According to Archdiocesan records, parishes reported 13,249 deaths in 2013. The death of a parishioner, active or lapsed, young or old, from a large family or a solitary figure, affects the Body of Christ that is the parish. The poet John Donne put it well, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."
Whatever the circumstances, each death has an impact.
In an ongoing effort to assist parishes in the work of bereavement ministry, the Archdiocesan Office of Chaplaincy and the Master of Arts in Ministry Program, presented a workshop on "Bereavement, Grief, and Loss." Clergy, laity, and consecrated religious came from Dracut, Plymouth, Maynard and all points in between. The registration fee for parishes in collaboratives was waved, and representatives from Phase I and II collaboratives gratefully took advantage of this generosity.
The presenters were well-respected in the field of bereavement ministry: Fran Hauck, Pastoral Associate/DRE at Holy Name Parish, West Roxbury; Dr. Aldona Lingertat, Ph.D., director of St. John's Seminary Master of Arts in Ministry Program; Father Terence Curley, D. Min., Boston priest, noted author and licensed mental health counselor; and Deacon James Greer, director of the Office of Chaplaincy, who, in addition to a graduate degree in pastoral theology, is also certified in thanatology, the study of death, dying and bereavement. Janet Benestad, Cabinet Secretary of the Secretariat for the New Evangelization thanked the group for their presence and asked for prayers that all people will respect all human life at all stages.
Deacon Greer and Chaplaincy Programs assistant Karen Farrell prepared binders for each participant containing articles, templates, assessment tools, a "Guide for Preparing Funeral Liturgies, and the Disciples in Mission" document. The binder will be a tremendous resource to parish bereavement ministers, but Deacon Greer cautioned, "... the binder is for the team. We (at the parish) don't hand the grieving family a book, we 'hand' them a person who will help them."
Dr. Lingertat spoke about the Paschal Mystery; that we are saved from death by the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. She reminded listeners, "In the spirit of Disciples in Mission, our mission is to go forth and speak about our faith -- about this Paschal Mystery." Speaker after speaker referenced the pastoral plan and our call to be not only disciples of Jesus Christ, but intentional disciples. Deacon Jim was succinct: "We need to understand our own relationship with Christ before we can share it, and as intentional disciples we are called to share our faith."
Referencing his most recent book, "Challenging the Landscape of Loss: Why what we've been told about grief doesn't help," Father Curley offered insight to the popular myth about "closure."
"Closure is a term that commercializes grief and death. There is a crisis of misinformation. The message is, spend a lot of money and get closure and relief." He cautioned, "Be careful of the language of loss. How do you believe in closure and the Communion of Saints?"
Deacon Greer spoke about recruiting and forming a parish or collaborative Bereavement Team, emphasizing the importance of finding the right person for the work, and the benefit of teams working together -- bereavement folks working with folks who visit the sick. In collaboratives where parishes are coming together and sharing resources and staff, he stressed the need to, "determine the 'face' of your parish." To facilitate this, the binder included a Parish Based Healthcare Ministry Needs Assessment tool.
Fran Hauck's spoke about listening and made a bold point: "The world is waiting to be listened to." Her talk took on added poignancy because she had just attended the funeral of a faithful Holy Name Parish parishioner, John, who sometimes struggled in his speech. Fran admitted that she often wanted to "help him by finishing his sentences for him" but John would have no part of that and would emphatically say, "Listen, listen, listen, Francie you just have to listen!!!" In bereavement work, as with all conversations, real, attentive, listening is important, "...not only to the story but how it is told. Look to Jesus as the model for listening. Being listened to is a common need," she said.
Much of the information and skills shared at this workshop resonate with the work of pastoral planning and the implementation of Disciples in Mission: being an intentional disciple unafraid to share faith; working across parish borders; getting to know people involved in complementary ministries; respectful listening; and training and formation for the work. The Office of Chaplaincy Programs is eager to help collaboratives and parishes. In bereavement ministry, in all parish work, the mantra is training, training, training. This workshop offered parish and collaborative staff and volunteers new insights and assistance to comfort those who mourn. "If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." (Rom 6:8)
Material and resources from past workshops are available at the Office of Chaplaincy Programs at www.bostoncatholic.org.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.