By Deanna Sass | Director of the Diocesan Department of Pastoral Care
Sometimes it comes by way of a life-changing phone call: “There’s been an accident…” At other times, it starts with a diagnosis: “We’ve gotten the results of the biopsy…” or sometimes simply by the passage of so much time: “I don’t think Grandma has much time left.”
But no matter how or when it arrives, the news of a life ended is almost always very difficult to hear. When we lose a parent, a spouse, a friend, a sibling, or God forbid, a child, our own life is forever changed. The person who has died leaves a hole in our lives, where, in countless little (and big) ways, they used to be present to us.
Years after his retirement, as my father-in-law got older, one by one his weekday breakfast buddies began to pass away. When it was down to just him and one other, they looked at each other and talked about how they missed the vibrant conversations they used to have when there were four or five of them at the table. The dwindling of the breakfast group caused both of them to feel sad for the friends they had lost, and also because it reminded them of their own mortality.
One woman who lost her husband recalled that her grief surged on the first garbage day after he had passed, when she had to drag the large receptacle to the curb by herself. It made her realize how much she missed her husband, not for what he did, but for his consistent presence in her everyday life. She explained how she burst into tears when she heard the garbage truck roaring from down the street, as she realized that he was no longer there to do what he always had done for so many years, and she felt so terribly alone. She didn’t have a husband anymore.
When my mother passed away, it was toward the end of a school year, and soon after she passed, my five school-aged children were home all day throughout the summer, keeping me very busy. But as the fall rolled around, a new wave of sadness came over me. I was telling a neighbor about how on the first day of school every year, my mom would always call me around 9 o’clock, and ask, “Did the kids all get on the bus OK?” It was the thought of that call not coming for the first time that brought on a renewed surge of grief. I didn’t have a mother anymore. That same dear neighbor, remembered what I had said to her, and my phone rang at 9 a.m. on the first day of school, and I heard her say, “Did the kids all get on the bus OK?” Her kindness was a healing balm for my grief.
Sharing our experiences lightens our burdens and doubles our joys. Many parishes in our Diocese offer grief or bereavement support groups. Together with others who have experienced a loss, sharing stories like the ones above, talking about the loved one who has passed away and hearing about different ways of coping make going through the experience of grief a little easier to bear. Particularly when the group is built upon the foundation of our Catholic faith, where prayer, sacred music or Scripture are built in to the support group, one may encounter our prime source of comfort and hope in the face of loss, God’s unending love and compassion.