Catholic Church

Grief Support

As we explore sadness, depression, and grief, we who are grieving have come to know the pervasiveness of sadness within the grief journey.  It is sometimes hard to believe that the intense feelings of absence, aloneness, and missing will ever lighten.  What we do with these feelings is important.

Sadness is felt more strongly during the early months of grieving  quite often, if not daily.  Equating one’s degree of sadness with the degree of love and affection one had for the person who is no longer tangibly with us, helps us to move more easily through the depth of the sadness.  Choosing to remain in the sadness for long periods of time can easily lead to a depression known to some grievers.  They will visit and revisit their feelings of sadness, missing, and aloneness in order to feel closer to the person they have lost.  As mentioned, remaining there is not helpful.  Some feel it is a way to never forget the person lost. The truth is that forgetting persons with whom  we have shared days, months, and years of our lives does not easily happen.

There will always be occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or special family events when remembering with sadness will be felt.  The consoling reality is that, in time, the sadness will lighten, as it should.

However, when the sadness, related to the losses we have faced, remains intense for long periods of time (weeks or months) it can incapacitate a person physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. Then depression has truly set in, that is the depression of grief.  In situations like this the grieving persons will not freely admit to the degree of depression they are experiencing, but it may become evident to those with whom they live.  In such circumstances there is a  need for professional help.  Medications, personal counseling, the support of a trusted friend or mentor, as well as a grief support group can be helpful.  These interventions can prevent the grieving person from sinking more deeply into his or her sorrow, depression, or despair.

M any grieving persons are wary of taking medications like anti-depressants, sleep medications, anti-anxiety pills, etc. for fear of becoming dependent upon them, as can happen.  Knowing that medications  can help to take the edge off of the overpowering feelings being felt can ease the fears of addiction.  It is important to realize that as the intense feelings lessen  so will the need for the medications also lessen.

In truth, as helpful as medications can, be they can dampen the many feelings that accompany  the grief process.  Feelings like anger, guilt, regret, unforgiveness, and depression do need to be looked at, internally processed, and talked about with a trusted other so we can let them go.  Blocking  feelings   for too long with many medications, denial, or even over-activity will certainly interfere with the healing that grief work can bring.

So, in conclusion, know that we will be sad, or maybe even depressed over the loss of someone special in our lives.  Remaining in the sadness or the depression of grief for too long is certainly not helpful to grieving persons.  Acquiring the assistance of a professional person can sometimes be needed.  Overall, sadness is much a part of grieving a loss because we realize that we have lost someone that we have truly loved.

Grief Brief # 16 

As we begin a new grief message this month our focus will be on how children face losses and  how they express their grief.

A number of people believe that babies and small children are unaware of a loss that occurs within a family.  This is not totally true.  Although they don’t understand the concept of death and the loss that ensues, they do sense that something is amiss.  Their parents and others are sad , and perhaps weeping. They can easily respond to this with clinging and restless behavior.

As children enter the 2-6 year age ranges they can easily sense the absence of someone loved. They are no longer there within the family or at gatherings.  They ask about the person or wait for them to be present once again.  There are lots of questions that await answers on their part.  They can be told that their special person had become tired, weakened, or ill and has died.  They have left the family and friends for a place of rest, peace, and happiness.  Children brought up in a Christian home are told that heaven in that special place.  God is there, and other deceased family members are there .  Their dear ones are all happy and well.  It is helpful to reassure children that at some point, as their lives end, they too will  be able to see and be with their special persons.  This can be comforting to children.

It can be noted that parents who receive the many questions about loss and death may not be able to respond adequately to the questions asked by children.  They may be heavily grieving.  In which case, adult family members can offer to provide the requested information.  The language needs to be simple and offered in the easiest manner possible so that responses to questions are understood.  Linking sadness and others feelings of loss to the explanations being given will help children to more easily accept the feelings that they are experiencing.  It might be noted that when children grieve, they do so in shorter time periods.  They may ask their questions, express their sad feelings , and then be off to do a favorite activity.  How different from the sustained periods of grieving that adults experience!

