A visitor on the third Wednesday of the month at St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel Church in Fort Wayne might be taken a little aback when hearing peals of laughter coming from the room where the Touchstone Grief Support Group meets.
“Often, we share special memories of our loved ones and those can certainly be humorous,” said Donna Gleason, one of the three facilitators of the group. “Or maybe something special the bereaved misses about the loved one — those can be humorous, too. One minute we are all crying, and the next, we can be laughing. Both tears and laughter are healing for our souls. One lady told us that she told her friends, ‘I never thought I’d be laughing in a grief group!’ But we do.”
The group had its beginnings in 2004, thanks to Carolyn Sorg and Father Ed Erpelding. “I had heard about a grief ministry from some Michigan friends who were very involved in theirs,” said Sorg, a parishioner of the church. “When I came home I asked Father Ed if we had anything like that at our parish. He said no, but that I could start one, so I began gathering information from my friends at church as to who would be interested in helping me. As my Michigan friends said, ‘You cannot do this by yourself.’
“Five people said ‘yes’ immediately, and I’ve been very blessed to have such wonderful people to help me. We all went to hear Dr. Alan Wolfelt speak and bought his book, ‘Understanding Your Grief.’ Then we had Dar Richardson come and speak at our parish and went from there. We’ve been meeting every month since then.”
Though the group started out with six members, three have moved on. The original facilitators of what came to be called the Touchstone Grief Support Group have remained: Sorg, Gleason and Kathy Hartman.
Father William Kummer, the current pastor of St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, has been appreciative of the group’s impact.
“When a person is facing a heartfelt loss the sadness, sorrow and the sense of being ‘nowhere’ is devastating,” said Father Kummer. “The group does two things that affect the parish: No. 1, when we don’t know how to share our compassion and cannot find the words, our support group does; and No. 2, the support group prevents our loved ones who are in emotional pain from falling through the cracks. Jesus Christ, who is the reason for our parish, who cares for the sorrowing, is made real.
“The reaction that I have gotten is minimal, for everything is private and confidential. Of course, we do hear ‘Thank you’ and occasionally hear a word of praise for those who lead the meetings. I am happy that we have this service available for the grieving families, especially those who have lost a child and for those who die too young.”
Sorg receives immense satisfaction when people tell her that they really learn a lot at the meetings, and the friendships made enable others to also help those who are grieving.
Gleason, who was new to the parish when the ministry began, emphasized a critical point.
“We are not counselors. That’s important. I have been a ‘facilitator’ at Erin’s House (for grieving children and their families) for nine years. That’s pretty much what we do at our grief group at St. Joe: We facilitate those in attendance to help each other. Everyone is at a different point in his or her journey.
“I have not lost a spouse or a child, but grief support is primarily listening to another’s feelings and letting them tell you the ‘story’ about their loved one and their loss of the person. Dr. Wolfelt’s philosophy is ‘companioning’ the grieving. We don’t have answers, nor can we fix it, but we can accompany a mourner along their journey through their grief wilderness. He has many wonderful books on grief, and D.O. McComb and Sons Funeral Home has a lending library on Lake Avenue that is also helpful.”
One of the group’s participants began writing poetry to express his feelings, said Gleason, and he is extremely good.
“During our meetings, we will be discussing something, and someone will point to him and say, ‘Can you write a poem about it for next month?’ and he always does,” said Gleason. “We’re trying to encourage him to print them, so don’t be surprised if you come across a compilation of ‘Poems for the Bereaved’ in the future.”
The group’s mission is to companion others in their walk through grief, to be a blessing to those who mourn, to give hope when all hope seems lost and to help heal the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual realms of suffering.
“We, as a team, encourage the bereaved to pray and never give up on God,” concluded Sorg. “He is always there for us if we just ask for his help. We do not know why things happen the way they do. We have to trust God. Things do not change overnight, so you have to be patient and take one day at a time. Also, our team is always there for them for comfort and support.”
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