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How Annie's Hope Helps Kids Cope With Grief

October 31, 2019 Brandon Mitchell, Riley Mitchell, Becky Byrne

Children who lose a parent or a sibling make for a surprisingly large group: Researchers believe one in 14 kids in the U.S. will suffer such a devastating loss before they turn 18. Surviving parents or guardians may be left coping with their children’s grief even as they themselves deal with the loss.

Enter Annie’s Hope. Founded in 1997 as the St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, the organization seeks to help entire families in their mourning process. It hosts an annual camp, family support groups and other services for those who’ve suffered a loss. 

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Becky Byrne, founder and executive director, discussed the organization’s work. She was joined by 10-year-old Riley Mitchell and his father, Brandon. When Riley was 4, his mother died suddenly. He was enrolled in a support group soon after, and at 6, began attending the Annie’s Hope camp. 

Brandon Mitchell said he’d grown up believing death was a “taboo subject.” But support group meetings helped him understand it was good to acknowledge, to address loss with unambiguous words.

“I’ve learned so much from Annie’s Hope,” Mitchell said. “Beyond just grief. Just about life. Dealing with death.”

Riley explained that his grandfather died last year, and the skills he learned through Annie’s Hope aided his healing. “I felt sad a lot,” he said. “But Annie’s Hope gave me that courage not to get beaten up by emotions, but to actually not hold back. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to cry about death. That’s the No. 1 thing you can do. It’s OK. Don’t be embarrassed or anything.”

Byrne said Riley’s wisdom brought tears to her eyes.

“That’s really our whole mission,” Byrne said. “To transform how we look at death and dying and grief.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.