Parish ministries console bereaved - Catholic Courier

Parish ministries console bereaved

When ovarian cancer claimed the life of her sister, Muffy Winkelmann, 14 years ago, Cathy Spoto learned firsthand what it felt like to go through the process of grieving for a loved one.

“Just sharing her journey with her inspired me to reach out to others who are grieving,” recalled Spoto, who belongs to Rochester’s Cathedral Community.

This experience and the support of the faith community inspired her to found the Cathedral Community’s Ministry of Consolation a little over a year ago. Through this ministry, she and approximately 15 ministers of consolation support grieving members of their community. They strive to live by the second beatitude in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

“We really use that beatitude as our guiding principal and really feel that this is a central ministry in a community of faith, a community of believers,” Spoto said.

Whenever a funeral is celebrated at one of the churches in the Cathedral Community — which comprises Sacred Heart Cathedral, Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood parishes — the ministry sends to the family of the deceased a letter from the pastor, Father John Mulligan, and one of the ministers of consolation, Spoto said. This letter simply expresses the community’s condolences, and several weeks later one of the ministers of consolation will follow up on that letter with a phone call, she said.

The minister will let the deceased’s loved ones know he or she is there to support them and to visit their home, if they’d like. The ministers of consolation also run a bereavement support group, which meets twice a month, Spoto said. At these meetings, people who are grieving are able to come together, share their struggles and support each other because they understand each others’ pain, she said.

“Just being present to people in their grief is a gift and a grace-filled opportunity,” Spoto said. “People can talk a little bit about their loved one, talk a little bit about their own feelings and struggles and grief, which they’re dealing with, and have a listening ear, a person who is able to really companion them in their grief.”

Since the bereavement support group is facilitated by a Catholic community, it provides those who are grieving with a safe and prayerful environment where they may feel comfortable talking about their struggles without fear of being judged, Spoto added.

Such a safe atmosphere is very helpful for people who are going through the grieving process, noted Ruth Anne Dupre-Trippe, pastoral minister at St. Patrick Parish in Victor. Dupre-Trippe’s parish also hosts a bereavement support group, which meets once a month. St. Patrick Parish in Owego and St. Rita Parish in Webster also host similar bereavement support groups and grief ministries.

Each meeting at the Victor church begins with a simple prayer, and Dupre-Trippe invites those present to introduce themselves to the others and, if they wish, say a few words about how they’re feeling or about their deceased loved ones.

“If you can listen and you can be compassionate and just help them to share their story, they will, because they need to. There’s a hunger to share their story,” Dupre-Trippe said.

Many of these people tell Dupre-Trippe they long to talk about their deceased loved ones with others, but people often stop mentioning those loved ones in conversation shortly after the loved ones’ deaths, perhaps because they’re afraid of upsetting the survivors, she said. What these people don’t understand is that the mourners are already sad, Dupre-Trippe said, so mentioning their deceased loved ones will not make them more sad, but will in fact help them work through their grief.

Well-intentioned but misguided people also might encourage the bereaved to move on and stop dwelling on their grief, she said. There is no set time line for grief, however.

“It’s more than a three-day or three-week or three-month process. It may take a year, or it may take more than that, and it’s OK. Everyone is unique in what they’re experiencing,” Dupre-Trippe said.

Some people attend meetings regularly, while others only come around the anniversaries of loved ones’ deaths or other difficult times, Dupre-Trippe said.

“It’s open whenever they need it,” she said. “We just encourage people to do whatever they need to do to walk through this process.”

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