Need for hope-filled grief program ‘monumental’
December 5, 2019
Everywhere Carole Andersen turns, she finds her father.
Her father, Harvey Andersen, lived with her at her Ralston home during the last of his nearly 88 years on earth. And as she looks around her home, she is reminded of him constantly.
“He’s everywhere,” she says.
She finds him in her bedroom, which was his before he died.
In the kitchen, when Andersen is making breakfast, she talks to her father: “OK, Dad, you’re gone, and I finally learned how to make Mom’s hashbrowns.”
Then there’s his recliner. “He had to have a recliner,” Andersen said. His chair broke during the move from his nearby, longtime home. So he got a replacement.
Her father would sit in the chair as the two watched television together, especially football games. They had long conversations sitting together after she returned home from work.
Those conversations helped make up for the years she had spent away, living in Texas, she said. “We became very close.”
After his death in May 2018, seeing the constant reminders of her father was hard, Andersen said. But now, a year and a half later, she can look at those reminders and smile, she said, thanks in part to a six-week grieving program offered through Catholic Cemeteries.
The program, called Grieving With Great Hope, is described as “prayerful, practical and personal grief support.” It draws on the graces and sacraments of the Catholic Church and encourages those who grieve to actively participate in their healing.
Andersen said the workshop has allowed her to think of her father “with good and wonderful memories.”
“I can have those thoughts and not be sad,” she said. “I can move on.”
The program, Andersen said, “was very beautiful. I went in one person and came out another.”
Catholic Cemeteries, in conjunction with St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, offers Grieving With Great Hope about three times a year.
The next session will be held Tuesday evenings, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Jan. 14 to Feb. 18 in the parish center dining room at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.
The program’s focus is Catholic, but anyone can attend, organizers said.
In a culture that doesn’t seem to allow people to grieve, “the need for this is monumental,” Deacon James Tardy, outreach manager of Catholic Cemeteries, said of the program. “It’s huge.”
People who haven’t had time to grieve after the death of a loved one might feel unsettled, even years later, said Deacon Tardy, who also serves at St. Cecilia.
The workshop “is designed to help participants become comfortable with a new normal after the death of a loved one,” said Deacon Kevin Joyce, of Holy Name Parish in Omaha, who also helps facilitate the grief program, along with his wife, Liz.
Both deacons have been through their own grief. Deacon Tardy’s wife, Virginia, died seven years ago. Her death helped steer him into grief ministry, he said.
Deacon Joyce suffered the loss of his mother, Denaze Joyce, in 2005.
Death is never something people “get over,” but they can adjust, Deacon Joyce said. “Mourning is part of life, the cost of loving.”
Through Grieving With Great Hope people find ways to honor and remember their loved ones and learn to focus on the good memories, his wife said.
“In a way,” Deacon Joyce said, that tribute to the deceased person “is a continuation of a wake and funeral. I remind people that it’s good to tell the stories.” Sharing fond memories helps mourners heal, he said.
Participants watch videos, the facilitators guide them through the material and participants talk in small groups. The small groups are crucial, the facilitators said, because those who are grieving help heal each other.
Andersen said her small group helped her realize she wasn’t alone. “They helped by sharing their feelings and thoughts, and they were sympathetic to mine.”
She said the workshop, which she went through earlier this year, helped her accept her loss by making it feel more real. Even after going through her father’s funeral, she was in denial about his death, she said.
The facilitators try to divide people into groups of four to six, based on factors such as age and the type of loss they have suffered. Ideally, people who have had a spouse die might be in one group, while those have suffered the death of a child would be together in another group.
‘SAFE TO SHARE’
People are often hesitant when they begin the session but become more at ease and confident, Liz Joyce said.
That was Andersen’s experience.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’m not always willing to share my personal thoughts.”
“At the first meeting I wasn’t willing to share, but at the second one I did.”
It was OK if a person wasn’t ready to talk, Andersen said, “but the compassion of others made it feel safe to share.”
Group members become friends by the end of the six weeks, after crying together and helping to heal each other, Deacon Joyce said.
Participants learn ways to mourn and honor their loved ones. They change from being a little lost at first to looking forward with hope, Liz Joyce said.
Grieving and mourning are not synonymous in Grieving With Great Hope. Grieving is about the emotions and pain felt after a loved one dies, an interior disposition. “Grief just happens,” Deacon Joyce said.
Mourning, however, is more about how a person decides to respond to the death of a loved one. Grieving With Great Hope offers seven ways to take action to help transform grief away from suffering and into healing and transformation, the facilitators said.
One means is prayer, Deacon Joyce said. “It’s vital in the process. We have to turn to Jesus to guide us and help us – to heal us.”
The last of the six sessions includes Eucharistic adoration and a memorial Mass in which each participant can bring a photo of the person they are mourning and place a candle before the picture. Each person can then take the candle home to use in prayer or remembrance.
“I cried,” Andersen said of the final service. “And I cried when I went home afterwards – because it was beautiful.”
WANT TO GO?
When: Tuesdays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. from Jan. 14 to Feb. 18
Where: Parish center dining room at St. Cecilia Parish, 3900 Webster St.
Cost: $20 for the program and materials; scholarships available
To register (required): Contact Deacon Jim Tardy, 402-551-2313 or 402-391-3711, JTardy@CatholicCem.com; or Deacon Kevin Joyce, DeaconKevin@HolyNameOmaha.org