Adolescents, who are experiencing losses of family members or friends, react in a totally different manner.  They grieve, but their grief expressions may be deeply internal or very overt.  There can be  enraged or have a sense of unfairness about the death, especially if it was traumatic, or perhaps marked by suicide.  Grief Counselors  in the school setting and anguished parents make every effort to reach out and provide comfort.  Teens, however, readily turn to peers to express their feelings of loss.

The behavior of teens may express an acting out of their sense of dismay at loosing someone close to them.  Behaviors may become reckless, explosive, or repressed by silence and a lack of communication.  Adults can offer their presence, caring, and any signs of comfort at this difficult time.  Group activities like candlelight vigils or memorial gatherings are helpful, as are offers of individual counseling by professional persons.

As can be seen, expressions of grief, related to losses experienced, will vary with the age groups of children.  The support of caring adults, simple answers  to questions, and the opportunity to express sad feelings in safe and sincere manners will always be helpful to children, as well as teens.  Participating in memorial services and funerals will help to heal  grieving hearts in significant ways.  Having children participate in these rituals that mark the passage from life to death can bring healing to them, especially if they are prepared for the experience by loving and caring adults.

Now that the Thanksgiving holidays are upon us, we are drawn by a spirit of gratitude that speaks to us.  Too often, however, we look around at our world and our lives, and foremost in our minds is not that which is enriching us and bringing us joy, but rather at that which we have lost.  Someone significant to us will not be at our Thanksgiving dinner table.  The gathering of family for the holiday weekend makes us keenly aware of the fact that someone very special will be absent for all of the sharing and fun that holiday get-togethers can bring.

We do have a choice about how we can keep the memory of our deceased loved ones alive and with us. This may entail including the missing persons, by name, in our blessing before the Thanksgiving meal.  In the toast that may be a part of our meal, the names of our loved ones might also be mentioned.  Sharing stories of holidays past will most assuredly have those who are gathered remembering and recalling memories that inevitably include the absent loved ones.  These are both memorable, as well as humorous.  Before very long, our loved ones’ stories and anecdotes are a part of the conversation.  Somber or cautious feelings lighten significantly. Those who have been trying to avoid their own sadness or tears, as well as fearing to provoke sadness in others, may soon be laughing and smiling as everyone shares and reminisces.

It does take a bit of courage to start such sharing, and thus it requires the bravest among us to be the initiators.  It is good to recognize that the positive results of the endeavor far  outweigh any negative or foreboding feelings one may have in being the “initiator”.  I would encourage any or all of the practices that were just suggested because I know that they work.

As indicated earlier, the Thanksgiving holidays invite us to be thankful.  Taking some quiet time to consider how the special persons who were a part of our lives have enriched them is important.  We have been graced by their presence for varying numbers of years.  During that time the memories of who they were for us remain.  We remember that they had qualities that we have always admired and would choose to emulate in our own lives.  We take the time to thank them for having brought the gift of themselves into our world and into our personal lives.

Thankfulness for those who still remain with us is also very much in order.  We share love and support with each other as we gather on special occasions like the holidays.  We acknowledge that we are able to heal and move forward in our grief journey because of the love and support of these dear persons.

May our good and gracious God shower His blessings upon each of us as we experience this holiday and the next ones that will soon follow.

As we share this Grief Brief (#13), we will look at the concept of change. Grief and the healing it brings will cause our hearts, minds, and souls to change with the changes that can aid us in moving forward with our lives.
Most people, especially those in the middle and latter phases of life, would prefer stability without a lot of change. They seek the “tried and tested” as opposed to innovation. When we grieve, however, change is imposed upon our lives. This occurs not in radical ways that diminish who we are, but in ways that develop new aspects of our person and lives.

