Happy Birthday

I first met Dave when he lost his wife. She was buried at All Souls Cemetery, and after her burial Dave approached me to ask if he could assist the cemetery in caring for its ponds. Since then, we’ve kept in touch. This past week, he called to ask permission to see if there were any spotted turtles within the cemetery. Before we said our goodbyes, Dave asked if I had a few more minutes to talk.

He started to tell me about his 70th birthday that happened a few weeks prior. Dave went to visit his wife at the cemetery. As he sat by her gravesite, he knew the only person who would have made his day special was gone from this world. Loneliness washed over him. The couple never had children, and he felt that no one else seemed to care enough to even wish him a happy birthday.

Dave is someone with an extremely kind soul. It broke my heart as I listened to this story. However, he continued.

He said he spent a few more minutes visiting his wife, telling her how much he loved and missed her, then went home still saddened by the day.

One week later, Dave was back at All Souls Cemetery to visit his wife. This time, he decided to spend some time at the pond to check on the fish he had recently placed there.  As he sat, he could see something in the distance being carried by the wind.  It looked like a balloon decoration from somewhere in the cemetery.  The balloon kept coming closer until it landed by his feet. 

When he looked down at the balloon, he couldn’t believe what he saw.  A balloon had travelled across the cemetery at the very moment that he was sitting at the edge of the cemetery pond and on it was written “Happy Birthday”.

With tears in his eyes, Dave looked up and said a silent thank you to his wife who undoubtedly had sent him a “Happy Birthday” from Heaven.

Dave’s story reminds me of the connection that continually exists between us, our loved ones, and God. I hope his story can provide some hope to anyone missing someone they love.

– Andrej Lah

Director, The Catholic Cemeteries Association

A Valentine's Day Message

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, much of the world is focused on chocolates, Valentine’s cards, and spending time with their significant other. However, there are also those for whom Valentine’s Day is a reminder of the absence of their loved one. Instead of celebrating love, they are reminded of their broken heart. I see this pain in the eyes of the widows and widowers that I’ve come to know.


Yet, in the midst of this suffering, I believe there is hope to be found.
Upon losing a loved one, it may feel as if their absence is permanent. As followers of Christ, however, we have hope that this separation is only temporary. Having hope doesn’t make the loss any less painful, but hope can make your burden a bit lighter to bear. We must accept that God calls us all home on His time, not ours. We will never know the reasoning behind God’s timing. All we can do is place our trust and hope in the Lord, and reflect on the love He calls us all to embody throughout our time here on earth.


As hard as it may be, I encourage you to celebrate love this Valentine’s Day. Remember the love you shared with your dearly departed. Reflect on the love that you still have for them. Tell the people in your life how much they mean to you.


In a world where everything seems to move too quickly, we can find comfort in knowing love is eternal.


God bless,
Andrej Lah

February 2020

What to Expect When Attending a Grief Support Group

The Catholic Cemetery Association offers a safe and welcoming environment where the bereaved can come to be present with others who understand. The hardest parts of processing grief are best dealt with by talking about what you are feeling and realizing that most of what you experience is normal and eases over time.

Here are a few of the most common things to expect when attending one of our Grief Support Groups:

Relief/Clarity

You’ll find a sense of relief or freedom in being able to be open with your feelings.  Sometimes with family or friends, we tend to want to protect others from our hurt and pain and we don’t allow ourselves to fully experience the grief. We feel we have to be strong for them or we feel that we should be further along in our grieving. This is true especially if others in your family don’t “seem” to be grieving as much as you. Attending a support group can illustrate how everyone’s grief is personal and unique, and that everyone processes grief differently. In some cases, you may find new coping skills for common grief experiences.

Companionship

Our number one goal is for you to know that you do not have to be alone in your grief. Our support groups are designed to create a safe and non-judgmental environment for you to share your grief story and share experiences with other participants. While each grief experience is different, there is strength and comfort to be found in knowing you are not alone.

Diverse grief needs

There will be other participants in the group with varying degrees of grief. Some may have recently lost their loved one, and others may be working through a loss they experienced years ago. You may encounter others in the group who handle life in general differently from you. In our groups, we respect each person’s unique way of processing grief, without judgement. There are no wrong questions or feelings because your feelings are unique to your life experiences. In fact, these differences can provide you with a greater perspective in regard to grief and the healing process.

What NOT to expect:

Professional Counseling or Therapy

Our Group Facilitators are not psychologists or therapists, but rather trained specifically to help people understand what grief is and to encourage effective group discussions. We are able to help direct people in need of deeper grief work, to local resources for obtaining one-on-one or a specific type of grief counseling (widows, infant/child loss, accidental, traumatic/violence, suicide, substance abuse death, and other types of intense grief experiences).

A Quick Fix

Processing your grief is not a quick fix. It is not reasonable to expect to be back to “normal” in six months, or even a year. It takes time and patience as you work through painful emotions and life-altering changes.  But with a good support network at your side, you will find hope to take that next courageous step toward your new normal.

Grief will never be an easy journey, especially if you are attempting to journey it alone. Come and join a warm fellowship of people with similar grief experiences, helping each other through prayer, shared stories, and grief recovery discussions.

Post written by Kaleigh Rice

Content derived from interview with CCA Bereavement Coordinator, Rhonda Abrams.

