Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic
If you have ever needed bereavement services from St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, chances are you have been hugged, supported, and loved by 88-year old Claire Johnson.
Since 2008, Johnson has been supporting the grieving of the Parish from the beginning of the planning process until the last song plays at the funeral for a loved one.
“I tell them when they come in, it’s ok, go ahead and cry. It’s part of the healing process and it is very therapeutic,” said Johnson, from the Parish library, where she meets those coming in to plan a funeral. “Some of them have never planned a funeral before, there is a lot to know.”
A nurse for 40 years, Johnson understands the grieving process and works very hard to meet a family’s needs because she admits as a volunteer for the Bereavement Ministry, she wants everything to be just right for those suffering the loss of a loved one. It was not that long-ago she was in their shoes.
Moving to Florida in 1970, Johnson lived in four foreign countries and nine states with her husband George, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service. The pair met in high school at the age of 15 in Lawrence, Mass., and were married for almost 55 years before his death.
“I came to St. Cecilia’s Parish to join a friend after being a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish since 1974,” said Johnson. “After my husband died 13 years ago, I couldn’t go back. It was too hard.”
Suffering the loss of a loved one can change a person forever. Johnson believes the Holy Spirit began working on her more than a decade ago to move into the Bereavement Outreach at St. Cecilia, where she joined many others and quickly learned what needed to be done.
It is not surprising then that Johnson obtained her master’s degree in Public Health at the age of 64 and went to work for the Lee County Health Department for many years, before retiring and volunteering for the Church full-time.
“I attend every funeral with the family, because it’s important they know they have an advocate until the service is completed,” said Johnson, who also serves as the Sacristan for the Masses.
One might think that is quite enough to keep a person busy, however, she also volunteers as a Eucharistic Minister to the Homebound, operates as a sous-chef for the Lenten fish fry, conducts private home visits for hospice patients and prays the rosary at their bedside. She also leads the Rosary Group on Tuesdays following daily Mass.
As a decorator and coordinator for the former Senior Lunch at the Parish, she says the name was changed to Lunch Bunch. It sounds nicer.
“I am part of an excellent, caring team of bereavement ministers – and I’m very blessed!”