Cornerstone of Hope offers a light in the darkness of grief

Mark Tripodi was heading out on a business trip in early 2001, a mere 10 months after he and his wife, Christi, had lost their three-year-old son, Bobby. The couple was part of a group that met each month to talk about the grieving process. It was helpful, but it wasn’t enough.

“I was on I-77 just south of Akron heading toward Charleston, West Virginia, when my wife called me,” says Tripodi.

“We had attended the group the night before. She called me and she just said, ‘Mark, we need a place. This monthly stuff isn’t working. You’re back at work and I’m caring for the kids. I could go somewhere every day.’ She was very convicted in her tone. I said, ‘Do you want me to turn around and come home?’ My wife said, ‘No, but when you come home, we’re going to do something. We need to do something.’”

The first step had been taken to create Cornerstone of Hope. On May 14, 2000, which just happened to be Mother’s Day evening, the Tripodis rushed their only son, Bobby, to the hospital with a high fever. As it turned out, he had an infection caused by bacterial meningitis that would tragically take his life.

“It’s a lifelong journey,” Tripodi says of his family’s grief. The Tripodis also have two daughters. “You’re never cured. You’re forever changed. There are some days where the pain feels like it just happened. And there are days where the pain is less and sometimes you feel guilty. How could I not be crying today? But less pain never means less love. It’s just not possible. Love is an eternal reality.”

A place of understanding
The grieving process never ends when you lose a child, but the world continues to move forward all around you.

After their son’s death, Mark and Christi searched for a place that could provide the type of support they needed to cope with their pain and unimaginable sense of loss and couldn’t find it. So they set out to create Cornerstone of Hope, a place where grievers could come and be understood.

“We met some great friends at the group, lifelong friends,” Tripodi says. “But we felt like we were regressing in our grief. It wasn’t a very structured program. It felt more like we were in quicksand than moving through a process and really seeking healing.”

Based in Independence, Cornerstone was founded in 2003 “to not only help people understand and accept their grief, but to help them move forward and embrace a life full of hope.” It’s open six days a week and offers professional counseling that is available for individuals or the entire family.

Affordable, sliding fee scale services are offered so that all who need it can be served. Extended family members can receive training on how to care for those directly affected by the death of a loved one.

“We’re focused on our mission, to serve families after the death of a loved one,” Tripodi says. “It’s a very specific mission. We get a lot of calls for counseling needs for other types of loss — job loss, divorce or other grief situations. But we truly are a bereavement organization.”

Shared experiences
When you’re in the business of helping people through grief, you obviously need to take great care in the people you bring on to be part of your team.

“We try to be thoughtful and make sure the person is a good fit for our organization and is someone who fits our values,” Tripodi says. “We have a core key clinical staff made up of nine full-time employees. But we run around 80 support groups every year and have to have a licensed facilitator in every group.”

In addition to the professional care, Tripodi recently launched a mentoring program that utilizes the shared experience point of view of past clients.

“We’re not a crisis center, so we’re not 24/7,” Tripodi says. “If somebody is having a tough time in the evening or if a weekend comes up that is the birthday of a lost loved one or the anniversary of a loved one’s death, those mentors can be so helpful. How did you handle the day? Did you celebrate? Did you not celebrate? Did you go to the cemetery? We do a good job of matching mentors with clients so they can be a good fit.”

Tripodi is hopeful that Cornerstone will continue to grow beyond its three locations in Independence, Columbus and Lima to become a training center for grief counselors across the country. In the meantime, he hopes employers will heed his advice about the value of grief counseling.

“My employer was so good to me when our son died,” Tripodi says. “I had two weeks off, but I wasn’t ready to come back to work and got an additional four weeks off. I gradually worked back into a full-time routine. But it was a little bit at a time and that gave me a sense of loyalty to my company.”

Even if you can’t grant grieving employees long-term leave, you should still allow them to attend regular counseling sessions to deal with what’s happened, Tripodi says.

“If you’re able to offer that meaningful support, they’re not only going to be a better performing employee,” Tripodi says, “but they will have an incredible sense of loyalty for how you treated them.”

How to reach: Cornerstone of Hope, (216) 524-4673 or www.cornerstoneofhope.org