Many authors who write about grief, loss, and the grieving process refer to the term “the new normal” which points to the adulterations that grief imposes and must be slowly accepted. As we describe these we learn:

• Grieving requires that a person look at one’s attitude each day that grief is unfolding. Beginning a given day with an attitude of pessimism sets the tone for the whole day. When one is convinced that nothing will go well and that sadness will pervade the whole day, that is exactly how things will play out. Questioning how one can go on without that special person makes going forward more difficult. A special prayer, an inspiring quote, a bit of soft music, or a request to one’s Higher Power for strength can adjust a negative attitude to be a more hopeful one.

• Reviewing one’s priorities while grieving can also lead one to consider needed changes. Formerly, one’s job or status, one’s income and personal pursuits were the major focus, whereas in the world of grief these priorities become less important. What becomes important, however, is one’s faith or spirituality, one’s God, one’s close family, good friends who will support and listen, one’s health, and a life that will bring purpose and meaning once the healing of grief has occurred.

• Going through grief’s emotional pain, loneliness, and sadness provides the opportunity to grow in strength, wisdom, and new insights. When one undertakes what was considered difficult or impossible and succeeds self-confidence is sparked. Navigating through necessary paperwork, finances, garden and household chores decision-making, etc. can challenge feelings of ineptitude and bring a sense of achievement, as well as pride. One also changes and grows as one seeks to discover a sense of purpose and meaning for one’s life. As healing completes the major part of the grief process there is a sensed need to reach out in caring to others in a meaningful way. All of the new pursuits and changes in the lives of grieving people are exactly what their deceased loved ones would wish for them.

As this grief note concludes I would like to inform my readers of an up-coming “Pre-Holiday Workshop” that will be offered at St. Matthias school on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (10 AM – 12 Noon). The session will assist grieving persons to face the holiday season with some degree of ease and grace. All will be welcome to attend.

As we face grief and the grieving process it is important to be aware that we are holistic human beings. Consequently, grief will affect the physical, emotional, and spiritual components of who we are.
Persons who ignore the need to grieve may sometimes be alerted by some physical problems that erupt. It is not unusual that chronic physical ailments like back issues, digestive problems, unstable blood pressure or diabetes are exacerbated by the stress of loss. This is so especially when the need to grieve a significant loss is ignored.

In this grief brief we will look at the spiritual part of our being. It is certainly affected and stirred by loss. Persons who have a strong relationship with their God or Higher Power will lean more heavily upon the comfort and strength that that relationship provides. When human strength, expended by grieving, begins to exhaust, there is a turning to the Divine for the help needed to cope and heal in this long, difficult process that we call “grief”.

Some may have the relationship with their Divine Power shaken by the loss. This can occur when prayers have been forthcoming, asking for a cure, a turn-around in the illness, or just more time with the loved one. When that doesn’t happen and death does occur, there may be disappointment and even anger that divine intervention was not available. These outcomes may well be reversed in time as the grieving person comes to realize that divine guidance and help are real needs as one grieves.

Persons who don’t profess adherence to an established religious group, church, or sect may pursue some other source of needed comfort and strength as they grieve. They may turn to a mentor, a wise and admired friend, or to books that have always provided them with inspiration and needed wisdom. Others may explore the spiritual principles that they have upheld throughout their lives to be the roadmap or guide for moving forward in grief

No matter what the source, when spiritual needs are felt, grieving persons can reach for the spiritual guidance and support they need to help them to better cope with their grief and loss.

 

As mentioned in the last Grief Brief, I would once again like to extend to any persons who have experienced loss and are grieving, the invitation to join the Grief Support Group that is held weekly at St. Matthias the Apostle Parish. The group will resume its weekly sessions on the second Saturday of September (9/9/17) and new members are welcomed. The group meets in the school library (St. Matthias School) at 9 AM. The address is 9475 Annapolis Road in Lanham, MD 20706. If anyone would like more information feel free to contact: Miriam Jacik, the Grief Coordinator at (301) 345-6054.

