tools, with an emotional component, to help them heal.

Not processing grief can affect generations of families. As an example, Rick cites a boy who lost his father at age 5, and was raised by his grandfather, who was abusive because he couldn’t deal with his grief. “You can't avoid this and power through life,” Rick said.

New Hope is free to clients. It is funded by donations, corporate support and grants. They make fundraising meaningful to contributors. Each month, for a donation of $1,000 to cover the rent, donors who have lost a loved one can use the space inside the entryway as a memorial to honor them – with a framed photo and an inspirational message or memory. It’s even lit at night. Corporate donors also sponsor the monthly rent.

New Hope has a board of directors, a staff of four, and volunteers that number 150 – most of whom have been through the program themselves.

For program descriptions, view their website: or call 248.348.0115.

Staff in Conference Room