Nonprofit founder helps families dealing with grief

Tempe’s Fiesta Resort Conference Center was proud to host the MISS Foundation’s bi-annual international conference last week on "The Transformative Nature of Grief." The choice of Tempe as its venue was a fitting one, considering ASU professor Joanne Cacciatore is the founder.

To put it simply, as their website states, “The MISS Foundation is a non-profit corporation committed to helping families discover hope and eventually heal from the trauma of a child's death.”

The conference took place over three days, Oct. 4-6, and covered several topics, such as “From Grief to Growth: Loss and the Quest for Meaning”; “Pathologizing Grief: Why It’s Wrong – and Harmful – to Treat Bereavement as an Illness”; and “Heroic Empathy: Acts of Kindness & Love in the Face of Suffering.”

Speakers included author and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Robert Whitaker, psychologist and professor Robert Neimeyer, author and psychiatrist Peter Breggin, and Cacciatore herself.

“The death of a child is so disruptive to individuals and family systems that it is imperative that communities bind together to offer support,” she says. “This conference is about the provision of that support through culturally sensitive counseling, research and advocacy.”

Besides panel discussions and lectures, the conference also provided a chance for attendees to socialize with gatherings such as the Grief Relief Reception, which featured live music and a cash bar, and even an optional yoga session.

Overall, about 250 people were in attendance.

Cacciatore, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social Work, founded the MISS Foundation in 1996, two years after her own personal experience with grief when her infant daughter, Cheyenne, died. Since then, she has committed herself to raising awareness about child bereavement in communities worldwide through MISS Foundation’s 75 international chapters.

The way Cacciatore sees it, dealing with the grief of losing a child isn’t just up to those immediately affected. “The moral imperative to help falls on us all,” she said.

Aside from her work with the foundation, Cacciatore counsels those affected by traumatic death. She is an advocate of “green” mental health care and a member of the American Psychotherapy Association, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the National Center for Crisis Management.

Her research has been published in peer reviewed journals such as The Lancet, Birth, Death Studies, Omega Journal of Death and Dying, Social Work, Social Work and Healthcare, and Families in Society, and her other work has been featured in major media sources such as People and Newsweek magazines, the New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN, National Public Radio, and the Los Angeles Times.

Cacciatore also spearheaded and directs the graduate Certificate in Trauma and Bereavement program at ASU.

Kelli Montgomery of Austin, Texas, and executive director of the MISS Foundation, says "Cacciatore and the MISS foundation have been the beacon of light for so many bereaved parents throughout the world. ... ASU should be proud to have such a nationally acclaimed author, speaker and spokesperson as a part of their faculty.”

With the conference over, Cacciatore is back to being hard at work as a professor, researcher, counselor, founder of an international nonprofit and, most importantly, a mother. As she puts it, she is a mother to five children, “four who walk and one who soars.”

Up next for the MISS Foundation is The Outlets at Anthem Shopping Extravaganza on Oct. 13, where participants can volunteer to help out with the day’s event or sell tickets to the event to benefit the foundation. Tickets are $20 each and include lunch, wine tasting, a dessert suite and exclusive discounts from outlet stores on the day of the event. MISS receives $15 for every ticket sold.