Someone in your parish has died an elderly gentleman, a teenage girl, a child who never took its first breath. The family facing this situation is filled with grief and incredibly vulnerable. A member of the family calls your office to schedule a funeral. They meet with your staff and begin the process of selecting the readings and songs while in a mild state of numbness. The funeral liturgy is held a few days later, with many coming to offer prayers for the repose of the person’s soul. As the family member is finally laid to rest, the grieving process still continues for the remainder of the family.
What happens now?
Caring for those facing grief
How does your parish help those who grieve the loss of a loved family member, for example the elderly widow married 57 years, or the family, whose teenage daughter was killed in a car accident, or the young couple who were expecting their first child?
Our current culture encourages society to grieve quickly, predictably, and in some cases, without any sense of emotion towards the loss of life. However, this is not how one is called to grieve the loss of life.
Based on the rate of deaths in the United States in 2019, we can estimate that about 42,000 people in SE Michigan died. Approximately 11,000 were Catholic. Which means an average parish held about 50 funerals. Larger parishes upwards of a 100 funerals. 50-100 funerals means hundreds of grieving people at each parish.
And this was before the pandemic struck!
Be there when the casseroles stop coming
In an August 2019 general audience, Pope Francis described the early Church as “a field hospital that takes in the weakest people; the infirmed.” He reminds us that these people are “not to be cast aside, but to be cared for and looked after. They are objects of Christian concern.”
To be clear, people who grieve are not sick. It is quite natural and normal to grieve and miss someone who has died. But many who grieve are weak and are in need of care after funeral, burial, once the casserole dishes stop being dropped off by loved ones.
What can your parish do for those who grieve? Form a robust bereavement ministry.
If grief is our reaction to something or someone we lost and loved, mourning is our intentional response. It’s what we do outwardly, with the pain we feel inwardly. This cannot be done alone or in a vacuum. St. Paul reminds us, that we depend on gifts God has given to different members of our community: “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Create an intentional plan
As our Archdiocese moves to a Family of Parishes (FOP) model, please consider the following to support grieving members of your community:
Have a Bereavement Ministry Coordinator (BMC) who can oversee a team of lay members, who themselves have been touched by grief and loss, and/or now feel called to help others. The team will help with the basics for each parish.
Funeral planning and liturgy support
Funeral home contact and assistance
All Souls Masses
Anniversary cards to families
The BMC will develop a professional Funeral Liturgy Booklet for the FOP (Good Mourning Ministry can assist with this). This booklet will help the family of the deceased choose the readings and hymns. Once developed, copies are inexpensive to make. In some cases, this booklet will be the first impression the bereaved have of your parish. Make it a good one.
The BMC should plan to facilitate an annual or bi-annual Grieving with Great Hope 5-week workshop through FORMED.ORG or the DVD Series. These workshops are held throughout the U.S. and Canada and have helped thousands of grieving catholics. (Again, Good Mourning Ministry can assist with this).
And consider “After Care” offerings.
At any given time, members within your community are grieving the death of a loved one. Many are looking for support from their parish, and if you are not offering something, they will look elsewhere.
Submitted by John and Sandy O’Shaughnessy, Co-Founders of Good Mourning Ministry, serving the bereavement needs of Catholic Parishes in the United States and Canada since 2011.