Joan Connors Pilot file photo/ Courtesy Joan Connors
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ARLINGTON -- Grief can often paralyze a person. However, in 1989 when Joan Connors lost two of her children within six months, grief did not paralyze her; it mobilized her.
“Going through this suffering made me realize that the world out there doesn’t know how to deal with death and loss,” Connors said. “For many people, they really didn’t know what to do around me, so many of them simply stopped interacting with me altogether.”
After going through her own grieving process, she realized that her experience could help others in similar circumstances.
“Since I really experienced it, I was able to understand what others were going through a little bit better,” she said, adding that her loss was the impetus for beginning a bereavement group within her parish, St. Agnes in Arlington.
Since 1989, every week Connors facilitates a bereavement group to help those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one transition back into everyday life.
“When someone loses a spouse, or a child, or even a parent, their identity is changed,” she explained, noting that in her experience even simple questions such as “How many children do you have?” can become difficult to answer.
“Simple questions that you automatically were able to answer can become impossible...Sometimes it makes you feel like you are going crazy,” she said.
So every week, Connors helps others deal with their loss.
“It is really a spiritual program,” she said. “It is a place where people can talk and really be listened to.”
In addition to the weekly meetings, Connors also contacts every parishioner who has lost a loved one within a given month for a Months Mind Mass, a special Mass said for the repose of a person’s soul. And in November Connors invites everyone who has dealt with a death in the family to partake in a Remembrance Mass.
“It really has just evolved for me,” she said. “To me being the facilitator of this group is a privilege. I’m very happy that St. Agnes has created a place where people can feel safe.”
Connors, 75, has been a parishioner at St. Agnes since 1982. She and her husband of 52 years, Joseph Connors have raised five children. Connors noted that St. Agnes is a “very active” parish, with both a parish elementary school and Arlington Catholic High School. She added that the parishioners are a close-knit community
“It feels very comfortable being in a parish where you see so many faces that you know,” she said.
A cradle Catholic originally from West Roxbury, Connors believes that her faith was what sustained her through her most difficult times.
“My faith has taught me that we’re here to live the Good News,” she said pensively. “To me it means preparing for eternity every day.”
St. Agnes Parish, Arlington
Pastor -- Father Brian Flatley
Parochial Vicars -- Father John Graham, Father Joseph D’Onofrio
Religious Education Director -- Joyce Patriacca
Business Manager -- Karen DeAlmeida
Music Director -- Michael Vaughan
Organist -- Kimberly Howe
Fidelity House Director -- Edward Woods
Elementary School Principal -- Sister Patricia Randall, RSM
Arlington Catholic High School Principal -- Stephen Biagioni