An Act of Service

I’ve only been working at the Catholic Cemeteries Association for a short time, but I can honestly say that I’ve witnessed so many acts of the Holy Spirit. The CCA is not an organization that seeks fanfare and formal recognition, but something happened at our office last week that I found too powerful not to share.

Being a Catholic cemetery, we have the honor of serving a wide variety of people. One of our active ministries includes burials for those individuals whose family have no means to fund burial services. A few months ago, a mother of one of these charitable burials visited our office at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland. She hadn’t seen her child’s grave site yet, and kindly asked one of our Family Service Representatives (FSR) for directions to the site. Being an extremely large cemetery, our FSR offered to drive the woman to her child’s site to save her the extra strain of walking.

While driving to the site, our FSR got to know the woman a bit more. In short, she wasn’t happy with her current living and emotional status and was seeking a way to provide for herself. Upon arriving at the grave site, the woman had a very emotional reaction—she was so happy that her child was properly buried in a Catholic cemetery. Her story touched the hearts of our cemetery staff, and she became a regular visitor to the Calvary office. Eventually she was put in touch with Catholic Charities and was given the tools and support she needed to find a fresh start.

A few weeks went by without a visit from the woman, until last week when she entered our office. She was visibly weak and explained that her food stamps had been suspended and she hadn’t eaten in days. In an effort to raise her spirits, the same FSR that took her to visit her child’s grave those months prior offered to drive her out again.

This time, when they approached the grave site, the memorial stone with her child’s name had been installed. (It had previously been in production). Upon seeing her child’s name, the woman overflowed with emotion. She fell to the ground and stroked the stone lovingly. When she stood, however, she lost consciousness—which was soon regained with the help of our FSR.

After driving her back to the Calvary office, the FSR provided her a plate of food from the office fridge. The woman left thankful for the food and happy that her child was provided their memorial stone.

In many ways this story is unique—in other ways it’s universal. This same selfless hospitality and care happens every day at all our cemeteries. I felt a strong calling to tell this story because I believe it perfectly encapsulates what we hope to achieve here at the Catholic Cemeteries Association. You see, these are not “our” cemeteries. They are your cemeteries. As an extension of the church, the sacred grounds that surround us belong to you—the church. The story of this woman illustrates the mission we hope to achieve every day. We are here to serve you. We here to help you. We are honored and extremely humbled that families trust us every day to help them through the most difficult time in their lives.

I say none of this in hopes of self-promotion or recognition. Instead, I hope this serves as an invitation and reminder that your Catholic cemeteries are here for you. Visit your loved ones. Stop by our office. We are here to serve.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

3 Ways You Can Help Children Grieve in a Healthy Way

Children provide an interesting perspective to essentially everything. Their fresh impressions and highly curious minds foster imagination and wonder. They are driven by pure emotion and instinct. These traits are part of what makes childhood such a formative time in our lives. Unfortunately, losing a loved one as a child is a harsh reality many people face. It can be hard to console children through grief, for their way of processing their emotions is much different than it is for adults. However, there are some key things you can do for the children in your life who may be grieving to help them grieve in a healthier way. Keep reading to learn more.

3 Ways You Can Help Children Grieve

Be Honest

The best thing you can do for a child who is grieving is to be honest—in all regards. First, it’s important to be honest about death itself. Describing those who have died as being “gone,” “asleep,” or “taken” do not accurately describe what happened. Children are familiar with these terms and assume that those who are gone can come back, those who are asleep will wake up, and what’s been taken can be returned. Death is a permanent force and one that should be explained and defined to children. It’s also important to be honest about how their loved one died. Telling children how their loved one died can help them form rational conclusions about how death works, and they can have an outlet for any negative feelings they have. Just make sure these negative feelings are aimed toward a thing (such as an illness) and not a person (such as a doctor). Helping them understand the actual concept of death and what it means is the first step to helping them along their grief journey.

Be Yourself

Next, it’s important that you are honest about how you feel. It’s a natural protective instinct to put on a brave face for children. This is okay. You want to be strong for children who are experiencing such a tragic loss. However, there is a way to be strong and brave while also being honest. Telling a child how you truly feel following the loss of a loved one can help them understand their own thoughts and feelings. Chances are you are likely feeling a combination of emotions—you may be sad, confused, or even angry. You can experience all of these emotions simultaneously while grieving, and it’s important that children realize they can experience several conflicting emotions as well. Instead of being a “rock” be a role model. Find ways to connect and communicate with the children in your life.

