By Matthew Smith and Heather Suchanec-Cooper
When we lose a loved one, we are never quite prepared for how we will feel or how we will manage without them. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, the journey of grief takes time – and that time is different for everyone. Managing grief is never easy, but many have found that in the company of others who have also experienced loss, there can be a renewed sense of hope for life. Oftentimes, that hope can be found through grief support and grief ministry.
Attending a support group – as an engaged participant or an active listener – can be the start of the healing process of a grief path. Just knowing you are not alone with your thoughts, your fears or your tribulations can be invaluable.
Grief ministry outreach is designed to provide encouragement in a faith-centered perspective and can be helpful for those who find comfort in talking with their priest, lay person, or just attending a prayer group focusing on grief support.
Specialized support groups in the community offer specific emotional support for widows, seniors, former caregivers, parents grieving their children, and even for those who have lost a loved to addiction. Some participants find that even after a decade of loss, they still find comfort in attending a monthly or quarterly support group.
Numerous survivors in the Diocese of Wilmington who were once new to grief support meetings eventually became volunteers and now help with grief support and other programs. These people who started out as strangers formed a bond that evolved into the friendships they share today.
A New Normal
As people move through grief they begin to gradually piece together new experiences and new interests. They might begin to explore things that there was not time for when their loved one was alive. Perhaps they take new classes, take trips, or go to movies that their loved one wouldn’t have been interested in. By engaging in these new experiences those grieving begin to craft what many call a “new normal.” And with time they gradually report that the new normal actually has moments of joy and hope, and that in time they begin to have a sense of well-being restored.
One of our favorite stories of discovering a new normal came from a woman who was grieving the loss of her husband with whom she had shared more than 50 years of marriage. Every Sunday during their years together she prepared a pot roast supper. It was her husband’s favorite meal and was part of their weekly tradition with their family, and then with one another after children had moved from the home. After her husband’s death she continued to prepare pot roast every Sunday. In maintaining this weekly tradition, she felt a connection with her husband and the life that they shared with one another. The ritual of making the roast comforted her, but was also coupled with reminders that her husband was no longer there to share in the meal.
At about a year following the death of her husband she was preparing the pot roast as she had for countless Sundays before. After letting the roast set she prepared to serve herself for her Sunday meal. With knife poised above the roast she paused … “You know,” she said to herself, “I don’t like pot roast.” From that point forward, she began making meals that she enjoyed on Sundays – meals that required a lot less work and satisfied her tastes and desires. It was the last pot roast she made.
Stories, Tears, Laughter
Grief support groups can help people put their lives back together and find their new normal. There are stories to share, tears that will be shed, but eventually, there is also laughter. Finding hope through support can mean everything and can help restore a sense of purpose.
We hope that if you have experienced loss, you will consider reaching out to your church for grief ministry or to a community-based grief support group. Most meetings happen on a monthly basis and are free and open to anyone.
Matthew Smith and Heather Suchanec-Cooper work for Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes & Crematory.