[dropcap]J[/dropcap]oe Manfreda was in his mid-20s when his father died suddenly from a heart attack. For 30 years, Manfreda buried the grief deep inside himself, unable to even read his father’s death notice.
“The worst advice I got in my life was not to cry,” Manfreda said. “I was the one who was supposed to be the strong one.”
Manfreda said the inability to process the grief inhibited his ability to function in life in some cases. Years later, the healing began.
In the spring of 2013, Manfreda learned about a Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries program that trains facilitators for parish grief and bereavement support groups.
He and his wife underwent training to become facilitators and are now active in the bereavement ministry at St. Mary’s Basilica.
Judy Graham, a parishioner at St. John Vianney in Goodyear, said that helping those who grieve was something she did professionally for years as a hospice nurse. In 2006, at her pastor’s request, Graham launched a bereavement program at the parish that follows the hospice model.
“I think in many ways, we’re there and we understand and listen when our culture does not,” Graham said. “People who are grieving or who have lost a loved one want to talk and tell their story. We are good listeners.”
Graham said she and other facilitators know that it’s often difficult for those who grieve to return to church. “We make a point of going up to them after Mass and giving them a hug. They know we’re not going to forget,” Graham said.
She recalled one woman who had lost her husband. Graham knew it was the man’s birthday, so she called his widow. “You’re the only one who remembered,” the woman told her.
“When you’ve lost someone you love, you feel like your life has ended. It’s important to know that this is normal, this is what grief is,” Graham said. “Grief is hard work, but with someone loving you and being with you and helping you, you can get through it. You’re always going to miss the person you loved but you still need to be living the life God has given you.”
Consoling the grieving
Carol and Bud Bevenour, who began a bereavement support group at Sacred Heart Parish in Prescott in 2010, draw on their own experience of grief to assist others.
Carol, who before retiring worked at the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, was widowed twice before she met Bud, who’d lost his wife. “His faith experience when his wife died — he walked away from it,” Carol said. “I didn’t turn away from my faith, but my friends turned away. Thank God He put Bob and me together.”
They start the group by sharing their own experience of loss. At first, participants, who usually don’t know each other, are quiet and reluctant to share. As the weeks go by, they open up.
“There’s healing that takes place. By the end of the program, they’re not strangers anymore,” Bob said. “We don’t push anybody. There are a lot of benefits to be had if they just attend.”
One woman had experienced a loss 15 years earlier and never gotten over it. “We’ve also had people come as soon as two weeks after a loss,” Carol said.
Graham feels that society tends to sugarcoat the grieving process. She recalls speaking with one young mother whose husband had been killed. About a month after he died, a well-meaning person told her she ought to take off her wedding ring and “get on with her life.”
“We deny death as a culture and we don’t want to be around people who are grieving,” Graham said. “That’s what’s so special about our ministry. We want to be there.”
Debra Reed of Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries helps coordinate the 30- plus hours of free, three-part training for those interested in bereavement ministry.
“We provide people the tools to assist them in their ministry,” Reed said. “We’ve had about 600 people go through the program since 2006.”
Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries will offer training for grief and bereavement ministry Sept. 19-20.
The training is free but registration is required. Registration: (602) 267-1329
Many parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix offer grief and bereavement ministry; check with individual parishes.