What’s the worst kind of grief?
That’s the message Bev Geier stresses to participants in the Companions in Grief program that she cofaciliates at Webster’s St. Rita Parish. Geier told the Catholic Courier that it’s not necessary for anybody to question whether his or her grief is valid; rather, any kind of hurt stemming from a loss is sufficient cause to seek out groups such as St. Rita’s.
Deacon Robert McCormick added that oftentimes, people don’t believe that anybody else could understand their grief. But by being with others who have experienced similar pain, they can find kindred spirits and take important steps in the healing process.
"The biggest benefit is knowing that what they’re going through is something they’re not alone in," said Deacon McCormick, chaplain at St. James Mercy Hospital in Hornell, where he is the longtime facilitator of two grief support groups.
These ministries are among many in the Rochester Diocese that assist folks who have lost loved ones. Groups and other information also can be accessed through funeral homes, hospice facilities, and other religious denominations and community organizations as well as online.
Meetings at St. Rita and St. James Mercy are free and open to all, including non-Catholics. They typically involve a mix of prayer, quotations related to grieving from various authors and extended time for open discussion.
Geier and Deacon McCormick said some people have faithfully attended the meetings for years; others appear on and off.
"Some come only once and they’ll say, ‘You’ve been very helpful, I feel much better,’" Deacon McCormick said, adding that his groups experience an increased number of attendees at holiday time: "They’re so used to being with their loved ones and now are celebrating alone, especially the first holiday."
The grief could be from a recent death, or still lingering from one that occurred long ago. How people act at the meetings also can vary. Tears are often shed; other times laughter breaks out. Some people talk at length; others are content to just listen.
"You respect that each person grieves in their own particular way," Geier said. "We meet people where they are."
The important thing, she said, is simply to get to the meetings, where people who are grieving can find compassion and understanding that might not be as readily available among family and friends.
Geier — who along with cofacilitator Marge Klehr has been with St. Rita group since its inception two decades ago — originally found herself in need of such a ministry after suddenly losing a younger brother. She doesn’t promise Companions in Grief to be a magic cure, but said a greater level of healing is possible by openly addressing one’s hurt rather than attempting to bury it.
"We continually say you don’t get over this — you get through it," Geier said.
She said she’s impressed by participants she has known who, as they healed from their grief, went from being supported to becoming supporters.
"You see people who managed to get through it and to flourish — grow in ways you would not have imagined," she remarked.