One of the issues that arises for people as they grieve is the subject of closure.  Some well-meaning persons in our society (that may include some family members and friends) would have us bring the process of grieving to a close at some point along the journey of grief.  They are yearning to see and relate to the “old us”- the one who is socially engaged, ever ready to reach out and help others, etc.  The changes that grief effects upon a person doesn’t necessarily let that happen.  The “old us” becomes a “new us” with values and life goals that have been re-processed and re-prioritized to create a “new normal” state of being.

The question, then, is : “Is there closure after a loss?”  There can  and should be some closure to the experiences  of deep pain, longing, and missing.  Staying with these feelings inhibits the moving forward that one needs and that the deceased persons  would desire for us.  Pain softens in time only to be renewed in a more gentle manner when special occasions remind us that someone very dear is missing from our midst.

One never forgets, however, what was.  Love is still there, memories are still there,  and both will always be in the minds and hearts of those who grieve.  Therefore, there can’t  be true closure in grief.

Another form of closure spoken about and related to grief occurs when  family and friends have the realization that their loved one has truly died.  This happens during the uncertainties of war and natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, as well as accidents, etc.  With this certainty the beloved can begin their grieving process.

So, we will conclude this grief message with the assurance that in most circumstances grieving will not entail a final period of dismissal or closure.   As long as loving memories of our deceased persons  persist throughout our lives in our hearts and minds they are with us, never to be forgotten.


On a completely different note I would like to extend to any persons, who have experienced a loss and are grieving, the invitation to join the Grief Support Group that is held at St. Matthias the Apostle Parish.  The group will resume weekly sessions on the second Saturday of September (9/9/17) and new members are welcomed.  The group meets in the school library  {St. Matthias School} at 9 AM. The address is 9475 Annapolis Rd. in  Lanham, MD 20706.  If anyone would like more information feel free to contact:  Miriam Jacik, the Grief Coordinator at (301) 345-6054.

Grief Brief   #9

One of the difficult aspects of grieving is dealing with the strong feelings that emerge during the grief process.  Among those known to most grievers are: sadness, loneliness, missing the person lost, anger that they are no longer a part of one’s life, and guilt over what one believes should or could have been done for the loved one.  Hindsight becomes quite keen while one is grieving.  Self-blame, regret, and guilt easily follow.

Anger may extend beyond self or the loved one to anger at God, who after all, could have spared the person for several more years, giving him or her wellness. Anger at medical personnel in our health care system can also arise when we believe that they could have tried harder to save the person or to have given better care.   Anger may also be extended to the person who died, especially if one feels that self-neglect was a causative factor in an earlier than desired death.

As feelings emerge they have a power of their own which will certainly increase if the feelings are repressed or denied.  Looking at feelings and trying to understand what they are conveying to us is quite important. Taking the time to see the reality of what one feels, talking about those feelings with a trusted other, or writing them out gives an escape of them from our inner world.  Of course this process cannot be done just once.  The feelings will emerge several times over until they dissipate and one can let them go.

Whenever strong feelings emerge during grief they require a process of forgiveness for needed healing to follow.  Forgiveness is extended to anyone considered to be complicit in any aspects of the loss.  When forgiveness of whomever, including self, is hard in coming there is a need to pray for the ability and strength to forgive.  Then, peace can follow.

Remember that holding on to unforgiveness or any of the strong feelings that emerge during grief will also lead to an undue toxic burden of spiritual and emotional unrest and unhappiness to be carried throughout one’s life. Therefore, a word of wisdom is to visit and process the feelings. 

My first thought in writing this next grief note, is to wish you, the readers, a Happy Easter, A Happy Passover, and a Happy Springtime.  May these occurrences fill you with hopefulness and joy as you proceed through your grief  journey.

