Indiana Co. woman wants to help area parents get a ‘GRASP’ on grief

INDIANA — Susan Kelly is a woman who knows that the worst kind of grief comes from losing a child. Even worse, perhaps, is losing that child to drugs.

That is exactly what happened to Kelly, when her beloved son, Daniel "Hat" Cernic, died at the age of 23 from a heroin overdose in 2005.

To this very day, Kelly grieves for the child she lost to something that has taken so many young lives.

Kelly, a mental health therapist and self-employed mental health consultant, worked for 22 years at the Indiana Guidance Center.

Kelly said the drug problem has worsened in Indiana County, with Indiana and Westmoreland counties being known for having a lot of heroin addicts.

After speaking with other parents who have lost children to drugs, she felt the need to do something.

"I saw a need for a support group in the Indiana area," said Kelly.
There are local support groups for people who have lost a child to illness, suicide or accidents, but none dealing with losing a child to drugs.

It was a friend who told her about GRASP, a group founded by Pat and Russ Wittberger of San Diego, who lost their daughter to a drug overdose in 1994.

GRASP was founded to help provide resources, understanding and compassion for families who have lost a loved one as a result of substance abuse.

Kelly was inspired by the couple and decided that she, too, would start a GRASP group.

Kelly said that she wanted to form a circle of support for those who have lost loved ones to drugs and alcohol.

So many people are uncomfortable talking about the loss of a loved one, but in a group setting they can find comfort, she said.

"Family members need a place where they can talk and grieve," said Kelly.

There are many GRASP groups throughout the nation, but only five in Pennsylvania.

Kelly's GRASP group is the only one in all of Western Pennsylvania. So far, there are five members in the group.

"We share and cry and everyone helps each other," said Kelly.

Each member is encouraged to bring a photograph of a loved one.

After making the decision to form a GRASP group, Kelly began to spread the word through newspapers and word of mouth.
She sent out mailings to hospitals, coroners and mental health facilities.

The support group, which first met in January, comes together once a month at the Open Door counseling center in Indiana.

"It's one group that we hope no one has to come to," said Kelly.

Sadly, some may, and for those who need some support and someone to talk to, the group is there.

Kelly said people from surrounding areas are welcome to come, and everything is kept confidential.

For more information, contact Susan Kelly at (724) 762-3344 or email