Be There for Them

Finally, continual conversation is crucial. Losing a loved one and journeying through the grief process is traumatic for anyone—let alone children who may not even fully be aware of what they’re feeling or how to express those feelings. Taking time to check on the children in your life and having conversations about their grief (in an age appropriate manner) can help them progress along their grief journey. Be ready to answer any questions they have and answer them honestly. It’s also important during these conversations to emphasize that you will be with them for help and encouragement. Many children will foster fears of abandonment and separation after losing a loved one. Reassuring children that they will be cared for can help soothe these fears, and will also ensure that their energy and thoughts are more appropriately dedicated toward healing and understanding their grief.

These tenants can be helpful guides to the grieving process, but also remember that grief is unique in every conceivable way. If you find yourself consoling a grieving child, make sure to keep this in mind and help them in whatever way is most appropriate—and don’t forget to take care of yourself as well! You can only help others work through grief if you yourself are also able to work through grief in a healthy way.

Children’s Grief Awareness Day is November 15th. The best way to show awareness on this day is to wear blue. More information can be found at https://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/cgad2/index.shtml.

Are you interested in joining a grief support group? Join us at one of our monthly meetings. Visit http://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx to learn more.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Preparing for the Holiday Season: A 3-Step Bereavement Guide

October is the last month we have before the crazy holiday rush. As if the approach of the holidays wasn’t stressful enough, this busy time is even more consuming for those who have recently lost a loved one. Taking some time this October to reflect on your grief and how the holidays might impact you is key to not only surviving through the holidays—but finding joy in them as well. The key is to plan ahead and be honest with yourself throughout the planning process. Keep reading to learn more about three simple steps you can take in preparation for the holiday season.

Oct 2018 Bereavement

Realize that the holidays will be different

First, it’s important to understand that the holidays will undoubtedly be different. Sure, the snow may still fall and the radio will still be playing Christmas carols, but after losing a loved one the holidays will never be as they once were. Simply realizing this can help you approach the holidays with a healthier attitude. It is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be sad or angry. It’s okay to change tradition. Instead of placing pressure on yourself to maintain holiday cheer, be honest with yourself about how your feeling. The holidays will be different no matter what—instead of fighting this, lean into it and discover what you feel most comfortable with during this stage of your grief journey.

Have a (flexible) action plan

Once you’re honest with yourself about how you’re feeling about the holidays, it’s easier to create an action plan. Having a plan in place before the holiday rush begins can help you get organized and better prepare for the stressful season. Making decisions such as who you will be spending the holidays with, whether or not you will be purchasing gifts, baking cookies, etc. beforehand eliminate additional worry later on. Sometimes it’s a good idea to schedule “self-dates” ahead of time as well, providing yourself an easy excuse if attending a certain holiday party is too much to handle. It’s good to plan, but it’s also good to remain flexible as the season unfolds. You may feel better or worse depending on the day or the people you’re with. Just remember—do what you feel most comfortable with.

Celebrate the season and your loved ones

This last step is surely the hardest. For those who are grieving, the holidays are surely a time of remembrance and loss. However, the holidays are also a time of great joy and celebration. As Catholics, Christmas is a time for us to celebrate the birth of Christ and His coming down to Earth so that we may be saved. If you’re still having a hard time finding joy in the season, imagine if you switched roles with your departed loved one. Wouldn’t you want them to be happy during the holidays? Finding joy in the season doesn’t mean you love or miss your loved one any less. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to include them in the eternal celebration of Christ. Making their favorite Christmas cookie, playing their favorite carol, or creating a remembrance ornament are all great ways to include your departed loved ones in the celebration of Christmas. Remember that no matter how dark or desperate your situation seems, there is always hope to be found in Christ our King.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Experiencing Grief as a Family

Family dynamics are complex. They are made even more complex when families share the loss of a loved one. Being in such a fragile state, it can be easy to grow frustrated with yourself and each other. While grief will never be an easy journey, there are some things to keep in mind while grieving as a family that can make the journey a little smoother…

