As anybody who has endured the experience well knows, holidays can bring more pain than joy when a loved one has recently died.
“You want to stand up on the grocery counter and say ‘Why are you people living? I’m bereaved!'” Jeannette Berretta remarked. Christine Lloyd added that the pressure to celebrate is heightened when Christmas advertisements “are all over the stores in September.”
Berretta and Lloyd handle bereavement issues throughout the year. They are the cofounders of Wounded Healers’ Bereavement Support Group Inc., a nonprofit agency that offers individual and family counseling; a support group; bereavement training for businesses, schools and other groups; speaking engagements; funeral preparation; and other expertise related to grieving.
Berretta and Lloyd, parishioners of St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads, are certified thanatologists — experts in death, dying and bereavement. They founded Wounded Healers in 1989 while serving as staff members at St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn, then expanded in the mid-1990s to the Southern Tier where they are now based.
Wounded Healers is best known in the Tier for its work with area BOCES programs, where Berretta and Lloyd provide training for school staffs in such areas as detecting suicidal signs in students and how schools should deal with the death of a student or faculty member.
The agency continues to have a presence in Auburn through its longtime support group. It meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the school building at St. Mary’s Parish, 17 Clymer St., with the next meeting scheduled for Dec. 7. The support group is free and offers a variety of printed materials, speakers, videos and small-group sharing.
Berretta and Lloyd also offer private counseling in many parts of the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier. Fees collected help offset the costs of printed materials, mailings, speaker fees and the like. Wounded Healers is also supported by such fundraising events as a dinner-dance held Oct. 22 at the Auburn Knights of Columbus.
Although bereavement-counseling costs are generally not covered by insurance, Berretta said Wounded Healers offers a sliding-scale arrangement for clients. “We never turn anyone away,” she said.
Bereavement ministry naturally carries spiritual dimensions, and Wounded Healers strives to be inclusive in this regard. “We don’t put beliefs or ideas on anyone out there. We tell them regardless of any religious affiliation, we will support you,” Berretta said.
Yet neither do she and Lloyd try to hide their Catholic faith. “We always tell people we’re Catholic Christian and we’re telling it from our perspective. We’re not saying this is the right way and the only way — this is the way we’re used to,” Berretta said.
Faith is what guides this special ministry, Berretta added: “We truly believe our loved ones and our God are watching over all the work we do.”
Wounded Healers was founded as a response to what Berretta and Lloyd perceived as a limited support system for the bereaved in the late 1980s. For instance, Berretta said many hospice programs were in their infancy or hadn’t yet begun.
“We wanted to make sure we were reaching any kind of death — suicide, murder, infant death. Every single life, regardless of the kind of death, is significant,” said Lloyd, who recently released a book Honoring Your Love, Honoring Your Grief: When Your Loved One Has Died. The book, at $10 per copy, can be ordered through the support group or the Wounded Healers Web site.
It was through a presentation that Berretta and Lloyd gave about coping with loss at the holidays — when 35 people showed up to a public program in 1989 — that first alerted them to the community need. They continue to offer holiday coping tools as part of their ministry, with such tips as cutting back on gift-giving, dinner preparation and other holiday rituals if they put undue pressure on the bereaved.
In addition, Lloyd said Wounded Healers holds a memorial service in January because that’s when bereaved people are reminded that the year they just left behind included a significant loss. “While everybody’s celebrating New Year’s, their hearts are maybe heavy,” Lloyd said.
One point she and Berretta emphasize is the natural tendency at holidays to avoid discussing the deceased — which is exactly what one shouldn’t do. Instead, they say the loss is better honored by openly remembering the person.
“If nobody mentions it, usually the loved one walks away feeling like (the deceased is) totally forgotten,” Lloyd said.
“Everybody’s thinking it. It just takes one person to say it — ‘I just want to toast Mom.’ Maybe that even might start a whole conversation of memories and stories,” Berretta said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Wounded Healers, visit www.woundedhealers.com, e-mail WHBSG1@aol.com, or call 315/252-5166, 607/796-2795 or 315/730-9747 (cell).