By Kay Cozad
In the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend there are several parishes that offer bereavement support ministries led by caring, compassionate parishioners and pastoral associates. Some offer closed-ended support programs that meet for six or eight weeks, providing a structured format for those who grieve the death of a loved one. A few offer one-to-one companioning, while others provide one-time bereavement education workshops.
At St. Joseph-Hessen Cassel in Fort Wayne, an ongoing grief ministry, led by parishioner Carolyn Sorg and her bereavement team, called Touchstone Grief Support Group, is a Godsend for those of the parish who are mourning a loss. The group has met the third Wednesday of each month for an hour and a half, rain or shine, at a team member’s house for 12 years.
“Sometimes there’s four or five and sometimes two or three. We decided as a group long ago that if there’s only one person that comes, we need to be there,” said Sorg.
The inspiration for the group came when Sorg met a couple from another faith that ministered to their congregation’s bereaved. When she approached her pastor at St. Joseph and they found there was no such ministry at their parish, he promptly suggested that she initiate one — and the rest is history.
Following an invitation to form a support team, six widows and widowers joined Sorg in developing the ministry, that now is based on Alan Wolfelt’s book, “Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart.” According to Sorg, anyone can join the meetings at any time, as each chapter is pertinent at any point on the grief journey. “We start at the beginning of the book and each team member takes a chapter. Then we start over,” she said.
The group has hosted a myriad of loss types from suicide and accident, to disease and even job loss.
“It’s the camaraderie. They can meet new people and can talk — they need to talk,” said Sorg, who is quick to add, “We’re not counselors. We’re companions here to help them get through their grief and have a safe place to talk about it.”
Sorg and her team are hoping to expand their ministry to other parishes in the diocese and are ready and willing to assist when asked.
Recently St. Pius X Parish in Granger initiated a grief support group, cofounded and co-facilitated by Darlene Sweeney and Mariana Cole, for those who have lost a spouse. The Gathering has met on the second Thursday of each month since June for an hour and welcomes widows and widowers to share their story of grief with others who understand. Sweeney said the mission of the group is “to support one another through fellowship, education, parish and community service and social events.”
The inspiration for the group came when Sweeney, a widow of 27 years, and recently widowed Cole and another recent widow lunched together and realized how important their friendships were. After some discussion on the benefits of community for others in the parish who had lost their spouses, and with the blessing of the Bereavement Ministry and St. Pius pastor Msgr. Bill Schooler, The Gathering was formed.
Currently there are 37 widows and widowers on the growing roster and Sweeney noted that most members are St. Pius X parishioners. Members from others parishes are always welcome, but for now the group is focused on their home parish needs.
Sweeney, who admittedly is through the most painful stretch of grief, said she felt led for many years to reach out to others in grief and felt God’s hand in the development of this ministry. Her role as co-facilitator is a blessing, she said, but adds, “I tell them we’re not grief counselors. We provide friendship and a listening ear.”
She has seen in the short time this group has met that “little groups are forming to bring each other comfort.”
As the group takes on a life of its own, members have taken on specific roles.
Widower Jack Limberg, for instance, has become the spiritual encourager, bringing in Catholic CDs to inspire the members. Another member organizes social events for the group.
Sweeney’s prayer for the group? “I hope and pray that the Christian fellowship The Gathering brings into the lives of those who partake will, in some small way, make them feel alive and whole again.”
Co-facilitator Cole adds, “I agree with Darlene, but I also hope that our members will become more active in helping other people in society. We are really encouraging them to volunteer and we have also put in a pitch for them to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul since it is really a Catholic charity organization.”
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