Experiencing Grief as a Family

It’s always important to remember that people grieve differently. There are several factors that contribute to how someone grieves, including their age, emotional temperament, and their relationship to the person who passed away. For instance, the way a woman mourns the loss of her spouse is much different than the way a child would mourn for their father. Whereas a spouse may be concerned about how to assume household responsibilities and may mourn the loss of romantic love, a child may be more concerned with the entire idea of death and the loss of parental love. Even those who hold the same role in family, such as two parents who tragically lose a child, may mourn differently due to their personal traits and experiences. It’s important that you remember the fundamental differences that exist from person to person, and be sensitive to these differences. While you may be grieving the same person, this person holds a unique place in each of your hearts.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to avoid comparisons. It’s one thing to support each other by understanding and tolerating differences, but you must also be careful to not benchmark or compare grief experiences. Comparison only leads to more emotional turmoil, and is never healthy. Just remember:

No one grieves in the same way

While one family member may express their grief more physically by crying, other family members may feel more comfortable keeping those feelings reserved. Likewise, some people enjoy being around others while grieving, whereas others prefer to be left alone. There are countless other examples, all of which can vary from person to person.

There is no universal timeline for grief

Family members will work through their grief at their own pace. It all depends on the person and the unique situation.

While members of a family may have completely different grief experiences, there are ways you can help and support each other. Communicating often and openly is always a healthy exercise. Sharing with your family how you’re feeling, and listening to their own thoughts and feelings, can help you sympathize with each other. Another activity family can do together is find time to pray. While everyone may have different experiences, feelings, and personalities everyone has common ground in Christ.

Interested in joining a grief support group? Our groups meet the 3rd Sunday of every month. For more information, please visit https://clecem.org/Information/Bereavement.aspx

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Losing a Loved One to Suicide

Suicide is undoubtedly one of the most devastating tragedies. It knows no limits—happening to even the most faithful of people and families, leaving behind hurt, confused, and mournful family and friends. Losing someone to suicide differs from other losses, and therefore grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide also differs. If you have lost someone to suicide, please take some time to read these words of comfort.

Suicide Blog Twitter

Some questions will go unanswered

Often the first question asked after hearing someone died by suicide is “why?” While we do know some psychological and physiological reasons why people take their own lives, such as loss, failure, or mental illness, the loss of a loved one can still be emotionally confusing. As with any death, confusion is a normal part of the grieving process. However, in the case of suicide this confusion may be more severe. Often when people die by suicide they leave without supplying answers. There are questions that will never be answered, and you must learn to accept this mystery. Instead of focusing on why someone did what they did, focus on mourning in a healthy way.

Anger and bad memories are normal

Feelings of anger are common even in the mildest cases of grief. Following a suicide, however, these feelings of anger and abandonment may be heightened even more. Also, due to the circumstances of a suicide, those grieving may experience the negative memories surrounding the suicide and forget the more positive memories and experiences of the person who passed away. The most important step you can take when experiencing these feelings is too fully experience You must comprehend and accept your negative feelings before moving on to more positive memories.

Invest in yourself and be patient

It’s natural to feel guilty after a friend or loved one dies by suicide. You may feel like you missed a warning sign, or that you could have done something different that would have changed the outcome. It’s important to understand that you were not the only influence on the person’s life, and there are limits to your power and responsibility. Learn to forgive yourself and be patient with the process.

Learn to rely on others

Just as any other cycle of grief, the pain you experience after losing someone to suicide may cause you to put your life on hold. It may force you to change your routines, behaviors, and may just disrupt your life in general. It’s natural to feel flustered by new responsibilities, or even isolated by your grief. One way to help with both of these feelings is by learning to rely on others. Whether it’s a family member or close friend, reaching out to others for help and guidance during your time of need is a healthy and proactive way to work through your grief.

The tragedy of suicide is one that can be prevented in certain cases. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please know that there is help available. Please call the hotline number listed below, or share how you’re feeling with a trusted family member or friend. You are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Post written by Katie Karpinski 

Information gathered from Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide by Arnaldo Pangrazzi