We will now look at one thing that could help us to move forward in grief.  Learning about all of the aspects of grief is very helpful to the person who is going through the process.  Fortunately, there are many wonderful books, articles, and periodicals that explore the many facets of grieving.  These are written by professionals who have specialized in grief education and grief counseling, as well as by persons who have walked the road of grief and choose to share their insights and learned experiences. Knowing what can possibly be of help to us in our journey is quite important.

Our libraries and bookstores, as well as articles on the internet, provide a vast amount of information on the topics loss and grieving.  Several decades ago none of that information was available to grieving persons, so we are fortunate indeed.

Some who are grieving may find it difficult to focus on or comprehend well information on the topic of grief.  This is so in the early months of grieving when there is a strong sense of dishevelment pervading one’s being.  Even some avid readers have lost that sense of comprehension early in grief.  That wonderful ability to enjoy books will return in time, however. In the meantime, choosing to read shorter articles or topics on grief that may be of interest is very helpful.  A lot of grief education of this type occurs in many Grief Support Groups. 

Caring friends will sometimes offer us books on the topics of grief and loss as a way of reaching out to us.  If you are not ready to read those books at the time they are received, just put them aside for a later date when they will become a treasure to you.

So, I invite you to learn more about grief from books, periodicals, and articles. They will provide you with gems of wisdom and a better understanding of your own grieving.

winter blues

Since the erratic winter months are upon us, perhaps we could look at the topic of the “winter blues”.

Cold gray days, the snow, and the bleak scenes in nature have a way of affecting our mood and emotional lives.  This is especially so when we are also facing personal tragedies, health crises, or the loss of loved ones.

The truth is that experiencing the holiday season (now thankfully over) and the bleakness of the winter months does not necessarily have to be a major problem for us.  There are some things we can do to lighten our spirits and cope a little better.  Here are a few suggestions that can brighten the days and offset the sad, lonely feelings that want to envelope us at this time.

  • Start with your thinking. A positive approach to a new day helps.  Decide early on that there will be something happening today that will make it a “good day”.  Look for that something!  Expect it!  Pray for its blessings!
  • Have an agenda for each day that will hold promising events, enjoyable encounters with others, or places to go, etc. Many or even one will do.
  • Reach out in love and caring to others. A kind word said during a telephone call, a smile or a warm greeting given to a person met, or  a listening ear offered to someone in need, can make the caring happen. As we give in love, love will be received and our spirits, no doubt, will be lifted. 
  • Take some time to reflect not only upon what has been lost and is being grieved, but also upon whom and what we still have left in our lives. This can bring a measure of happiness and peace.
  • At the end of the day be thankful for at least one “happening” that brightened the day and brought warmth to your heart. Be grateful and treasure it.     

So, let the winter months come!  Believe that some happiness can be found, despite whatever may be happening out of doors.                                                                                                               

Grief Brief # 5 

The holidays have come and gone, and hopefully, your experience of them was pleasant and gratifying. Being in the presence of family and friends is heart-warming for most grieving persons. It is hoped that you came to enjoy some new traditions that were different, but totally satisfying to all who participated in the holiday celebrations with you.

Now we face the winter months of January to March with their cold, snowy, or dreary days. The changes that have occurred in nature can easily add to the sad or lonely feelings we may be experiencing. Time in-doors during the cold or inclement weather affords us the opportunity to spend some quiet time looking at where we have come in our grief journey or how we are moving forward with our lives. Do we find ourselves having more energy to engage in meaningful activities like exercise, get-togethers with friends, sincere efforts at maintaining health and well-being, as well as engaging in hobbies or pastimes we have enjoyed in the past? These may have been a part of our lives before we were consumed with care-giving activities or the loss itself. Do something nice or something fun that will help in coping with any of the restrictions that Winter places upon us.

It is important to remember that your deceased loved ones would not desire that you remain trapped in the sadness of grief. They would rather wish that you explore ways to live a happy and fulfilling life in the days to come. So, choose to take the winter months to gather new insights and into discovering what can brighten the days and weeks of this new year that is unfolding.

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