Programs offered for grieving:
ST. FRANCIS –– The Bereavement Ministry Program of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee offers several upcoming programs for the grieving.
Few things in life are more intense and shattering than the grieving process. How sad, then, is the irony that the upcoming season of God’s love often makes grieving an even greater burden.
“When you have lost someone you loved, the holiday season can remind you of your loss and cause renewed feelings of grief,” explained Capuchin Fr. Marty Pable, priest-psychologist, and co-postulate director at St. Conrad Friary. “And at the same time, people around you are wanting to be happy.”
While grief is something everyone goes through at some point in their lives, it isn’t readily discussed or expressed in our culture. That alone can make helping friends and loved ones through a tough time even more difficult.
Grief and mourning are a journey, say countless poets, prophets and proverbs, but if that’s so, how do we make our own way down the path?
In a four-part series at St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie, Fr. Pable walked the grieving through that often brutal path.
“It can take a long time,” he said. “Although there are common elements to the grieving process, everybody grieves differently and in their own way.”
The average time to really feel comfortable with the changes after the loss of a loved one is five years, say most grief experts. But society doesn’t often acknowledge the time needed to grieve and adjust to the life changes that result.
People are usually granted a few days or a week after a loved ones dies. But once the funeral is over, they are expected to head back to work almost immediately.
“That is very difficult and can hinder the normal grieving process, which includes sadness, loneliness, anxiety about the future, anger at who caused this – whether it is God, or the doctors, nurses, or the driver of the car,” said Fr. Pable. “And a big one is guilt – what did I do wrong and could I have been more alert?”
For the grieving and for those who wish to help the grieving, Fr. Pable discussed helpful and unhelpful ways to cope with loss. People are not taught appropriate methods to help others through the transition, and often provide awkward or even hurtful responses to the suffering.
“Sometimes they withdraw because they really don’t know what to say,” he said. “It’s important to try not to take these responses too personally because they are often scrambling to say the right thing, and are ignorant of how to act.”
For the griever, the healthiest way to cope is to allow yourself to grieve, and not deny that you are hurting.
“It affects the whole person emotionally, physically and mentally. Sometimes they have troubles with concentration, memory lapses and brain fog,” said Fr. Pable. “Many times they feel like they don’t want to be around people, worry about being too clingy, or don’t fit in. If it is a good cry that you need, then that is what you do.”
While there is no right way to work through the process, Fr. Pable suggests that journaling through the process might help to acknowledge the feelings of anguish and sadness. Writing a letter to the loved one who has died, listening to favorite music that the loved one enjoyed, and prayers are appropriate coping methods.
“There are many healthy ways to deal with these big feelings,” he said, and while the process takes on a variety of vicissitudes, it is not uncommon to have occasional upsurges of grief. “Just remember you haven’t lost your ground, and although you might be feeling stabbing emotions about first holidays, anniversaries of the death, or any reminders of your loved one, you will get through them.”
Certain steps toward healing such as emptying closets, getting rid of possessions, not wearing a wedding ring, going back to work, or selling the family home are necessary, but many people put these decisions off due to a sense of disloyalty to their loved one. Fr. Pable noted that there is no right time to do these things, but there does come a time for rebuilding.
“You reach a point where you spend less energy on surviving lost time and learning to pick up the pieces and go on,” he said. “Sometimes people feel disloyal to their loved ones, but it’s good to reclaim your own sense of self worth, and really, your loved one will be happy to know that you are going on.”
Without the support and companionship of the loved one, some might feel as if they are hollow, vacant and less of a person because the sense of loss is so powerful. Fr. Pable reminds the individual that they are still a good parent, worker, friend, Christian and to rebuild on those things.
“This might be a good time to develop new interests, skills, or return to things they didn’t have time for,” he said. “There are often no answers to why the person died, but don’t give up on your relationships; build them and strengthen them through faith and prayer.”
For those on the sidelines, there are often no answers as to why something happened, but it is important to reach out through phone calls, listening and empathy.
“Don’t ever say that you know exactly how the person feels,” said Fr. Pable. “Because every grief is unique, but just be there, remember, send a card or note, take the person to lunch – anything that is helpful and healing is a good step.”
Often helpful to the grieving is the knowledge that they are not alone, and Fr. Pable presents scriptural examples from the Old and New Testament which often provide needed comfort.
“Jesus was moved with compassion for people who were lost or suffering,” he said. “He wept at the tomb of Lazarus and on his Sermon on the Mount he blessed those who are sorrowful. Then we have his suffering in the Agony in the Garden where he surrendered to God. We are also reminded of Mary, the Mother of Sorrows and how she understands our losses because she went through them.”
For those suffering through recent or not-so-recent losses, Fr. Pable suggests the parish as a resource for bereavement counseling.
“Churches often have people trained to help you if you want to talk one on one,” he said. “Contact your priest or deacon and find out whether your parish has a bereavement minister and if not, ask if he can help, or where you might be directed for help.”
While the changes associated with grief are often painful, with prayer, support and love, many who are grieving often find that they experience tremendous spiritual growth through the terrible loss.
“Just try and stay away from unhelpful people,” Fr. Pable said. “Stay close to those who make you feel better, comfort you and help you to understand that God is always with you.”