The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone but more so for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The rush of memories can make it feel as if the loss is happening all over again.
To help the bereaved, in early December 2023, the Office of Marriage & Family Life offered a series of events themed “There is Hope!” First was a multi-day retreat titled, “A Walk with Jesus for Grieving Parents,” then a workshop, “There is Hope: Surviving the Holidays.” Lastly was a two-day training session titled, “There is Hope: Giving Hope to the Grieving.”
These gatherings were led by Deacon Henry deMena, of the Diocese of Charleston and formally of the Diocese of Venice, who has extensive training experience as a bereavement counselor.
“There has been a need for these type of bereavement workshops throughout the Diocese and this was an initial effort to judge the demand,” said Carrie Harkey, Coordinator of the Office of Marriage & Family Life.
Deacon deMena said his work is to try to help the bereaved make sense out of what doesn’t make sense: grief.
The retreat for grieving parents took place Dec. 1-3 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center in Venice.
“The main theme was walking with Jesus during our suffering as did the disciples on the walk to Emmaus,” Deacon deMena said of the retreat, which included 20 adults who were remembering 11 adult children who had died. “There was a mixture of prayer services, including a beautiful Adoration/Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, education, sharing and social activities. During an opening ceremony, candles were lit for each of the deceased to represent the Light of Christ.”
The retreat focused upon ensuring each parent understood that they were not alone in their grief, they are always accompanied by Jesus. Facilitators were also present to encourage sharing. The retreat concluded with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
One aspect of the grieving parents retreat is how to cope with loss during the holidays. Along this theme, Deacon deMena led two presentations on this topic for the public on Dec. 4 at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Grove City and then Dec. 5 at St. William Parish in Naples.
“As humans we might feel God has abandoned us when trying to deal with the loss of a loved one,” Deacon deMena said. “It’s OK, because God has broad shoulders. He can handle you being upset with Him. The more you can pray and talk to the Lord, the easier it will be to help Him find you. God wants to share His love and comfort with us.”
The holidays are difficult because anxiety and stress levels are running high for everyone. Anything that can be done to reduce the effort and stress of the season is recommended.
Deacon deMena offered a variety of suggestions on how to get through the holidays, such as early planning for any activities to help avoid surprises, making sure not to pretend that everything is the same or fine, or to not talk about the loved one, as this can be more painful for the bereaved.
The Bereavement Training workshop took place Dec. 6-7 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice. There, Deacon deMena spoke to more than 20, representing multiple Parishes, to facilitate establishing strong Parish-based bereavement groups. He provided participants with the tools needed to establish a structured program that follows a 6-week schedule, allowing participants to fully benefit from the process.
Ginny Nolan, of St. Peter Parish in Naples, was among a group of three who took part in the training, eager to expand the bereavement outreach at the Parish. “The information we learned and the process and program we will follow will help many people,” Nolan said. “This is exactly what is needed.”
Throughout each of the workshops and retreats, Deacon deMena said prayer and faith are keys to living with grief, stressing that grieving never really ends but is something that is coped with in a non-destructive way.
With the positive response and a clear need shown by the amount of participation from the bereavement retreat, workshops, and training, Harkey said that additional sessions will be planned throughout the Diocese in the not-too-distant future.
For more information, please contact Carrie Harkey at firstname.lastname@example.org.