Comforting those who mourn

Bonnie Serio, a pastoral care specialist, comforts 8-year-old Max as he hugs his mother, Debbie Gonsioroski, right, during a March 3 session of Partners Around Loss through Support, or PALS, at Faithful Shepherd Catholic School in Eagan, Minn. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit) See BEREAVEMENT-PALS May 5, 2016.

St. Mary’s bereavement ministry enables parishioners to accompany parishioners

Monroe — Grieving after a loved one has died is difficult for anybody.

Usually people have the support of family and friends to help one through the difficult times, and often the parish community steps up and makes sure the needs of the family are met during the funeral.

But while parish support for those grieving is expected in the Catholic Church, John Castiglione of St. Mary Parish in Monroe asked a further question: what’s being done for people after the funeral?

That’s when Castiglione got together with parish Christian service coordinator Lorie Bronson, and the two formed the parish bereavement ministry, a group of parishioners who check up on families after the funeral is over.

“I’ve always had a feeling in our parish along with others, that when a person dies, they do a wonderful job planning the funeral,” Castiglione said. “But my thought is, after the funeral takes place, we, the parish community, should kick in. Everyone seems to go about their personal business, but I’ve always felt we can do more for families who recently lost a loved one.”

By July 2016, Castiglione and Bronson formed the St. Mary Parish bereavement ministry, through which parishioners complete home visits, do basic housekeeping tasks, or even send a card or text message letting the family know their parish is still watching out for them.

“A couple of weeks after the funeral happens, we send a card to the immediately family,” said parishioner Mary Beth Walsh, a member of the ministry. “After another few weeks or a month, we make a personal call or a personal visit and let them know they’re not forgotten.”

Just as the grieving process is different for every person, and as it comes in different stages as time progresses, the bereavement ministry team has a series of different approaches to people in grief, depending on their needs.

“We want to assure them they have our support,” said parishioner Joanne LaBoe. “If they wish to not have our support, that is fine, many people need to have their own time. But we ask them if they need help. Would they like someone to sit down and have tea with? Do they need someone to get some yard work done?”

The ministry has grown to 25 people who have provided assistance or established a connection with 36 different families in the parish.

“We definitely have seen results, people who’ve contacted us to say what a difference we have made,” Castiglione said. “When we contact someone, it’s so rewarding to see what it is we’re doing. I’ve contacted a grieving survivor, two sons of someone who’s passed away, one in California, the other in Bloomfield Hills. When I sent the two a text message, the one in California texted back, saying he felt so overwhelmed by our connection.”Members of the bereavement ministry feel it doesn’t take a lot of effort to start one in a parish. But to a person dealing with loss, a simple text message or card in the mail could make all the difference in the world.

“The archdiocese is talking about the New Evangelization, and this is a way to evangelize to people who might be the most open to hearing the Gospel message and wanting to share that message,” Bronson said. “It’s a ministry allowing people to care for others as Christ cares for us. Helping others grieve, but grieve with great hope.”

The expanding ministry also instills a sense of pride in the people who take the time to console those in mourning, especially for the volunteers who’ve experienced mourning themselves.

“My husband died four years ago, and it’s just great to talk to these people, to share stories,” LaBoe said. “They want to hear their loved ones aren’t forgotten, to hear them still being mentioned. Many just don’t want to touch the subject, but hopefully we can help them move along.”

Bronson said the bereavement ministry at St. Mary exemplifies what Jesus did in the Gospel, suffering with people, showing them compassion for all their pain, being present through their trying times.

“It’s such a privilege to see how God is touching their lives, to be there to accompany them, it’s a blessing,” Bronson said. “It’s sharing a story. That is so much with what we hear in Scripture — the power of stories. Jesus used parables to teach; to hear the stories of people makes us feel that connection to those of the last couple of millennia that God is still acting in our lives.”


St. Mary’s Bereavement Ministry

To join the St. Mary Parish bereavement ministry or advice on how to start one at your parish, call Lorie Bronson at (734) 241-6088.