Thanks-Giving: 3 Tips for Finding Gratitude through Grief

It goes without saying that the holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year. With countless obligations and expectations, everyone feels some elevated stress during the months of November and December. This stress can be even more severe if you’ve recently lost a loved one. In a time when we’re supposed to be counting blessings, you may feel that you have nothing to be thankful for. These feelings are valid and a normal part of the grieving process. However, there are ways to work through these feelings and find glimpses of gratitude through your grief this holiday season. Keep reading to learn more.

ThanksGiving

Tip One: Embrace Your Feelings

It’s important that you truly embrace what you’re feeling. Trying to bury your emotions for the sake of others is unhealthy and may even deepen your feelings of loss, since you can’t express them. Don’t feel like you need to behave in a certain way over the holidays. Even if everyone else in your life is in full holiday swing, it’s okay to tell them you’re not feeling up to a certain party or activity this year. It’s okay to not feel in the “holiday spirit”. It’s okay to want more alone time. Try not to get swallowed up in the expectation of others. Without your loved one, the holidays will be forever different. Trying to fit into your traditional mold may not work. Recognize that you will need to make changes based on how you’re feeling at a given time. We can open ourselves to wonderful new and healing experiences when we decide to let go of previous expectations and obligations.

Tip Two: Embrace Your Outlook

While it may be hard to find things to be thankful for, try to find some glimpses of hope in your life. Blessings can be as simple as having food on the table, a roof over your head, or a meaningful friend in your life. Taking time to appreciate the wonderful parts of your life doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about them, and it won’t erase the pain you feel. However, noticing blessings in your life will help you balance the good with the bad, and give you greater perspective. There are countless mental health benefits to listing blessings, and this in turn can help your physical health as well. Remember that your outlook is the one thing in this world that you have complete control over. Peacefully remembering your loved one while having a joyful outlook is a balance we all have the potential to achieve.

Tip Three: Embrace Your Faith

It’s important to remember that, while God allows difficult times to enter our lives, He wants to help us find happiness again through the grace of His comfort and strength. He wants us to experience peace and to truly enjoy the life we’re given. Losing a loved one will change your life forever, and the sorrow associated with grief is unlike anything else on this earth. But we are all called to find meaning beyond the suffering. Our faith gives us hope and calls us to greater things. God has plans for each and every one of us—plans for hope and a future. While we may not always see the logic or reasoning behind the path God leads us on, we must trust that He alone knows what is best for us. He is leading us on the path to everlasting life—to a place where we will be reunited with our loved ones forever.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Please click here:  https://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

5 Things to Remember When Visiting a Cemetery

Visiting a cemetery can be an uncomfortable experience for some. Confronting the concept of death and grieving the loss of dearly departed loved ones brings a plethora of complex emotions. As hard as this can be, working through these complex emotions is the key to greater spiritual and emotional healing. While comfort levels will depend on each individual and their situation, there are some things to keep in mind when visiting a cemetery that can help make the experience more peaceful. Keep reading to learn more.

Visitation Blog
Photo Credit: Kim Giamo

There are no expectations

While movies, TV shows, and even those closest to us may talk about the emotional experience of visiting a cemetery, remember that how you handle the experience is entirely up to you. While some people may feel comfortable crying at the grave site, you may not– and that’s okay. Displaying (or not displaying) emotion is not an indication of how you felt for your loved one. For some, decorating the grave site might derive the most comfort. For others, simply sitting in silence is what’s best. It’s important to find what works for you. Don’t feel like you must act a certain way or do a certain activity when visiting. Just like your relationship with your loved one, each person will have a unique connection and way of communicating love and loss.

You are on sacred ground

Remember that cemeteries are sacred places. Catholic cemeteries are specifically blessed and are considered to be an extension of the church itself. While there’s no need to dress a certain way or say a specific prayer, use the sacredness of the grounds to enter into a meditative and spiritual mindset. While you’re loved ones may not be here physically to connect with, you can still maintain relationships with them through prayer.

You are in an open space

One important thing to remember when visiting a cemetery is that you’re likely not the only one visiting their loved ones. While it’s good to express yourself in a way that you feel comfortable, it’s also courteous to remember those around you. Playing loud music, shouting, or otherwise being disruptive may make visitation hard for others.

You will (most likely) be outdoors

Most burial choices (aside from those who choose to be interred in a mausoleum) will be outside. Plan ahead to make sure you’re wearing weather appropriate clothing. Also, due to the forces of nature and other outdoor elements, make sure to read safety signs. If you feel a path is dangerous for you to attempt, don’t. Check to see if the cemetery office provides escorts- they will be able to guide you to the burial site safely.

Take it all in

Sometimes visits can seem more like a chore than a genuine experience. It’s important when visiting to take a few moments to truly meditate and spend spiritual time with your loved one. Think about their life and the lasting impact they left on yours. Treasure the quiet time together and brief separation from the rest of the world.

Some people find consolation in praying near the grave site. A common prayer is:

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

However, prayer doesn’t need to be formal or rehearsed. Simply spending time in meditation can be healing on its own.

What do you find most helpful and comforting when visiting your loved ones? Let us know in the comments below.

Post written by Katie Karpinski