By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
Berni Ely and Bev Hoffman, both parishioners at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Springfield, agree that by helping people deal with loss, they have found their special niche in life.
The two women co-facilitate a program that helps believers of all faiths paddle through the waves of grief. That program, GriefShare, is now under way on Tuesdays, from 1-2:30 p.m. in the Cathedral School library. It’s a 13-week program (the current one began Nov. 1) that allows people to join in at any time — and Cathedral runs two sessions a year.
GriefShare has existed for over 25 years and is made available in over 19,000 churches in the United States and several other countries. It is a Christ-centered video-based support group that equips lay volunteers to encourage and comfort people going through bereavement.
At Cathedral GriefShare meetings — usually attended by between five and 15 people — each person is welcomed by name. The leaders explain the agenda, offer refreshments, and welcome any new members. When everyone is settled, they say an opening prayer. The leaders inquire about the last week, to see if anyone wants to share any special concern or incident, then discuss the workbook session that has followed the previous week’s topic. The invitation to share is open, but not required. After that discussion, the group views a video, followed by a brief discussion. Guests look over the workbook pages for the upcoming week and then the session is closed with another prayer.
Because they are all feature the same GriefShare videos and share a nation-wide support team, most of the sessions are similar, no matter where they take place. For example, at the urging of her friends, Eli attended her GriefShare program at Athens Christian Church. She later approached Vicki Compton, coordinator of Faith Formation and Mission at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and asked if the parish be able to offer the program.
“I wasn’t sure if the parish could offer it — because it was Christian but not specifically Catholic in origin — but Vicki listened to me and looked into it,” Ely said. “She was very helpful. Our pastor at the time approved it and then we got started.”
“Berni said it was the best thing she could do after her husband’s death. GriefShare is what finally helped her move forward after Jack’s death. She encouraged us to start GriefShare and been part of the team since the beginning (in 2019),” Compton said.
Hoffman says, like Ely, she is pleased to be part of the GriefShare team. “I witnessed the depth of grief my sister and husband experienced following the loss of their 18-year-old son in a car accident, as well as my mother’s grief following my dad’s death. While I could not change the situation, I wanted so much to ease their pain.
“I am a long-time Cathedral parishioner. I have regretted for a long time that Catholic churches have not offered the supportive programs that some other denominations offer,” said Hoffman. “After early retirement from my career in state government, I wanted to do something that made a difference — and that was a position at a local funeral home. For many years, I referred families served by the funeral home to GriefShare programs offered by other churches. I was delighted when it could be offered by Cathedral and wanted to support and be a part of it. It is important to remember that we are not counselors, but presenting information in a compassionate manner and facilitating healing discussion. ”
“We’ve found that our guests find so much solace in good video and print resources, but mostly from the deep and sincere listening of the other participants. We have seen people change over the 13 weeks,” Compton said. “At the beginning they could only cry, but by the end were finding some moments of happiness and sharing stories and supporting others. It is really beautiful to see.”
“After several sessions, individuals feel safer about sharing their grief and tears as they recognize that they are not alone in their grief and others in the group understand,” Hoffman said. “It is easier to share the grief, though the grief doesn’t get ‘easier’ for some time.”
Most people who experience loss have people around them to help immediately after a death. But GriefShare is designed to extend a grieving ministry that follows in the months or even years after a loss, when people around the griever have returned to their busy lives.
“Some guests come as soon as few weeks after the death of a loved one, some years after the death,” Compton said. “All seem to find some healing and hope. Several participants, especially those who come soon after their loss, return to repeat the course. When grief is fresh it is difficult to take in any of the content, but being with others who know how they feel, is a comfort in itself. The second time thru is like a completely new experience for them.”
The materials point to Christ as the ultimate healer, something that Ely thinks is most important. “I don’t know how you can grieve without God,” she said. “I had been to other grief programs, but GriefShare really helped me more than anything. I felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I just want to help people. I understand now that my husband had to die for me to get to this point, but I feel like this is my calling. ”
To find out more about beginning a GriefShare program in your parish, go the website, www.griefshare.org. Or, you can contact Vicki Compton at (217) 522-3342 or email .